What Measure B means for South Bay transit?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008
By Yokota Fritz


The Santa Clara County Registar reports Measure B is now (as I write this) at the required 66.67% approval required to pass by just eight votes as of Monday's tally. With thousands of ballots left to go, the VTA sales tax to fund BART to Fremont is too close to call.

Here's my prediction if the final count shows this sales tax passing if Federal funds are received to fund the BART extension in to San Jose and Santa Clara.

* The sales tax revenue projections will be off by as much as 50%. The projections assume a growing economy, which is not what will have for the next couple of years. VTA announces service cuts on its existing bus and light rail lines and reduces funding for Caltrain.

* Finance costs will be much higher than projected because of the credit crunch. VTA announces more service cuts on bus and light rail lines.

* Construction costs is a hard one to call. This may be less expensive than projected because of an good supply of labor and construction materials. On the other hand, much higher costs for raw materials may offset some of that.

* Once operation begins, ridership and revenue will be far below projections, forcing VTA to cut service elsewhere in the system just like SamTrans had to do. VTA will eliminate all funding for Caltrain.

* Carl Guardino and all of those other Measure B promoters will still drive their cars to work, if they're still employed in the Bay Area when the BART extension is complete ten years from now.

Ah well, what's done is done.

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Comments:
I have to disagree with you on this one. I for one am thrilled that this measure is actually passing (well - passing is a misnomer here really; it is clear the public wants it, bad. We are only talking about crossing the 2/3rds threshold).

Being an active rider of VTA bus/light-rail, Caltrain and BART services, I think a few of our assessments are incorrect. At the very least, you are being overly pessimistic.

I think the VTA has done a great job in turning around the bus services over the past year. (I am thinking of the changes that came thru on Jan 14). The addition of new express buses and altering of routes to serve busy routes better has really worked, IMO. They did this without increasing their budget.

Try getting to San Francisco from San Jose via the following route - VTA 180/181 Express to Fremont, and BART to SF, on a sunday. You s hould see how packed 180/181 is on even a Sunday; and ditto for the BART ride. Compare that to taking Caltrain, which runs practically empty on Sundays. The reason: BART works. Due to BART's higher frequency and late schedule, you don't have to *think* or plan too much about when to leave and when to return.

Connecting to East Bay means connecting to two more cities that are a lot more public transit oriented than South Bay/Peninsula - Oakland and Berkeley. This means that the San Jose leg will also get increased ridership due to accessibility for a population that's already used to public transit. In other words, San Jose will see a lot more people from the east bay come through; all the better for the economy.

Students form a huge share of public transit ridership;
connecting SJ State to UC Berkeley - two of the largest universities in the Bay Area - can only be a good thing.

Bringing BART to San Jose/Santa Clara means direct connectivity between BART and Caltrain. This is good for Caltrain, not bad - among other things, it will mean increased ridership on Caltrain.

The ridership on the Alum Rock -> downtown San Jose/Santa Clara stretch alone will be HUGE - you have to ride VTA 22 one of these days to get a sense of this. (just like one of the most heavily used sections of BART is 24th St-Mission to Embarcadero).

Also, it is no coincidence that housing development in neighborhoods near BART are overwhelmingly high-density, multi-use, mixed income. Lord knows we need that in the South Bay.

And I am not even going into the countless other reasons why it is imperative to have better public transit and get cars off the road, period.

my more than 2 cents,
- Ram
(a Measure B promoter who doesn't drive his car to work)
 
There's a more basic problem. Even with federal funding, VTA doesn't have nearly enough money to build the full project.

http://www.novtatax.org/wordpress/2008/10/facts-about-measure-b/

http://www.novtatax.org/wordpress/2008/10/piecing-the-puzzle-on-the-true-cost/

http://www.novtatax.org/wordpress/no-on-measure-c/
 
Hi MikeonBike,

Thanks for the links. I visited the "facts-about-measure-B" page and I have to say I found less facts and more propaganda.

I agree with the point that bus services are vital and should not be on the chopping block as a result of this. But that is the extent of what I agree with there..

How can a post that starts by blaming VTA for operating the "worst-performing" light-rail system present an objective opinion? I mean, come on. Why blame the VTA for problems that are fundamentally a result of city planning (sprawl, etc)? IMO the VTA has to be commended for doing a fine job despite the South Bay/Valley being one of the WORST developed places from a public transit perspective.

Also, that page contained a link that argued that the route was "outdated" because it doesnt' serve the tech corridor! Frankly, that's a bogus reason.
(A) The tech corridor is extremely well served by VTA Light Rail; and VTA LRT will connect to BART at various locations incl downtown SJ. (B) - from a ridership perspective, the current route that serves east San Jose is not at all outdated. East San Jose is the neighborhood that sees the highest amount of public transit usage, already.
 
The VTA's system really is the worst performing system in the US, in terms of ridership, cost-per-passenger mile, however you want to measure it.

Light rail has been successful pretty much everywhere else it's been built. I'm pretty sure Denver, Salt Lake, and LA are as sprawly as San Jose. So that's no excuse. The reason it's been a flop in SJ is pretty obvious if you try to ride it: the routes are stupid--they zigzag, don't go directly where people want to go, and they're slow.

So is this an organization that we should trust to build an even bigger, more expensive transit system? It's not a question of whether the BART extension would be useful. It's a question of whether it's the best, or even a good, way to connect the south bay to the east bay. Google up "caltrain metro east", a suggested alternative, and judge for yourself.

I also have my doubts about whether the VTA is financially competent--and I'm really concerned that if they commit to funding BART, this will steal money from their LR, bus operations, and commitment to CalTrain.
 
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