Tuesday: San Jose to review Santa Clara County tax priorities; leaves out Caltrain and bus service

On Tuesday at a Council meeting scheduled to start at 2:30pm, San Jose City Council will review its proposed priorities for the proposed 2016 ballot measure.

The proposed expenditure plan described in the staff report strongly supports some of the key transportation priorities for San Jose, including

  • $1.5 Billion to bring BART to San Jose Downtown and Diridon Station
  • $1.8 billion to funding the repair of local streets and roads
  • $400 million to fill gaps in the bicycle and pedestrian network, including trails and barrier crossings

However, the priorities do not include Caltrain, or improvements to VTA bus service.  San Jose has a goal to reduce the share of trips in single-occupant cars from 80 percent to 40 percent by 2040, to support growth without gridlock and protect the environment.   Completing the BART connection would not be near enough to achieve the city’s transportation goal.

The staff report advises the City Council to wait until the next stage of evaluation of transportation projects through the Envision process before making specific recommendations on amounts for additional project categories.  And the staff report leaves some funding unallocated for other priorities.  But City Council shouldn’t wait to express its priorities and should speak up for Caltrain and a complete transit network NOW. 

Let City Council know

If you think that Caltrain, better bus service and last mile transit connections are essential for San Jose, and live or work in San Jose, then write the mayor and City Council and let them know they should make these priorities clear. If you can make an afternoon meeting, please come at 2:30pm, and let me know, adina.levin@friendsofcaltrain.com

Why Caltrain capacity is essential

Enabling Caltrain to keep up with ridership growth is essential to meet the city’s goals for growth in the Downtown/Diridon area. The Diridon Station Area Plan envisions approximately 10,000 BART passengers, 10,000 Caltrain passengers, and 12,000 High Speed Rail passengers by 2035.  The Caltrain capacity and grade separation projects are essential to supporting the Caltrain and HSR ridership.

Caltrain electrification will help, but the additional capacity will almost instantly fill without additional additional investment in longer trains and longer platforms to carry more passengers.Caltrain grade separations are essential to enabling doubling the service frequency of Caltrain and High Speed Rail over the lifetime of the ballot measure.   Grade separations aren’t just convenient for communities outside of San Jose, they are needed to provide frequent and reliable service for people using Diridon station.


The value of bus service and first/last mile improvements

Achieving the city’s mode share goals will also require robust investments in the bus network, providing frequent service and faster speeds to increase ridership.  Bus ridership has declined by 30% over the last 15 years, as bus service was reduced by 15% and speed has declined by 10%, according to TransForm.   According to high level VTA estimates, improving frequency of major routes to 15 minutes would bring back ridership by 10%, and improving frequency to every 10 minutes would increase ridership by 40%.  

Bus service is essential for the city’s seniors and disabled residents who do not drive, and very low income residents who can’t afford car ownership; it is also important for the residents moving to densifying areas who own fewer cars and drive less.   

Regions around the globe with high-performing, well-used transit systems have backbone rail and rapid bus routes with a strong network of feeder and local buses and connector shuttles serving neighborhoods and destinations.  This year, VTA’s TRIP initiative has the goal of analyzing and re-engineering bus service to serve more riders.  VTA is starting to pilot innovative services using technology to effectively serve first and last-mile connections. Fast-moving technologies will create more opportunities over the life of the tax.

Therefore, the City should strongly prioritize bus and first/last mile network investments, and express quantitative preferences utilizing the Envision analysis.



Transit affordability policies and programs

Affordability policies that help the elderly, disabled, and transit-dependent; and enable the working poor use transit instead of driving.  In a recent survey of 200 South Bay commuters conducted by Friends of Caltrain and Working Partnerships USA, higher-income commuters were more likely to be receiving transit benefits and subsidies than lower-income commuters. Programs such as VTA EcoPass and Caltrain GoPass, which are targeted for large employers, currently provide more benefits to higher-income workers rather than lower-income workers.   The City’s priorities should including funding affordability programs to make transit affordable for those who need.


Limit freeway expansion

San Jose’s staff proposal includes $650M in freeway interchange capacity increases.  Decades of research shows that expanding freeway capacity attracts more drivers and increases pollution and GHG emissions.  The state’s new environmental rules will require expansion projects to mitigate the environmental problems they cause with investments that reduce vehicle miles, including transit, transportation demand management, and/or tolling.

City Council should:

  • Limit spending on freeway projects that will attract more drivers, shift bottlenecks elsewhere, relieve congestion momentarily if at all, and increase GHG emissions
  • Add flexibility to the funding for roadway projects to enable them to mitigate increased vehicle miles travelled as required by the latest CEQA rules

San Jose proposed spending priorities