Thursday December 5 – VTA addresses budget crisis, ignores elephants

On Thursday, the VTA board is reviewing recommendations to address their financial deficit.  VTA is proposing smaller service reductions than expected, but the solution isn’t strong enough, because VTA is ignoring some elephants in the room.  Read on to see how you can help….

Thankfully, since voters rejected Prop 6 cuts to state transportation funding and the courts upheld Measure B Santa Clara County transportation funding, VTA now has a smaller budget hole to fill. To fill the gap, VTA is proposing to reduce the service growth they approved in 2017 with the Next Network plan redesigning service to improve frequency and boost ridership on key routes.

According to this week’s “financial sustainability” proposal before the board, service would still increase from today’s level, but the increase would not be enough to keep up with population growth. Part of the problem causing less service per person is that buses and light rail vehicles get stuck in car traffic and have gotten slower over time.

smaller-service-increase-falls-behind

While VTA is making cuts to expected service, they are still leaving planned capital expansions untouched.  There are transit and roadway expansion projects that have been on the books for decades, some of which might not be the best fit for today’s travel patterns, land use, and climate goals.  Today, VTA can barely afford to run the service it has, and yet they are still planning future projects that could generate low ridership and dig the hole deeper in the future.

Fortunately, VTA is also going ahead with a study of rapid transit corridors, starting next year. This will take a fresh look at old projects and new ideas.   The VTA board should connect the dots and resolve to use new information to rethink old projects.

Also, VTA has projects in the queue to make transit faster, such as signal prioritization and queue jumps, and all-door boarding.  VTA can accelerate a package of these projects, to make transit more time-competitive, to attract more riders, and to provide more passenger service for the dollars they spend.

You can help improve these decisions at VTA’s board decision on Thursday, December 5, by speaking at the board meeting, or by writing if you can’t come in person.

  • Tell VTA to review the transit and highway projects on the books and question spending on projects that no longer meet current and future needs.

  • Feel free to name specific projects that you think deserve questioning – some examples are:

    • building a new Santa Clara BART station right next to Caltrain, that would require spending double the money to operate duplicate service

    • the Vasona Light Rail extension which would run through low-density single-family neighborhoods.

    • capacity increases to Montague Expressway that no longer meet the City of San Jose’s goals for transit-oriented development and greenhouse gas reductions.

    • It’s helpful to name more than one project, so the supporters of that project don’t feel singled out.

  • Urge VTA to accelerate a set of projects that will make buses and light rail faster and more efficient, so we can get more passenger service for the money

Near location of proposed Vasona light rail stop

Some board members have mentioned in meetings that they want to confront the elephant in the room of projects that may not be justified anymore, but the board needs encouragement to take the politically awkward step. Every obsolete project has some fans, so it will take strength to admit that some projects might be obsolete.

The board meeting is at 70 West Hedding, San Jose, CA, starting at 5:30pm. The discussion will be early in the meeting, likely before 6pm, so please get there close to on-time.   Please let me know if you can come, at adina.levin@friendsofcaltrain.com, so we can coordinate comments.

If you can’t come in person, please send a note to board.secretary@vta.org  and feel free to copy friends@friendsofcaltrain.com

Thanks to you for speaking up for better transit and sustainable transportation in Santa Clara County and the Bay Area.