Last week, as reported by the San Jose Spotlight, VTA’s Capitol programs voted to defer the Vasona light rail extension indefinitely, until are signs of demand. The project was forecast to generate extremely low ridership, a total of 717 net new riders by 2035, with an estimated cost of about $400M – a $650,000 per new daily rider. Kudos to VTA for moving to stop a project that had outlived its vision, and moving away from a philosophy to keep projects approved by voters decades in the past, regardless of current merit.
Meanwhile an effort to cure the woes of its existing light rail lines, which have been hemorrhaging riders, VTA is looking at new vehicle technologies. This path is on the lines recommended by the Santa Clara County Grand Jury report, which cited long-time transit and rail opponents including Randal O’Toole of Cato making the case that light rail is an obsolete technology.
Unfortunately, VTA is looking at technology to fix problems that are caused by fundamental land use – which is slowly catching up in some parts of the system – and implementation issues – slow speeds caused by street obstacles and lack of signal priority. Replacing light rail vehicles with buses slowed in traffic – even autonomous buses slowed in traffic – would not solve the fundamental problems of uncompetitive and inconvenient service.