Tonight – help VTA deal with its budget crisis

As all of Bay Area transit is reeling from the pandemic, VTA is starting to grapple with its budget crisis at its board meeting tonight starting at 5:30pm. The agency expects revenue from sales taxes and fares to remain low and recover slowly through June of 2021, forcing the agency to draw deeply into its reserves.

VTA has a number of options that can help deal with its budget, which had already been in trouble before the pandemic hit. If you have availability, you can make public comment via the Zoom online meeting (instructions are here). Here are some ideas to choose from. This is for Agenda item 7.4, the financial impact of the Covid crisis.

  • Keep VTA safe to protect riders and workers, and to help restore ridership. We’re glad to hear that VTA has been providing employees with enough personal protective equipment and doing more cleaning. We urge you to continue to provide PPE until a vaccine is available and continue with the enhanced cleaning.. Before the pandemic, we understand that VTA only did deep cleaning once per quarter. It is important to have more frequent cleaning in order to give people the confidence to use the system. In funding to run service, please consider the needs of essential workers and transit-dependent people who are using transit, and running enough service to avoid crowding
  • Run transit instead of expanding highways/expressways. As you look for funding to continue to run essential transit service, please look to look at highway and expressway expansion funding as a source of funds to keep transit running.  During the pandemic we’ve all been appreciating the clean air, and we’re dreading fire season which has been worsening with climate change and harder to manage with an ongoing epidemic.  To address the climate crisis, we need to preserve, restore and improve the transit system, and to stop expanding highways and expressways that increase climate and particulate pollution
  • Keep the option open for a Caltrain ballot measure to take Caltrain off of VTA’s books. A resolution authorizing Caltrain to put a measure on the ballot will be before you next month, and in committees this month. Please move this forward to keep the option open – because IF this passes it would take Caltrain’s operations and state of good repair off of VTA’s budget.  Also, Caltrain is conducting an equity study of policies and programs to diversify Caltrain ridership. These can go into the expenditure plan for a measure, so if a measure moves forward it can support a service that is much more accessible to a diverse population than Caltrain has been in the past.
  • Consider more options to reduce cost on BART Silicon Valley Phase 2. Thanks for taking a second look at the BART Phase 2 with an eye toward reducing costs in a difficult budget environment. The improvements are welcome but we urge you to look at further opportunities to reduce costs for this project, so it can be delivered with less risk to VTA. The federal funding program that VTA is using pays a fixed amount, so any overrun will come onto VTA’s fragile budget. Please take a second look at ways to reduce costs. (You can also make these comments about BART Silicon Valley on Agenda item 7.1, and refer to ideas such as eliminating the redundant segment that parallels Caltrain between Diridon and Santa Clara, and giving another look to cut and cover construction with funding to help maintain business during the construction period.)