First of two web pages
A sales tax will be voted on by Santa Clara County voters. The VTA [Valley Transportation Authority], which operates the bus and light rail system] placed the 30-year, half-percent sales tax on the November ballot. It needs a 2/3 majority for passage. This was a 100% transit tax, but is no longer.
On 8/29, the VTA Board voted to divert roughly $2 Billion of public transit funds to highway construction, in anticipation of the transit sales tax passage. These transit funds were already allocated by the County for transit, and were from State STIP (sales tax) and federal funds. This astounding act, opposed by MTS, means the technically 100% transit sales tax is effectively 25%-33% for highways. The VTA staff, and the VTA board, refused to answer the MTS which asked how much money was transferred from transit to highways. More info.
This is what happened prior to the above:
The Santa Clara County proposed sales tax measure is about 1/3 for highways. The County Supervisors will decide August 8. It would be unfair to require voters to subsidize automobiles as a condition of voting for public transit projects. MTS is asking that highways projects, which are polluting and counter to public policy that discourages use of the automobile, be placed separately from transit/bike/ped (non-polluting), so the public can vote for one and oppose the other. Update: the Supervisors did not achieve the 4 out of 5 votes required for passage.
The Alameda County sales tax,
Measure B on the November ballot, would use 41% of dollars for highways, 49%
for transit/bicycle/pedestrian and 10% for para transit. MTS will write the
ballot argument opposing the sales tax because subsidizing highways would increase
auto use, pollution, long distance car commuting and encourage sprawl, even
with the transit projects. Highways projects, which are polluting and counter
to public policy that discourages use of the automobile, needs to be placed
separately from transit/bike/ped (non-polluting) projects, so the public can
vote for one and oppose the other. It would be unfair to require voters to subsidize
automobiles as a condition of voting for public transit projects. [For details
on this measure see the proponents web site at
Latest news: 26-years to get BART to San Jose, originally promised for 10 years, then 14 years. (See the Mercury News Oct.2, 2003 article.)
Update (Oct. 2003): I no longer support BART to downtown San Jose, considering what unfolded since:
I agree with TRAC that the best choice is a heavy rail/high speed rail combination, as described in California Rail News issue 9/03 (then click page 5). While the ballot measure stipulated a BART Santa Clara station, not everything promised can be built due to lower revenue projections. I support giving last priority --of all the projects stipulated in Measure A-2000-- to the segment of BART beyond Great Mall. A future ballot measure can be done to complete a direct guideway line to downtown and must omit specifics of route and mode (elevate vs. tunnel and also PRT, LRT), leaving them to an alternatives analysis. By then, maybe we'll even have PRT segment line(s) built, so that would also be given proper consideration.
**Just found: a phony MIS:
The VTA web site acknowledges the MIS was never done prior to the 2000 election and also states it is federally required and that:
"[The] Major Investment Study (MIS) has benefit of significant community input; reviews travel options for the corridor including “No-Build,” Light Rail, Commuter Rail, carpooling, bus service, High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, and other alternatives."
More web searching shows the MIS has occurred in 2001 from this web site, not on VTAs which has no further info on the MIS. I never heard about it. I found this complaint by an attendee posting this web page. There is no info on the VTA web site except the above (in violet), in contrast to [San Jose] Downtown-East Valley MIS having lots of info. The dictated scenario, fate accompli, was selected by VTA Board on Nov. 9, 2001, just 8 months after starting the "MIS Study" [official site].
Here is my original article:
Downtown San Jose is an ideal terminus for BART*. From there, people can continue southward by taking the existing Light Rail Transit (LRT) or the future Vasona LRT to Campbell/Los Gatos, or walk to downtown destinations. Downtown San Jose is also the largest transfer point for buses in Santa Clara County. It's a natural dispersion point for people arriving from BART and collection point for people going to BART.
Except for stations and electric power substations, BART is probably cheaper to construct than commuter rail (e.g., Caltrain) if both are double-tracked, grade-separated (bridges at road crossings) and electrified. By comparison, Caltrain is gradually being grade-separated and will be electrified. The wider track gauge of BART allows faster speeds on curves. Another advantage of BART is its light weight: BART cars weigh about as much as light rail, much less than commuter rail cars and locomotives. This reduces cost of bridges and track structure. If and where tunneling is deemed necessary, BART can do it cheaper than commuter rail because of its smaller outline.
The component where BART is much more expensive than commuter rail is the stations. BART stations are large and manned all day while those of commuter rail, such as Caltrain, are simple and usually unmanned. Station costs of BART can be minimized, initially, by constructing just two stations: one at downtown San Jose, the other at another natural dispersion point, the LRT station at Great Mall in Milpitas. From there, the LRT line to Mountain View is presently under construction, and the LRT Capitol line going south to serve East San Jose has already passed the environmental review stage.
There is a major difference between the BART extension to San Jose and most other BART extensions. Usually, the closer one is to the end of the line, the lower the ridership. It's opposite for San Jose, the largest city in Northern California, and "the heart of Silicon Valley," the largest trip destination in Northern California. Patronage would be much greater towards the end of this line which necessitates a different approach to creating the San Jose extension.
While building extensions one station segment at a time may make sense elsewhere, the first priority southward must be reaching the two dispersion points. The intermediate stations can be added later. BART must reach San Jose quickly to make the transit systems more viable and give the public prompt use of funds spent. If the initial funding, including likely federal matching funds, is insufficient for construction of a full-length system, other incremental approaches deserve consideration. One such approach is to construct one track and add the second track later. This temporary solution would enable half-hourly service all-day and all-weekend, rather than a few diesel trains running during commute times only.
BART to San Jose is supported by an overwhelming majority of citizens of Santa Clara County. The opportunity is finally here with Governor Davis' proposed allocation of $760 million of State funds to close the gap and connect the biggest rapid transit system with the biggest city in northern California. Let's not lose this opportunity.*BART is the [San Francisco] Bay Area Rapid Transit, a 95 mile double-tracked system. It stops in Fremont just 15 miles short of downtown San Jose, the largest city in northern California.
After adding a further extension to Santa Clara, becoming 21 miles instead of 15, miles of tunneling, and extra stations: the cost is $3.8 billion, according to VTA*. What will it cost just to downtown San Jose, with no tunneling? Info is not available yet. Scenarios can and should be talked about later, after the highway projects are eliminated from the same funding source. Otherwise, any money saved by BART would just feed more highway construction!
A question in the VTA memo* was "What is the difference in construction cost, operating cost, and ridership of an electrified commuter rail service, with the same alignment, grade separations, including undergrounding?" The VTA staff's answer was: "The analysis of alternative modes is beyond the scope of the study [and it] is more appropriately addressed in a Major Investment Study." [Update: The Major Investment Study was never done.]* Valley Transportation Authority; memo dated 7/31/00. Besides operating the bus and light rail system, VTA does planning of transit, and performs the Congestion Management Program which does prioritizing of County transportation projects, including highways.
For the 20 years I have served on the Board of MTS, we (MTS) have supported the concept that BART should be extended to downtown San Jose. Ending BART in Fremont, a collection of small towns and suburban sprawl when an actual city, now the largest in northern California, lies 15 miles to the south has never made sense to our Board of Directors.
However, over the last 20 years, the "process" which considers transportation (MTC, ABAG, the various cities, the County), never gave the idea any serious consideration. "Never in our life time" was the conventional insider view.
The conventional outsider view was, "I don't see why BART doesn't at least go to San Jose." At least that was the MTS Board's estimate of the public view. We insisted, to anyone who would listen, that someone should take a poll to see if we were right. We believed that BART was popular with the people, even if the politicians paid no attention.
And so it was, until San Jose happened to elect Mayor Gonzales. Shortly after taking office, he began to promote a BART extension to his downtown. Then, Governor Gray Davis allocated $760 million of the state's surplus to the project.
The Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group (SVMG) did a poll, as did subsequently the Mercury News. The result of the poll must have been a shock to the "process" people. The poll indicated that 70% of the likely voters in Santa Clara County would support a sales tax to build the BART extension. (I was surprised; I would have predicted 60%, but then I have probably attended too many "process" meetings to be able to think clearly anymore. The general public operates without any such handicap.)
The SVMG saw an opportunity and began to put together a list of projects to be added to the BART project, in a ballot measure they proposed for November. Predictably, they added in their favorite freeway expansions. They also included the East San Jose Light Rail (LRT) extension and a serious upgrade to Caltrain, to include electrification. Unpredictably, they also added an Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) system for the San Jose Airport, a project MTS has long supported and a project that was recently approved in principal by San Jose (but with no funding identified) in the face of an "upstart" (the "process folks" were again caught asleep at the wheel) ballot measure that would have prevented airport expansion without a connection to LRT.
The Valley Transit Authority (VTA) which is the County's agency that both builds roads and operates transit, then woke up, did their job, and introduced an alternate list. It was the same as the SVMG list except that it had more money for freeways and it did not include the Airport AGT.
Things have been changing fast and the project lists have been poorly reported. However, here is what I think is also true about the current VTA ballot proposal, besides what was mentioned above. (The SVMG withdrew their list.) It is a 20 year, one-half percent sales tax increase, predicted to raise $3.8 Billion (just coincidentally the same as the cost of the BART extension). Half of the amount would go to the BART extension, which would make a U-turn from downtown San Jose to the Santa Clara Caltrain station. About 65% would go to transit, pedestrians and bicycles (including BART and 1/2 billion for LRT), the rest to highways.
Interestingly enough, a pure BART proposal would have a greater chance of getting the two-thirds of votes needed to meet legal requirements; but they might try a legal challenge. Evidently, the freeway supporters are willing to roll the dice on that one.
BART vs. commuter rail, PRT vs. LRT, LRT vs. buses. Over the years, I've heard countless arguments on which is better. So, let's make some back of envelope calculations.
Travel time is the primary criteria in travel mode choice. So, let's compare the average speed of transit. The clock runs from the time you get on to the time you get off. The results of course would vary for the particular system, route, etc., but approximations can be made as follows: Commuter trains run at 50 mph for "express" service, people movers at 25 mph*, and buses at 12 mph. Further factors from the customer's viewpoint are waiting time, travel time to stations, comfort and ticket price.
*PRT can be faster. It depends on the speed vs. price tradeoff. Also see the PRT article.
For short distances, a PRT system gives the best time door to door, while for intermediate distances, BART/commuter rail does. The changeover is around 15 miles of distance. If a person could change modes, say walk -> PRT -> BART -> walk , then travel time would be further decreased.
One advantage of LRT is flexibility. It can go to downtowns, even historical areas where an elevated structure may be undesirable. Signal pre-emption can increase average speed.
Without a doubt, the bus is the loser. Studies have shown that people greatly prefer guideways over buses [details in a future article in GUIDEWAY]. Buses are uncomfortable, having vibrations, jerks and swaying; are noisy; and emit diesel exhaust clouds, often filling bus "shelters" with exhaust fumes for patrons of other bus lines. Buses are also more expensive to operate. Buses are slower than automobiles since they are stuck in traffic. For these reasons, General Motors acquired transit and electric train companies and substituted buses for both streetcars and trains. [For details see the MTS web site]. It wasn't primarily to sell buses, but to sell cars, as they had over 50% of the car market at the time. Transit patronage dropped drastically after the destruction of guideway transit. GM's "motorization program," as they called it, was the way to drive people to drive cars.
Each guideway transit modes has certain advantages, and we need them all in the niches they perform best. When transit advocates attack one mode over the other, the winners can end up being the highway lobby. While commuter rail and PRT advocates both attacked BART recently, they stayed mum on the highway projects. Only MTS voiced opposition to much of the proposed sales tax going for highways.