Editorial: Heed Grand Jury report on dysfunctional VTA
- Published Friday, July 30, 2004, in the Milpitas Post
New light rail rolls smoothly, but let's not forget our transit woes
Now it is time to face the truth of the problems cited by Grand Jury
In the midst of all the hoopla of the launch of the new trolley
extension to east San Jose from the Great Mall in Milpitas, it is
understandable all the assorted failings of the transportation efforts
in the valley would be forgotten. The timely and extremely insightful
final report of the 2003-2004 Santa Clara County Grand Jury, however,
serves as a reminder that some glaring facts can't be swept away by
the inaugural run of a long-awaited line filled (at least for the
first day) by happy riders.
The grand jury analysis nails down some of the main problems:
ONE: The overall direction of the Valley Transportation Authority is
in the hands of a totally dysfunctional board, which has essentially
turned over the district to its staff. Because the VTA board is
composed of assorted city and county elected officials, none can
devote the time required to become aware of how to resolve the
terrible challenges the district faces.
TWO: The VTA is plagued by high labor costs it inflicted on itself
through thoughtless labor contracts, has the lowest fare-box retrieval
of any major transit system in the country, and suffers from one of
the highest rates of absenteeism by employees, further aggravating its
THREE: It has thrown in with a wrong-headed zeal to build a flawed
BART extension looping down from Warm Springs then tunnel underground
through downtown San Jose toward Santa Clara. The VTA board refuses
to admit that the BART idea isn't likely to get built for nearly half
a century. Nonetheless, VTA keeps spending huge sums to do the
engineering for the project, which has already gotten thumbs down
ratings from both the feds and the state (expected to provide a third
of the money). Voters were erroneously sold on the idea the BART line
would ease commute times on the highways. Now it appears the expected
ridership would barely shave two minutes off a commute up 880.
FOUR: The operational red ink has already forced VTA to borrow from
the half-cent sales tax measure voters approved which won't begin to
be collected until 2006.
Grand Jury reports, alas, have a nasty habit of being totally ignored
by officials unwilling to face the truth. We hope that isn't the case
this time. By pursuing its current course, VTA's staff is
perpetuating the blunders made over the past decades by an inattentive
part-time board that is supposed to be setting the long-term
priorities, goals and strategies.
Only if there is major re-structuring to a smaller, more dedicated
board which can focus on transportation needs, will the beginning of a
real turnaround at VTA occur.