Roadshow: Budget woes make more trains unlikely, etc.
- Published Thursday, February 10, 2005, in the San Jose Mercury News
More of anything unlikely in transit
By Gary Richards
Q: I've heard rumors that Caltrain may add more bullet trains. What
is the status of this?
A: I wouldn't bank on it. These express trains are very popular,
shaving 30 minutes off the San Jose-to-San Francisco trip. But the
San Mateo County Transit District, which operates the Peninsula
commuter trains, is dealing with serious money issues, like every
transit agency in the region. Consider:
Caltrain may cut its schedule and raise fares even though ridership
has skyrocketed. San Francisco's Municipal system faces a $55 million
deficit, and may raise fares and cut service. The Bay Area Rapid
Transit District predicts a $51 million deficit this year and
forecasts deficits each year for perhaps a decade. Sacramento's
transit agency may raise fares 15 percent. AC Transit had to sell
buses last year to meet its budget. The Altamont Commuter Express
trains face a $1.2 million budget shortfall. Ironically, the one
local agency that has balanced its budget is the Valley Transportation
Authority, trimming $70 million annually by raising fares and cutting
service three times since 2002. Said outgoing General Manager Pete
Cipolla of the agency's cost-cutting moves: "We were ahead of the
curve on this one."
Q: On westbound Central Expressway in Mountain View where the
light-rail tracks cross, they have crossing gates with railroad-type
red lights and traditional traffic signals that turn from green to red
when a trolley approaches. These signals help reinforce the idea of
stopping. The problem comes after the trolley has passed and the
crossing gates go up. Sometimes the signals don't turn green until
several seconds after the other red lights have gone out. Some
drivers wait for the green light, while others proceed as soon as
the gates are up and the red warning lights are out, even though the
signals are still showing red. What's the law here? And can the
lights be synchronized better?
A: Conditions ought to improve. The county originally timed the
signals to work with the VTA's "crash gate" -- a device to prevent
autos from colliding with trolleys. The crash gate was slow to lift
up, and that was the reason for the longer delay for the green light.
The transit agency will dismantle the gate and just use the typical
railroad crossing gates, which seem more reliable. The green signal
is now synchronized to work in conjunction with the smaller railroad
Q: I drive Interstate 280 from Belmont to Santa Clara every morning.
Along the way, I see several large white birds along the freeway, just
standing around. I assume they're not waiting for a ride, so what
attracts them to the side of the freeway? Tasty bugs? Sweeping
vistas? Carbon monoxide fumes?
A: This from the Roadshow faithful: The long-necked white birds are
either egrets or herons, usually seen near wetlands and lagoons,
favorite feeding spots. They frequent Highway 237 as well, are able
to fly and seem to get out of freeway medians without difficulty.
Q: How much money was spent on the new equipment and cameras to
automate the signals on Lawrence Expressway? Recent changes have
increased my commute time by more than 10 minutes. A chimpanzee could
time the lights better than the people currently doing the job.
A: Masoud-the-Traffic-Man has good news. County engineers found a
problem with the detector loops and made a fix this week. Traffic
seems to be flowing better, but they will monitor the situation during
the next few days.
Contact Gary Richards at mrroadshow@... or (408) 920-5335.