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Column: Time to rename SCCo. VTA light rail

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  • 10/1 SJ Mercury
    Published Sunday, October 1, 2006, by the San Jose Mercury News Column WHOA, time to rename light rail By Scott Herhold Mercury News I don t ride Santa Clara
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2006
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      Published Sunday, October 1, 2006, by the San Jose Mercury News


      WHOA, time to rename light rail

      By Scott Herhold
      Mercury News

      I don't ride Santa Clara County's light-rail system very often any
      more. It's not terribly convenient for my commute. But the other
      day, I boarded at the Curtner station with my ancient Nishiki
      bicycle to ride downtown.

      Here's what struck me: As the system approaches 20 years old, parts
      of it are starting to look decrepit. The paint peels at Curtner
      station. The wooden seat slats are damaged. The signage looks tired.

      Some might ascribe this to an old rule of Santa Clara County
      politics: Politicians are rewarded for opening big new projects,
      not for maintaining them. No one cuts a ribbon or snaps a picture
      before they repaint.

      I have a slightly different take. I think the light-rail system
      lacks an identity. And one of its problems -- sadly, there are many
      -- is that it doesn't have a good name.

      "Light rail" is too industrial to suit anyone. It's not even true.
      The trains are plenty heavy. Creatively, it's as if the operators of
      America's legendary trains decided to go with the title "Southbound
      Vector #32" instead of the "City of New Orleans."

      The name game

      The lack of a name isn't for want of trying. In 1987, the
      supervisors tried to name the system SC(s2)AT, for Santa Clara
      County Area Transit. They reversed themselves when it was pointed
      out that scat also is a term for animal dung.

      (The affair inspired Mercury News copy editor Willys Peck to write
      two immortal headlines. When the name was unveiled, he wrote, "Dung!
      Dung! Dung! Goes The Trolley." When it was dropped, he came back
      with "No Streetcar Name Desired.")

      You can understand why the supes might feel burned on this issue.
      The transportation agency itself has changed names. Once called
      Santa Clara County Transit Agency, it's now the Valley
      Transportation Authority.

      None of this is a good enough reason to leave our trolley system
      hanging there as an unchristened orphan. Yes, I know it averaged
      only a little more than 26,000 daily riders last fiscal year, well
      below the original estimates of 40,000. It inches through downtown.
      And it's one of the least cost-effective systems in the country.

      While a name wouldn't change any of that, it would help. Portland
      calls its light-rail system MAX. San Diego has the San Diego
      Trolley. Both have more ridership. "It speaks to the ease of use,"
      says Portland TriMet transit spokeswoman Mary Fetch. "People say,
      'I rode MAX today.' And you can brand that."

      A contest

      So today, I'm opening a public contest to rename the system. I'm
      willing to take all suggestions. I'll print the best, even the
      scathing ones. (Monte Sereno Mayor Mark Brodsky, a member of the
      VTA's policy review committee, suggests "WHOA" for "We Had Other
      Alternatives." It's punchy but backward-looking).

      For better or for worse, we've spent umpteen millions on the system.
      We can't dismiss it as an outmoded toy. The name should be simple,
      friendly and memorable.

      Naturally, I've got my own suggestion: SILVER, for Silicon Valley
      Electric Railroad. As I see it, a title like this is memorable and
      offers virtually limitless marketing opportunities.

      Picture the Lone Ranger tying up his horse at the Park & Ride,
      heading up the escalator, and boarding the trolley as he shouts
      out, "Hi, Ho Silver!"

      Or think of redecorating the trolleys that go through Milpitas with
      the black-and-silver of the Oakland Raiders before home games.

      Or -- but OK -- maybe you have a better idea. Something pithy,
      catchy and enduring. We can agree on this: It won't take a lot to
      improve on light rail.

      Contact Scott Herhold at sherhold@... or call 408-920-
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