Column: Time to rename SCCo. VTA light rail
- Published Sunday, October 1, 2006, by the San Jose Mercury News
WHOA, time to rename light rail
By Scott Herhold
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
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."
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-