Light-Rail Inefficiency Project

Stung by the entirely accurate criticism that it is one of the worst-run transit agencies in America, San Jose’s VTA has come up with a breath-taking plan for improving its efficiency. Naturally enough, the plan is called the light-rail transit efficiency project.

Click image to download an 8-MB presentation describing San Jose’s “light-rail efficiency plan.”

The plan (see summary here) consists of spending up to $25 million building two passing tracks so that express light-rail trains can pass local trains in downtown San Jose. I know what you’re thinking: this has to be a work of genius. I mean, who would ever think of one transit vehicle passing another? Except, of course, buses, which do it all the time and which don’t need millions of dollars of new infrastructure to make it possible.

San Jose has more than 40 miles of light-rail routes, but they only serve a tiny fraction of the 348-square miles of VTA’s service area. Just how is building a passing siding or two going to fix one of the least-efficient transit systems in the country? All it will really do is flush a few more million taxpayer dollars down the drain.

If VTA really wants to improve the efficiency of its system, it would sell its light-rail cars to some other gullible city and run buses instead. It could leave the tracks in the ground, or pull them up if the scrap value is sufficient to cover the cost of repaving the streets. Spending even more money on a transit system that is obsolete and inappropriate for the region it is supposed to serve is not the solution.

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12 thoughts on “Light-Rail Inefficiency Project

  1. LazyReader

    Stung by criticism……….

    Meanwhile recent findings of a new study on congressional speech levels represented their actions. A new study by the Sunlight Foundation found that Congress speaks at an average grade level of 10.6, equivalent to a sophomore in high school. That number is down from 2005, when Congress’ 11.5 speaking level was in line with a high school junior. A circumstance to which most senators responded….”Nuh-uh”

  2. English Major

    It seems to me that transportation planners in PDX (and presumably SJ) completely ignore certain societal realities.

    To whit:

    1. SJ (PDX) is full of tons of awesome people of all ages, classes and ethnic identities
    2. SJ has scary, scary gangs. (PDX has a street punk problem).
    3. There is a non-bigoted rationale for the awesome people’s fear that a trip on public transit
    might expose them to criminals.
    4. No one wants to talk about this rationally.

  3. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    I know what you’re thinking: this has to be a work of genius. I mean, who would ever think of one transit vehicle passing another?

    Well, there are subway lines in New York City (like the IRT Lexington Avenue Line) that have LOCAL and EXPRESS tracks. But the Lexington Avenue subway carries more patrons than most other rail systems in the United States – all by itself.

    Except, of course, buses, which do it all the time and which don’t need millions of dollars of new infrastructure to make it possible.

    What a concept!

    [sarcasm]

    But we all know that those buses are successful only because of the GM conspiracy to eliminate electric street railway systems in the United States, right?

    Even though GM no longer manufactures buses.

    [/sarcasm]

  4. JOHN1000

    That is not a dumb question. There is a prejudice against buses.

    The liberal government types who spend “other peoples money” look down their noses at buses because they are not as romantic or idealized as trains. And also because they are associated (fairly or unfairly) with lower-income riders.

    You may say that the liberal government types “care about” lower-income riders. Maybe they do (at least at election time) but they don’t want to rub elbows with them on buses.

    So they spend our tax dollars on more glamorous projects that are usually introduced with the words ” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could build………”

  5. MJ

    Okay, dumb question: why the prejudice against buses?

    The short answer is that most transit projects (especially rail projects) are “make-work” projects. To that end, it is easier to attract large, one-off types of grants from higher levels of government (primarily federal) by promising something highly visible — a monument, in essence — in order to convince the local electorate to approve the bonds or higher local taxes required to provide the local share of funds.

  6. LazyReader

    The bus stigma is relatively simple. Buses are noisy, smelly, homeless ridden clunker. Localities have tried numerous ways to overcome the bus stigma. Some tried purchasing fuel-efficient and hybrid buses to appease the eco crowd. Others still tried making their buses look like trolley cars instead of buses, hoping consumers would find riding the bus to be quaint. The only reason transit buses became popular was when the global economy tanked, sending bus ridership numbers through the roof when municipalities couldn’t afford to provide upkeep to old rusting rails. While the Circulator, a successful bus line in Washington, D.C., has utilized distinctive paint jobs and marketed itself as “unlike any other public transit in town,” it has also maintained a cheap fare and expanded its service into predominately black neighborhoods. That’s how you win over passengers. A little dab a paint’ll do ya. Of course then they go overboard and spend tens of millions onf dollars on bus-rapid schemes. Dedicating or building an entire lane to buses alone and the money they spent could have been better spent on smaller minibuses through poor neighborhoods. The real efficiency winner is the shuttle or van which is way smaller than a bus and can go to specific areas without the space of a bus instead of million dollar articulated buses or double deckers or gas electric plug in hybrid buses.

  7. metrosucks

    Great arguments from all.

    But what I really want to know about is the conspicuous absence of our resident “mass” transit shills. Where’s Dan to talk about hand-waiving, and msetty to lecture us about how racist we are for not wanting to build billion dollar rail boondoggles?

  8. msetty

    Metrosucky speweth:
    But what I really want to know about is the conspicuous absence of our resident “mass” transit shills. Where’s Dan to talk about hand-waiving, and msetty to lecture us about how racist we are for not wanting to build billion dollar rail boondoggles?

    Doing far more productive things like watching <Three Stooges shorts or watching paint dry rather than waste precious time arguing with true believer auto apologists who spout their nonsense on a fairly inconsequential blog. Yes, we lurk for 2-3 minutes a day, but not reply to pro-auto shills like Metrosucky. Except this one, which took about 2 minutes to write.

  9. msetty

    Metrosucky speweth:
    But what I really want to know about is the conspicuous absence of our resident “mass” transit shills. Where’s Dan to talk about hand-waiving, and msetty to lecture us about how racist we are for not wanting to build billion dollar rail boondoggles?

    Doing far more productive things like watching <Three Stooges shorts or watching paint dry rather than waste precious time arguing with true believer auto apologists who spout their nonsense on a fairly inconsequential blog. Yes, we lurk for 2-3 minutes a day, but not reply to pro-auto shills like Metrosucky. Except this one, which took about 2 minutes to write.

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