The Nation’s Worst-Managed Transit Agency

posted in Antiplanner Transportation, Follow up |

It turns out that the Antiplanner is not the only transit observer who thinks that
San Jose’s Valley Transportation Authority is the nation’s worst-managed transit
agency. Tom Rubin, an accountant who has audited many transit agencies and
seen them from the inside out, agrees.

In a PowerPoint show (17MB) given to the Preserving the American Dream
conference in San Jose last weekend, Rubin shows that VTA ranks among the
bottom two or three transit operators by such performance criteria as farebox
recovery (the percentae of costs paid by fares), average passenger loads, subsidy
per rider, and subsidy per vehicle mile.

Participants in the Preserving the American Dream conference were encouraged
to ride VTA’s light-rail line to one of the conference events. What they saw was
not a pretty picture. Trains were infrequent (one of the supposed advantages of
rail is that they run so frequently that riders don’t need to consult scheduled), the
in-street tracks are dangerous (one conference goer slipped on a rail and fell into
a curb), and the fellow patrons are not always people you want to be around
(several conference goers were treated to the scene of someone becoming
violently ill on board, leading one of our members to say, “So that’s what they
mean by ‘vibrant streets’”).

Beyond these impressions, Tom Rubin observes that VTA has “the worst
operating statistics fo any American transit operator.” The reason for this, he
says, is that San Jose — being built mostly after World War II — is one of
the most spread-out urban areas in the country. Not only are people spread out,
but jobs are spread out, with no job concentrations anywhere.

This makes large buses particularly unsuitable for transit because there is no
place where large numbers of people want to go. So what was VTA’s solution
when its bus numbers were low relative to other transit agencies? Build light
rail — in other words, use an expensive technology that requires even more
job concentrations.

Now it has one of the, if not the, poorest-patronized light-rail systems in
America. So what is its solution? Build heavy rail, a technology that requires
even more job concentrations.

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