Regional Alliance For Transit
Founded 1992

1000 Union Street, Suite 207
San Francisco, California 94133
Telephone: 415 440–6895
Email: RAFT@mtcwatch.com
Web: www.mtcwatch.com

November 20, 2008

Sherry Little
Acting Administrator
Federal Transit Administration
East Building
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Re: Upcoming application for New Starts funding in Santa Clara County, California

Dear Ms Little:

The Regional Alliance For Transit (RAFT) has been following the activity of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), our area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, since it began work on its first modern long range plan after the passage of ISTEA. In 2000 one of the Bay Area’s larger transit operators, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), began to plan for a multi–billion dollar fixed–guideway project commonly known as “BART to San Jose” or alternatively, the “Silicon Valley Rapid Transit Project” (SVRT). The SVRT was included in MTC’s 2001 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). However, after the RTP was adopted, the VTA determined it did not have the financial ability to build and operate the SVRT. In MTC’s next long range plan, adopted in 2005, the SVRT definition was changed and the full project was no longer included, as “operating funds (have) not (been) identified.” 1

The VTA once had the SVRT in the federal New Starts process, achieving a rating of “Not Recommended,” but it was taken out of the process in 2005. Now, VTA intends to “enter into federal New Starts process” in the spring of 2009. 2 MTC intends to adopt a new long range plan early next year, and may want to place the entire SVRT back into its long range plan. 3

RAFT notes that the VTA has made significant cuts to its bus services since 2000 and that its intention is to not restore the lost service for at least a decade. Further, that while the cuts were being made, VTA was planning for and expending significant funds on the SVRT. RAFT is also concerned about the VTA’s ability in future to construct and operate the SVRT without further degrading its bus service and harming its bus riders. We write to bring our Environmental Justice and Financial Capacity concerns to your attention.

From the Year 2000 to the Present

During 2000, then–governor of California Gray Davis, worked to provide funds for the proposed BART extension from a new state source, the Transportation Congestion Relief Program. The VTA placed a measure before voters in Santa Clara County in the November 2000 General Election that would permit the collection of a one–half cent sales tax in the county for thirty years, beginning in 2006. The voters approved the tax (Measure A), along with a lengthy expenditure plan of transit projects and programs. The SVRT is on the expenditure plan list and is scheduled to receive a total of $2 billion from the sales tax. The project’s cost is over $2 billion, so VTA began work on securing the state funds and on entering the New Starts process to obtain a Full Funding Grant Agreement. In 2001 the SVRT was made a part of the MTC’s long range plan. Not long after this, sales tax collections in Santa Clara County fell significantly in the dot com bust.

The lower–than–forecasted sales tax revenues led to a recognition that the VTA could not afford to build the SVRT. In October 2003, VTA’s Chief Financial Officer informed the board of directors that VTA could not assemble the required funds to build the project under any of the scenarios he studied. A copy of his memo is enclosed with this letter. 4

Concurrently, VTA was cutting its bus service and the number of buses in service and raising passenger fares. According to the National Transit Database, in 2000 VTA had 458 buses in peak service and operated 19.6 million revenue miles of bus service. According to MTC’s Statistical Summary of Bay Area Transit Operators, the adult base fare was $1.25 per trip. By 2004 VTA had cut its peak service to 368 buses and it provided 16.0 million revenue miles of service. MTC’s report shows the fare had increased to $1.75. 5 Over this time, while the SVRT was being planned and funds spent, passenger trips decreased by about one–third.

RAFT acknowledges there are different ways to measure the provision of bus service. Additionally, VTA has over this decade reduced “redundant” bus service when a light rail line has opened for service. But the overall trend in bus service provided, even when considering the substitution of new light rail service, is negative. Bus revenue vehicle miles provided in 2007 are 17% less than in 2000, according to the NTD.

In 2003 the American Public Transportation Association’s annual rail conference was held in San Jose, the largest city in the VTA’s service area. We understand FTA staff led a breakout session at which the following was shown on a slide:

Possible Title VI/EJ Issues: Service Cuts. When planning new systems, try to avoid service cuts of bus routes, if possible. Want to avoid the “image” of making cuts from one type of service to benefit another type of service. Image is everything: Because the majority of bus riders in urban areas tend to be minority/low-income, and although the cuts may be only for financial reasons, it could create unintentional adverse impacts and burdens on that segment of the population. 6 

In 2004, the Santa Clara County Grand Jury issued a report entitled “Inquiry into the Board Structure and Financial Management of the Valley Transportation Authority” that in part discusses the SVRT. The Grand Jury wrote:

The overriding financial problem facing VTA at present is that it cannot afford the cost to build and operate a BART system to San Jose. Spending limited resources on BART could squander an opportunity to build, maintain, and operate a far larger network of transit options throughout the county as enabled by voters approving the 1/2 cent Measure A sales tax in 2000. The Grand Jury recommends delaying expenditures for BART to provide more immediate funding for other Measure A transit projects.” 7 

A copy of the report is enclosed.

Also in 2004, the FTA notified VTA it intended to cease Federal action on the SVRT, and that it had concerns regarding “the operating financial plan and the ability of VTA to operate and maintain the existing bus and rail transit system during the construction and operation of the proposed major capital investment….” 8

Since 2004, VTA has continued to operate its bus service on a reduced level, compared with what it operated when Measure A was passed in 2000.

In late 2005, VTA’s General Manager wrote to the Secretary of Transportation requesting a “temporary withdrawal” of the SVRT from the New Starts process. 9

In its current ten year forecast (fiscal years 2008–2017), the VTA, regarding its bus service, states “...VTA has no plans to expand service in the next ten years.” 10 The VTA is now moving ahead with plans to build the SVRT while the bus service will, at best, remain at its reduced level for at least a decade.

MTC has published a survey of Bay Area transit riders that provides information relating to Environmental Justice issues. Of VTA bus riders, the survey reports that just 26% are white. The survey also found that 31% of VTA bus riders are transit–dependent, with 43% reporting household income of less than $25,000. 11

Last year, the Hay Group prepared a report entitled “Organizational and Financial Assessment of the VTA.” In the section entitled “VTA’s Financial Capacity and Future are Uncertain and Unstable,” the report states:

VTA’s uncertain financial future is evidenced by the following: Current Underfunded Expenditure Plan and Inadequate Funding for Planned Capital Projects. VTA is beginning to recognize that it has over $2.8 billion in unfunded commitments in the thirty year Measure A Plan that provides for capital resources and maintenance expenditures. Prioritized decisions have not been made for achieving a balanced expenditure and financial stability plan, to include sound policies to ensure that capital projects can be realistically achieved, taking into account reasonable expectations for current and future funding. In making regional policy and project choices, VTA has not realistically considered what resources can reasonably be expected to fund these programs. The Board has not made the necessary trade-offs to avoid financial uncertainty and instability. 12

Until a few months ago, MTC had forecasted VTA would have a sales tax surplus of $2.1 billion over the 25–year period encompassing MTC’s upcoming long range plan. This surplus now stands at $144 million, a reduction of approximately $2 billion. The VTA as a result now has a $962 million shortfall in revenue vehicle replacement and rehabilitation and a $1.4 billion shortfall in other important capital items necessary to operate its existing transit service. 13 With a $2.3 billion capital shortfall, RAFT is concerned VTA may have to reduce its bus fleet further and cut bus service to cover the shortfall.

Possible Future Requirements

MTC has required that when the SVRT project begins revenue service, VTA will be required to have 600 buses in its fleet and a peak availability of 500 buses. 14 However, VTA has only 440 buses in its fleet today. 15 Obtaining the extra 160 buses and the necessary supporting infrastructure may prove to be a financial challenge in the years ahead.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has a requirement that by 2011 VTA must begin a new vehicle replacement process that has as its goal that 15% of its bus fleet be zero emission buses. 16 If the bus fleet is to be 600 in number, then 90 would, within the vehicle replacement cycle, have to be zero emission buses. These buses are not inexpensive, and will add to the VTA’s financial burden. Today, VTA has 3 Zero Emission Buses. 17

The VTA, since it began planning the SVRT, has been unable to maintain its existing transit system, including its largest component, bus service. RAFT is doubtful a finding will be able to made that the VTA is able now and in the future to maintain and operate its entire public transportation system without requiring a reduction in existing public transportation services or level of service to operate the proposed SVRT. 18


VTA’s current bus service is significantly reduced from what it was in 2000, when the sales tax measure was passed by voters and VTA started to plan for the SVRT. The majority of VTA’s bus riders are minority residents and over 30% are transit–dependent. By 2004, significant cuts to bus service had occurred and VTA began to spend significant amounts of money on planning for the SVRT project. Last year, VTA’s 10–year Short Range Transit Plan called for no increase in bus service through 2017, and a report prepared for the VTA’s board of directors found VTA’s financial capacity was uncertain and unstable. Last month MTC reported VTA had a new capital shortfall over the 25–year planning period of $2.3 billion. VTA’s capital requirements may grow due to requirements imposed by outside agencies. VTA early next year will seek to reenter the New Starts process and work towards receiving a Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration for the SVRT.


The VTA has cut bus service since it began planning the SVRT. These cuts have short–changed its minority bus riders. Not only is the VTA not planning to increase its bus service in the next ten years, a very large capital shortfall for items essential to operating a mass transit service has now been projected. Before a Full Funding Grant Agreement is entered into with the VTA, RAFT asks the Federal Transit Administration to ensure the VTA will not continue to short–change its minority bus riders in order to build and operate the SVRT project.

Please contact RAFT if you have any questions about this letter. Thank you very much for your consideration.


M. Williams
for RAFT



1. MTC’s Transportation 2030 Regional Transportation Plan, Appendix One. http://www.MTC.ca.gov/planning/2030_plan/downloads/final_2030_plan/Appendix1.pdf. See page 117, Santa Clara County, Strategic Expansion, Reference Numbers 22,800 and 22,909.

2. Fact Sheet: BART to Silicon Valley. “Next Steps...Spring 2009: Enter into federal New Starts Process”. http://www.VTA.org/BART/documents/library/BART_tosiliconvalley_09_09_08.pdf. A copy of page 1 is enclosed with this letter.

3. http://www.MTC.ca.gov/planning/2035_plan/investment/Committed_Projects.pdf. Page 13 of the document shows environmental documentation, preliminary engineering, property acquisition, and construction.

4. Item 18X of the Board of Directors meeting of October 2, 2003 is available from RAFT’s website. http://www.mtcwatch.com/pdfiles/10-03_VtaonBART.htm.

5. Metropolitan Transportation Commission, “ Statistical Summary of Bay Area Transit Operators.” MTC’s serial publication is available on line at http://www.MTC.ca.gov/library/statsum/statsum.htm.

6. The power point slide presentation text is light colored lettering on a dark background. We have an electronic copy and would be happy to provide it to you via email.

7. 2003-2004 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury Inquiry into the Board Structure and Financial Management of the Valley Transportation Authority. http://www.sccsuperiorcourt.org/jury/GJreports/2004/BoardStructureFinancialMgmtVta.pdf

8. Leslie T. Rogers, Regional Administrator, FTA Region IX to VTA General Manager Peter Cipolla, “Silicon Valley Rapid Transit Corridor Project and FTA comments on the DRAFT Environmental Impact Statement.” September 17, 2004. The letter notes the SVRT was then rated “Not Recommended.” A reproduction of the letter is on RAFT’s website at http://www.mtcwatch.com/pdfiles/9-04_FTA-VTA.htm.

9. Memorandum to the VTA Board of Directors, “Withdrawal of the BART Project from the New Starts Process.” December 8, 2005. http://www.mtcwatch.com/pdfiles/12-05_VTA_BOD-FTA%20letter.pdf. The letter to the Secretary of Transportation is attached to this memorandum.

10. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Short Range Transit Plan FY 2008–2017. The quotation is from page 53. http://www.VTA.org/studies/short_range_transit_plan/srtp_2008-2017_accessible.pdf

11. 2006 Transit Passenger Demographic Survey, MTC and Godbe Research. Chapter 4, System–Level Key Findings. http://www.MTC.ca.gov/maps_and_data/datamart/survey/TPDS/Chapter_4-System-Level_Key_Findings.pdf. Information about VTA passengers begins on page 4.19; ethnic identification information is on page 4.19–19, transit–dependent information is on page 4.19–11 and household income information is on page 4.10–20.

12. Hay Group’s report on the VTA’s Organizational and Financial Assessment of the VTA, Executive Summary. http://www.VTA.org/inside/boards/packets/2007/03_mar/032307/org_fin_report.pdf. Pages 10–11.

13. Memorandum: “T2035 Update on Transit Capital and Operating Projections.” Metropolitan Transportation Commission, November 3, 2008. http://apps.MTC.ca.gov/meeting_packet_documents/agenda_1153/03b_T2035_Update_on_Capital_and_Projections.pdf. Also, an October “technical” memorandum contains information on the capital shortfall. It is at http://apps.MTC.ca.gov/meeting_packet_documents/agenda_1143/05b_T2035_TCP.pdf.

14. Resolution 3434, as amended on September 24, 2008. Resolution 3434 is MTC’s policy about transit expansion in the San Francisco Bay Area. http://www.MTC.ca.gov/planning/rtep/pdf/RES-3434.pdf

15. The VTA’s report is entitled “Bus System Statistics.” It is available at http://www.VTA.org/services/bus_system_stats.html. The Short Range Transit Plan (footnote 10) states on page 59 that VTA has only 345 peak buses.

16. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Short Range Transit Plan FY 2008–2017. Information about the zero emission bus requirement is on page 68. http://www.VTA.org/studies/short_range_transit_plan/srtp_2008-2017_accessible.pdf

17. http://www.VTA.org/projects/ZEBs.html

18. Requirements of 49U.S.C.5309(d)(2)(C).