Activists push for improvements to bus routes during VTA meeting

During an otherwise ordinary VTA Board of Directors meeting Thursday, a dozen activists rallied to urge the board to consider reallocating funds from the 2016 Measure B tax away from highway projects and toward the dwindling network of bus routes throughout the county.

Speakers pointed to the county’s recent declaration of a climate emergency as a call to action for VTA to improve its bus service to get more people off the congested roads, and reduce carbon emissions.

“We need to talk about mistakes that were made in the past,” said transit advocate Andrew Boone, who is also running for San Jose City Council in District 6. “Allocating 29% of a sales tax increase (with Measure B)…was a very big mistake…almost all of that is for more cars, something we don’t want.”

Transit leaders later turned their attention toward the planned light rail extension to Eastridge. Board member John McCallister voiced his concern about the two Eastridge- related agenda items, voting no on both of them.

“Going down Highway 85 I constantly see the traffic backed up,” he said. “I’m thinking about how we can get these thousands of people moving faster. Yet we… prioritize (projects like) Eastridge, which will move around 1,700 people at its max when it’s fully built out.”

Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, also gave a presentation Thursday on his latest brainchild: a one-cent sales tax measure to fund transit improvements. Called FASTER Bay Area, the sweeping program comes after Guardino suffered a bout of what he calls “Los Angeles envy,” after Southern California passed a similar tax in 2016.

FASTER Bay Area seeks to create an alternative to driving by knitting together one whole Bay Area transit system with improved “affordability, speed, (and) reliability,” no matter which agency you use, Guardino said.

“We believe that Bay Area residents deserve a world-class, integrated, seamless transit system… to much better serve those who are transit-dependent and compelling enough to lure those of us who are current car commuters out of our automobiles. That’s the vision,” he said.

Guardino addressed a concern raised by some advocates in the South Bay — the need for more roadway improvements.

“Bikes and buses need roads that are well-maintained. We are not closed to that possibility,” Guardino said. “What the Leadership Group doesn’t want to see is ‘let’s build a new six-lane highway from blank to blank… that would give us a tummy ache.”

The measure is planned for the 2020 election.

Contact Brendan Nystedt at brendannystedt@outlook.com or follow @bnystedt on Twitter.

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