Mallon and Pham: Transit investments are key to congestion relief
A VTA bus passes San Jose City Hall in this file photo.

    In his January newsletter to his San Jose District 10 constituents, Councilmember Johnny Khamis warned that “special interests” were vocal in their effort to divert highway funding in favor of Measure B’s “other transit priorities.”

    Who are these special interests? What are these other priorities? Our councilmember is referring to high school and college students dependent on bus service, youth concerned about a changing climate, parents tired of driving their kids everywhere and a team of rag-tag social and environmental activists who make their way to VTA Board Chambers through traffic — some doubling or tripling their travel time on a dysfunctional public bus system — to attend weekday evening VTA meetings to each provide a 2-minute public comment.

    Of the total $6.3 billion, Measure B text reads, “$500 million for expanded and improved transit operations — namely bus and paratransit service to senior, disabled, transit-dependent and other vulnerable populations.”

    Measure B provides “estimated” funding levels for “candidate” projects. Further, the measure provides for the reallocation of estimated funding with a 3/4 vote by the VTA Board.

    Some politicians fear that public trust will be broken if any reprioritization occurs. In his recent San José Spotlight opinion piece, the councilmember frets, “VTA isn’t just a transit agency — it’s also the county’s congestion management agency. VTA already struggles to adequately address congestion; diverting funds from our congested highways will only exacerbate the issue. ”

    But no money will be diverted from road repair or true congestion relief.

    It certainly is true that the public should look with a skeptical eye at an agency that has repeatedly asked voters for support and repeatedly fallen short of providing promised congestion relief. We now know why. Rather than focusing on getting cars off the road by providing functional and efficient bus and transit alternatives, the agency continues with an outmoded paradigm of highway projects.

    What is misleading to voters is the decades of claims that roadwork will relieve congestion.

    History of failure is why the state is forcing cities and counties to no longer look at projects from a lens of “Level of Service” (LOS) because LOS accommodation of more cars results in huge expenditures of dollars for short-term improvements leaving long-term results of failure. This is exactly why state law now reflect our need for reduction in “Vehicle Miles Traveled” (VMT) as opposed to LOS.

    Moreover, our California State Transportation Secretary David S. Kim recognizes these kids’ “special interest” in climate. He recently issued a statement on addressing climate change through transportation investments saying, “The Governor ordered agencies to update their approach to spending up to $5 billion of discretionary transportation funding — out of a total of $17 billion in annual transportation funding — to advance the State’s progress on combating climate change. If we are going to be serious about preparing for climate change, we have to start planning now, considering the long lead-time for transportation projects.”

    The mayor and all of his San Jose councilmembers, including Councilmember Khamis, already voted for and passed a declaration of a climate emergency in San Jose. It seems our councilmember’s fears that Supervisor Dave Cortese has directed VTA staff to come back with a declaration of a Climate Emergency are based on the fact the VTA may actually do something about it.

    Monica Mallon and Peter Pham are transit advocates and co-leaders of the San Jose Youth Climate Action Team of Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action.

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