VTA further delays return of San Jose light rail
VTA light rail. File photo.

    Bad news for South Bay commuters—VTA may have overestimated its readiness to resume light rail service.

    On Tuesday, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority announced that its light rail trains are likely to start later than the end of July, as the agency previously stated.

    “VTA is working diligently and compassionately to restore the service we know the community relies on, and we are making every effort to bring back that service as soon as is safely possible,” reads the announcement.

    VTA anticipates returning to full light rail service by autumn.

    VTA shut down light rail operations on May 26 after an employee shot and killed nine workers and then himself. The transit agency is still figuring out how to safely return workers to their stations while repairing buildings and computers damaged in the shooting.

    The transit agency is currently in the second part of a six-phase plan to get light rail trains running again, which involves moving employees and equipment to temporary locations while ensuring workers are adequately resourced.

    Monica Mallon, transit advocate and founder of Turnout4Transit, said it’s not surprising VTA announced the delay in light of the unprecedented chaos created by the shooting.

    “This isn’t something anyone at VTA has ever dealt with before, and I don’t think anything like this has happened before in the Bay Area,” Mallon said. “I think it’s completely reasonable for VTA to put the mental health of their employees first.”

    VTA General Manager & CEO Carolyn Gonot said the agency is working on “navigating the complex process” of relocating work sites, managing the technical details of reactivating service and ensuring more than 300 employees have the resources to feel safe returning to work.

    “Due to these factors, the timeline for restarting light rail service remains flexible,” she said. “However, we are working diligently to return service as soon as possible. To our riding public, we understand this can be frustrating, and we appreciate your continued patience.”

    The agency’s announcement drew some irritation from commuters on social media, but posters also defended VTA’s decision to protect employees.

    VTA released a six-phase timeline last week that outlined a schedule to resume light rail service by July 30.

    The first phase, which ended on June 30, involved a “triage” of making sure essential workers were willing and able to return to work. Light rail operations relocated to a temporary worksite because the main buildings at the Guadalupe rail yard in downtown San Jose — where the shooting happened — are not structurally ready to be used.

    Once the second phase is complete, VTA will start onboarding workers, completing infrastructure repairs and conducting trial runs of service without passengers. By September, the agency hopes to increase its service as envisioned in its pre-pandemic new transit service plan.

    In the meantime, VTA officials are still pondering how to spend $20 million recently awarded by the state for personnel and capital projects. The agency is also considering demolishing or remodeling the buildings where the shooting took place, which have existing safety concerns, according to Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

    Eugene Bradley, a local transit advocate and founder of Silicon Valley Transit Users, said that while he’s not surprised VTA changed its target date, he is shocked by the continued lack of alternative bus service. He noted that other major cities that experienced violent disruptions of transit, such as New York and London, managed to restore service within hours.

    “The recovery has been, at best, half-baked, and my feeling is that VTA is showing the world how to not recover from a tragedy, compared to other agencies throughout the world,” Bradley said.

    Before the pandemic, VTA’s three-line light rail system transported roughly 30,000 daily riders across the South Bay. That number declined to about 7,600 daily riders with the arrival of COVID-19, according to VTA data.

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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