Help Return Light Rail Shuttle Buses ASAP

As of July 5, it has been 40 days since the tragic shootings of May 26 at Guadalupe Rail Yard in San Jose.  It’s been that long since VTA light rail service last ran. 

Over the Memorial Day weekend, VTA ran shuttle buses along the light rail line – sometimes with buses and drivers from other agencies. The Twitter photo above documents this.

Due to “limited staffing,” VTA stopped these shuttle buses after June 1.  Today, it’s now been 35 days since shuttle bus service ran along the light rail line after service was suspended from the shootings of May 26.  This second tragedy stemming from the May 26 shootings has caused over 4,000 current light rail riders to find other means to get to work or medical appointments.

Below: how YOU can help have VTA restore shuttle buses to run in place of light rail, until that system is fully ready again.

Background

By now, you need no reminder of the shootings at VTA’s Guadalpe Light Rail Yard on May 26. Like the shootings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 28, 2019, May 26, 2021 – 5/26 – will live in local Silicon Valley infamy.

Don’t expect ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to provide salvation here. These companies have their own driver shortages and resulting “surge price” rate hikes to contend with.

Last week, State Senator David Cortese ensured VTA gets $20 million in two State Legislature bills to help light rail service recovery.  This includes things like mental health and retraining VTA staff as needed. It also includes money to ensure more resiliency to ensure such shutdowns of VTA bus and light rail service do not repeat. All of this awaits Governor Newsom’s signature as part of his $253 billion budget proposal for California.

Yet, as of now, there are still no plans for the return of light rail service.  Worse, there is no public talk of even returning substitute buses along the light rail system in the interim.  This is unacceptable. 

So, we’re encouraging people like YOU to write to your elected officials and VTA management. Let’s urge them to restore substitute shuttle buses to serve the light rail system in the interim, as soon as possible.  This will allow light rail personnel to get the help they need.  It will also allow light rail infrastructure to be fully repaired, cleaned, and rebuilt if needed. 

From VTA So Far…

Here’s comment so far on the status of light rail from Interim CEO/General Manager Evelynn Tran…

and from current VTA Board Chair Glenn Hendricks…

Our own efforts so far…

On June 16, we sent a letter to VTA Board members and management. In that letter, we asked about the need for a timeline for when light rail service will be fully restored. We also asked for when bus services could be restored on an interim basis. We got one response from VTA Board Chair (and Sunnyvale Vice Mayor) Glenn Hendricks a few hours later; his response is here.

Contact VTA Board Members and Management

Here’s a list of who represents YOU on the VTA’s Board Of Directors – and where else they serve in local office. That list also includes key management contacts within VTA management.

In your letter, politely tell them how you normally use VTA light rail, and how your travel has been affected by the service shutdown.  Urge them to restore temporary shuttle buses to the light rail system as soon as possible.  This will help give light rail personnel and infrastructure the time, resources, and space they need to heal from 5/26.

Talking Points

Use any or all of these talking points when writing to VTA on the need for substitute shuttle buses.

  • VTA was able to use other transit agencies to provide shuttle buses for its light rail service on Memorial Day weekend – buses that went away June 1 due to staffing issues.  As VTA is one of over 2,300 “independent special districts” in California, they must work with Governor Newsom, state elected officials, and other transit agencies to work out a payment plan for any services rendered as needed.  This given California’s proposed budget surplus of over $80 billion, so money should not be an issue.
  • Last week, VTA graduated 22 new bus drivers. Here’s an idea: use half of that class to provide the service, and the rest to cover other bus routes needing drivers.  As light rail service is restored, bring back those drivers from the light rail shuttle bus service to serve other VTA bus routes as needed.
  • After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, most service on the New York City Subway was restored within hours.  Over 80% of rail service on PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) trains between Manhattan and New Jersey was reconfigured and restored within hours.  A fleet of public and private ferries provided free service for commuters in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey who still needed to evacuate. Transit recovery in the hours after 9/11 took place is documented here.
  • As for terrorist attacks on transit systems in Europe…

As it became clear the scale and nature of the incidents, the entire Underground network system was evacuated. At the time of the explosion, just to put it in context, 500 trains were in service, 2,500 staff were on duty, and the system was evacuated of over 200,000 people in less than 1 hour after the call was made to evacuate (apart from one train that was stuck behind the incident train at Russell Square). This was particularly remarkable as the capacity of the mobile–or as you describe it, cell phone network–was unable to cope with the volume of calls being made by members of the public. So the communication systems in London were at breaking point.

Within 24 hours, 80 percent of the service of London Underground was restored, and this was significant in that it gave a real confidence boost to London and Londoners in the resilience of their city. In accordance with our contingency plan, we put in place a recovery team immediately afterwards, and we restored all services within 4 weeks of the incident, the last part of the network being the Piccadilly line. Five cars remain under police control for forensic examination. Immediately after July 7, all staff were put in high visibility orange vests across the network, all managers with any operational experience were deployed across the network and also asked to wear orange vests. Police deployment was unprecedented with major patrols at the main central London stations, and over the next weeks there would be occasions when every station on the tube network had at least two police officers deployed throughout the operational day in addition to regular station staff.

https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-109shrg24238/html/CHRG-109shrg24238.htm

If these systems can recover service quickly from shootings and terrorist attacks, what stops VTA from doing the same?

What’s Going On?

No substitute shuttle buses are running in place of VTA light rail, which is still suspended indefinitely. Over 4,000 riders are affected by the lack of service.

Who’s Responsible at VTA?

In addition to the VTA Board Of Directors members previously mentioned:

Carolyn Gonot, General Manager and CEO. Email: carolyn.gonot@vta.org – phone (408)321-5559.

Conclusion

We still mourn and empathize for the families of the fallen workers at VTA’s Guadalupe light rail yard on 5/26.  We must also have empathy for more than 4,000 riders of VTA light rail before 5/26.  Every day there is no service – no trains or no substitute buses – on the light rail system, the shooter defeats VTA.  The longer the shutdown continues, the harder it will be for the light rail system to fully recover from 5/26.  Until light rail staff and infrastructure are fully ready, let’s bring back the shuttle buses to serve light rail stations ASAP.

In the meantime, here’s a list of some alternate VTA buses still serving many light rail destinations here.

Remember: silence tells VTA you don’t matter. Let’s speak up today.

Eugene Bradley
Founder & CEO, Silicon Valley Transit Users

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