Make sure to follow the process in First Steps before moving on to these steps below!
Do you have a compliment or complaint about Santa Clara County’s bus and light rail system? Does your group have an idea that could improve the South Bay’s transit system?
As a taxpayer (particularly if you reside in Santa Clara County, you have the right to speak directly to the people who run the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).
Table of Contents
- How It Works
- At the VTA Meeting Itself
- Tips For Making Your Point
- A Sample Letter
- Letter Writing Tips
How It Works
The VTA’s Board of Directors and its committees all hold monthly meetings that are open to the public. Depending on the type of meeting, you’re allowed to speak either at the beginning of each meeting, during the “public presentations” period.
For VTA Board of Directors meetings and workshops, the public presentation period is after the VTA votes on the minutes of the last board meeting, typically minutes after the meeting starts.
During the public presentation period, you can speak on any transit topic you want relevant to the agenda item being discussed, provided it’s within the jurisdiction of the VTA Board or committee. State law forbids Board action or extended discussion of any item not in the meeting’s agenda except under special circumstances. If Board action is requested, the matter can be placed on the agenda at a future meeting. All statements requiring a response will be referred to VTA staff for reply in writing.
Everything from purchasing to projects to the quality of service is on the agenda every month.
Here’s how to find out when and where the VTA meetings are and what’s on the agenda:
- Visit VTA’s web site at www.vta.org where they now have Board meeting agendas and packets online
- Call the VTA Board Secretary at (408)321-5680. Use this same number to join a mailing list where you can receive VTA meeting agendas and meeting packets.
- Watch your local newspaper and/or television newscasts for articles about upcoming VTA meetings and topics.
If you use VTA ACCESS paratransit, have them pick you up at the end of the meeting. Most VTA Board or committee meetings typically last no more than two (2) hours.
At the VTA Meeting Itself
Plan on arriving 30 minutes before full VTA board meetings and 15 minutes before VTA committee meetings. The sign-in table is typically as you enter the meeting room. For VTA Board of Directors’ meetings, the sign-in table is on the right side of the County Supervisors’ Chambers.
To ensure that you can speak, fill out a blue speakers card before the meeting to get a chance to speak. This is what the speakers’ card looks like:
Make sure you fill out the speakers card with your full name, physical (or mailing) address, the agenda item you are speaking on, and whatever organization you represent. Make sure to fill out only one (1) blue speakers’ card for each agenda item you wish to speak on.
Turn in the speakers card at the front of the meeting room, where a Board Secretary will collect it until the agenda item you wish to speak comes up. After all Board or committee members speak on the agenda item, and before the vote, you will be called to speak to the VTA Board of Directors. Wait for your name to be called to the podium by the Board or committee chair.
You are given only two minutes to speak, so you need to get your point across quickly. You will be called to a speakers’ stand near the middle of the room, in front of the VTA Board or committee.
At VTA Board of Directors meetings in the auditorium at 70 W. Hedding Street in San Jose, a 2-minute countdown clock will time you. The clock is located on the center right side of the back of the auditorium. You will be cut off when the time runs out, so be polite and to the point when you are up there.
Tips For Making Your Point
- Bring friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow riders to the meeting. Get them to speak at the meeting as well.
- Time your comments before the meeting. (The VTA Board Chair or Committee Chair is strict about time, with your microphone cut off if you run over!) If there are a lot of speakers, you may have your comments limited to one minute – be prepared for this!
- Stick to your topic!
- Be forceful — but it’s wise to stay clear of arguments that don’t make your point, like personal attacks.
- Spell out exactly what you want the VTA to do.
- Bring copies of your statement to give to board members and reporters who are covering the meeting. Reporters are usually in the area next to the speakers’ podium, or at the entrance of the meeting room. You can ask the VTA staff on hand to hand out your statement to the board members. NOTE: as of the February 6, 2003 VTA Board meeting, if you have copies of a letter or other information you need to give to VTA Board members, you must make at least 25 copies of your information. This is for distribution to VTA Board members as well as staff.
A Sample Letter
The following is a sample letter that someone wrote to a VTA Board member. Please do not send this exact letter to anyone – it is just an example for you to base your letter on.
Your Full Name Your Address Your City, State and ZIP code Today's Date Contact's Name His/Her Title Contact's Address Contact's City, State ZIP code To Whom It May Concern: As a daily user of the X line from X town to Y town, I write to ask for more frequent service on my line and to install a shelter at the bus stop I frequently use. [Note: Try to describe the problem in one sentence]. I make this request because I often have to wait for thirty minutes to an hour or longer during the morning rush hour because the bus has broken down. And, because there is no bus shelter at my stop , I usually have to stand in the weather while waiting for the bus, even during off hours. [Note: These sentences describe why you are making this request, such as too crowded, a dangerous condition, too dirty, misplaced sign, etc.]. The problem is at its worst when XXX [In a few sentences, describe when the specific complaint is at its worst. If true, say you have heard other riders voice similar complaints]. Thank you for your attention to this matter. I would appreciate a response to my request. Yours truly, Signature (in blank spot) Your Name
Make sure to send a carbon copy of your letter (cc:) to the VTA Board member for your city (see our VTA Board of Directors’ page for how to contact him or her) and to VTA’s General Manager.
Letter Writing Tips
- Be brief, write no more than one page. This is often hard to do, but it makes it much more likely that your letter will be read.
- Addressing your mail: When addressing your letter to a City Councilmember, Vice Mayor, Mayor, State Assemblyman/woman, County Supervisor, or Senator, the title “Honorable” should precede his or her full name, i.e., “The Honorable firstname lastname“. The letter’s salutation should read “Dear <title> lastname:“.
- Make your main point early in the letter. For example, you want more service added or a policy changed or personnel disciplined or rewarded.
- Give details where appropriate, such as the time of day and location of the incident or concern. If you can, include the bus or light rail route, its destination, the three or four-digit vehicle number where the incident occured, and operator’s badge number. If your letters is about transit service (or lack thereof), give one or two examples of the issue you are writing about.
- ALWAYS ASK FOR A WRITTEN RESPONSE!
- Send copies to the VTA Board representative for your city and to the Silicon Valley Transit Users.While we can’t always respond, your letter will help keep us informed about riders’ concerns. Our address is:
Silicon Valley Transit Users P. O. Box 390069 Mountain View, CA 94039-0069 email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Keep a copy of your letter for your own records.