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LOCAL Commentary :: Government & Elections : Poverty & Urban Development : Transportation

Measure J is a blessing for bus riders. Vote yes!

Metro buses are the main form of "alternative transportation" in Santa Cruz County, despite all the rhetoric about bikes, trains and trails. I have a challenge for people who oppose Measure J but claim to support alternative transportation. Ride the bus from Watsonville to Santa Cruz every day for a week. You'll learn why many Metro bus riders are voting Yes on J. Though the No on J campaign materials don't say so, Measure J will add carpool lanes, giving buses priority on Highway 1. (The carpool lanes are not some extra, optional project; they are the priority project in the measure.) Scheduled travel time from Watsonville to Santa Cruz will drop from an hour and 15 minutes to just 30 minutes, and Metro will be able to run more trips with the same number of buses and drivers. With its focus on carpool lanes, Measure J is good for those of us who depend on the bus.

Metro buses are the main form of "alternative transportation" in Santa Cruz County, despite all the rhetoric about bikes, trains and trails. I have a challenge for people who oppose Measure J but claim to support alternative transportation. Ride the bus from Watsonville to Santa Cruz every day for a week. You'll learn why many Metro bus riders are voting Yes on J. Though the No on J campaign materials don't say so, Measure J will add carpool lanes, giving buses priority on Highway 1. (The carpool lanes are not some extra, optional project; they are the priority project in the measure.) Scheduled travel time from Watsonville to Santa Cruz will drop from an hour and 15 minutes to just 30 minutes, and Metro will be able to run more trips with the same number of buses and drivers. With its focus on carpool lanes, Measure J is good for those of us who depend on the bus.

It's a 75-minute bus ride from Watsonville to Santa Cruz

The reality for most people who ride the bus between Watsonville and Santa Cruz today is 15 minutes of waiting, 75 minutes of scheduled travel time, and a crowded bus. The Watsonville - Santa Cruz corridor is Metro's second-busiest, after UCSC. It accounts for over 1.75 million rides a year. That's just under 30% of all the rides Metro provides.

There are vast economic disparaties between the City of Watsonville and the City of Santa Cruz. Per capita income in Watsonville is half what it is in Santa Cruz. The unemployment rate is double. The child poverty rate is also double. Many Watsonville residents travel north for access to jobs and educational opportunities.

Keeping buses slow, incovenient, and crowded is a great way to keep people down. Buses, the transportation of last resort, serve the poorest people. The leader of a major anti-J group, who himself lives and works in Santa Cruz, admitted to me that he fears an influx of "low-wage workers" from Watsonville. Other Measure J opponents are a little less frank. Whatever their motives, they are voting to limit north-south mobility -- to deny South County residents convenient access to the economic heart of the county.

Voters who log on to the No On J Web site, check out the Campaign for "Sensible" Transportation, or read the People Power editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel come away with the impression that Measure J will add regular traffic lanes to Highway 1. Though the measure requires high-occupancy vehicle lanes, the opponents refuse to mention terms like "carpool" and "HOV".

Measure J speeds up bus travel, reduces waiting, eases crowding

According to the No On J home page, the measure "sacrifices bus, rail, and other transportation needs". This is a lie. In fact, now that MetroBase (Metro's central bus yard project) is moving ahead, Measure J is the most important transit improvement on the horizon. No other proposal speeds up travel for so many transit users. No other proposal allows an increase in transit service without an increase in operating costs.

Throughout the afternoon commute, 14 buses ply the Watsonville - Santa Cruz corridor. The travel time is so long that each bus can only accomplish one round trip in three hours. The Measure J carpool lanes will make 30-minute express trips possible. The same 14 buses will be able to accomplish more trips in the same three hours. No extra buses or drivers will be needed, and there will be no extra cost.

Of course, not every local trip would be converted to express service. Dropping two local trips (leaving four per hour) and adding five express trips (for a total of six per hour) would be a comfortable balance. This mix would reduce wait times by 42% and provide 42% more seats, during commute hours. Not only does Measure J speed up bus travel time between Watsonville and Santa Cruz, but it also produces a free, and very substantial, service increase in a busy Metro corridor. Now that's "alternative transportation"!

[I edited this article on October 25, 2004. Under the scenario described, the no-cost increase in bus service during the commute is 42% not 30%. I had copied the wrong figure from my notes. --Paul]

 
 


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Re: Measure J is a blessing for bus riders. Vote yes!

"Scheduled travel time from Watsonville to Santa Cruz will drop from an hour and 15 minutes to just 30 minutes,"

That's a nice promise - how do we hold you to it?

We can't, and that's the problem.

Talk is cheap. Let's see you have a personal stake in these promises. How much money you got?

Let's see you promise to donate, say, $500 to some charity not of your choosing if your promise of 30min bus times from Watsonville to SCruz isnt met by the end of the Measure J project.

Or do you not really trust Measure J, the way you want us to trust it?
 

Re: Measure J is a blessing for bus riders. Vote yes!

I agree that traffic is really bad on highway 1 and that 75 minutes for a bus ride between Santa Cruz and Watsonville is way to long and very painful for working class people.

However I believe that for the next decade highway 1 will be a disaster while the new lanes are being built (as the widening of mission was). This might be great since getting across town might become so bad people have to come up with alternate ways. And I am all for alternate transportation. I have been carless for about 3 months now, riding the highway 17 express, bart, caltrain, SC metro, and my bike.

I think if we are going to accept that Santa Cruz is going to grow. Which it will continue to grow quickly unless there is some kind of really dramatic upheaval. We need more than one way to get across town. Having mission and highway 1 as the only route is not going to be practical because the whole city area is a disaster when the roads have to be worked on.

And if UCSC is going to continue to get bigger which it is, UCSC needs it's own grocery store, gas station, more entrances, much more housing at one third the rate UC currently charges, why not even bars.

One thing that worries me about measure J is that I have heard overruns in expanding the highway woudl cut into funding for alternatives.
 

Re: Measure J is a risky venture for bus riders. Vote no!

The problem with this analysis is that Measure J has written into its text that the highway widening will be THE priority in spending and that cost overruns WILL be paid for by cutting into all the other programs they are promising. Voting yes on J will see sustainable transportation efforts put on the chopping block. NO WAY ON J!
 

HOV (carpool) lanes = THE priority project in Measure J

Dave, I think you have misunderstood my article, and also the text of the ballot measure. The priority project in Measure J is indeed to widen Highway 1...but the new lanes will be high-occupancy vehicle (carpool) lanes. I make no reference to any of the other, minor projects included in the measure. Only the new (HOV) lanes are necessary to improve bus service. Please read the ballot measure [main project is to widen Highway 1 with HOV lanes] and think for a moment about bus scheduling [if travel time drops from 75 minutes to 30, the same bus can make more than twice as many trips]. Measure J does not propose to build regular traffic lanes. Every penny of the widening allocation goes to building HOV lanes.
 

Re: Measure J tells us what we want to hear but then doesn't respect us in the morning.

rpms,

I did not misunderstand the analysis you provided. The campaign literature for yes on J makes many promises to fund things like the bike path, pedestrian bridges, park and ride lots, street repairs, safety programs, a train station, and more. What you have not mentioned in the analysis you provided for us is the fact that every one of these promises are subject to the highway having all the money it needs. All cost overuns will be taken out of the budget for these other features of the measure. This means that (if J passes): No matter what, our highway gets widened but there is a dinstinct and likely possibility that the sustainable transportation elements of this measure will be cut due to innaccurate cost projections in this measure. I'm sorry but I believe that the proponents of this measure knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote this. Throw in the promise of things the people want but only garauntee the item that Santa Cruz County voters don't want. It is a campaign trick to lure people who desire sustainable policies into voting for a measure that works against their interest.
BOTTOM LINE:
 

oops.

The bottom line is:

Measure J tells us what we want to hear but then doesn't respect us in the morning. I encourage the community to REJECT MEASURE J.
 

Re: Measure J tells us what we want to hear but then doesn't respect us in the morning.

rpms,

I did not misunderstand the analysis you provided. The campaign literature for yes on J makes many promises to fund things like the bike path, pedestrian bridges, park and ride lots, street repairs, safety programs, a train station, and more. What you have not mentioned in the analysis you provided for us is the fact that every one of these promises are subject to the highway having all the money it needs. All cost overuns will be taken out of the budget for these other features of the measure. This means that (if J passes): No matter what, our highway gets widened but there is a dinstinct and likely possibility that the sustainable transportation elements of this measure will be cut due to innaccurate cost projections in this measure. I'm sorry but I believe that the proponents of this measure knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote this. Throw in the promise of things the people want but only garauntee the item that Santa Cruz County voters don't want. It is a campaign trick to lure people who desire sustainable policies into voting for a measure that works against their interest.
BOTTOM LINE:
 

Metro bus = main mode of alternative transportation

I would hardly call adding carpool lanes, that will improve some 1.75 million bus rides per year, a "campaign trick". Again, Metro is the predominant form of "alternative transportation" in this county (if we exclude walking to the corner store). The bike paths, pedestrian bridges, and other aspects of Measure J are much less important than the carpool lanes, when it comes to improving the "alternative transportation" landscape in Santa Cruz County. That's why my post focuses on the carpool lanes.

What's also neat about J, from a political standpoint, is that it marries the interests of drivers and non-drivers. If you don't have that shared interest, your measure doesn't pass. A measure to provide just bike paths and pedestrian bridges would not, realistically, garner the necessary 2/3 majority. Take a look at the ballots all around California, and you'll see the same kinds of shared-interest, self-help, local transportation tax measures.

To conclude, I have to ask you, Dave, whether you ride the bus, and how often and where. I depend 100% on public transit. I don't even have a driver's license anymore. I have never owned a car and haven't been behind the wheel in over ten years. But even I can't stand a 75-minute bus trip between Santa Cruz and Watsonville, when it ought to take 30 minutes. It's criminal to put working people through this every day. What's your interest, and what's your (realistic, i.e. feasible, funded, politically viable etc.) solution? Hint: commuter rail on the UP rail line fails the feasible, funded, and politically viable tests, and biking to work from Watsonville to Santa Cruz fails the feasible test for many working people.
 

Re: Measure J is a blessing for bus riders. Vote yes!

I'd like to echo Mr. Marcelin-Sampson's concerns. It seems to me that most of the people opposing Measure J are home-owning older white people from downtown and westside Santa Cruz. While I do still drive some days of the week to work, it is with a shared car so I usually walk and bike at least 2 days. I purposefully moved to a (rented) apartment close enough to work to be able to do that, because my last place south of the City was just way too far by bus. If I knew that I could get in a bus and get to Santa Cruz from mid-to-south county, that would free up my living options a bit and allow me to spend close to the recommended 30% of my income on rent. But, because people who have the priviledge of owning a home close to town never need to take a bus or drive highway one for regular economic survival, they don't want to widen it.

Not to mention the fact that many of these people are the same ones who oppose a large retail store on the westside because it will increase traffic. Well, try living close to Soquel Drive/Ave on the Eastside, and see why we want the highway widened-- to get that traffic off our neighborhood streets! But apparently traffic on our streets is okay, because we aren't them. Oh, and god forbid we build a metro station there! Poor people and the West side of Santa Cruz just don't mix, it seems!
 

Re: Measure J is a blessing for bus riders. Vote yes!

To answer your personal question which does not speak about the measure at all due to the fact that how I live is anecdotal: I live off of Brommer, I take my children to school each day on a bicycle, I use a bus when going downtown with the kids sometimes but not regularly, and three days per week I drive over 2.5 hours each way to Turlock. I am not wealthy and live in a townhouse. I don't feel comfortable giving out more personal info than that.

I sympathize with your perspective as a bus rider and member of the working class (of which I am a member too), in fact I empathize with it. Most of my life I have not owned a car and I hope to find a viable way to rid myself of my car in the near future. I believe this measure has been written for the profit of business interests who stand to profit greatly at the expense of excellent programs including transit. Read the wording on the measure and understand that a yes vote on yes is putting your transit money at great risk. Measure J is deeply flawed and we all deserve better than this bassackwards attempt to dupe those in favor of sustainable transportation policies. I will gladly stand shoulder to shoulder with you in advocating for a better and viable bus system. I will not, however, be suckered into voting for a wider highway at the expense of programs I value. I hope we can continue to debate this issue based on its merits and not on what type of residence I live in, my age, the color of my skin, or the insinuation that I am a wealthy member of the capitalist class.

In solidarity,

Dave
 

Nothing in J puts existing transit funds at risk

Dave, thanks for your comment. (Jerry, thanks also. I agree with ya!) No one asked any personal questions, just whether you ride the bus, where, and how often. By the way, I live in Santa Cruz too. My trips to Watsonville on the bus are for political activities, visiting friends, and economic shopping (since Santa Cruz hasn't historically allowed discount retailers like Home Depot and Target).

I do want to speak to your assertion that Measure J comes "at the expense of excellent programs including transit" and that "the wording on the measure...is putting your transit money at great risk." You might want to point out supporting references in the text. In fact, you won't find any. Your assertion is completely false.

Public transit operation in Santa Cruz is funded primarily by a half-cent county sales tax that dates back to the 1970's. This represents about 50% of Metro's operating budget. Measure J makes no reference whatsoever to that existing, permanent sales tax, all of which is dedicated to Metro. In fact, car owners have talked of trying to shift that existing transit tax to the highway, if J does NOT pass. A letter to that effect was printed in the Sentinel some time ago. (Please be sure you understand what I am saying: 1. An existing half-cent local sales tax is dedicated to Metro, and is in no way affected by the text of Measure J. 2. If J does NOT pass, i.e., if voters do not approve a new local sales tax for Highway 1, certain powerful political forces have talked of shifting the existing transit tax to the highway. This suggests that not passing J is more dangerous for transit than passing J.)

Another 20% or so of Metro's budget comes from the TDA program, which is derived from a quarter-cent of state sales tax revenue raised in Santa Cruz County. This is essentially a state program, and it's not referenced in Measure J at all.

The rest of Metro's budget is made up of passenger fares (about 20%) and federal operating grants. Neither of these funding sources is mentioned in J or affected by J.

If J passes, the carpool lanes will be built, because they are the priority project in the measure. That's all bus riders really need from Measure J. If there is a cost overrun, we may not get the $6 million for express coaches and the $23 million for extra services for seniors and people with disabilities; those are the minor transit-related projects in Measure J.

The service improvement I talked about does not require any extra buses (a bus that now makes one trip in 75 minutes will make two trips in the same amount of time). And, as a member of the Paratransit Coordination Task Force, I can say that it is very doubtful that Metro will see a penny of the $23 million for seniors and people with disabilities. Non-profits have their eyes on that money, and naive politicians seem willing to hand it to them, instead of using it to help fund Metro's legally mandated Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit program.

To conclude, Measure J makes no reference whatsoever to existing sources of transit operating money.

Regarding Metro's operating budget: Please contact me at the listed e-mail address if you'd like to go over Metro's budget to confirm that none of the existing funding streams is mentioned in the text of Measure J. I am very familiar with Metro's budget and funding streams, from my work with the Metro Riders Union. You can also download the budget from Metro's Web site, www.scmtd.com/ (go to the Board of Directors agenda packet archive and download the June agenda packet for any year, June being the month in which the final budget is presented for approval). You will see a list of the revenue streams and be able to recognize that none of them is referenced in the text of Measure J.
 

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