Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | October 11, 2005

Let’s see some rational arguments for extending BART

I was pleasantly surprised to see Gil Mitchell’s mug and column when I opened my Morgan Hill Times last week. Although I’m not certain, because the column lacked a tag line, I’m assuming it means we have a new columnist in the South Valley Newspaper fold based on its lack of a ‘guest column’ tag. Welcome, Gil, to the trials and triumphs of writing a regular column.

Although I suspect that Mitchell and I will agree more often than we disagree, boy do we ever disagree when it comes to the proposal to extend BART from Fremont to San Jose.

Mitchell writes that “BART is good for all of us,” but offers no evidence to support that assertion. Instead, he acknowledges that South Valley won’t benefit and BART is superfluous in communities like Mountain View, which have a plethora of other public transportation options.

How exactly, then, is BART good for all of us?

Second, it’s not a “cheap shot,” despite Mitchell’s assertion otherwise, to hold the VTA accountable for its performance so far. It is a terribly inefficient agency, as Mountain View City Councilman Greg Perry continually points out, and it’s irresponsibly naive to expect a sudden transformation. Mitchell claims that the VTA is “continually searching for ways to be more efficient while providing more service” but, again, offers no evidence to support that assertion.

In fact, in his next paragraph, Mitchell acknowledges that the VTA has actually cut service.

Mitchell then lauds the benefits of public transportation, including reducing oil dependency and improving the environment. I agree.

But those public transportation systems have to be economically viable. I don’t mean they have to be self-sufficient; I don’t mind subsidizing public transportation to some degree, but not to the degree that BART will require. Federal transportation policy wonks think the BART extension is a bad investment. Here’s what the Tri Valley Herald reported on Oct. 3: “But the Federal Transit Administration has given the San Jose proposal a ‘not recommended’ rating, mostly because [the VTA] can’t prove it can afford to operate the trains after the extension opens.” Mitchell doesn’t even address these issues. Not only that, the BART to SFO extension has woefully underperformed compared to its projected ridership numbers.

Why should we believe that BART from Fremont to San Jose will do any better?

Much less expensive alternatives to improving public transportation throughout the Bay Area are available. Visit the BayRail Alliance’s web site, to read about some of them. There’s simply no reason to insist on the $5 billion BART extension when we have so many better, cheaper, more extensive options.

Finally, I’m shocked by the insensitivity of Mitchell’s “jacket” sales tax example. He pooh-poohs the cost of a quarter cent sales tax increase on a theoretical $100 jacket purchase because it only increases the sales tax by 25 cents.

That’s great for people who can afford $100 jackets, but what about those who can’t make ends meet now?

Mitchell then compounds his insensitivity to the poor and working poor by saying he could buy six jackets and still not pay for his large Starbucks coffee with the sales tax increase, and would have to buy six jackets every day to have to cut out his Starbucks fix.

Clearly, Mitchell’s not thinking of the poor and working poor who are stretched to the limit by stagnant wages, high housing prices, and ever-increasing gas prices.

Now Mitchell wants South County’s working poor to pay more sales tax to pay for a BART extension that won’t even help them get to their jobs? He wants them to pay for a BART extension that so imperils the financial health of the VTA that it will likely cause further reductions in South County’s already inadequate public transportation services?

That argument might sell to folks in the middle and upper middle classes who aren’t as severely squeezed, who actually go to Starbucks and thus can cut it when times get tight, who actually purchase $100 jackets and thus can step down a level in quality to a $75 or $50 jacket when money’s short.

But I don’t expect it to fly with folks who are working two or more jobs, likely don’t have health insurance, and who have to choose between gas and food, gas and medicine, or gas and rent.

Sheesh right back at you.

Again, welcome, Gil, and I can’t wait to read a column where I’m nodding my head instead of shaking it.

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