Grand jury report says VTA is most expensive, least efficient in entire country

A scathing grand jury report released this week blasts the Valley Transportation Authority as, "the most expensive and least efficient" in the country.

That evaluation comes at the end of a five day period that sees VTA leadership bracing for a possible work stoppage by members of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

At the intersection of light rail and bus lines in the South Bay, there are calls for major changes to the VTA system.

Regular riders said criticisms contained in the grand jury report mirror complaints decades in the making.

"It's sad but true, yeah," said passenger Julie Miranda, "because they're raising the rates, and it's like, for what?"

Whether by bus or on the rails, dissatisfaction with Valley Transportation Authority seems common.

"They usually come late. It's crowded. And it's a hassle," said Marie Valenzuela, who regularly rides VTA.

It's also a waste of taxpayer money, according to a Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report, released this week.

The 61-page document says the VTA "…is too big and too political to make sound financial decisions…" And that "…the (VTA) board is in need of structural change…to better protect…taxpayers."

"There's too many directors. They shouldn't have conflicts of interests, as being city council members or supervisors. Because that's their primary responsibility, to represent those cities and the county," said Andrew Boone, a San Jose city council candidate and VTA critic.

VTA's recently appointed the board chairwoman, Teresa O'Neill, is also a council woman from Santa Clara.

She addressed the report's criticisms at Friday's VTA Board meeting at the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors chamber.

"We have rather a unique model of a governing board of a transit agency. And we should really look at what other transit agencies around the country are doing. And if having a different configuration of the board would help the agency be more effective in the residents that we serve," said O'Neill.

Currently, each larger city in Santa Clara County appoints multiple board members.

Smaller cities must consolidate and share one member, and there are also six alternates, and ex-officio officers.

Experts say that recipe, combined with dwindling fare receipts from light rail, creates too many challenges for the system.

"They have systemic problems that I think are in part due to the rail system, that make it extraordinarily difficult for them to have moved into a more efficient operating rail system," said Dr. Hillary Nixon of the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Added board chairwoman O'Neill, "This is when we all have to step up and really dig down and figure out what can we do to solve problems."

The Board has 90 days to respond to the Civil Grand Jury report.

O'Neill said a newly-formed board Governance Committee is analyzing how to implement some of the recommended changes – such as directly electing board members instead of members being appointed.