SAN JOSE (AP) — A $2 billion light-rail system built to serve San Jose and some surrounding cities in Silicon Valley has become among the least efficient in the country and suffers from low ridership and high operating costs.
As the Valley Transportation Authority rail line marked 25 years of service this month, the San Jose Mercury News reported Thursday that less than 1 percent of all Santa Clara County residents ride the trains daily and taxpayers subsidize 85 percent of the service, the second worst rate in the nation.
Critics are calling the system a failure, and even some optimistic supporters say it has not lived up to expectations.
Kevin Connolly, VTA transportation planning manager, told the newspaper that the transit line is a work in progress and is still burgeoning, as it was built along onion fields with expectations that new homes and businesses would grow along the train route.
"I believe we are ultimately going to realize the (original) vision," Connolly said. "But I think what's happened is that it wasn't quite as easy or quick as originally conceived of 30 years ago."
The light rail line costs about $66 million to operate per year. It's 30 percent more expensive to operate and carries 30 percent fewer riders compared with other light rail operations in the United States, the Mercury News reported.
The cost to carry one passenger roundtrip, $11.74, is 83 percent more than the national average and the third worst in the nation, ahead of only train services in Pittsburgh and Dallas.
Even light-rail systems in Minneapolis, Houston, Newark, N.J., and Phoenix operate less than the VTA but carry more passengers. Several U.S. cities that are smaller than San Jose — including St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore. — feature light-rail systems with more riders than VTA.
The service has become more expensive, less efficient and less popular than first thought, the newspaper concluded.
"It is an unmitigated disaster and a waste of taxpayer money," Tom Rubin, an Oakland, Calif.-based mass transit consultant said. "I think the original concept was very seriously flawed."