Can Silicon Valley VTA handle another tragedy or natural disaster?

Between wildfires, a mass shooting and an unprecedented pandemic, VTA and other Bay Area transit agencies face constant threats to long-term stability. Some public transport advocates fear that agencies will not be prepared for the next disaster.

“They are not ready just when the big 8.0 (earthquake) hits the Hayward fault and eliminates BART,” Eugene Bradley, founder of Silicon Valley Transit Users, told the San José Spotlight, adding that the agreements of mutual aid does not cover all eventualities. “There is no set plan for what happens when there is a terrorist attack or other serious natural disaster where an agency or service parts are absent for weeks or months at a time.”

A high-profile example is VTA, which suffered service disruptions in May after a disgruntled employee killed nine workers and damaged equipment at the Guadalupe light rail station in downtown San Jose. Another worker traumatized by the event committed suicide months later. The shooting forced the transit agency to shut down all light rail services, which took months to get back on track.

“I think what the pandemic has really highlighted is the fragility of specific agencies, or in the case of VTA, the fragility of a certain component of their delivery system,” said Randi Kinman, Chairman of the Policy Advisory Council of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The commission is a public body that coordinates the planning and financing of transportation in the Bay Area. “We lost the light rail for months.

VTA told San José Spotlight that it activates an emergency operations center in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. The center is made up of representatives from each division who formulate responses according to the type of emergency.

More recently, the center was activated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and remained active during a cyber attack in April. He was also active after the mass shooting.

VTA also activated its business continuity procedure to ensure transit can continue after filming. After the shooting, VTA set up temporary bus bridges to help commuters get around the South Bay without a streetcar. The unprecedented crisis has also traumatized hundreds of workers, creating a separate problem that VTA is still trying to address with expanded mental health resources.

“VTA’s priority has been, and continues to be, making sure our employees feel safe and confident to return to work and are able to perform their jobs safely,” said a spokesperson. of the agency.

Several Bay Area public transport agencies, such as AC Transit and MUNI, have helped fill the temporary shortage of operators available at VTA. But Kinman told the San José Spotlight it was temporary because no agency can afford to give up valuable labor for days or weeks at a time.

Major disasters pose uncomfortable questions about the long-term survival of public transport networks. Kinman cited the example of small North Bay transit operators facing increasing threats from wildfires.

“What if one of these fires wipes out an entire job site where their fleet is stored or maintained? How can we overcome this? ” she said.

As another example, she said that some transit systems such as the VTA rely on light rail, only a limited number of people are trained and certified to operate.

“So, are we training enough people? Do we have this kind of backup? Kinman said. “We work here with a limited number of trained people. “

She said transit agencies have developed strong, long-term resilience plans to ensure that natural or man-made disasters do not wipe out public transport infrastructure overnight. But the VTA shoot was a highlight for her as it showed that even with long-term planning, agencies can suffer catastrophic shutdowns.

“No one is planning to rebuild the entire workplace,” Kinman said. “How do you create a system where, if something like this happens, we don’t worry about the agency going bankrupt?” “

Advocates say this kind of planning is essential because long-term disruption of public transport can have massive ripple effects on the thousands of people who depend on it for their daily commute.

“I know it’s hard in a disaster or any other tragedy, but people always have to move,” Bradley said. “At a minimum, when you get people moving during a tragedy, you are showing the world that the tragedy has not defeated you.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] Where @ EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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