By Lloyd Alaban
VTA sent out additional buses to help bridge gaps in light rail service following Wednesday’s mass shooting. But now that’s going away too.
The transportation agency stopped light rail service after an employee opened fire at the agency’s rail yard near downtown San Jose, killing nine people and then himself. It’s unclear when service will resume.
“Management is in discussions with how to resume service on a short term basis, as well as what the long term service recovery plan will look like,” VTA spokesperson Stacey Hendler Ross told San José Spotlight. She asked for the public’s patience and understanding while the agency works to get the light rail system back up and running. “We are doing our best to balance the needs of passengers with the needs of our employees to have the time they require to cope with last week’s tragedy.”
VTA has not yet confirmed a timeline to resume light rail service, adding they still don’t have full access to the Guadalupe Light Rail Facility where the shooting happened.
The transportation agency was running “bus bridges,” or modified bus lines that mimick light rail routes and stops. But those have also been suspended as of Tuesday because the agency is shorthanded. VTA said all bus services will see at least some delays due to short staffing.
“I know it’s really hard to deal with a lack of service and transportation. I completely understand why riders are frustrated,” said Monica Mallon, a frequent VTA rider and local transit advocate. Mallon, who uses VTA services almost daily, said her commute has increased by around 30 minutes since last week’s mass shooting stopped light rail service. “But it’s understandable that this is the situation. I just hope that riders will try to have some patience and sympathy for what everyone at VTA is going through.”
VTA’s light rail service connects residents along the peninsula, from Mountain View to San Jose.
At least one of the workers killed on Wednesday, 49-year-old Tim Romo, had intricate knowledge of the complicated light rail system. According to the Mercury News, only Romo, a 22-year veteran overhead line worker, and his crew had the special training required to get close to the 800-volt overhead lines that power the light rail trains.
Hendler Ross told San José Spotlight that Romo was not the only employee trained in overhead line work.
For now, VTA has asked people not to wait or congregate at light rail stations and instead find a corresponding bus route to use.
“There are some bus stops that will require you to do a little bit of walking. I don’t know if people are up to that,” said Eugene Bradley, founder of grassroots public transit advocacy group Silicon Valley Transit Users. He added that delays of up to half an hour are not uncommon.
Bradley hopes that VTA and sister transit organizations will continue “mutual aid” to supplement services—something that stopped over the weekend. Over Memorial Day weekend, AC Transit—which primarily serves the western portions of Alameda and Contra Costa counties—offered services into Silicon Valley.
According to AC Transit spokesperson Robert Lyles, VTA told AC Transit that it no longer needed bus bridge services.
Always willing to lend a hand to our South Bay neighbors! https://t.co/CQXuqZ3Cdv
— AC Transit (@rideact) May 29, 2021
“I get that, granted, VTA—especially the light rail personnel—they need time to grieve and process the events (of Wednesday). At least have some type of alternative,” Bradley said. “Why was that agreement not extended until whenever light rails return?”
Hendler Ross told San José Spotlight that VTA is assessing what other outside sources are needed to help with service, if any.
VTA, already dealing with staffing difficulties from the pandemic, also had to contend with a cyber ransomware attack in April that took down many of its servers, including one that kept track of its paratransit service for those with disabilities.
In recent months, tensions between the union for VTA employees, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265, and the transit agency’s management have been rising.
Union officials accused managers of not protecting VTA drivers and operators during the pandemic. The union pushed for rear-door boarding amid a steep rise in COVID-19 cases among VTA workers and demanded support enforcing the mask mandate on its vehicles.
“I have directed staff to make our people our first priority,” Interim VTA General Manager Evelynn Tran wrote on the company’s blog on Monday. “We will marshal all the resources we can to assist our people through this. It will mean providing less service to the community than we would wish. But healing our organization must be our first priority.”
The FBI’s evidence team reportedly completed its work on Sunday. Reports indicate that the shooter became increasingly disgruntled with work in recent years. The motive for the shooting is still unclear.
Tran added that the transportation agency is working to provide resources to help employees and victims’ families process Wednesday’s shooting.
“Together we will be planning ways to memorialize and remember our lost colleagues,” Tran said. “They will never be forgotten.”
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This article was originally published by The San José Spotlight.