SAN JOSE, CA: The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) has postponed awarding a five-year, $7.7 million PR contract to Burson-Marsteller after facing criticism in the San Jose Mercury News.The VTA provides light-rail and bus service, and related transportation programs in the South Bay Area. It was set to award the community outreach, education, and marketing contract to Burson at its September 2 meeting. But board chairman Don Gage asked to postpone awarding the contract for a month so the full board could have all the information about the contract that would dispel any concerns raised by the Mercury News' "misleading articles," said Anne-Catherine Vinickas, the VTA's director of marketing and customer service. One article stated that the VTA is under fire for raising fares and decreasing service, and that the VTA can't afford to build the much-anticipated Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) extension to San Jose. The story quotes critics as lambasting the timing, pointing to a 2006 ballot measure that will ask voters to approve an increase in sales tax to help pay for transportation projects, including the BART extension. A Mercury News editorial blasted the VTA for allocating money for a PR push as it faced a $100 million operating shortfall. The paper called on VTA "supporters [to] raise private money for a PR campaign. The best way for VTA to build credibility is to show taxpayers that every penny is pumped into buses and trains." Vinickas said the contract should be viewed as a public outreach and education effort to encourage the public to become more involved with the VTA's planning and development of future transportation projects, as well as to build ridership. The contract is nothing new, as the VTA already does much of its outreach and education in various projects, she added. The contract is an effort to consolidate those outreach initiatives, and to make the programs more efficient and effective, she said.