News


Compromise on VTA bus-routes plan unveiled

Some Palo Alto and Mountain View routes to be kept, others combined or eliminated

Palo Alto would lose its Line 89 bus route but it would keep service to Gunn High School via Line 88 in a compromise draft bus plan worked out by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).

The Draft Transit Service Plan, which was presented to the VTA Board of Directors on Jan. 5,and unanimously approved for release to the public for review, would overhaul the entire VTA bus system to increase ridership and make the service more efficient, officials have said. The plan covers proposed changes to bus and light-rail routes throughout Santa Clara County. A series of community meetings will be held for public comment, including one at Palo Alto City Hall on Jan. 19 at 6 p.m.

VTA presented three alternatives to the public last year based on scenarios designed to increased ridership and potentially reduce geographic coverage. The agency has said it must decrease coverage throughout the county to increase ridership, and thus its revenues.

One scenario, with an 80 percent ridership/20 percent coverage goal, would substantially reduce the frequency of some Palo Alto bus lines. Another, called 90/10, would eliminate all bus routes serving Palo Alto save for two direct lines from Palo Alto to San Jose.

Express buses to the Stanford Research Park and the Palo Alto VA Hospital would not be affected, according to the draft plan.

But after weighing public input and seeking to retain service for its most needy riders, VTA transportation engineers devised a hybrid 85/15 plan. In Palo Alto, that would mean eliminating the 89 bus route, which connects the Palo Alto VA Healthcare System at Miranda Avenue with the California Avenue Caltrain station.

"That service is redundant with the Marguerite shuttle, which is free. We can't compete; we have to charge $2," said Adam Burger, VTA senior transportation planner.

But VTA would retain Line 88, the route serving Gunn High School, but it would limit service to only around school bell times. Buses would arrive every 30 minutes. The line would also receive a number change: 288.

"We really heard strong input from the community and the PTA," Burger said of keeping the line.

Palo Alto's Midtown-serving Line 35 would merge with Mountain View's Line 32 and be renamed Line 21. Previously, the 35 covered the Palo Alto Transit Center to the San Antonio Transit Center; riders would transfer in Mountain View to the 32 to travel to the Santa Clara Caltrain Station. The merged line would travel directly from the Palo Alto Transit Center to the Santa Clara station. It would retain all of the stops from the 32 and the 35 and would arrive every 30 minutes throughout the day, he said.

One big change in Mountain View would be a new rapid light-rail route from the Alum Rock Transit Center to the Mountain View Transit Center, which would run every 15 minutes, Burger said. The existing Winchester to Mountain View line would be modified to run from Winchester to Old Ironsides and service would improve from 15 to 30 minutes depending on time of day to 15 minutes all day.

Bus line 40 would be extended to cover from Foothill College down Shoreline Boulevard to the Mountain View Transit Center, closing a previous gap in the system, Burger said.

A new bus line, 20, would also run from north San Jose to Mountain View every 15 minutes during peak hours and 30 minutes during non-peak times.

But VTA is also proposing to discontinue Line 34, which runs from San Antonio Shopping Center to downtown Mountain View, because of low ridership. Some of its stops would be taken up by the new 21 line.

The VTA is proposing to boost rapid bus service by flipping the frequencies of its two north-south lines from Palo Alto Transit Center along El Camino Real to the Eastridge Mall in San Jose. The 22 and rapid 522 now run every 12 minutes and every 15 minutes respectively; under the draft plan, the 522 would now become the more frequent, with a bus added to the 522 route and one removed from the 22.

Burger said that staff "really struggled with these decisions. While the focus is on rider-coverage, we don't want (the message) to get lost that we really do care about neighborhoods with ridership needs and we really do work to retain those. It's a big balancing act overall," he said.

VTA intends to update its paratransit policy with the goal of sustaining services in Santa Clara County, spokeswoman Stacey Hendler-Ross said.

"Note that this would discontinue VTA paratransit service in Fremont, where East Bay Paratransit also operates. Whether this means freezing the service area as it is today or grandfathering in current clients is yet to be determined," she said in an email.

If the board approves releasing the draft plan for public scrutiny, public meetings would take place from Jan. 6 to Feb. 20. VTA officials stressed that the draft plan is a starting point for public discussion.

"We want to learn how we can make this project better. We don't know the nuances of each community, as well as the community does, which is why we want their help in improving the plan," Burger said.

The last time the agency overhauled its system, in 2008, it made 50 changes from the draft plan release to the final plan, he added. "I'm really hoping we'll get that kind of feedback as well," he said.

VTA plans to launch an information campaign, including a website on Jan. 5, and will host webinars or make in-person appearances to discuss the draft plan, he said. Information is available at nextnetwork.vta.org.

NOTE: The meeting location has been changed because of a power outage at the county Board of Supervisors Chambers.

• View the agenda packet at tinyurl.com/zz57xpu.

• View the map at tinyurl.com/vtaPA0117

CORRECTION: This story has updated the spelling of Adam Burger's last name and his title.

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Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2017 at 6:14 pm

When will these changes take place? We have a foreign visitor living with us in Midtown who takes the 88 bus to work at the VA Hospital every day. The proposed schedule change would make that line unusable for her, and she would need to take Uber every day, at much greater expense.


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2017 at 9:34 am

It is with great sadness I read this report. The good news is that the bus to Gunn should be saved, that should be a no brainer.

But I see so much lack of foresight in this. All the talk about how we should plan for the future is based on what has happened in the past. I see nothing about attracting new riders, nothing about promoting various routes as a great alternative to solo driving, nothing about liaising with other transport agencies, nothing about how to serve riders who need to cross county lines and nothing to get commuters to Caltrain or from off ramp carpool parking lots to business areas. I see some riders being told to use two buses (and two fares) instead of one where there are changes being made.

This could be a step in the right direction. Instead I see it as a step backwards. This will cause more traffic on the roads and cause more people to shun public transport because it doesn't meet their needs.


12 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2017 at 11:21 am

"The agency has said it must decrease coverage throughout the county to increase ridership, and thus its revenues."

Lessee now...VTA thinks it will get more riders and revenue if it goes to fewer places where riders are.


11 people like this
Posted by Eejits
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2017 at 11:56 am

Eejits is a registered user.

It would help if PAUSD would bring back school buses, particularly for the kids who live in the hills of Palo Alto and Los Altos. Then VTA could get rid of those routes and save some of the others. Cut back on traffic, too, from parents driving kids to school because they're afraid for them to ride a VTA bus.

Their faulty and idiotic logic on cutting routes to make more money shows that VTA has become an Idiocracy-- a bureaucracy run by idiots!


21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 5, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Hmmm, Maybe WE should compromise and stop voting to fund taxes to support VTA to expand services, when they actually then go out and immediately reduce bus services in our community. Apparently they're not that interested in us as customers, so they're probably not that interested in us as voters or funders either. Santa Clara County voters just approved sales tax increase for VTA to increase services, and the ink is barely dry from that election. Amazing that voters are this gullible. And I can probably guess on the Palo Alto voters that flocked to support that tax. Probably the same winners that support the roadblocks on Charlston/Arastradero making it practically impassible from 7am to 7pm every day.


2 people like this
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 5, 2017 at 4:49 pm

These changes do seem reasonable; some people just complain when anything changes at all. No one can expect the world to freeze around them and where they live until they decide to leave or get carried out in a box, to be straightforward about it.

The article does mention VTA not being able to compete with a free bus. Was Marguerite started as a trade for some Stanford Project or the like? That's nice, but that kind of thing does need to be coordinated with VTA or any other parallel service. We seem to have a number of shuttle buses now, or at least we do in Mountain View. VTA should be at least notified about the advent of such services and be free to connect with them and deploy their resources a bit differently, offering better service somewhere else.

I understand people's need for stability and being able to plan. Where people live and work is hard to change and are major decisions to make. With rents and house prices where they are around here, major damage to individuals can result from simple withdrawal of service

I believe that computer simulations of transit systems exist and could serve to make a more unified overall system with less redundancy and fewer dead areas. Services are likely running computer aided dispatch, tracking, and communication systems that could be in common. Are the services we have over-bureaucratized? Buses should be much more adaptable to change than rail services and the buses can be feeder lines.

Also, the only VTA bus I've been on that would be questionable for, say, 6th grade up would be Hotel 22. But how many 6th grade up students travel after midnight on cold nights? Kids go to school at least Middle School up on S.F.'s MUNI buses during the day routinely. Do people really think that Chinese-Americans or Hispanic-Americans don't really care what happens to their kids? Maybe some people around here need to get over being Masters Of The Universe. Their kids would be better off, just as safe, and more ready for their future world.

ps - The changes to the Winchester and Santa Theresa light rail lines are especially useful for Mountain View residents.


6 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2017 at 10:57 pm

Thank you for covering this!

@Maguro_01 - I have seen large numbers of middle school kids riding the 22 in Mountain View, to get from around Grant to Castro, on their way to the middle school on Castro.

At the same meeting tonight the VTA board was apparently moving forward on changing the fare structure, so that the cost of a transfer would be either low cost or free at some point in 2017. That has been much easier since the arrival of Clipper Cards, but it took pointing the current transfer penalty out by the consultant who worked on the new network to get this change going.

When the 22 service is reduced in favor of the 522, that will be a downgrade of local service in Mountain View and Palo Alto, and the 522 stops are too far apart at this end of its route. From East SJ to SJ downtown 522 stops are never more than 1 mile, and some less than 1/2 mile. From downtown Palo Alto to Bernardo in Sunnyvale there are only 4 intermediate stops, and 4 gaps of 1.7 miles each between stops. Palo Alto and Mountain View should lobby for about 4 more 522 bus stops to fill these gaps.


Posted by Erin Ryder
a resident of Midtown

on Jan 9, 2017 at 1:54 pm


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6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Where is City Council on this?

Is there anyone from City Hall involved in talking with VTA?

Is there anyone from the PAUSD involved in talking with VTA?

Is there any official talking to any official in Mountain View on this?

Since they say they are hoping to get people linked to BART, is there any plan to offer a VTA service across the Dumbarton to BART in East Bay?

Is there any plan to get neighborhoods linked to Caltrain and coordinate with Caltrain schedules?

Is there any plan for neighborhood routes rather than the long routes to San Jose?

Is there any plan for linking Palo Alto to Foothill College?

Is there any plan for future development needs rather than looking at historical ridership figures?

Why are these questions not being addressed by VTA?


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2017 at 12:02 pm

It was reported elsewhere that the VTA felt that the existence of the Palo Alto shuttles justified cutting PA service because we're already served.

Isn't it great that we get stuck paying for both the extra sales tax and the empty PA shuttles that can't be scheduled to take kids to school and other desired destinations.

A little coordination among the highly paid bureaucrats, the City Council and PA's pontificating commissions would be special.

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