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.