The plan also calls for eliminating or reducing service on several VTA Express routes; and reducing service on Routes 88, 88L and 88M, which would more closely hew to the schedule of Gunn High School. By contrast, Express bus 522 on El Camino Real would run more frequently.
VTA has been gradually reducing its coverage of areas where ridership is particularly low and where the agency's subsidy on a per-rider basis is especially high. Concurrently, it's been putting more resources into dense, geographically central areas, where it can generate more revenue. The shift away from a "coverage" model to a "ridership" model calls for fewer routes but more frequency on those routes, said Adam Burger, the VTA's senior transportation planner.
For some of the agency's most efficient routes, he said, the VTA's subsidy per boarding amounts to about $6. For the least efficient ones, the subsidy can be as high as $94.
About two dozen residents, many of them residents of senior-living community Channing House, attended Tuesday's hearing to assert that the VTA's best isn't good enough. Some chafed at the district's proposed service reductions in Palo Alto and nodded disapprovingly when VTA staff disclosed to the committee that one of the VTA board's directions for the new plan was to "protect south county." Burger explained that this referred to areas that would have no transit services at all if the VTA moves its buses away.
Barbara Bowden, a Channing House resident, called on the VTA to increase, not reduce, bus service in Palo Alto.
"It just seems unconscionable that we pay more in taxes and get less in service," Bowden said.
Patty Irish, a member of the Stevenson House board of directors and also a resident of Channing House, noted that Palo Alto already has a large — and growing — senior population.
"For a lot of seniors, it isn't even a choice about whether they can use a car," Irish said. "A lot of seniors have to give up their cars, and they need public transportation."
Some on the council shared the residents' frustrations. Councilman Greg Tanaka repeatedly pointed to a VTA route map, which showed a density of routes in San Jose and a relative paucity of them in north county. Noting that Palo Alto provides roughly 7 percent of the sales tax revenues that the VTA relies on, Tanaka said he believes the city doesn't seem to be getting a "fair share for transit."
Tanaka attributed that to the city's lack of representation on the VTA board, which includes among its 12 voting members 10 council members — five of whom are from San Jose — and two Santa Clara County supervisors. Palo Alto, by contrast, has no representation. The north county has one rotating seat, which is currently occupied by Mountain View City Councilman John McAlister.
Tanaka asked whether the city can "opt out" of the VTA and likened its treatment of Palo Alto as "taxation without representation." Palo Alto, he argued, should not be spending its money to subsidize bus services in San Jose.
"We have to fix the representation issue," Tanaka said. "We can't be outvoted by San Jose every day. We have to figure out how to keep dollars here in Palo Alto to serve the people in Palo Alto."
Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a former VTA board member and chair of the Policy and Services Committee, signed off on a letter to the VTA that questions the agency's decision to cut services.
The letter highlighted Palo Alto's role as a major employment center and noted that many employees come from other communities within the VTA service area.
"We have been working with large employers in our community to be innovative around the way that their employees get to and from work in Palo Alto," Kniss' letter states. "Our goal is to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips by continuing to expand available transit services in our community and not to contract them.
"While we broadly understand VTA's financial situation, we also do not want to constantly be subject to service reductions every time VTA needs to make a cut."
The VTA's need to find a more sustainable business model accelerated over the past year, as the agency found itself facing a $50 million budget shortfall. About half of the gap is expected to be filled with revenues from Senate Bill 1, according to the VTA. Even so, the agency still has a budget gap of about $25 million, which prompted the agency's board of directors to seek about $14.7 million in savings from service cuts.
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