We’ve been working for over a year with VTA, the transit agency of Santa Clara County, California, on a rethinking of their bus network. After a long process that has included multiple alternatives and a round of public discussion about them, we’ve arrived at a recommended network. The plan is meant to go in this fall, when a BART rapid transit extension opens into the county from the north, and when a rearranged operating plan for the light rail system is also planned. If you live in the County, or use the system, please tell VTA what you think. As always: if you like the plan, you should assume it won’t happen unless you tell the agency that you like it.
So here’s the system as it looks now. (Look carefully at the legend. Right-click and open in a new window for more detail.)
And here is the proposed network:
Here’s why the plan looks as it does.
- The plan before the public does not significantly increase the budget for bus operations. That means existing service has been re-arranged, which is part of why difficult trade-offs are made. County voters just passed Measure B, which has some additional funds for service, but those funds are not shown in the above plan. The Board could decide to add some of these funds to create the final plan.
- A goal of the plan is to shift the percentage of resources devoted to high ridership service from 70% to 85%.
- That means that the amount of resources for low-ridership coverage services — services that exist because some people need or want them but which not many people ride — goes from 30% of the budget to 15%. (For background on ridership-coverage trade-off, see here.)
- So in round numbers, the amount of coverage service drops by half. You see this in the many areas that have a blue or green line in the existing system but no all day service, and in some cases no service at all, in the proposed.
- The policy to devote 85% of resources to high ridership service, and 15% to coverage service, is not something we recommended. It was the result of an extensive public conversation about different paths the network could take. In the spring we presented three alternative networks to the public, showing this range of possibilities, and the 85-15 policy is the result of that conversation.
- Where coverage service has been eliminated, it is because of very low ridership, usually tied to low density or difficult geography (see here for the geometric principles involved). The plan does not discriminate between different parts of the county in this regard. Every city in the county has one or more coverage segments disappearing.
- Everyone at the agency, and everyone on the the Board, knows that some people will be mad about the coverage service cuts. If you are unhappy about this, please tell VTA that in your comments, but be civil, because civil comments are much more effective. Don’t tell us that we’re idiots or monsters (we’re not) or that we don’t know that people will be affected (we do). Understand that the service you are defending is very expensive per passenger for the taxpayer, because so few people ride it. Cuts to that service are not an expression of an opinion about you.
With that, here are some cool things about the plan.
- A much-expanded frequent grid. Eastside San Jose has always had one but now the same principle is spread across most of San Jose and a few main lines in the western part of the county, where demand is lower but where there are concentrations of all day demand that could support a grid pattern.
- A new Rapid Bus line, which means a line that runs every 15 minutes or better all day but makes widely spaced stops (up to 1 mile spacing). This one runs from the new Berryessa BART station through downtown and out Stevens Creek to Cupertino, then north through downtown Sunnyvale to the Lockheed area.
- Weekday hourly frequencies (green) are almost gone. If a route runs at all, it runs at least every 30 minutes.
- San Jose Airport gets a very different kind of service. Currently it has just a shuttle to light rail and Caltrain. This means you may be two connections away from most places you might be going. In the new network, the airport is on a line that runs all the way across the county, including directly to BART. That means fewer connections with your luggage. Much of the county, and much of the BART system in the East Bay, is just one connection away.
- Weekend service is especially improved. Here are the frequencies for the weekend network:
Once again, this draft plan is the starting point. The final plan, based on your comments and on board direction, will be adopted in April, and implemented this fall.