Bonilla: We need better public transit for students like me

Santa Clara County is home to 1.94 million residents, in which 412,000 are kids and teenagers ranging from the ages of 5-24. This group of residents makes up 21% of our county’s population and are heavily dependent on public transportation for many reasons.

One of the most obvious reasons for teen dependency on public transportation is the legal age requirement to drive. In California, for one to obtain a driver’s license they must be at least 16 years old, have held a permit for six months and have proof of completing a driver’s education course.

Children younger than the age of 16 do not have access to a car and mobilize themselves through our different forms of transportation. From a young age, in the area that I grew up, it was common for kids in the fifth grade to ride the bus to our schools and then use those same modes of transportation on the weekends for leisure. For many of us, this continued from middle school to the early years of college. Our families and economic struggles made it impossible to access a car. There wasn’t enough money that could be reallocated to meet a luxury that is not necessary.

All these economic hurdles make it so that many families in our high cost-of-living areas have to rely on public transportation — and it’s not just the youth that rely on the VTA to mobilize themselves. According to Census data, 321,053 residents of San Jose over the age of 16 depend on public transportation in their daily lives. These residents are students, workers and consumers — they are all attempting to navigate the economic difficulties of living in our county.

Our public transportation needs to be re-enforced to ensure that these vulnerable groups who do not have access to personal vehicles can continue to thrive in the place they call home. Besides being a financial help to many families in the South Bay, the promotion of the use of the VTA through enhancing some logistics can have a huge impact on our environment.

It’s estimated that more than 86.6 million metric ton of pollutants are being dispersed into the air that we breathe and the biggest contributor to this — 41% in 2017 — comes from transportation emissions.

So many residents rely on cars instead of public transportation, and it’s contaminating our air, water, weather and so much more. But this can change if Silicon Valley leaders would reallocate Measure B funds to the VTA to be used to purchase an all-electric fleet and incorporate more bus routes that have priority lanes.

This would improve the lives of Santa Clara County residents who, like us students, rely on the bus service.

Two buses — Bus 25 and 23 — reach the geographic range of my daily life. I can get to Westfield Valley Fair to go shopping, Bank of America to deal with a credit card problem and West Valley Community Service for volunteering by Bus 23; I could get to the Boba Tea shops and Safeway by Bus 25 along its way. Outside of that, I have to ask my friends to give me a ride or take Uber.

Buses play a critical role in me and my friends’ lives. After taking the Bus 25 to commute to school for almost two years, I moved to a place near my school to avoid the problem of delayed buses, even if it was a big financial burden to move.

I am at least fortunate that I live close to school; there are a lot more people who live far away from their schools and jobs. We need better public transit for them and students like me. We need better public transit to fight climate change, and we need the Measure B reallocation to do all of these things.

Silvia Bonilla is a student at De Anza College and a member of the Youth Climate Action Team of Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action.

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