Lack of light rail affects San Jose State University students
VTA light rail. File photo.

Classes start next week at San Jose State University, but with VTA’s light rail still out of service, some students and workers could face daunting commutes.

Before the pandemic, Suzie Bahmanyar, an academic librarian at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, said she took the light rail from her Camden home to downtown San Jose.

“It made the experience very stress free in terms of getting onto campus,” Bahmanyar told San José Spotlight. “If you’re driving to SJSU, parking can be super difficult unless you come early in the morning, which I didn’t.”

Bahmanyar said with the light rail closure, she now has to drive to SJSU and park off campus.

Light rail operations have been suspended since May 26 after an employee shot and killed nine workers and then himself. Officials say the shooting damaged buildings and computers necessary to run light rail operations. On Aug. 2, VTA announced it would run “bus bridges,” modified bus lines that mimic light rail routes and stops, until regular service is restored.

Roughly 29% of SJSU students use VTA light rail and bus services to get to campus, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the university’s Transportation Solutions, a program that provides information and services to students and employees who commute.

Sarah Ahmed, an incoming SJSU junior, said she plans to leave her Santa Clara home at least two hours before her first class starts on Aug. 19 to avoid being late.

“I have classes at 10:45 a.m. and will have to leave at 8:30 a.m. to catch the bus and be at SJSU on time,” Ahmed told San José Spotlight. “Other days I have 9 a.m. classes and have to get out at 7:30 a.m.”

Ahmed, who previously attended Mission College in San Jose, said she’s taken VTA buses for years to get to school. Lately, she’s noticed more riders packed on the bus than in previous months, which she thinks is a result of the lack of light rail service. She worries that delays in service could cause her to run late.

“I can’t drive and my parents work,” Ahmed said. “If that happens, I’d have to get an Uber which is a little pricey, (but) I really will have no other options to get there on time.”

Tiffany Rodriguez, program manager of SJSU’s Transportation Solutions, said her team is encouraging commuters to find alternative routes to school if VTA light rail and bus services are not available. She said Transportation Solutions regularly updates its website and newsletters with the latest VTA announcements.

“We also are starting to send out emails that are focused on informing students about their transportation options, but are encouraging them to make the choice that is right for them,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

While VTA does not have a set date for when light rail operations will resume, Monica Mallon, a San Jose State alumna and transit advocate, said she hopes students will not be deterred from using the transit agency’s services to get to school.

“I’m really worried we’re not going to have this culture where it’s normal to take transit to school,” Mallon told San José Spotlight. “That’s something I always have pride in at SJSU.”

Mallon said she rode VTA buses and light rail trains every day as a student last year. Until VTA resumes its full services, Mallon said residents should continue to support the transit agency.

“The hope is that people will be patient and compassionate and willing to get on transit despite the decrease in service levels, especially when VTA makes the full recovery,” Mallon said. “We’re lucky to have the opportunity to get back to where we started.”

Contact Stephanie Lam at [email protected] or follow @StephCLam on Twitter.

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