Mallon: Creating a public transit system we can be proud of
A woman gets off the 522 bus near SAP Center. File photo.

    September is Transit Month in the Bay Area, an annual celebration of public transportation and its role in our communities. In other parts of the Bay Area, there are news conferences, ride-alongs with elected officials and various events.

    But here in Santa Clara County, September is just a typical month, where residents express the usual complaints about VTA and public transit in general.

    While I am a transit supporter who tries to have a positive attitude, I see where critics are coming from. It’s undeniable that mistakes have been made in the past and transit isn’t where it needs to be in Santa Clara County. It isn’t fast enough or convenient enough, doesn’t go to enough places and the schedules don’t always align with our schedules.

    However, these challenges are not insurmountable. With sufficient advocacy, support and investment we can see meaningful change.

    A prevalent grievance is the sluggish pace of transit. Sometimes, it takes significantly longer to go somewhere by bus or train than by car. However, by encouraging our cities to adopt changes like transit signal priority, we can boost transit speeds throughout the county. Last year, San Jose adopted a transit first policy and has already started incorporating speed improvements into plans and implementing transit signal priority, which is already speeding up buses.

    Another criticism of local transit is that service doesn’t run often enough, early enough or late enough. However, as I mentioned in my column last month, VTA has a vision for 83% more transit service. If implemented, this would make transit a more viable option for residents. Transit service isn’t static; it can grow with increased resources and we can help by advocating for more resources.

    Some people also argue local transit doesn’t reach far enough and doesn’t go where they need to go. While this can be true, more lines can be added to more places in the future. When the county took over operations from the private bus companies 50 years ago, there were far fewer bus lines and the light rail system hadn’t been built yet. So it’s certainly possible for service to be expanded to new areas.

    While many agencies are facing fiscal cliffs and stark realities, VTA is in a much different situation. Thanks to strong sales tax recovery, VTA is able to run full pre-pandemic service with the funding it has and while other agencies are talking about cuts, VTA is having the opposite conversation.

    It’s important to acknowledge that transit isn’t where people want it to be, but we shouldn’t let those shortcomings prevent us from working toward a better future.

    Consider advocating this month for small changes that can improve transit in your community and give transit a chance. Together we can create a more positive future and a public transportation system we can be proud to celebrate someday.

    San José Spotlight columnist Monica Mallon is a transit advocate and rider in Santa Clara County. Her columns appear on the first Thursday of every other month. Contact Monica at [email protected] or follow @MonicaMallon on Twitter.

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