The last time I went to the Mineta San Jose International Airport on public transit, I had to take the bus to the light rail before finally boarding another bus to the terminal. The trip from Cambrian took a little more than an hour and could have taken longer if I had missed a transfer. Even residents traveling from downtown to the airport need to take both light rail and bus, which can take over 30 minutes.
The current public transportation system doesn’t make it easy for residents and visitors to get to the airport. Transit leaders and elected officials have been aware of this problem for decades, which is why they included an airport connector in the 2000 Measure A transit sales tax.
However, the dot com bust forced VTA to reprioritize the categories in the measure, and the airport connector has been deprioritized several times. Over the past few years, there has been a renewed interest in providing a connection to the airport. San Jose has recently explored private transit options at the airport, including autonomous pods and a hyperloop.
As a transit-dependent rider, I would like it to be easier to get to the airport—but like most local transit riders and residents, going there isn’t my top priority. I haven’t been to the airport since 2019, and even before the COVID-19 pandemic, I would usually only go to the airport twice a year at the most.
In Plan Bay Area, a long-term regional plan which includes transportation, the estimated cost of the airport connector is half a billion dollars. I would benefit more from that money going to service, and I think most residents would too. What use is an airport connector if people already struggle to get around using the existing system?
I think improving what we have should be the top priority. However, I think a simple solution that deserves serious consideration even if an airport connector is built in the future is the bus. Currently, the only direct bus connection to the airport is Route 60, which completely misses San Jose Diridon Station and downtown.
An additional bus route connecting Diridon Station, the airport, San Jose State, downtown businesses and hotels could be implemented in less than a year, for less than 0.1% of the cost of the airport connector. It could be funded through a partnership with the airport and local businesses, or VTA could use some of its remaining stimulus funds to pilot the route.
Providing a quality connection to the airport doesn’t have to take decades or cost millions of dollars, and even if a more capital-intensive airport connector is built eventually, a low-cost bus solution should be implemented in the meantime.
San José Spotlight columnist Monica Mallon is a transit advocate and rider in Santa Clara County, and founder of Turnout4Transit. Her columns appear on the first Thursday of every other month. Contact Monica at [email protected] or follow @MonicaMallon on Twitter.