Last month, the VTA board unanimously approved the Visionary Network, a bold vision for transit service in Santa Clara County that aims to bring service levels up to what’s appropriate for today’s market.
The vision includes 83% more service than what’s currently offered, including more frequent service on all routes, longer hours of operation and even overnight service.
While this may seem overly aspirational, it is reasonable. Today, VTA is operating at 1990s levels of service because of limited operating funds. The agency hasn’t been able to expand its service to keep up with the growing population and currently operates less service than peer agencies. The visionary network would bring VTA’s service levels up to AC Transit and Denver RTD.
It’s no secret people are unhappy with current transit options and service in Santa Clara County. I hear complaints about service almost daily, and criticism about VTA and other agencies as well. Over the past few years, most coverage of VTA has been negative and focused on problems rather than solutions.
People are aware of debates on governance, BART Silicon Valley and various other controversies. However, most people don’t know that while all that was happening, VTA was working on a path forward and a vision for the future. The agency asked city and county representatives, staff, riders and residents what they wanted to see for transit and used those comments to inform the vision.
VTA’s vision got little attention, but as someone that believes in transit, it’s inspiring to see people discussing the future after so many difficult years of struggling. Ultimately, leaders created a bold vision supported by the public.
Now that the vision has been approved, the hard work to make it a reality can begin. The network will cost VTA an additional $190 million per year on the operations side. There’s also an estimated $500 million to 550 million in one-time capital expenses to purchase enough buses to run the service, upgrade facilities and make other necessary capital improvements.
The agency has been advocating for operations funding at the state and regional level, and will begin advocating for funding for the capital projects once they are finalized and approved by the board.
Since the network is expensive and will require significant infrastructure upgrades, it will likely be implemented in phases over the next few decades. However, service improvements can begin as soon as some additional operations funding is secured.
While securing funding and implementing the network will take years, I think it’s exactly where we need to go. We won’t know if we can get there unless we try.
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.