As seconds ticked away on a rigidly-enforced timer, dozens of county residents implored the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority to save public transit from deep service cuts.
The transit agency will vote on the cuts through a series of committee votes starting Nov. 10.
“Keep our world living another day,” said high school student Pragya Natarajan. “Do not cut 30 percent of your operations.”
The agency, suffering from a steep reduction of sales tax and fare revenues, is facing a budget deficit of more than $100 million for the 2021 fiscal year. VTA has issued three service proposals for the following year, which respectively cut its operational budget by 10%, 20% and 30%.
Eugene Bradley, founder of Silicon Valley Transit Users, denounced the agency for considering service cuts during a pandemic.
“Not a very good look if you’re trying to recover ridership,” Bradley said before the meeting. “This Valley is a 24-hour economy.”
Bradley said the agency should take some funds from Measure B, the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2016, to make up for the loss in revenues.
“If VTA has money to spend on BART, they have money to run the busses,” Bradley said.
His idea was backed by several public commenters, including Jeremy Erman, who relies on public transportation to travel while unemployed.
“This does not help me to hear… that the busses will be back in 2022,” Erman said. “Please cut the BART.”
The agency first proposed service cuts in September, including cuts to Route 22, the agency’s only 24-hour bus route which has served as a safe haven for homeless residents. The cuts would lower the frequency on many routes and end service earlier in the day. In the 30% scenario, the agency would completely cut routes 83 and 52, the latter of which runs between Foothill College and the Mountain View Transit Center.
Patrick Ahrens, a trustee on the Foothill-De Anza Community College Board, acknowledged that the transit agency has some tough decisions to make. Ahrens noted the community college district had recently renewed its contract with VTA to provide transit passes to thousands of students.
Students from across the county, including many high school students, spoke against the cuts. De Anza College student Cristina Phan said public transit was crucial to her success in high school, providing her transportation to a valuable internship. Phan said about 10,000 De Anza students use VTA bus and light rail service.
“I don’t think I would be able to have that experience… without transit,” Phan said.
VTA officials acknowledged the cuts are painful but said they’re unavoidable, given the drop in ridership.
“It looks like it’s starting to come back, incrementally, but we still have a long way to go,” said VTA spokesman Ken Blackstone. “We have to work within our resources.”
Blackstone said VTA staff are crafting a budget recommendation that will cut services by less than the 30% proposal.
“We’ve had overwhelming input that the (30% plan) is detrimental to our current and future riders,” Blackstone said. “What we’re crafting and what we’ll be proposing will be above that level.”
VTA board vice chair Glenn Hendricks, filling in for Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, noted that the agency would not discuss the proposed cuts because it was not on the agenda. He said additional speakers would need to provide comment to the agency through other means.
Transit user Diya Kandhra said her seasonal asthma has been triggered by wildfire smoke. Kandhra connected the wildfires to rising global temperatures partly fueled by carbon emissions from cars. She said the proposed cuts will lead to more people relying on cars, polluting the atmosphere and intensifying global warming.
“Wildfires aren’t going to go away anytime soon,” Kandhra said. “Please save transit now so that my peers and I can continue to breathe.”
Some residents said public transit is the future of San Jose as the city becomes less car-friendly.
Jenny Green said San Jose is reducing the number of parking spaces required in new residential buildings to encourage people to ditch their cars. “If you’re going to do that, then you need to please provide public transit for people to ride,” Green said. “This Valley is already hard for people to live without money.”
Yolanda Guerra, a public school teacher, said she and her students often rely on busses to enjoy field trips and other activities. Guerra noted that earlier during the meeting, VTA board members John McAlister and Larry Carr were discussing golf. Speaking to these board members, she formed a useful analogy.
“It’s like playing golf without a caddy,” Guerra said. “You really need to think broader and think about the people who live here and who actually depend upon public transportation.”
VTA will vote on the cuts through several committee meetings. The first vote will be held during the agency’s Technical Advisory Committee meeting on Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m. VTA’s Board of Directors will take the final vote on Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m.
Readers can submit comments to the agency via email at [email protected]
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.