Route 22 overnight bus service once again on chopping block in Santa Clara County
Riders board the Route 22 bus. File photo.

    The Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority is proposing to reduce or eliminate overnight services of the bus line dubbed Hotel 22, the only 24-hour bus route in the county that is often used by homeless residents seeking shelter at night.

    The transit agency has proposed several scenarios for Route 22, which is part of the 2021 Transit Service Plan that includes potential reductions in services of light rail lines and bus routes. One scenario would allow the Route 22 buses to run between 4:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays, with buses running every 15 minutes. On Saturdays, the busses would run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. and from 5 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Sundays. They would run every 15 minutes on both days.

    Under another scenario, officials suggested discontinuing the line between 10 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. on weekdays and between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekends. Buses would run every 20 minutes.

    “It’s going to have an adverse effect on the homeless and the working poor,” said Jerome Shaw of this scenario, who is the president of the Sunnyvale Clients Collaborative who lives in a shelter at Sunnyvale and is a columnist for San José Spotlight’s In Your Backyard column.

    More than a year ago, Shaw relied on the Route 22 bus service for shelter at night for about two months while on the waiting list for a men’s shelter in San Jose.

    “I had no other place to go so it was a safe location for me to be in during those hours without having to be exposed to the weather for a prolonged amount of time … it was a way to get off the streets,” Shaw said.

    In 2019, VTA proposed discontinuing the overnight service of Route 22 due to low ridership and high costs. After community outcry and fierce opposition from homeless advocates, transportation officials then recommended and approved saving the bus line.

    Now, the agency is undergoing unprecedented financial challenges as the coronavirus pandemic has caused dramatic losses in ridership, along with sales tax and fare revenues. Officials have projected a budget deficit of more than $100 million in 2021.

    “We are sincerely disappointed that we even have to have these conversations with our riders and the public. Staff is analyzing scenarios every which way and the scale of the need to reduce service requires reductions across the board,” said Ken Blackstone, a VTA spokesperson.

    “Every community would share … the reductions and no route is spared,” he added. “We focused reductions on the least-used trips of routes, such as late-night trips on Route 22, for example. We can’t achieve the necessary service reductions without making difficult decisions.”

    Advocates are once again denouncing VTA’s proposal to reduce services of Route 22.

    “For unhoused people, the 22 is a lifesaver,” said Shaunn Cartwright, a housing and homeless advocate. “For late night workers and early workers, the 22 is a vital tool for them to get to and from (work). There aren’t other buses that run all night long.”

    “There are all these people who are riding it in the middle of the night … the people who are the bartenders, cashiers, people who are leaving late night jobs and people who are going to their early morning shifts,” Cartwright added.

    The VTA board began discussing the 2021 Transit Service Plan this month and is slated to vote on it in December. Meanwhile, the agency is asking for people to provide suggestions about its proposed plans.

    Contact Nicholas Chan at [email protected] or follow @nicholaschanhk on Twitter

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