Getting to Mineta San Jose International Airport from downtown is difficult on public transportation, but that might change in the future. San Jose officials are opening up the possibility of a transit link between the airport and Diridon Station.
The city Department of Transportation is accepting bids to develop a transit project spanning the three miles between the airport and Diridon Station. San Jose has already received 23 ideas from companies discussing possible solutions for covering this gap, ranging from autonomous vehicles and Hyperloop to monorails and magnetic levitation vehicles. The city will eventually select one firm to lay the groundwork for the project, including the transit technology, business model that involves securing private funding and designing a transit path that avoids street-level crossings.
Unlike its neighbors in San Francisco and Oakland, there is no convenient way to get between the airport and downtown San Jose. VTA light rail doesn’t connect to the airport, and many people rely on taxis or ride shares to make the short trip. In 2002, Santa Clara County approved Measure A establishing a 30-year half-cent sales tax to fund transit projects, including the airport connector. San Jose officials recently began looking into high-tech solutions to this problem.
“I am excited to see the ingenuity brought forward through this process and how we can leverage the finest talent and solutions to make the airport connector a reality,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement.
Ramses Madou, division manager of planning, policy and sustainability for the transportation department, said the city is interested in new types of transit focused on customer experience, faster trip times, are autonomous and generally go point-to-point without frequent stops.
“These are the kinds of systems we’re investigating primarily,” Madou told San José Spotlight, adding the city is still open to more traditional “people movers” like the ones operating at San Francisco International Airport. “Those are going to be really hard to compete against (compared to) some of the new systems we’re interested in. But that’s the point of a competitive proposal process—we encourage all companies who feel they have the appropriate solution to respond.”
Madou cited a handful of companies that responded to an earlier request for information with cutting-edge ideas, such as Glydways, which makes autonomous personal cars, and Elon Musk’s Boring Company.
Karen Philbrick, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and San José Spotlight columnist, said the bidding process is a crucial step toward the creation of a transit connection between the airport and what will become the busiest transit hub on the West Coast. Diridon Station is at the center of the Google Downtown West development, expected to bring thousands of residents and workers into the city. The station is also eventually going to connect with BART, strengthening San Jose’s transit ties to the rest of the Bay Area.
“It’s also an opportunity to leverage public-private partnership to provide safe, reliable and innovative transit infrastructure to our gateway to the world at the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport,” Philbrick told San José Spotlight.
Business leaders are excited about the prospect of a transit system expediting travel to and from the airport. Business travel is a critical source of revenue for the region. Officials are optimistic about the recovery of air travel, but passenger volume is still significantly below 2019 levels.
“Obviously that’s been a missing link,” Dennis King, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight. “We don’t want to put the Uber drivers and taxicab folks under any more strain to their businesses, but there needs to be that link.”