San Jose councilmember proposes ‘seamless’ public transportation
A woman boards a VTA bus near Diridon Station in downtown San Jose. File photo.

Public transit riders in Silicon Valley have a lot of agencies to keep up with: VTA, BART, Caltrain—and that’s if you take public transit at all. And if you plan on traveling to places like the North and East Bay you’ll have to wade through 27 different public transit agencies.

San Jose Councilmember and VTA board member Raul Peralez wants to create a more interconnected system.

In a recent proposal, Peralez suggested integrating principles from the nonprofit Seamless Bay Area, including coordinating bus, light rail, heavy rail and ferry service into an “easy-to-use” system that prioritizes riders, more investment in areas with few transit options, more bike and walking lanes and walkable communities.

Peralez introduced the proposal at Wednesday’s Rules and Open Government Committee. The City Council will consider adopting the principles at a Sept. 21 meeting.

“What is important to me is how discouraging it is to navigate through all of our complex transit systems,” Peralez said. He recalled visiting his in-laws in Napa County solely using public transportation—a trip that required getting on and off several different transit agencies. “(It) really was a challenge, not to mention very time-consuming.”

While Silicon Valley officials have taken steps toward pushing residents to take public transit—including approving and opening the first BART station in the city, considering fewer parking spaces, a cyclist superhighway and a plan to vastly reduce pedestrian deaths—the area’s transportation system is harshly criticized by transit advocates due to its inadequacy and infrequency compared to other regions such as San Francisco and New York City.

Criticism of regional public transit followed the mass shooting in May at VTA’s rail yard that killed nine employees. The agency shut down its light rail system for more than three months after punting its reopening date at least twice. The system still hasn’t returned to full capacity.

A VTA spokesperson told San José Spotlight the agency has no stance on the proposal, but that it works closely with other transit agencies such as BART and Caltrain to coordinate service.

Brian Preskitt spoke at Wednesday’s meeting about his worst experience riding transit in San Jose. Preskitt missed his VTA bus connection to BART by two minutes, forcing him to wait at his stop for a half hour before another bus came, making him late to see his cousin.

“If that’s going to happen every time someone wants to take BART from Little Portugal or when they want to take it from downtown, we will have spent boatloads of money on these stations without always making it easier for people to get around with transit,” Preskitt said.

Access to transportation is one of the issues Peralez hopes to solve: Low-income neighborhoods historically have less transit infrastructure, such as bus stops, making it more difficult to get to essential places like work, school and hospitals.

“We’ve found from people at our workshops that for a person to get to a hospital, it would take them about two hours because they have to take multiple buses,” Mayra Pelagio, executive director of advocacy group Latinos United for a New America, told San José Spotlight. “And the nearest hospital that serves folks that are undocumented and has reduced costs for undocumented folks is pretty far from the east side (of San Jose). That disconnect means if a person doesn’t have a car, they don’t have access to health care, which means they don’t have access to being healthy.”

A petition supporting Seamless Bay Area’s ideas has garnered more than 1,900 signatures as of Friday. BART also endorsed the principles in a meeting last November.

The proposal doesn’t seek to eliminate every transit agency in the Bay Area and consolidate them into one. Rather, it looks for better integration among the two-dozen-plus agencies in the area.

“San Jose is a major hub in the region,” Adina Levin, advocacy director at Seamless Bay Area, told San José Spotlight. “It would really benefit from having transit service being more coordinated from the perspective of riders so that transit is more convenient and affordable and easy to use.”

According to a city memo, public transit has never been used by more than 12% of the population for commute trips since 1970. In contrast, cars make up more than 75% of trips.

Several regional cities have already adopted the Seamless Bay Area principles, including East Palo Alto, Fremont, Mountain View and Redwood City.

“There is a disjointed transportation system in the region,” said Vice Mayor Chappie Jones. “There’s lots of seams. There’s lots of friction. Anything we can do to eliminate that friction and make people able to traverse the greater Bay Area would be worthwhile.”

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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