Fremont High School parking and mural
Fremont Union High School District will switch from at-large trustee elections to area-based elections come November. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Sunnyvale is looking to fill accessibility gaps in existing public transit options for residents to travel around the city, and one ride-share service is taking center stage.

The Sunnyvale City Council is considering signing the city up with Silicon Valley Hopper (SV Hopper), a multi-city ride-share service that operates in Cupertino and Southern Santa Clara. Residents spoke in support of the program at a Jan. 9 council meeting, highlighting the ways it could benefit students, seniors, disabled residents and businesses. Advocates and a handful of students from Fremont and Homestead high schools spoke about transit inequities they face from living in North Sunnyvale, a historically underserved low-income community.

“All of our students and those further away have to travel great distances just to get to school and … participating in activities … is really difficult for these students if there isn’t reliable and safe transportation,” Peggy Brewster, founder of Sunnyvale Equity in Education, told San José Spotlight.

Fremont Union High School District (FUHSD) closed Sunnyvale High School in 1980 and ended district-wide school bussing soon after, citing budget cuts. The district now subsidizes VTA bus passes for students who live in three north Sunnyvale ZIP codes, but Brewster said the bus schedule doesn’t account for students who have to stay on campus for after school activities.

FUHSD covers multiple cities in the county, including Sunnyvale, Cupertino and parts of San Jose, serving about 4,000 Sunnyvale students.

Councilmembers had planned to study a potential shuttle service for North Sunnyvale high school students, as the council prioritized the topic last year. Brewster said the council could pivot toward SV Hopper to collect data on student usage in a live scenario.

Councilmember Omar Din, who represents much of North Sunnyvale, said it could be possible to pivot from a specific, city-run shuttle service for students to SV Hopper. He said the council needs to determine the process to reallocate funding from one project to another, but said it was promising that SV Hopper could increase transportation access for multiple communities at the same time.

“In North Sunnyvale, it’s really difficult to get yourself to downtown, to get yourself to most of the resources we have in the city, if you don’t have a car,” Din told San José Spotlight. “This is exciting because it’s just one more way people can improve their access and quality of life in the city.”

Schools are already a hotspot destination for SV Hopper users. Rod Sinks, FUHSD trustee and former Cupertino mayor, presented SV Hopper ride-share data at the meeting, and multiple schools are among the most common destinations for riders.

Sinks said the ride-share service fills holes in Cupertino transit routes and suspects the same gaps could be filled in Sunnyvale.

“What we’re really trying to do is encourage people to use active transportation, or transportation that doesn’t require them owning a car or being able to drive,” Sinks told San José Spotlight.

The service’s details, such as hours of operation or fare rates, would be negotiated between the city and Via, the company that operates SV Hopper. The existing service is funded in part by a state transportation grant, with matching funding from both involved cities. Sinks said Sunnyvale could apply for the same grant this year, though the deadline to apply is in March. Sinks said the starting proposal for Sunnyvale would cost the city about $3 million over two years.

As a city service, Brewster and Sinks pointed out SV Hopper would have benefits beyond the student population. Other common destinations are health care facilities and transit centers, such as the Sunnyvale Caltrain Station.

Sunnyvale Downtown Association Executive Director Mike Johnson said the ride-share service could provide more foot traffic for businesses in the city, as it provides another convenient way people can travel without needing to drive themselves. Johnson told San José Spotlight he has been advocating for more transit options, especially for hotels located farther from commerce hubs.

“There really wasn’t, in my opinion, a true outreach community wide to really elevate the value that this might bring,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s just about students. I think it’s about residents. I think it’s about seniors (and people who are) visually impaired.”

The Sunnyvale City Council will discuss SV Hopper as a potential option at its budget prioritization meeting on Feb. 15.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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