Blue minivan with Silicon Valley Hopper decal and a bike rack on the back
Silicon Valley Hopper is already driving residents around Cupertino and Santa Clara. Sunnyvale hopes to try out the service pending a grant. Photo courtesy of Rod Sinks.

Sunnyvale residents may soon have a new ride-share option that costs less than an Uber and is more convenient than existing public transit.

After overwhelming support from residents, the Sunnyvale City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to apply for grants and partner with Silicon Valley Hopper (SV Hopper) — a ride-share service that operates for less than five dollars per ride in Cupertino and Santa Clara. Several councilmembers voiced concerns about funding the program, but they recognized that disadvantaged residents have fewer transit options.

The city will apply for two grants. The first is an Environmental Protection Agency grant, which could cover the program’s full cost. The second is a state transportation grant that would provide 50% of the funds. The city would pay the balance.

“I came into that meeting thinking oh, this is going to be a very difficult decision, but the outpouring of support and the input from staff … and my colleagues’ thoughtful commentary, just made the decision and the motion very clear to me,” Councilmember Linda Sell told San José Spotlight.

Sell said the program’s benefits are multifold. An on-demand ride-share service could help reduce the number of cars on the road, as well as provide transportation for residents who might not be able to drive, such as students or elderly residents. She said she received a message of support from a resident who lives near the Cupertino border, where SV Hopper is already running. The resident walks across the city borders to use the service regularly.

The SV Hopper idea was initially proposed to support Fremont Union High School District students traveling from North Sunnyvale, a historically underserved low-income community.

The district closed Sunnyvale High School in 1980 and ended districtwide school busing soon after. Now, the district subsidizes VTA bus passes for students who live in three north Sunnyvale ZIP codes, but many parents spoke about how those bus services don’t account for students who have to stay on campus for after school activities.

This lack of access discourages students from engaging in extracurricular activities — a problem parents hope SV Hopper could solve.

“I currently have two jobs and it is not feasible for me to take my children to the extracurricular activities offered by the city, scholarships, or schools,” Sunnyvale resident Yesenia Garcia said, using the city’s artificial intelligence translator from Spanish to English. “I am sure that my children could enjoy these activities.”

Alongside students and parents were business leaders from across the city. The Sunnyvale Downtown Business Association Executive Director Mike Johnson said he had a letter of support signed by more than 30 businesses. The Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce suggested the city’s businesses might help fund the program’s future.

Councilmember Russ Melton said his primary concern with committing to the program was how to balance the city’s budget. City policy mandates that Sunnyvale maintain a balanced budget for a projected 20 years into the future and the program might cost up to $4 million annually, according to a city report. He wants  the program be put through the city’s regular budget process in May.

Fremont Union High School District trustee and former Cupertino mayor Rod Sinks said Cupertino has received state grants twice to help fund the program. In 2023, Cupertino received a grant for $4.25 million over a four year period to help subsidize the rides.

Mayor Larry Klein said SV Hopper will be a pilot program, so the city will be able to analyze its results once it’s up and running, and grants make it possible to do the research without straining the city’s general fund.

“There’s lots of requirements and needs, from a city budget standpoint, to make sure financially we’re keeping the city in the right direction, but we’re not presupposing that this service lasts forever or what the service even looks like,” Klein told San José Spotlight. “It’s a discussion to have at a later date.”

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

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