VTA charges ahead with new service plan, despite BART delays
This week the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority announced it would move ahead with its 2020 service plan, despite large gaps left by unopened BART stations. Photo courtesy of Monica Mallon.

The Valley Transportation Authority spent most of 2019 making decisions about how to deploy public transit resources based on the assumption that Bay Area Rapid Transit would open two new train stations in the South Bay before the end of the year.

But despite months of promises from BART, that’s not going to happen. Last week, the agency announced another delay in opening its stations in Milpitas and the Berryessa neighborhood of San Jose. Nevertheless, VTA is moving ahead with its new service plan for 2020, albeit with slight modifications to fill in the gaps left by the unopened BART stations.

“Express Lines serving BART to Fremont were introduced to build ridership for what would one day become the BART extension into Santa Clara County — that was always the intention,” VTA spokeswoman Brandi Childress told San José Spotlight. “Now that the extension is built and it is just a matter of time before all the testing, training and acceptance phases are complete, these customers who have taken a bus across county lines will now have a faster mobility option.”

Photo courtesy of Monica Mallon.

But riders taking public transit from Santa Clara County to other parts of the Bay Area won’t have that option until the stations open — and VTA is ending service on three of those express bus lines next month, not knowing when BART will be up and running. The VTA spokeswoman says those lines serve riders making about 375 trips per day and the authority is planning to merge riders from the Express 120, 140 and 180 routes into the Express 181 — a route that already averages more than 1,400 boardings per weekday.

Childress said the authority will deploy larger buses on Express 181 to handle the increase in ridership — adding that although the VTA doesn’t know when the BART stations will open, the 181 will continue operating until they do.

“The expectation is that when we discontinue the three lines on December 28, those customers will be able to take the 181 to the new VTA Orange Light Rail Line that serves Milpitas, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Mountain View without an additional transfer to the Green Line,” Childress said.

To serve would-be riders at the Berryessa station, Childress said the VTA is also planning to run a modified Rapid 500 route to connect riders to other options.

“Until BART opens, the 500 will be truncated at San Jose City Hall and serve the Diridon Caltrain Station along Santa Clara Street,” Childress said.

That’s cold comfort to VTA customers who rely on public transit as their primary means of getting around. And one activist said she expects the December VTA board meeting to be heavily attended by “outraged” bus riders who will be forced to cram themselves into the only remaining express bus headed to a BART station.

“This is the result of their poor planning,” transit activist Monica Mallon told San José Spotlight. “They could continue to keep everything exactly the same until BART opens, but they are choosing not to because they believe that the new network will have more riders, but I think that is going to backfire on them.”

Mallon said she actually expects ridership to drop when VTA deploys its new service plan, which will lead to more service cuts and continue the “death spiral” for public transit in Silicon Valley. She says the VTA board put too much faith in broken promises from BART, and the authority’s own service has suffered tremendously as a result.

“This station was supposed to be open two years ago,” Mallon said. “It has been delayed for the third or fourth time, and every time they delay it, we spend more of our tax money on BART– and we usually pay for it with cuts to the bus system.”

But Childress says once the Milpitas and Berryessa stations open, VTA customers will have more destination options than the current service plan — and faster trips to boot, which the agency expects to draw even more riders into the system.

For more information about the VTA’s 2020 service plan, visit the authority’s web site.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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