In one of its first major expansions of 2021, VTA launched a new bus route that offers residents of southern Santa Clara County speedier access to downtown San Jose.
Local politicians and VTA officials this week announced the launch of the Rapid 568 bus route in Gilroy. The 568, which replaces the 168 Express, offers service every half hour from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week with a standard fare of $2.50, which officials hope will make it more appealing to non-work commuters, such as students heading to San Jose State University.
VTA General Manager Carolyn Gonot said the idea for the route came from South County passengers who complained the 68 bus, which has 95 stops, took too long to get to San Jose. Gonot said the 568 is the first prong in a two-part strategy to improve transit service in the area around Gilroy and Morgan Hill, with the second being the use of 2016 Measure B funds to explore innovative transit alternatives to fixed VTA bus routes.
“Morgan Hill will be launching one of the county’s first pilot services next year, which is an on-demand point-to-point service using a smaller vehicle,” Gonot said during a press conference. “We are excited to see how this works in South County, and we look forward to continuing to provide additional services to the county to improve mobility.”
VTA’s first new route in 2021 was a shuttle service between Diridon Station and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, following months of service delays when the light rail system was shut down due to a mass shooting in May. But the addition of a new high-frequency transit route to South County is considered a boon by local officials and transit advocates, who say areas like Morgan Hill and Gilroy have long been neglected when it comes to public transportation.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity to finally get some fast and frequent service all the way from San Jose and South County through the Monterey Corridor,” said Monica Mallon, a transit advocate and founder of Turnout4Transit. Mallon, who took the first 568 bus a couple days ago, said it exceeded her expectations.
Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley said the 568 reaffirms the commitment between her city and VTA to work together on transit options. During the press conference, she cited the need to expand public transportation options, noting that growth in Santa Clara County, plus outlying suburbs like Hollister and Los Banos, is worsening congestion on the Highway 101.
Blankey told San José Spotlight said the 568 is a start, but she believes improving transit in her region will require the expansion of rail lines.
“Rail is predictable, it doesn’t take varying amounts of time like being on the road does,” she said. “If we’re talking about the congestion on the highways, trying to get people out of the cars… it can’t be the 68. It needs to be trains or express buses.”
Rich Constantine, mayor of Morgan Hill, said he’d love to see light rail come all the way to his city but he doesn’t believe it will happen because there isn’t a critical mass of people to serve in the area.
“I can sort of understand it from a dollars perspective, but it really puts us at a disadvantage in the South County,” Constantine told San José Spotlight.
The 568 represents significant progress linking cities like Gilroy and Morgan Hill with San Jose. But Constantine emphasized that people won’t trade their cars for transit unless they find it more convenient, and that means getting them to try it.
“Once you get them to try it out and see it’s more convenient, then it’ll start to change,” Constantine said. “But it’s going to take a long time.”
Mallon agreed it’s going to be a long slog to expand and enhance transit options south of San Jose. She said VTA deserves credit for adding another line, and for restoring 90% of its service—including a complete return to the pre-pandemic weekly schedule.
“They’re taking transit operations really seriously now,” Mallon said, noting that VTA has the lowest percentage of missed trips of any similarly sized transit agency in the Bay Area. “I’ve seen just a massive shift in the (VTA) in the last year. So this is just a very exciting time, and a very exciting launch.”