VTA recommends saving Route 22 overnight bus

A VTA bus line dubbed ‘Hotel 22’ that provides shelter to countless Silicon Valley homeless residents is safe — at least for now.

Transportation officials on Friday recommended saving Route 22, a bus line that travels from Palo Alto to East San Jose. Earlier this year, officials recommended eliminating the route from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. as part of the 2019 transit plan. Housing advocates, however, have been fiercely opposed to the cut as it is the only 24-hour transit option in the county and is frequented by homelesss individuals seeking shelter.

The final draft plan acknowledged the need and recommended that the VTA Board keep Route 22 service from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. VTA received 1,520 comments and suggestions on the plan in its entirety. The discontinuation of 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. service on Route 22 garnered some of the most passionate reactions.

“Subsequent analysis of ridership and input from late night Route 22 riders has shed light on the extent to which Route 22 is used for mobility purposes during these hours,” the recommendation said. “VTA will continue working with social service groups to develop housing solutions for those who use Route 22 for shelter.”

VTA officials initially suggested cutting the route due to low ridership and high costs. Transit documents show that it costs $500,000 to operate annually with 200 to 220 daily boardings across six different trips.

But the overnight route has become a safe haven for hundreds of homeless residents who ride it all night long to find warmth, safety and shelter.

“Saving the 22 is a victory for all of Santa Clara county particularly it’s most vulnerable citizens,” said homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright. “However, the 54, the only bus serving the Sunnyvale shelter, is still on the chopping block. I’m proud of the work the Sunnyvale Client’s Collaborative (tenants union) did and will continue to do opposing VTA cuts that endanger people’s lives and safe shelter access.

Councilmember Raul Peralez, who supported continuing the route, praised the recommendation Friday. He rode Route 22 between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. last month.

Peralez’s office surveyed 32 riders and found 62 percent took the route every night. About 46 percent of those surveyed used the bus line to commute to and from work while 37 percent used it as a form of shelter.

“If we as a transit agency are cutting that (route), we’re assuming that this is a not a necessity to have this option,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. “In my mind, that is completely wrong to make that assumption that we don’t have a 24/7 society.”

Monica Mallon, an advocate with the grassroots organization Silicon Valley Transit Users, also fought to save Route 22, along with an Almaden line – previously Route 13 – and Route 65 that connects the Cambrian area to destinations such as San Jose State and San Jose City College. In the recommendation, transportation officials suggested saving the Almaden line, but not Route 65.

“I completely rely on VTA to get around,” Mallon said. “If people actually took the time to ride VTA, especially in the more outskirts of San Jose, they really would understand that it’s something that people are taking out of necessity.”

Mallon added that she’d like to see VTA Board focus on running bus and light rail services instead of funding highways and BART. The VTA Board last week approved $119.90 million in Measure B money for highway interchanges in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. It was the second largest chunk of funding after the $150 million allocation for the BART expansion.

The VTA Board is slated to vote on the 2019 transit plan that will ultimately determine Route 22’s future in May.

Contact Grace Hase at grace@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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