VTA votes to discontinue Route 65 despite strong support
The VTA Board of Directors is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Kyle Martin.

Transportation leaders voted Thursday to eliminate Route 65, a bus route that runs from Cambrian Park and as far north as Japantown, citing low ridership and alternative routes available.

The discontinuation comes after the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority organized a $100,000 two-month ridership community campaign to attempt to increase ridership. This effort included social media posts, community-led ride alongs and ads showcasing businesses along the route.

But Route 65 ridership has been on a steady decline since 2015, according to data provided by the VTA. In June and July 2018, ridership amounted to an average of 468 people per day. This June and July, even after months of the VTA campaign, ridership averaged 380 people per day.

The VTA Board of Directors on Thursday heard from several passionate supporters, including one rider who proposed an alternate funding solution.

“The solution I talked about at this most recent board meeting was using ending balance reserves to fund the route in the meantime,” said Monica Mallon, a car-free San Jose State student. “I kind of presented it as, use the reserves to fund it for a short period of time and when more funds are available, increase the frequency of the route and fund it through the funds that are available.”

Following public comment, alternate board member Glenn Hendricks of Sunnyvale made the motion to discontinue Route 65, citing Mallon’s proposed solution as unmanageable and the current state of route ridership as fiscally irresponsible.

“I acknowledge the challenge of what it is for the people who are the riders of this service and don’t want to say, ‘Here’s the straight financial number perspective,’” said Hendricks. “But that’s really important for where we’re at and I think it’s one of the ones we have to look really hard at.”

According to the VTA, continuing the bus route would cost an “annual marginal cost of approximately $830,000.”

Some board members spoke in support of saving the line, saying the additional cost is worth it if low-income residents depend on Route 65.

“It becomes a difficult decision for me to imagine imposing that kind of a hardship on someone that’s already struggling to make ends meet,” said San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, who represents East San Jose. “We’ve seen reports of students who are living in their cars, students who are basically camping out on the campus of San Jose State because they can’t make ends meet. So, removing this form of transportation for what I know are students that are probably very dependent on it is just a hard (decision) for me to make.”

Ultimately, efforts to save the route failed. The board voted nearly unanimously to eliminate the route with Carrasco casting the lone opposing vote.

Route 65’s discontinuation date depends on the opening date of the upcoming Berryessa BART station, which is scheduled to open in December 2019.

In recent months, campaigns to save the route gained considerable steam on social media, such as Twitter and Reddit. Mallon criticized the board on Friday morning, saying the lawmakers are unaware of the unfortunate realities of cutting the route.

“They care so much more about numbers and riderships and dollars and cents than actual people and the impact that the routes have on them,” said Mallon. “Most of the people on the board of directors don’t take transit on any kind of regular basis.”

Contact San José Spotlight intern Paolo Zialcita at paolo.zialcita@gmail.com or follow @paolozialcita on Twitter.

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