VTA’s new service plan rollout hits a few speed bumps
A VTA light rail train makes its way throughout downtown San Jose in this file photo. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rolled out a massive overhaul of its service plan this week which provides a new light rail line and more frequent stops on some of its most popular routes.

However, not everyone is happy with the changes and they will take some time to get used to, transit advocates say.

VTA spokeswoman Brandi Childress said the rollout day went off “without a hitch” given an absence of safety issues or staffing concerns, but noted grievances from some riders.

The last time Silicon Valley’s mass transit agency underwent such major changes to its service plan was in 2008.

“I think with everything new, there’s going to be adjustments that need to be made,” Childress said. “A lot of people were either asking questions or there were some complaints about discontinued lines.”

The shift involved a rollout of 3,300 new bus stop signs across the county’s 15 cities. Two dozen VTA employees were out from Thursday to Saturday morning to replace the signage and highlight the 20 all-day frequent routes with the new red signs.  The new routes promise that a bus will come every 15 minutes.

The new service plan was created to boost ridership, which has seen a 17 percent drop for buses and 26 percent decline in light rail use from 2015 to 2019.

Despite VTA’s attempts to notify the public of the changes — which included visits to the discontinued bus stops in the days leading up to the change — the shift came as a surprise to some, says transit activist Judy Purrington who lives in South San Jose and uses her bicycle and public transportation to get around.

“I think a huge number of people find this to be a total shock,” said Purrington.

Since she’s retired, Purrington had time to attend VTA meetings where the changes were discussed. But for residents consumed with work and other commitments, it can be difficult to know about the changes.

And it appeared there were language barriers with communicating the changes to some of the city’s immigrant communities, often public transit’s most frequent riders. Longtime rider Melodi Masaniai posted on Twitter that older Vietnamese riders were confused by the change but the drivers weren’t able to help them.

“Buses read, “Milpitas BART” which is adding to confusion,” she wrote on Saturday.

Childress said details about the service changes were translated in Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Mandarin and Cantonese and that ambassadors who spoke those languages were present at the transit stops.

Eugene Bradley, founder and chief executive officer of the Silicon Valley Transit Users group, told San José Spotlight that he worries the cuts could increase traffic on the road. For example, the bus lines that previously covered the San Tomas and Lawrence Expressways were cut, which he claims will lead to 200 more solo drivers on the road.

“You know how horrible it is when VTA recommends carpooling (as a solution),” Bradley said. “I’ve got quite a collection of people not really happy with the changes VTA made.”

Transit advocate Monica Mallon took to Twitter after Saturday’s rollout to complain about longer travel times back to her home in Cambrian Park on the weekend and a similar wait as the former system on a weekday.

“I have to go to meetings at night to advocate for better transit but the transit to get back from the meetings makes the journey to get back home after so much longer,” Mallon wrote on Twitter.

Bus coverage to outlying neighborhoods was sacrificed in order to provide for more frequent stops in the busier parts of town. As a Cambrian Park resident, she was among those who lost out.

Mallon is particularly mourning the loss of Bus 65 which took her directly to San Jose State University everyday.

“It’s going to be complicated,” Mallon told San José Spotlight on Monday. “Every time you have to transfer, it adds another 10 to 15 minutes to whatever the trip is.”

Childress acknowledges that the new service plan required a trade off and says VTA has been active on social media to address riders’ concerns and suggest alternate routes. Delays on the lines can be attributed to personnel shortages, she added, and not the new system.

VTA currently partners with a handful of employers to fund up to 38 percent of some bus line’s operations. Childress says the agency will continue to look to these partnerships and other out-of-the box ideas to address the change’s drawbacks.

Concerned riders should call the customer service line at (408) 321-2300 to express their concerns.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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