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Transit Stories: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority – 1

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This may come as a surprise, but last Wednesday, I went out with my uncle to head to the South Bay so that I can travel around Santa Clara County. My uncle went to work in Milpitas at SanDisk, while I went further out to San Jose and ride Santa Clara’s transit agency, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and here’s my assessment of the agency.

San Jose is the county seat of Santa Clara County and the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population approaching a million, and it enjoys a diverse and affluent population, as well as a major technological and environmental powerhouse. Being the capital of Silicon Valley, the city has attracted high-tech and “green” firms and companies, not only within the city, but also throughout Santa Clara County, which resulted in billions of dollars of investments, from expanding the city’s airport, to improving the traffic flow on its main highways, to improving the public transportation network connecting the county’s communities. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (popularly known as the VTA) is the main transportation arm of Santa Clara County which oversees not only the public transportation in the area, but also oversees highway construction and improvement projects, managing urban growth and development, and developing even more transportation options–including the extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train to the county–that would enhance Santa Clara County’s position as a major transportation center. San Jose has benefited a lot from an abundance of VTA services, which primarily is divided into four categories: the local busexpress bus (peak-period), community shuttle (using vans), and light rail services, all of which form a pivotal component to the larger Bay Area transportation network. It is also a participant in the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), which, along with several other transit agencies and rail networks, provide integrated rail and connecting transit options for commuters along the two main rail lines serving the county: Caltrain (San Francisco-Gilroy) and Amtrak California’s Capitol Corridor (San Jose-Sacramento).

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Its commitment to keeping the Santa Clara Valley green and environmentally-friendly makes me understand why the VTA is a successful agency, despite the fact that its light rail service is somehow limited to only certain parts of the county. Its fleet of short- and medium-sized buses, as well as its articulated bus and light rail vehicles, makes the agency stand along with San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) as having one of the most diverse fleets in the Bay Area, as well as having one of the most comprehensive route networks in the region, thanks in part to the communities’ participation in making such routes and operations happen. On one part, the agency operates many frequent local services that connect residential, commercial, industrial, and downtown areas with at least one rail station (be it a VTA light rail station or a Caltrain station, or even San Jose Diridon Station, the county’s main rail station) that allows people to take transit to anywhere they want to go. Despite the fact that Santa Clara County is mostly automobile-dependent (in the 2000 Census, an estimated 78% of the working population drive alone to and from work), the route network of VTA makes it accessible for many workers who choose to take transit instead of driving, although the extent of its express buses is quite limited to certain areas of the county. Along with that, the agency prides itself as one of the few transit agencies that operates a sizable fleet of hybrid buses on a daily basis; it forms as a major backbone of its transit operations since they emit less fumes into the air by using alternative fuels (i.e. water, hydrogen) to operate them. And, the agency is a key player in connecting the county with the rest of the Bay Area and into Monterey and Santa Cruz by providing connections and working with other agencies to operate such services as:

  • Altamont Commuter Express (coordinated with the VTA to provide free shuttle services to employers in the county)
  • Caltrain (in coordination with the San Mateo County Transportation District)
  • Dumbarton Express (in coordination with AC Transit, SamTrans, and Union City Transit)
  • Highway 17 Express (in coordination with Santa Cruz METRO and Amtrak California)
  • Interstate 680 High-Occupancy Toll Lane (in coordination with Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission)
  • Monterey-Salinas Transit Routes 55 and 79 (coordinated with Amtrak California)

All services provide Santa Clara County with a large number of transportation choices that allow residents to use public transportation instead of clogging up freeway traffic, and it allows them to make smarter choices on how to commute around and beyond the county. With over 80 routes covering the network, it is no surprise that the agency provides a similar transit level of service as to that of Muni, but its coverage is more widespread to serve the county’s communities rather than just focused on San Jose.

On part 2, I will discuss my evaluation on VTA’s buses and how I liked their service.


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