Santa Clara’s Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is the main transit provider in Santa Clara County, and it provides four main service types: local, express, shuttle, and light rail services, all of which provide extensive connections throughout the county. Service-wise, though, it fares better than San Francisco Muni, and it is almost on par with Golden Gate Transit, with just one major difference.
VTA offers several types of fares for adults, including local ($2.00 – also includes light rail), express ($4.00), and community bus ($1.25). However, when paying for any one of those services, no transfer tickets are issued, making a long ride between, say for example, Mountain View to Gilroy quite a hassle, especially if one lives far away from one of VTA’s main routes (e.g. Routes 22, 23, 66, 68) or a light rail station that requires at least two transfers somewhere to make the route. Although the VTA offers Day Passes ($6.00 local, $8.00 8-hour light rail, $12.00 express) and Day Pass Tokens (5 for $27.00), those are significantly more expensive than just issuing a transfer valid for two or three hours, similar to the systems in place at AC Transit, Golden Gate, and Muni. This happens to be the same scenario for another Bay Area transit agency, SamTrans, resulting to people paying each time they board another bus from one bus: at $2.00 a ride, if a person needs to take three buses to get to work, it’s $6.00 one way, $12.00 round trip! Ridiculous, isn’t it? VTA has the same issue as well, although the Day Pass can be a bargain for many commuters who need to travel a lot around the Santa Clara Valley.
I believe that Santa Clara VTA would be better off handing out transfers to passengers rather than demanding $4.00 more for a local Day Pass, not only because it allows more people to ride their buses and light rail, but it can also save riders a lot of money from paying each time they board a bus or light rail vehicle. The goal of public transit agencies is to make costs affordable for many commuters, but, this scenario of a transit agency not handing out transfers shows that they don’t mind their passengers pay a lot more just to ride a bus, which is of concern, not only for me as a transit rider, but for many lower-income families who solely rely on public transportation to go anywhere. However, I believe that VTA has such a set-up for a reason: transfer tickets can be used (and abused) by many passengers that the validity of such tickets may be challenged if an operator refuses to acknowledge the ticket shown to him or her. With the Day Pass option, passengers pay a flat fare mentioned above, and they can use either the local or express Day Passes all day long until 3:00am the next day after the pass is issued (it is because VTA operates one 24-hour bus route, Route 22, between Palo Alto and Eastridge in San Jose). Not only it can be used on any local, rapid, and community service buses, the passes can also be used on the light rail service as well (however, the 8-hour light rail pass is only valid for light rail travel only, to be discussed on part 4).
My assessment of the bus service, though, is better off than San Francisco Muni because most of its vehicles have working air conditioning, have significantly less graffiti, and operate a more modern fleet of vehicles. Its drivers are very helpful, similar to Golden Gate Transit, and can guide passengers wherever they want to go. However, despite the presence of Automated Vehicle Announcement machines on board most of its fleet of buses and light rail lines, those do not mention every stop that a route passes by and mentions “Please Hold On” when the vehicle starts moving unlike San Francisco Muni, nor does it announce any connecting bus, light rail, or train route information similar to SamTrans. Instead, it mentions the main stops along the route, along with a particular feature close by, then back to the date and time. Their AVAs are better though, that they only play announcements regarding cyclists taking off bicycles or watch your personal belongings at a less frequent basis than Muni: VTA plays such announcements every 10 minutes or at the driver’s discretion, as opposed to every 5 minutes on Muni that tackles, in order: senior seating priority, fare evasion, and graffiti reduction. Their vehicles are well maintained as well, including their colorful nature-themed buses, with all the buses bearing both the original VTA logo and the new VTA design that has “Keep the Valley Green” as its slogan.
But, my greatest concern with the agency actually lies with the fare payment that I’ve discussed earlier: for Golden Gate Transit, even for its express commute buses, it hands out transfers that allows commuters to transfer to any other transit agency (participating agencies include AC Transit, Sonoma County Transit, WestCAT, and many others) valid for four hours without paying extra for getting one; VTA, on the other hand, forces passengers to pay either $2.00 for a single ride or $6.00 for a Day Pass: not unless a passenger needs to transfer to at least two vehicles to complete a one-way trip, using a day pass would certainly be useless for other passengers because the true worth of a pass will just pass after 3am the next day.
On part 3 later on, I will discuss the buses and light rail, in terms of what their vehicles look like, how maintained their vehicles are, and why I really like their hybrid buses operating along San Jose’s streets.