Santa Clara County’s main transit agency, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), supports the principle of reducing the county’s environmental impact by promoting transit use, and with its light rail service, the overall impact to the communities served by it has been enormous that it provides the county has an alternative form of transportation to travel to and from San Jose.
Operating with three lines connecting communities from Campbell to Cupertino, Milpitas to Mountain View, and of course, San Jose, the VTA’s light rail system is clean, efficient, (most of the time) punctual, and spacious, far from comparison to the Muni Metro. The light rail cars can carry up to four bicycles per car, with a vertical rack located in the middle of each car, that allows bikers to put their bikes safely without intruding the walkways or doorways. It also announces every stop three times, once to announce the next station, the next when a train arrives at a station, and the last when the train stops and mentions the direction of the train–both inside and outside. It also mentions which doors will open, allowing riders to get ready to off-board the train once it reaches the station. And strings to pull when a person wants to stop? Nope, not on the VTA: it has areas indicating “Push here for next stop” indicated by stickers which announces that there will be passenger/s off-boarding at the next station, complete with a flashing “Stop Requested” sign. And when a train ends at a different station other than their usual terminus (i.e. Mountain View, Winchester, Santa Teresa, Alum Rock), or when a train is scheduled to do a “short-turn” service, a voice-over from the Automated Voice Announcer (AVA) machine on board every train announces “This train will end at the ____ station” from three stops towards its final destination, warning passengers that they need to change to another train if they want to continue further.
The trains, built by Kinki Sharyo, are low-floored, allowing level-boarding at all platforms, making handicapped and senior access easy; however, the presence of stairs inside either end of the train provides a little inconvenience because it is higher than platform level, making access a bit difficult for such passengers. But, the trains have two significant advantages that make the train more pleasant to ride on than Muni Metro: one is the noticeable lack of graffiti on many of the trains, and the wider space available for people to walk by and stand when the train becomes fully loaded with passengers. At the time when I rode the trains, though, they were lightly-used, despite having a 2-car arrangement. The most interesting fact comes again with the fares: it’s just $2.00 to ride the light rail one-way, but, similar to the buses, they do not issue transfers; instead, on every station, ticket machines (image at right) provide a choice of tickets for both regular and leisure riders alike, including the regular $2.00 single ride, $6.00 Day Pass and a $4.00 Light Rail-only pass, good for 8 hours’ worth of light rail travel. The system is a “Proof-of-Payment” (POP) system, in which passengers are entrusted that whenever they board a light rail car, they will show a valid ticket or pass whenever a ticket or fare inspector hops on a light rail car and checks every passenger for tickets, similar to the system on Muni Metro (especially on surface street stops).
Here are some images I took from the light rail system:
Overall, my assessment of Santa Clara’s Valley Transportation Authority has been mainly positive because of three things: its environmental commitment is shown in various ways (from hybrid buses to promoting transit especially in Downtown San Jose), its capability to provide great transit service for its people is shown in many ways (from easy transfers between stops to punctual services), and its courteous and friendly operators show every step of a commuter’s way to find their destination. My biggest concern is that they do not provide transfers for its passengers, making many riders feel hassled every time they feed $2.00 onto a ticket machine or on board a bus; although they provide Day Passes and Monthly Pass Stickers for passengers, I believe that providing a paper transfer good for at least 90 minutes would be convenient and affordable for many passengers, especially from low-income neighborhoods, which will allow them to take transit more often without the need to find extra money to pay for a new ride. I think that the VTA has done a wonderful job serving the people of Santa Clara County, similar to what Golden Gate Transit does for Marin and Sonoma Counties, and that their cleanliness, effectiveness, and reliability gives me a wonderful impression that I want to use their services again in the future.