On January 14, VTA embarked on a public engagement effort for the Draft 2019 New Transit Service Plan with the goal of gaining input and insight on proposed changes to existing service per VTA Board direction at the start of the new year.
During a six-week period, VTA hosted six community meetings, attracting more than 250 attendees. Staff also presented the plan at 20 additional meetings hosted by city councils, community-based organizations, and neighborhood associations throughout Santa Clara County. For those who could not attend an in-person meeting, VTA hosted a virtual meeting with over 140 people tuning in live to engage with staff and garnering nearly 800 views of the recording to date. A dedicated website, which experienced close to 500,000 page views and 65,000 unique users, housed the specifics of the draft plan and a form to submit comments.
This effort, in addition to a robust social media and digital presence, yielded close to 1,500 questions and comments during the public comment period which ended February 28.
What Did We Hear?
The feedback received during the public engagement process ranged widely. Commenters shared appreciation for proposed frequency improvements on core routes and new transit connections, “I am very happy to learn of increased frequency for route 68. That's going to help a lot of people.”
Others shared concern about what investment in these areas would mean by shifting those savings from other areas that experience service for coverage sake, essentially trimming lower-performing bus routes: “People rely on routes like the 13, 65, and 22 overnight. Using VTA is not a choice for everyone. There are people without cars that rely on your services.”
The most productive feedback focused on specific routes being proposed for elimination or reduction in frequency, yielding many creative ideas that VTA transit planners are now considering for the final plan.
As part of the draft plan, VTA proposed significant reductions to its Express bus route service – the question not being if Express buses are good or desired, but whether the high cost of providing those services maximizes the public benefit.
“I am concerned about the proposed reduction in service for Express 121. This line takes people off the road for over 30 miles each way, on one of the busiest roads in the Bay Area…Please carefully consider the ridership on the proposed eliminated lines - reducing from 9 to 6 daily trips is a drastic change, and is likely to impact some people's ability to access their jobs as well as impact their health and our environment.”
Another contested issue is the discontinuation of overnight service on Bus Route 22. This proposal could save VTA roughly $500,000 annually while preventing a comparable reduction to occur elsewhere in the transit network. However, this begs yet another question about whether such gains in ridership are worth the impacts to those who would no longer have access to late night transit. It also raises a question about whether a public transit operator should be asked to provide housing.
In February, VTA met with safety net providers and social services agencies to discuss what impact this proposed change could have on those who ride our service overnight for shelter. The meeting resulted in a continued partnership and a plan for further discussions to better connect the unhoused with the appropriate resources, and how VTA could be a part of those solutions.
Through the month of March, VTA planners will be pouring over the hundreds of comments received from the public and using the constructive feedback to help develop a final transit service plan. The plan will then be presented to VTA committees in April, and to the VTA Board in May for their consideration. These meetings, that are open to the public and can be found on VTA’s website, will be another opportunity to weigh in on what is ultimately approved by the Board. The final transit service plan would then be implemented with the start of BART service to Santa Clara County projected for late 2019.
We thank the many creative and passionate community members who participated in this process to help shape a final product that will meet the service goals of the organization.