Why is VTA Proposing to Reduce Service on Express Routes?

In this post, we’ll address why proposed changes to Express bus routes are being made and how riders can share their feedback with VTA.

As part of the draft 2019 New Transit Service Plan, VTA is proposing significant reductions to its Express bus route service. These proposals are among nearly 70 service changes being considered to address VTA’s structural deficit and to ensure transportation sustainability in Santa Clara County.   
The decision that VTA faces is not whether Express buses are good or desired, but whether they maximize the public benefit per dollar spent. The inefficiencies of commute peak period service mean that VTA pays about 4 to 5 times more for an Express bus boarding than an all-day route boarding. VTA has deemed this cost to be high given VTA Board direction to lower costs, increase ridership and maximize cost-effectiveness. VTA has an opportunity through these proposed service changes to invest in more frequent service with the hopes of mitigating congestion.

Express routes are fundamentally different from VTA’s all-day routes. Most all-day routes operate for 12 to 20 hours consecutively and travel in both directions serving regularly-spaced stops along a route. Express routes only travel during commute periods and in one direction.
Express route stops are generally only located near the beginning or end of the route.

VTA’s Board-adopted but not implemented 2017 Next Network Plan included the discontinuation of four VTA Express bus routes that connect with BART in Alameda County: Routes 120, 140, 180 and 181. These routes will be replaced by BART service when it opens later this year.

The other nine Express routes VTA operates were not considered for changes during the development of the Next Network Plan. Instead, VTA had planned to conduct a study of the Express Bus Program after the Next Network Plan was implemented. Given the recent Board direction, VTA must factor in the costs and considerations of providing Express bus service compared to all-day bus service. They include:

  • Express buses only operate during peak weekday commute periods. VTA must purchase, maintain and store a bus that is used much less than the all-day fleet.
  • Express buses spend about 40 percent of their total hours out of revenue service. This includes moving the bus to and from the bus depot and driving back to the start of the route in the off-peak direction with no paying riders on board. In comparison, VTA’s all-day bus routes spend about 8 percent of their total hours out of revenue service. Commute peak period-only routes require a driver to report for a short shift, which is generally not enough work to be considered attractive. To offset this, VTA pays drivers for the hours they may not be spending driving a bus.
  • Riders generally travel short distances (around 2 to 4 miles) on all-day buses. This leads to seat turnover and allows VTA to collect multiple fares per seat which funds operation of the route. There is virtually no seat turnover on Express buses which travel longer distances with few stops.
  Boardings per total Cost per Boarding Farebox Rate
Express Bus Average 7.2* $27.95 3%
Express Bus All Seats Full 15.5 $12.07 5%
VTA All-Day Routes 20.0 $7.97 11%

*Fails VTA’s minimum standard of 15 boardings per total hour

Combined, these inefficiencies limit the boardings that we want to achieve or exceed per hour, and they inflate the cost that VTA pays per rider. When factoring for total hours of operation, Express buses only record about 7.2 boardings per hour, which is less than half of VTA’s minimum standard of 15 boardings per hour.

Even if all 39 seats were full on every Express bus, boardings would barely exceed the minimum standard and would still cost about 50 percent more per boarding and provide less fare revenue than all day buses.

Routes noted in red below are proposed to be discontinued.

Non-BART Express Routes Boardings per
Total Hour
Cost per Boarding Revenue Service/
Total Hours
Express Route 101 5.2* $40.25 64%
Express Route 102 8.7* $23.82 64%
Express Route 103 8.8* $23.47 66%
Express Route 104 6.3* $33.38 67%
Express Route 121 5.4* $39.12 57%
Express Route 122 8.1* $25.65 57%
Express Route 168 6.7* $31.07 56%
Express Route 182 7.7* $26.95 73%
Express Route 185 2.3* $93.82 60%
Express Route Average 6.3* $33.09 60%
Non-Express Bus Avg. 20.0 $7.97 92%

*Fails VTA’s minimum standard of 15 boardings per total hour

Proposed Express Route Changes in the 2019 New Transit Service Plan 

Discontinue Route 101, 122, 182 and 185
These routes are proposed to be discontinued due to low ridership.

Decrease trips on Routes 102, 103, 121 and 168
VTA is proposing to decrease trips on these routes. Rather than discontinue specific trips, staff suggests adjusting the remaining trips to roughly cover the same window of time and match departures to rider demand as best as possible.

How to engage with VTA
VTA is now seeking public input on the draft 2019 New Transit Service Plan. We encourage you to visit the website to learn more about the plan and the engagement process, and to provide your comments, questions, and feedback. VTA will also be reaching out to our Express bus riders to understand how remaining trips can be rescheduled to meet demand.

The public is also encouraged to attend a community meeting (dates and locations below) or invite VTA staff to meet with your organization or neighborhood group to discuss the plan. You may also contact VTA’s Community Outreach team at community.outreach@vta.org or 408-321-7575 (Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Your input—specifically how the proposed 2019 New Transit Service Plan might affect your travel options—is important to us and helps us understand the impact.

The final day to submit comments is February 28 before a final draft plan is presented at VTA advisory and standing committees in April and the VTA Board of Directors in May. ​

Santa Clara Mission Branch Library
1098 Lexington St, Santa Clara
Wednesday, January 30 | 6pm
San Jose Dr. Roberto Cruz Alum Rock Library
3090 Alum Rock Ave, San Jose
Thursday, January 31 | 6pm
Campbell Community Center Activity Room
1 W Campbell Ave C-31, Campbell 
Tuesday, February 5 | 6pm
Mountain View Senior Center
Arts & Crafts Room

266 Escuela Ave, Mountain View
Wednesday, February 6 | 6pm
Almaden Valley Community Association
South Hills Campus of the West Gate Church
6601 Camden Avenue, San Jose
Monday, February 11 | 7pm
San Jose State University
MLK Library Room 255

150 E San Fernando St, San Jose
Tuesday, February 19 | 11am


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