The way the video tells it, pesky transit riders—a fictitious elderly woman named Mrs. Roberts in particular—have forced VTA to put bus stops close to where riders live or need to go. Over time, the clip goes on to say, this led to convenient bus stops on every block.
Now, however, VTA plans to change that—mostly by eliminating stops with low ridership—in order to speed up buses.
VTA is right about one thing: our buses definitely need more “go.”
Currently, buses move just 23 minutes for every hour they’re on the street. They spend those remaining 37 minutes simply idling around due to traffic congestion, red lights, or picking up and dropping off people at bus stops.
That’s annoying for riders and costly for taxpayers.
VTA estimates that improving bus speeds overall by just a mile an hour would reduce taxpayer costs by over $15 million a year.
So, while higher speeds are in everyone’s interest, VTA is going about this the wrong way.
First of all, blaming its own customers for worsening service—like the video does—is not helpful. Obviously, if VTA had even less riders, buses would need to stop even less often, improving speeds even more. But that is not the direction we want to go.
Secondly, bus stops only take long if there are lots of people getting on and off. Low-ridership stops, by definition, can’t cause major delays. If there is no one to pick up—and there are too many stops where that is, unfortunately, true—the bus just keeps driving and isn’t delayed by a single second.
We need to focus on the real causes of slow transit instead.
VTA can easily shorten loading times while improving—instead of worsening—customer experience by allowing back-door boarding for clipper card users. Meanwhile, local cities can do even more by making transit and riders a real priority on their streets.
And yet, the VTA is starting with the one option that makes transit less attractive.
Thirdly, the transit agency seemingly ignores the fact that riders depend on safe pedestrian infrastructure to get around.
A 200-foot beeline on a map can easily turn into an 800-foot walk because of limited sidewalks or lack of safe street crossings. It doesn’t help that suburban layouts throughout Santa Clara County create scenarios where the bus stop down the street is easier to access than one on the other side of the fence.
There’s no point in improving bus speeds by a minute or two if users then have to spend an additional five to get to the new bus stop.
Riders care how long it takes to get from door to door, not bus stop to bus stop.
Last but not least, according to its website VTA isn’t just eliminating bus stops due to low ridership—it’s also eliminating them to make streets more convenient for cars.
“Reasons that a bus stop may be relocated/consolidated include: (...) Stop placement in heavy right turn lanes,” the agency states.
This is a wrong priority for a transit agency.
If we can’t even make room and time for bus stops on our streets, there is little hope we’ll ever get the fast-moving transit system that we need.
Admittedly, not every stop is well placed. Just looking at the 66 line, one of three routes in the pilot program (the others being 56 and 68), actual improvements could entail:
- Moving the bus stop on Main Street in Milpitas under the Highway 237 overpass to directly in front of the county library and medical center.
- Moving the bus stop on Snell Avenue and Obert Drive (which is set to be eliminated) a few hundred feet north to take advantage of the HAWK signal that provides safe passage to Martial Cottle Park.
Yet none of these ideas seem to be considered.
Balancing where to place bus stops requires evaluating the location of each one and not just those with low ridership. It’s also a much easier sell to the public if there are locations that will meaningfully improve.
VTA should’t be afraid to propose stops where they make the most sense for riders—even at the expense of single-vehicle drivers. If that prompts local opposition or resistance from old-school, car-centric traffic engineers in city transportation departments, then let’s engage in that discussion.
Some may ask why 10 people on a bus should take precedence over the five in cars waiting behind them. To which the only right answer is: Why aren’t they already?
Smart placement of bus stops is vital for both passengers and the VTA. But right now, VTA’s plan isn’t bold enough and risks leaving riders behind.
I encourage you to email the VTA at [email protected] to let them know where you would like bus stops to be relocated—especially on the 56, 66, and 68—in a way that puts the needs of riders first.
We’re certain even old Mrs. Roberts would approve.
Robin Roemer is a transit and transportation safety activist and a member of the VTA’s Citizens Advisory Committee. Gil Rodan is a San Jose resident, writer, and activist. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].