Why is VTA redesigning the transit network?

Every two years, VTA updates its transit service plan.  Usually, these updates make small changes to transit service in response to rider requests and changes in transit demand based on new development.  The update for the 2017-19 transit service plan will be different.  We are redesigning our transit system from scratch for several reasons:

Transit may be losing its appeal

Since 2001, Santa Clara County’s population has increased by 12 percent, but VTA’s transit ridership has declined by 23 percent.  Part of that is because increases in the cost of living and healthcare have increased VTA’s hourly operating cost, which has led to a decline of 13 percent in how much service VTA can operate.  Another factor may be that what VTA is providing has become less appealing to travelers.  This redesign aims to better match the service VTA provides to the travel market.

Santa Clara County since 2001


New BART service to Santa Clara County

In the fall of 2017, BART is scheduled to begin serving the new Milpitas Station and Berryessa Station.  Thousands of BART riders will begin accessing Santa Clara County through those two stations and transit connections to those stations will need to be improved to meet that demand.

Changes in our expectations for public transit

As cities grow and traffic congestion worsens, the expectations that we have for public transit tend to evolve from a travel option for those without other means to get around to a way to move more people around in space-efficient ways.

What is the purpose of public transit?

The big question that VTA has been asking the community and its Board of Directors is “what is the purpose of public transit?”  This is because transit agencies are tasked with achieving two goals that are in conflict with each other: ridership and coverage.  The ridership goal compels VTA to maximize the number of rides provided and minimize costs per ride by focusing transit service in high-ridership areas.  The coverage goal compels transit agencies to provide transit service to as many people and places as possible, regardless of ridership.  The ridership and coverage goals are both good, but they are inherently in conflict.  With a fixed budget, we cannot simultaneously increase service in high-ridership areas and increase service to more places.

VTA balances these two goals by deciding how much to spend on ridership-purposed routes and how much to spend on coverage-purposed routes.  Presently, VTA spends 70 percent of its operating budget on ridership-purposed routes and 30 percent on coverage-purposed routes.  Should VTA change this balance more in the direction of ridership?

Ridership/coverage balance

In the summer of 2016, VTA conducted a series of public meetings and community leader workshops, gave guest presentations, wrote blog posts, tweeted  asking if VTA should change its ridership/coverage balance.  We developed three network concepts (70/30, 80/20 and 90/10) that illustrated what different ridership/coverage balances would look like and asked you for your preference.  The average of community input was 80/20 with community leaders who represent those who rely on transit to get around coming in at 85/15.  Owing to the community leaders’ closeness to transit rider needs, VTA’s Board of Directors directed staff to develop a transit network that employs an 85/15 balance.

What’s next?

VTA is asking the community to review the Draft Next Network Plan and help us improve it.  The last time VTA redesigned its transit system from scratch, we made about 50 changes between the release of the Draft Plan and the adoption of the Final Plan based on community input.  Please help us make the plan better!