SamTrans to study express bus service on 101

Why does our region have private long-distance express buses from Google, Facebook, and other big employers, but there aren’t public transit options for similar routes?  SamTrans is about to study opportunities to run long-distance Express Buses on Highway 101, in conjunction with a study about options for managed lanes on 101.  

While SamTrans will focus on San Mateo County, the study will work in partnership with San Francisco and Santa Clara counties as well. It will be interesting to see what the commute demand patterns are, for people who don’t work at the handful of largest employers that can afford private buses, and how many of those routes cross county lines.  

It will also be interesting to see what role an emerging network of transportation management associations might play in market such a service. In a growing number of cities these organizations are starting to pool funding to provide sustainable transportation choices for workers outside of the largest employers. 

Another important question will be cost of running such buses. VTA has found that express buses (such as the Gilroy express shown below) are particularly expensive to run, because their express bus trips are full only in one direction in the morning and the other direction in the afternoon, and the buses sit idle in the mid-day and evening.  Since the 101 traffic jam is bi-directional, would there be opportunities for higher utilization of the buses, or would some of the routes not work well, because the origins or destinations are too low-density for effective bus service? Express buses are particularly costly for VTA, because that agency’s labor contracts do not allow for split shifts, so workers need to be paid mid-day, when they are not driving buses. 

Currently, about a half-million people commute on Highway 101 per day, and only about 60,000 are taking Caltrain, and another ~20,000 taking private express buses (rough guesstimate).  It will be valuable to assess how much and whether public express buses 101 corridor can help increase the share of sustainable transportation and relieve traffic congestion.