At its last board meeting on January 4, with a handful of members left in the audience, VTA board chair Sam Liccardo announced that service cuts would be likely given VTA’s budget woes.
Very unfortunately, the extensive plans to improve VTA service by creating a “frequent network”, developed with a year of robust community feedback, and approved by the board in May 2017, run the risk of not seeing the light of day as planned. VTA rolled out a few service improvements and fare changes at the beginning of 2018, but most of rollout scheduled to coincide with the launch of BART service to Beryessa, which has been postponed, latest word is to the fall of 2018.
Santa Clara County approved Measure B including a $500 million pot of funds dedicated largely toward supporting improved bus service. Now it is unclear what changes may be coming forward.
Like many other transit systems around the country, VTA’s ridership and revenue have declined in the last couple of years, with low gas prices, competition by transportation network companies Lyft and Uber, and increasing roadway congestion that slows buses and makes transit even less competitive with driving.
A few transit systems in the US have bucked the trend. These include Seattle, where bus service has been increased and re-organized to coordinate with new light rail lines, and Muni in San Francisco, where the city has moved forward with improvements including all-door boarding and dedicated bus lanes. By contrast, VTA hasn’t yet delivered planned service improvements, plans for Bus Rapid Transit to El Camino Real have fizzled, and on Stevens Creek Boulevard have stalled in the face of local objections.
The common theme among transit services succeeding in the era of cheap gas and Lyft/Uber competition is that ridership depends on providing better, faster service; cutting service in an attempt to fill budget gaps risks a “death spiral” where lower-quality service results in even fewer riders and less revenue.
You can watch Chair Liccardo’s comments about the prospect of service cuts, 2:00 hours into the video from the January 4 board meeting.