Cupertino pilots on-demand van service connecting Apple and DeAnza College to Sunnyvale Caltrain

Starting on October 29, the City of Cupertino is starting an 18-month pilot for an on-demand van service connecting Cupertino to Sunnyvale Caltrain, and serving all of Cupertino, provided by a partnership between Cupertino and transit system provider Via. 

Rides can be hailed with a mobile app  (iOS and Android) or with a toll-free phone call. Rides will cost $5.  A $2.50 rate is available for  low income, student, and senior riders. Weekly and monthly passes available for $17 a week and $60 a month. The one-ride price is twice a VTA bus ride, but half to a third the cost of a Lyft or Uber ride.

There will be a $1 introductory price for the first three weeks to promote the program.  Plus, new users get two free rides with the promo code WELCOMEVIA.

Service hours are Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The service will use 10 Mercedes-Metris vans. The vans all have bicycle racks and are ADA accessible.

Service details are posted on the program webpage.

The service won’t be visible on Google Maps, Transit, and other transit apps at first. We strongly encouraged the city to make the information available for apps as soon as possible, since that could be a powerful marketing mechanism for the commuters and students who are expected to make up a notable share of the service’s customers.

The program’s longer term goal, past the pilot phase is to integrate with Clipper for payment. However, there is no fare integration with other transit services, so holders of Caltrain or VTA passes will need to pay for VIA over and above.  As the region assesses regional fare integration, one topic to consider is whether and how to integrate public/private services such as bikeshare and Via shuttles. 

Service provided by VIA

The service is provided in partnership with VIA, a provider of on-demand transit. Cupertino is using an offering that Via calls “Transit As A Service” (TAAS). With TAAS, Via provides the vehicles, trained drivers, maintenance, and management.  This service is being used in cities including Jersey City, Birmingham Alabama, and Lone Tree Colorado.

Via also offers rideshare software to transit providers, who use their own labor and vehicles, for example in Marin County where Marin County Transit runs an on-demand service using Via’s software, as well as in Austin, Texas, where the fares are integrated with Cap Metro.   In some other cities (NY, Chicago, DC), Via offers a service more like Lyft or Uber, but that is not what’s being provided in Cupertino.

Cupertino’s funding and expansion plans

The City Cupertino is paying up to $1.75M for an 18-month pilot program, as approved by City Council in June. The price will vary by ridership, and could be as low as $1.16 million if the vehicles get an average of up to 3.5 rides per trip. At higher levels of ridership, the city plans to reduce fares.

According to Chris Corraio, Cupertino’s Senior Transit & Transportation Planner the city’s goal is to secure funding to extend the program. They have applied for the Air District’s pilot trip reduction program to help fund this program, which can provide up to $1.5M available if awarded, and are planning to pursue Santa Clara County’s Measure B funds in the Innovative Transit category once that program kicks in.  Cupertino is also seeking funding from Apple. As the city transitions to using “Vehicle Miles Travelled” (VMT) as the standard for reducing the environmental impact of development, following new state law, the city will likely use its VMT mitigation fees to offer a community shuttle to help keep this system going beyond the pilot. 

The program is somewhat similar to VTA’s discontinued on-demand shuttle pilot in North San Jose, which served an area with light rail and sprawling office campuses.

Promising elements for this program include connection to Sunnyvale Caltrain, which gets sees over 3,000 daily trips, as well as populations of De Anza students and seniors.  The Caltrain connection is also expecting better service from VTA when the 523 Rapid rolls out, timed for the start of BART service to Berryessa.

This blog post from Jarrett Walker has some good food for thought about where and when microtransit services can be a good fit – it’s not a panacea, but can provide helpful coverage services in some lower-density areas.