VTA bus route changes would impact students

September 23, 2018 — by Justin Guo and Anna Novoselov

How new VTA routes will affect students. 

When the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority announced the discontinuation of bus Route 53 in the fall of 2017, De Anza College students protested against the decision. The route, stretching for more than 10 miles from West Valley College to the Sunnyvale Transit Center, ultimately remained after protests successfully led to reconsideration, but now, current routes — including Route 53 — are once again being reconfigured.

After six months of community and board meetings, VTA approved a final plan last April that will be implemented next June. The proposal includes several changes to existing routes and the creation of new routes and two new Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations: one in Milpitas and the other in San Jose.

A spokesperson for VTA said the organization considered community input but also looked at budget realities.

In many areas, the bus serves few community members. On the VTA 53 route, seats remain fairly empty; consequently, the board decided to reconfigure and combine existing routes to increase revenue and ridership.

However, these VTA changes would impact the students who do rely on public transportation to get to school and after-school activities. Busy parents often do not have time to drive their children, and students may not have a driver’s license or access to a car.

One such student, Middle College senior Leena Elzeiny, frequently uses the bus to get to West Valley College and De Anza College. Since Route 53 is the only one that goes through Saratoga and to the two colleges, Elzeiny has found it “really valuable.” This route allows students who may not have an alternate form of transportation a cheap, easy way to get to classes.

Because the 53 bus stops near Saratoga High, De Anza, West Valley and Redwood Middle, Elzeiny thinks more young people would use public transportation if they were aware of it.

“The demand is there,” Elzeiny said. “It’s just that nobody recognizes it as an option.”

Many students see the bus system as archaic or inconvenient and do not know its schedule or routes. According to StreetsBlog, 62.2 million fewer people in California boarded buses in 2016 than in 2012. This decline may result from lower gas prices, higher numbers of private vehicles and ease of travel.  

“The time it takes to get places [using the bus] is much longer than the time it takes using private transportation,” said junior Sarah Smails, who plays hockey with the Girls JV Sharks team. Because of her unpredictable hockey game and practice schedule, she finds it more practical to drive herself, since she has a license and her own car.

Smails said she has never needed to use public transportation because she previously carpooled or was driven by her parents.

However, the bus still provides transportation to many individuals. Elzeiny, for instance, started using public transportation during the summer after sophomore year, when she traveled to Sunnyvale for Girls Who Code, a camp that empowers young girls. Since both of her parents work, she has had to find a way to commute by herself.

Elzeiny said that public transportation is inexpensive and enjoyable. While riding, she reads, draws, listens to audiobooks or catches up on work, free from any distractions.

“It’s probably the most efficient my down time has ever been,” she said.

Another Middle College student, junior Callie Bonne, depends on Route 53 to travel from her house to West Valley College. If the route were eliminated, she would need to find an alternative method of transportation, such as carpooling, biking or walking.

“I couldn’t get to school as easily,” Bonne said. “[VTA] is a really reliable system.”

The new bus Route 53 will operate between Vallco Mall in Cupertino and the Santa Clara Transit Center, no longer passing through West Valley. Although the new Route 51 will run from Moffett Field in Mountain View, through De Anza and to West Valley, covering many of the locations originally covered by bus Routes 53 and 81, a few spots will be discontinued.

In a perfect world we would be able to have buses to take you everywhere where you want to go,” Janine said. “But we have to stretch the money as best as we can.”

This change would hurt those who rely on public transportation through specific bus stops; they would have to  account for transportation time to the new locations, for they may be farther from their homes.

While the buses are usually on time, arriving at each stop in one-hour intervals, those who take the bus would need to coordinate their daily schedules with those of the buses. This is not possible for students who have inconsistent daily lives.  

For those who cannot drive by themselves yet, public transportation is a trustworthy service. Sophomore Isaac Sun takes the bus two to three times a week to get to volunteering and after-school classes.

Sun has used alternatives such as Uber and Lyft before, but came to the conclusion that public transportation is cheaper and more convenient.

“It’s not worth it to travel short distances with those services,” Sun said. “Uber and Lyft can take you to specific places while the bus is more general, but for my purposes the bus is just better because it’s ten percent of the cost and does the exact same thing.”

After surveying 2,000 people on their transportation habits, researchers at the U.C. Davis Institute of Transportation Studies indicated that 6 percent of people who use apps like Uber and Lyft said they rode the bus less after first using the apps.

The study, by Regina R. Clewlow, Ph.D, also claims that Uber and Lyft seem to make traffic worse overall by adding vehicles to the streets.

In contrast, public transportation offers environmental benefits such as  conserving energy and reducing air pollution. According to a study by Delaware, buses use 8.7 percent less energy per passenger mile than the typical automobile and emit only 20 percent as much carbon monoxide.

While attending Girls Who Code, Elzeiny said that she saved 20 miles of gas every day she went to camp for seven weeks.

“The idea of making a small difference every day is my main motivation for taking the bus,” Elzeiny said. “That change has become my lifestyle.”

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