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June 10, 2009 > Transportation needs in the community

Transportation needs in the community

By Dustin Findley

Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), the major public transportation service provider in Santa Clara County, held a public meeting in Milpitas on August 28 to gather information and input about how to improve public transportation in Milpitas.

The City and VTA are working on a Community Based Transportation Plan (CBTP) to meet transportation needs that have been identified by the community. The Draft report should to be complete in July and available for public comment. The final report should be ready in October.

Aiko Cuenco, VTA transportation planner, presented to the public VTA's findings and proposed solutions.

A lot of people have been saying that VTA has giant 40 foot buses that are empty during midday, but are full at "bell times" according to Cuenco.

Bell times are when school starts in the morning, and ends in the afternoon. During these times as students travel to Milpitas High School and Russell Middle School the buses are packed.

People also requested a reduced fare.

VTA proposed utilizing community buses to address the aforementioned issues.

Cuenco explained that a community bus is a smaller bus, visually more appealing for people who are weary of taking the bus. Some even describe it as a "cuter" bus. "The good thing about the community buses (is that) it costs less" she continued.

The smaller bus will be able to accommodate people midday, and not be a big empty bus. VTA will run the larger buses during bell times to accommodate the kids in school.

With the smaller community buses there will be a reduced fare: Adults will ride for a $1.25, kids will ride for $0.75. Even during bell times when they switch to the large buses to go up to the schools, the community bus fare will still be in place, since the bus patrons will be paying for the route, not the bus.

VTA is looking to convert some of the lines to community buses, with no final designs as of yet. This would involve changing routes, adding and removing locations that the bus goes to.

Currently, community buses are not being used in Milpitas. They appear in Palo Alto, Gilroy.

"The community buses will kind of serve two purposes, you get reduced fare and... you (VTA) get to kind of bring down your costs a little bit (from) running those large buses" Cuenco said.

VTA will evaluate the bus service in Santa Clara County in July, 2010, and consider modifications as deemed necessary.

While the community bus proposal will be in "our service plan for July 2010 next year we could have... the large buses run these (proposed routes) already if we move forward with the proposal. But as far as getting the actual small buses to do those routes, that won't happen until 2011" when VTA will be able to fuel them with gasoline at the bus yard Cuenco explained.

The heart of the CBTP is public outreach. "The special thing about these plans is that the community is really involved." The community guided the direction of the plan.

Plans have been implemented in Gilroy and East San Jose. Different communities have different needs, so each plan will reflect its particular community.

VTA targets its outreach efforts to organizations that serve people that are more likely to utilize bus service, like transit dependent youth, elderly, and job seekers. VTA reaches out to find out what VTA can do for the community.

The top concerns identified through outreach efforts were expensive fares, bus/light rail frequency, personal safety, walking and biking.

Cuenco said that Milpitas has done a lot of great planning work that will help VTA get started on its own projects to address the issues that the Milpitas community has identified, so VTA would not have to come up with new solutions.

The extension of BART to Milpitas and San Jose will necessitate VTA revisiting their light rail and bus service near the planned BART stations.

There are proposed solutions for the top concerns, that will be incorporated into the plan, and other concerns that have no proposed solutions, but will still be noted, to be considered at a later date.

Cuenco said that VTA will have to look at certain needs as they arise, such as the need for transportation in the transit area development.

All of the things that people commented on at the May 28 meeting, VTA had already heard and began addressing.

Another item that made it into the plan was VTA giving a public transportation orientation to youth at the beginning of the school year. The specifics of implementation have yet to be worked out, but could also be given to adults who want to learn how to take the bus.

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