Written by Cassie Bond
The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) recently released a new draft plan, changing the current 88 bus lines that provides public transport for students going to and from Gunn, as well as riders in Palo Alto who commute to places such as the Veterans Affairs hospital. Currently, there are three 88 buses: the 88, 88L and the 88M. Both the 88L and 88M are used for school days only and are ideal for students living near Middlefield, Waverly and Louis Street. The new draft plan would eliminate the 88L bus line and keep the 88 and 88M on school days.
VTA states that the planning was started in the spring of 2016 to increase ridership and cost efficiency. The VTA will review a revised plan in March and make a final decision on the draft in April.
Gunn Traffic Safety Representative Penny Ellson has been working on ways that students and community members can share their input on the plan. “In Palo Alto, the local 88L, 88M, 88 and 89 buses would be cut,” Ellson said. “ The 88 will be replaced by a renumbered 288 bus with more limited hours and route coverage.”
Although the 88L will be cut and the buses will only run from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., it is not yet clear how these changes will affect students. “We really do need to learn a lot more about what students need,” Ellson said. “We don’t know if the current hours are serving students well, and we have never actually surveyed students to understand that, nor has VTA.” After the recent draft plan, a survey is now available for student input. Ellson also understands the importance of voicing one’s
opinion on public transit. “One thing about transit is that if you don’t use it, you lose it,” Ellson said.
According to VTA Senior Project Manager Jay Tyre, the three 88 buses are currently one of the least productive routes in the VTA system, with lower ridership than other routes. “Out of the three [routes], the 88L is the lowest performing,” Tyre said. The route the 88L takes has sections with fewer citizens boarding, causing it to be less effective. “It starts on Louis and picks up people and then when it gets to Meadow, it is pretty full,” Tyre said. “But then not many people get on the unique portion that’s on Meadow.” The buses will also be changed to three trips, with the bus only going southbound in the morning, and coming back in the afternoon headed northbound. VTA will be working with Palo Alto Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) to figure out route preferences and timing.
Gunn PTSA Transit Coordinator Arthur Keller has been working with VTA to gain student input and relay comments. The reasons behind the draft plan also cover a larger encompassing goal of transit in the Bay Area. “VTA is about to open up some extensions of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to the east side of San Jose and they are realigning the bus routes in order to better serve BART,” Keller said. As bus routes change to encourage BART access, it also gives VTA the opportunity to review their bus service. “They are having to focus more of their resources on those areas with higher usage and cutting areas with lower usage,” Keller said.
Keller sees that there are several disadvantages to the VTA draft plan. “Right now, the three busses are close to capacity, if not at capacity.” Keller said. “I am wondering
how that would work in terms of people who want to leave right after school or get to school right at the beginning.” Currently, the buses have roughly 90 students riding in the morning and 95 in the afternoon, which saves car trips on Arastradero during busy school hours. Along with the capacity posing a possible concern, the change in timing to only the early morning and late afternoon is also an issue, according to Keller.
However, Keller does appreciate that the VTA is reaching out to students. “It recognizes that transporting kids to and from high school is important which is something that the VTA has done, but never officially,” Keller said. Keller also emphasized that having multiple runs of the 88M will also be beneficial.
Another topic under discussion is possible price changes to the current busing fares. It has been eight years since VTA has modified their fares, so they recognize a need for a review. VTA Media Spokesperson Linh Hoang has been working on the current fare review for VTA. “We are considering a discounted youth figure and potentially a free one, but those are up for review and we are looking at all possibilities,” Hoang said. Hoang also emphasized the importance for input from the community and comments for the VTA. “We know that we came up with a great draft plan, but we are looking to members of the community to make it better,” Hoang said.
Since these changes are still under discussion, it is necessary that students and citizens give their input into what they want to see modi ed by VTA. Senior Annie Chandra rides the bus almost every day of the week, and worries about the possible changes to the 88 bus line. One noticeable concern is the limited timing for the 88 bus. “I know that people have sports after school or may have to stay for a project where they aren’t done until five or six, and it would have been helpful to have the bus as a means of transportation,” Chandra said. Along with the time change, Chandra sees the benefits in frequently using a bus. “The bus is a great way to reduce traffic in the morning and it’s also a green way to get to school,” she said.
Submit your input to nextnetwork.vta.org/questions
Copy comments to the VTA Board at [email protected]
A student input survey can be found at http://tinyurl.com/gunn88bus
The Board will review comments by Feb.20, 2017.