Santa Clara's Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) provides multiple local, express, and community services using its diverse fleet of conventional buses and shuttle vans. With a commitment to help the environment and reduce congestion in Santa Clara County, the VTA also provides local and express services using hybrid buses that cut down on diesel exhausts and lower the county's carbon footprint.
As I boarded my first bus from McCarthy Ranch in Milpitas to start my tour of San Jose, I've noticed some similarities and starking differences in the VTA that can be compared with other Bay Area transit agencies, namely AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Muni, and SamTrans. Its buses are well-maintained, especially its hybrid fleet, and most of them have little to no signs of graffiti, similar to Golden Gate Transit. Each of the buses has its own Automated Voice Announcement machine, similar to those deployed to Muni and SamTrans, but it does not play the repetitive messages of cyclist safety and minding your baggage every 5 minutes as Muni does, nor it announces any transfer features for the main intersections its buses cross as SamTrans provides. Also, most of the buses have working air conditioning, similar to Golden Gate Transit; the seats, however, were in a lot of cases quite hard to sit on despite the fact that they have soft, foam-like seating like SamTrans and Golden Gate Transit. The agency now accepts the Clipper Card as a payment form, similar to the four agencies I mentioned above; however, as I mentioned in the previous Transit Stories, the VTA does not provide paper transfers for its passengers and instead sells Day Passes for three times the cost of a single adult ride on a local bus ($6.00 vs. $2.00). VTA accepts transfers from many transit agencies in the form of transfers and fare credits, while transit agencies only accept VTA's Monthly Passes as a form of transfer to other agencies since the agency does not furnish transfer tickets to its passengers. However, the Day Passes can be substituted for other Day Passes locally (i.e. upgrade from a Local Day Pass to an Express Day Pass or surrendering the Local Day Pass for a Santa Cruz METRO Day Pass), which other passengers may look as an inconvenience since they don't pay for the total length of their ride, like Muni or Golden Gate Transit; instead, the system is similar to SamTrans where every time a passenger boards a bus, they need to pay or show a Day Pass to ride.
Although they operate Gillig Phantom buses (picture on right) that are similar to SamTrans' buses, the VTA operates more modern, low-floored buses, also built by Gillig, that allows them to have city buses that can be substituted as express buses when needed, a strategy that also exists with other Bay Area transit agencies. Although they don't have real commuter buses (i.e. MCI D4500 coaches) that operate on long-haul commutes, VTA compensates that with a sizable fleet of hybrid buses (top picture) that operate throughout Santa Clara County, showing its commitment to environmental preservation and lessening its carbon footprint. The agency also operates several other Gillig bus variants (pictures below), as well as New Flyer articulated buses on its busiest lines, Route 22 and Rapid Route 522, operating between Palo Alto and Eastridge. The agency also operates a fleet of Ford F450 vans that are used as community shuttle buses, as well as for the agency's DASH (Downtown Area SHuttle) service that operates within Downtown San Jose weekdays only, which are powered by propane. What I thought of the buses were not only they were clean and well-maintained, but they were also used efficiently as evidenced by the high ridership on many of VTA's line (although at the time I took the pictures, only Routes 26 and 68 were shown to have quite a high number of riders on board). A collection of the buses I saw throughout San Jose and Milpitas are shown below:
And here are some of the interiors of the buses, close up:
On part 4, I will describe in brief my assessment of VTA's light rail system, as well as my overall assessment of the transit agency.