With the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority poised to shake up its bus routes this weekend, Gunn High students who participate in after-school activities may need to look for new ways to get home.
The VTA is preparing to implement on Saturday, Dec. 28, its "New Service Plan," a shake-up of routes and schedules that will increase service frequency for buses on some of Santa Clara County's busiest arteries, including El Camino Real. This includes bus Routes 22 and 522, which extend from the Palo Alto Transit Center to the Eastridge Transit Center in San Jose.
The plan will also, however, limit options for riders in the less central parts of the city, including the neighborhoods in west and south Palo Alto that are currently served by Route 88. This includes Gunn High students who may need a ride home several hours after the final bell.
In the new system, the 88 line will be scrapped and replaced by three routes: 288, 288L and 288M. All three would start at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Medical Center and go through Gunn High before diverging as they make their way north and west, with 288 going along Charleston Road and Fabian Way before cutting left on Louis Road. The 288L would head north on Meadow Drive, turn west on Louis and terminate at Louis and Amarillo Avenue. The 288M would take Meadow to Waverley Street and end up at the intersection of Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue.
All three routes would only run on school days, according to the VTA. And even on those days, the bus schedule would be compressed when compared to existing service, with the afternoon 288L and 288M buses operating only after the high school's dismissal time.
In the new plan, the first 288M bus will be departing the Palo Alto VA stop and head north to Gunn High eight minutes after dismissal time. It will be followed two minutes later by 288L bus and, two minutes after that, by the 288 bus.
The revised 288 bus schedule would run a single southbound bus in the morning on weekdays before Gunn High starts classes. The final northbound 288 bus would leave the Palo Alto VA at 4:10 p.m. and arrive at Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue at 4:34 p.m. Under the current schedule, the 88 bus runs about once an hour, roughly between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The VTA sees the plan as a way to boost service countywide and increase ridership. It includes additional bus connections at the Berryessa and Milpitas transit centers, as well as a new orange line for light rail, stretching from Mountain View to the Alum Rock station in San Jose.
But the new route map has also irked some bus riders Palo Alto, who are lamenting the shifting bus services near Gunn High. Last week, the school's Parent Teacher Student Association submitted a letter to the VTA criticizing the agency for falling short in notifying the community about the change in transportation options. The VTA, according to the letter, notified the city just before Thanksgiving that it plans to implement the new schedule during the winter break. This, the PTSA claims, makes it hard for the city and the school district to plan for the changes.
"Given the timing over the holidays and lack of available public meeting time during that short period, it will be impossible for city staff to get approval to fill the service gaps this change will create, causing problems for Gunn High School school commuters," the letter signed by PTSA president Kimberly Eng Lee states.
Palo Alto is now exploring ways to fill the gap by introducing a new South Palo Alto shuttle, operated by the city. But despite years of discussion and general support from the City Council, the city's effort to expand shuttle service has proceeded at a crawl. On Dec. 16, in its final meeting of the year, the council approved a new shuttle contract with the company Transmetro. But the three-year, $1.1 million contract only pertains to the Crosstown Shuttle, which runs from the Palo Alto Transit Center to Charleston Road, via Crescent Park and Midtown, including along Middlefield Road.
Palo Alto's transportation staff expects to consider modifications to the route in the spring, largely to address VTA's gaps in service, according to a report from Office of Transportation. In the document, staff acknowledged that the VTA's changes in service "will result in changes to bus routes in Palo Alto."
Arthur Keller, Gunn High's public transit coordinator, criticized the city for not planning for these disruptions in the new bus contract. The VTA's realignment means that "Gunn High students who take the 88 bus — or now soon-to-be 288 bus — to school in the morning and do after-school activities will now not be able to take the bus home because there won't be a bus home."
"There will be a bus right after school and a bus an hour later, but not beyond that," Keller told the council's Finance Committee on Dec. 17. "That could have been filled by the South Palo Alto shuttle bus."
View maps of the new routes at vta.org.