Guest Opinion: VTA bus line 88 should be seen as a transit opportunity | June 6, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - June 6, 2007

Guest Opinion: VTA bus line 88 should be seen as a transit opportunity

by Penny Ellson

As someone doubly interested in the future of traffic and available alternatives to automobile traffic in south Palo Alto (as chair of this year's PTA Traffic Safety Committee and chair of the Greenmeadow's Civic Affairs Committee), I am distressed by the proposal to cut the residential-area heart of our bus route, the VTA 88.

The proposal is part of a worthy effort to make the overall Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) operations more efficient and effective. But the recommendation on the 88 line is seriously flawed. It is based upon inadequate knowledge of impending growth of housing in the area, as well as of the continuing demographic changes in our community as our residents grow older.

Here is a recap of some data that VTA route planners did not seem aware of at a recent community meeting: There are 967 housing units and 352,000 square feet of office, commercial and community center space planned for the immediate area served by the 88 line.

This surge of development will draw users from the entire Peninsula to the current 88-route area in south Palo Alto, which serves Louis Road and the Charleston/Arastradero school commute corridor that our community has invested heavily in improving to promote safety and alternative-transportation modes.

The new Oshman Family Jewish Community Center alone will add about 4,000 member visits per day to a site that has been vacant for nearly a decade. (Visit for a snapshot of 88 route development.)

But even more worrisome is that the 88 line played a significant role in the official approval process by the city. Environmental impact reports for the largest of those approved projects, Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life (TKCJL)/BUILD and the former Hyatt Rickey's, each cited the 88 line as traffic mitigations for their projects. The VTA even expressed interest in relocating Route 88 to serve TKCJL better. Ý

Instead, just as these projects are approved and beginning construction, VTA reverses itself and proposes eliminating the 88-route portion that would have served these regional destinations based on its current Comprehensive Operations Analysis, or COA.

The COA focuses on fare-box recovery and existing demand without understanding the full scope of planned future development in the area.

At a meeting in Palo Alto late last month, VTA Transportation Planning Manager Kevin Connelly presented a COA that focused primarily on other cities with no hard data to support the decision to eliminate most of the 88 route.

It was troubling. Further, VTA drew assumptions about reasons for ridership reductions that weren't well-grounded in fact. VTA blamed the City of Palo Alto shuttle service for competing with their line, but it is probable that 88 ridership fell off for other reasons, including schedule and fare changes. The city shuttle's route was specifically designed not to compete with VTA routes.

More importantly, if VTA eliminates 88, even temporarily, people will get out of the habit of riding. VTA will lose current riders. This line may offer a future growth opportunity that VTA planners haven't recognized because they haven't thoroughly analyzed it.

I was struck by the number of people at last week's VTA meeting who need that bus because they are old or blind or otherwise disabled or can't drive for some other reason, including being too young. What will happen to those members of our community?

Stevenson House (a 120-unit affordable senior-housing community on Charleston Road) was located there many years ago partly because of the availability of public transportation.

The city approved a massive mixed -use senior/affordable/community center project at 901 San Antonio Road partly because of availability of public transportation, specifically the 88.

I hope VTA officials consider that, while fare-box recovery is important, as a publicly funded service organization, they also have some obligation to provide connections to regional transportation for people who need it most. This is their bigger mission.

I also wonder how loss of this bus line might affect the ability of Bridge Housing Corp. to get the grants needed to build affordable senior units. Having drafted a couple of letters of support for Bridge Housing grant applications on behalf of Greenmeadow Community Association, I know they are using the public-transportation aspect of the project in their public-funding applications.

Did you know that Gunn High School offers subsidized VTA passes for students who take the bus? The VTA presenters didn't seem to know that. Gunn does this because campus vehicle congestion is a big problem that will get worse with projected enrollment increases. There is opportunity to grow that segment if VTA will work with the City-School Traffic Safety Committee to promote the bus to students.

Did you know that TKCJL needs the bus even during its construction phase? VTA didn't know that.

Did you know that the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Plan for TKCJL says that VTA was interested in relocating the 88 to serve the site from Fabian? Why did VTA wait until after the project was approved to inform us of this route change?

The TDM plan for TKCJL offers a great opportunity for VTA to market this route more effectively. Having listened to VTA's speakers last week, I'm not sure they ever saw the TDM plan. They have, after all, been struggling with a vastly complex countywide system.

In each of these areas, I wish VTA planners had taken time to work with City of Palo Alto before they proposed to eliminate the route. I hope they will take time now to understand what opportunities for growth might exist with the 88.

Finally, there is the matter of consistency. County and VTA policies promote infill development with the notion that public transportation will follow. Our city government has dutifully complied in the south of Palo Alto by adding 4 percent of Palo Alto's total current households to the area served by this bus route.

So where is the public transportation going? To other cities south of south Palo Alto.

There's still a lot that VTA can do with the 88 line. It's too soon to decide to pull out.

Citizens can e-mail and copy to share their thoughts about this VTA proposal.

Penny Ellson is Chair of the Civic Affairs Committee for Greenmeadow Community Association and 2007-2008 Chair of the PTA Traffic Safety Committee. She can be e-mailed at


Posted by disgusted VTA customer, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 25, 2007 at 7:51 am

I too am a rider of a VTA line that is proposed to be cut. Although I don't have a residence in Palo Alto, I have been employed at the Veteran's hospital in Palo Alto. I and about 50-60 others ride the 104 Express from the North San Jose/Milpitas area to Palo Alto.

We had about 40 riders attend one of the COA meetings at the Great Mall in Milpitas. We heard the same thing about the fare box recovery. I did not hear one word about caring about the people who take this bus line to work and back home every day. It means nothing to VTA that we purchase monthly express passes at the cost of $122.50 per month. Or the other riders who's companies purchase the VTA Echo pass. I don't understand why these are not taken into consideration.

I composed a letter to the COA recently. The response I received was not positive at all. Once again it covered the same issue of "Fare box recovery"!!

I am speaking for many people who work not only at the VA Hospital but people who work at HP, Varian, Stanford Blood Center and CBI.

We currently have 3 routes to and from work. We are only asking that the VTA keep at least 1 of the routes to get to work and home.

If VTA does not keep one route...that is 50-60 more vehicles coming into Palo Alto every day. That means more traffic, more pollution, more noise.

The VTA is not listening....who will?

Posted by Henry, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2007 at 10:45 am

At least the VTA has listened to some of us about 88.

Web Link

Posted by happy to report, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 30, 2007 at 9:37 am

Although not set in stone...the 104 has been removed from the chopping block. It seems that someone was listening to us. I am pleased...but still look forward to seeing the final outcome of the August 30th board meeting.