Silicon Valley Transit Plan


The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and its predecessors serving San Jose and Silicon Valley have spent more than $7 billion (in today’s dollars) on rail transit. Yet it carried fewer bus and rail riders in 2019 than buses alone carried in 1986, before San Jose’s first light-rail line opened.

This failure can be blamed on the usual suspects: rail transit is designed to take lots of people to a central hub, but less than 4 percent of Silicon Valley jobs are in downtown San Jose. In such an urban area, rail transit just because an expensive bus that doesn’t serve many people but does take money from potentially better bus service in the rest of the region.

Lines show only origins and approximate destinations, not exact routes.

At the request of Opportunity Now, a free-market activist group in Silicon Valley, the Antiplanner prepared an alternative transit plan relying on buses. As shown in the above map, the plan would create six primary transit centers (red stars) each with non-stop bus service to the other five centers (red lines); four secondary transit centers (blue stars), each with non-stop bus service to two primary centers (blue lines); plus spokes radiating from each of the transit centers to local neighborhoods (yellow lines). All of the non-stop routes would be primarily on freeways, thus greatly increasing the average speed of buses, which is currently less than 12 miles per hour.

This is my third polycentric transit plan to be published after ones for Portland and St. Louis. (I also have written one for Calgary Alberta that I hope will be published in early 2024.) While I am personally dubious whether transit will ever become a significant mode of travel in U.S. urban areas not named New York City, as long as taxpayers are spending billions of dollars a year, transit agencies should attempt to serve workers throughout urban areas and not just those who work downtown.

In putting together these proposals, I take into account the number of bus routes and vehicle-revenue-miles of bus service currently operated by the transit agencies. My goal is to find the optimal number of transit centers that can serve an entire region without increasing transit operating costs.

My plan for Portland had nine primary transit centers. The one for St. Louis had seven primary and six secondary centers. Calgary’s will have ten primary and six secondary centers. Since VTA has a smaller number of bus routes than the other cities, this plan has fewer centers. However, since the San Jose urban area has the third highest population density of any urban area in the U.S., this number should be sufficient to give most residents much better transit service than they receive today.

This piece first appeared at The Antiplanner.

Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Photo: Ewan Munro via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License