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July 08, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 08, 2005

VTA's Rapid 522 promises quick trip down El Camino VTA's Rapid 522 promises quick trip down El Camino (July 08, 2005)

By Jenny Baer

On July 5, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority implemented the Rapid 522 Bus Service, a new bus system which aims to cut transportation times and increase usage of public transportation in Santa Clara County.

According to VTA officials, the Rapid 522 is only the precursor to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which is part of the long-term plan for further advancing Valley transportation.

VTA Board Chairperson Joe Pirzynski called the Rapid 522 the "backbone of the VTA bus network." It stretches down El Camino Real from Palo Alto to the Eastridge Transit Center in San Jose, reducing travel times 10 to 25 percent.

New service features include "Bus Signal Priority," currently operating in 56 intersections, which provides an advantage for buses passing through intersections by extending green traffic signals, or reducing red signals when a Rapid 522 bus is approaching.

The bus's 30 stops will be spaced a half-mile to one mile apart, compared to the 112 quarter-mile stops that the local bus service makes. They are also all "low-floor buses," which facilitate quick and easy passenger boarding and exiting.

The new buses will travel as fast as traffic signals allow, serving bus stops approximately every 15 minutes for most of the day. This means that Line 522 buses will not sit idle at bus stops when ahead of published time schedules.

"We expect to see them moving through a stop, have people get on, get off and then move again," states Pirzynski.

The new "Queue Jump Lanes" use an exclusive right-turn lane as well as a "receiving" lane on the other end of the intersection to allow buses to bypass traffic at busy intersections. These lanes are currently located on El Camino Real at Page Mill Road and Arastradero intersections in Palo Alto.

At a July 5 press conference, Los Altos Mayor David Cassas cited the need for a long-term plan to improve transportation on El Camino Real, especially since the 26-mile stretch of El Camino that is now serviced by Line 522 receives 20 percent of VTA's total bus ridership.

Officials say they hope to attract more riders with the convenience and low price of the Rapid 522. Santa Clara County Supervisor Jim Beall Jr. noted the high utilization of the Muni bus in San Francisco as well as bus systems in Sonoma and Marin counties.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District helped fund this project, and Dana Cowell of the California Department of Transportation states that part of the purpose of the new bus line is to "get people in single-occupant vehicles to switch to using the bus service."

Line 522 connects to CalTrain and, one day, will connect to BART. Cowell said that, with the new bus line and plans to develop the Bus Rapid Transit system, "the VTA and the communities of Santa Clara County are once again at the forefront of a new transportation service."

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