New bus route aims to get mega-commuters off the road

MV employees living in the South County have a faster way to get to work

For tech employees living in Morgan Hill and Gilroy, getting through Santa Clara County's congested highway system to the major employers on the Peninsula can be a daunting task. During peak hours, traveling up Highway 101 and Highway 85 into Mountain View can take as long as two hours.

In an effort to get these mega-commuters off the road, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) launched a new express bus route last month designed to transport employees directly from these South County cities to the busy jobs-heavy center of Mountain View during the worst of the commute. The new bus line, Express Route 185, is part of a larger effort to lessen congestion on Highway 85, which grinds to a halt in Mountain View during the evening commute.

The new route launched last month after VTA circulated a survey to major employers in the North Bayshore area, including Google, Microsoft, and Symantec, asking where employees live and when they tend to drive to work and and back. The resulting Express Route 185 picks up employees in both Gilroy and Morgan Hill, and then makes a non-stop slog along the HOV lanes on Highway 101 and 85 all the way to Middlefield Road in Mountain View. The entire 50-mile trek costs the standard express bus fare of $4 for adults, and is intended to be competitive with the time it takes to make the same lengthy commute by car.

The bus route is in "pilot" mode with a limited schedule compared to similar express bus routes that travel to Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, with only three stops at each station for the morning and evening commutes. Changes to the schedule and locations for stops will be made in order to maximize ridership, according to a VTA staff report.

It's hard to gauge how popular the bus route will be, and there's been no recorded data on early ridership numbers to date, said VTA spokeswoman Linh Hoang. There was no projection on ridership numbers prior to the implementation, but older, more established express bus lines servicing South County residents have ridership numbers of about 200 people in each direction.

The new bus route is also the start of a longer process by VTA to encourage more transit usage on Highway 85. Last year, the transportation agency shifted gears when it abandoned a plan to turn the highway's median into new toll lanes, or "express lanes," and is now pursuing a plan to turn the median into a transit lane. Near term goals include $500 million in various upgrades, including the new lane construction, new express buses and ongoing operating costs of about $50 million. Most of these upgrades will be paid for by the new Measure B sales tax, which voters approved last year.

Looking toward the future, VTA will be developing a plan for Light Rail Transit on Highway 85, which would integrate with the county-wide light rail system. But it's unclear how the agency would pay for such a massive undertaking. Reports from May 2016 estimated that the cost of adding a Light Rail Transit system on Highway 85 would cost somewhere in the ballpark of $3.7 to $3.8 billion. For context, the entire $6 billion in Measure B sales tax revenue only allocates $350 million to Highway 85 upgrades.

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11 people like this
Posted by Darin
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Darin is a registered user.

If I had to commute from Gilroy or Morgan Hill to Mountain View, my first thought would be to take Caltrain. I wonder whether the travel time for this express bus can be competitive with Caltrain.

3 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2017 at 6:13 pm

If this is going to succeed it need to be well advertised, marketed and promoted in so many ways as to insure that every potential rider gets to hear about it. If people don't know about it, then they will never try it out.

The $4 fare is attractive, how does it compare with Caltrain?

This is a great addition and progress on the public transportation front.

7 people like this
Posted by IVG
a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 15, 2017 at 11:18 am

Ideally, people will learn about the bus when it passes them on the highway.

$4 is cheaper than Caltrain. Caltrain also makes only 3 trips south of SJ.

6 people like this
Posted by Greg
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Feb 15, 2017 at 1:40 pm

It would be slower than Caltrain.

But VTA doesn't want to send their money to another agency. So they come up with a proposal to duplicate existing service.

Of course, it would be more effective to pay Caltrain to increase late evening service frequency. Or add a late bus that runs from Diridon to Gilroy. But this isn't about efficiency. It's about growing your empire.

3 people like this
Posted by not a VTA fan
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 15, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Another silly idea to justify VTA. How will the bus's be any quicker? Because they get to use the HOV lane? Wont make that much difference.

4 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2017 at 6:02 pm

I disagree, sorry.

Who would have thought that Google could run a successful bus service from San Francisco to the Shoreline area? However, it works. People who work for Google live in San Francisco because of this. I imagine that people who work in this area might be attracted to buying a more affordable family home in Gilroy rather than a condo or townhouse nearby if they can ride a luxury bus where they can work, sleep, surf the net, etc. rather than being stuck in traffic.

Google buses are for Google employees but there are a lot more companies in the area who can't use the Google buses. A VTA bus service would be for everyone. It would be for the high tech workers and also the janitors or restaurant workers in Mountain View. I still think this is a good idea, but the word has to get out and the pilot has to run long enough to get people into the habit of using it and secure enough to enable people to make decisions to move out there.

6 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Willowgate
on Feb 16, 2017 at 7:59 am

Sitting in a bus stuck in traffic as a passenger is not the same as sitting in a car stuck in traffic as a driver. The bus doesn't need to be faster, it just needs to be convenient and fast enough to be feasible. People actually can get work done while riding the bus to/from work, it is productive "work" time.

3 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 16, 2017 at 4:06 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

TANSTAAFL. Who pays? Will the employers count the travel time as hours worked? Wouldn't it be cheaper to lay track alongside Caltrains ROW and just get people into those empty trains I see now? Many questions should be asked about this issue. People need to be held responsible for what they do, with termination a possibility if their ideas fail.

7 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 16, 2017 at 5:35 pm

The Voice has strayed from its mandate to serve the citizens of Mountain View. Just how will an expensive bus route from Morgan Hill and Gilroy benefit Mountain View commuters? How could it possibly be better than CalTrain? Will it reduce traffic jams on Shoreline, or San Antonio, or Grant Rd, or whatever? All political problems are local, so the Voice would do well to figure ways to make it a lot easier for automobiles to navigate their way around MV during both commute and school hours.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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