Traffic congestion and long commutes are notorious in Silicon Valley.
But starting this Monday, Jan. 9 the Valley Transit Authority hopes to woo more drivers off the road with the introduction of 20 hybrid electric Express Buses to its fleet—all equipped with new amenities such as free wi-fi, high cushioned back seats and reading lights.
"We’re targeting the younger and tech-savvy market," said VTA general manager Michael Burns, standing at the side of a polished black, white and red Express Bus.
The buses, displayed at VTA’s Operation Division in San Jose Thursday, along with 70 regular service hybrid buses, were acquired with an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant and California Proposition 1B funding. It totaled $61.2 million.
With the increase in service, some of the routes will also expand: Express Bus Line 120 will offer an extend route from the Fremont BART to the Shoreline area in Mountain View, according to VTA spokeswoman Brandi Childress.
The buses will continue to cost $4 a ride, and will save VTA money in operational costs since they are cheaper to maintain than diesel buses, added Burns. That brings the total number of express buses to 40.
In 2011, the VTA reached out to companies such as –which utilizes an expansive, wi-fi enhanced shuttle service for employees–for feedback. In doing so, they adjusted the schedule and eliminated little-utilized stops.
"Now we have later runs so that we can reach a segment that has more flexibility in their work day," said Childress, pointing to tech workers who trickle in the office past 9 or 10 a.m. "We’re looking to target workers who wouldn’t normally consider public transit."
Wi-fi and quicker bus service will both be effective at reaching a broader demographic of riders, said Chris Zhang of the Friends of the Cupertino Transit System, a local advocacy group which looks to bring the same features to a Cupertino-specific bus system.
"Most of the time people don’t want to take buses because they don’t want to wait," he said.
Yet local software engineer Abhishek Bansal, 26, remained skeptical that some of the changes would reign in more riders.
"It’s a good ad-on, but almost everyone who can afford to pay for a wireless plan or buy an electronics gadget is using a smartphone or tablet with a data plan," he said.
Still, he said, some of the buses leaving at a later time, and traveling quickly from one highly populated area to another, would be a draw for those who previously felt the wait for a bus was too long.
Now that there’s no noisy alternators or rear door on the buses–only front ones–passengers can enjoy a quieter bus ride, explained Michael Hursh, deputy director of operations at the VTA. Furthermore, the electricity on the hybrid buses no longer comes from alternators.
"It’s all about attracting new riders," said Hursh. "We’re especially looking towards riders with a long commute, such as those from Gilroy or Fremont."
Added Greta Helm, VTA’s chief external affairs officer, "If we can match the comfort of a car, this is a much more attractive option."
The following is a list, according to the VTA’s website about January Service Changes, of Express Bus Changes being made in Palo Alto:
Line 102- South San Jose to Palo Alto This line will operate with the new express vehicles. An additional morning trip will be added leaving Santa Teresa Light Rail Station at 5:49 a.m., and a new afternoon trip will leave Hansen and Page Mill at 3:25 p.m. The stop at Santa Teresa and Lean will no longer be observed. Other minor schedule changes will be made.
Line 103- Eastridge Transit Center to Palo Alto This line will operate with the new express vehicles. Minor schedule changes will be made.
Line 120- Fremont BART to Lockheed Martin/Moffett Park This line will operate with the new express vehicles. The route will extend to Shoreline Research Park via Mathilda,Moffett Park, Hwy 101 NB, Shoreline, Charleston, onto Garcia, Marine, Casey & San Antonio (see map). Other minor schedule changes will be made.
Line 121- Gilroy Transit Center to Lockheed Martin/Moffett Park This line will operate with the new express vehicles. Minor schedule changes will be made.
Line 122- South San Jose to Lockheed Martin/Moffett Park This line will operate with the new express vehicles, and an additional trip will be added in each direction. Morning buses will leave Santa Teresa Light Rail Station at 5:53 a.m. and 7:32 a.m., and afternoon buses will leave Lockheed Martin at 4:48 p.m. and 6:07 p.m. The following stops will no longer be observed: Santa Teresa & Lean, Snell & Chynoweth and Capitol & Senter.
Line 522- Palo Alto Transit Center to Eastridge Transit Center
Minor weekday and Saturday schedule changes will be made.