A bus network is a compromise between ridership and coverage. Trunk routes provide the bulk ridership, while feeder lines fill in the geographic gaps. Geographic coverage is pretty important for low-income riders without cars, seniors, persons with disabilities. And in a place like Silicon Valley, geographic coverage is also needed for reaching the remote office parks.
However, feeder routes do not generate much farebox revenue. And with VTA struggling to pay for a ludicrously expensive BART subway, it is looking to cut bus service:
Despite a Santa Clara Valley population and jobs boom, ridership on buses and light-rail trains has dropped a staggering 23 percent since 2001, forcing the Valley Transportation Authority to consider its biggest shake-up ever in transit service.
Tough, unpopular decisions loom if the VTA hopes to attract those new passengers, get them to their destinations and improve its dismal 10 percent fare box return, which is the worst in the nation among similar agencies.
At the crux: Is the board willing to cut sparsely used, unprofitable routes that carry a handful of passengers — many of whom have no other means of transportation?
“This is going to take quite a bit of courage,” VTA General Manager Nuria Fernandez said following the release of a 68-page report on bus operations. “Ridership continues to decrease. Our fare box is not getting any better. Clearly we are going to have to make a choice to take a chance or nothing will ever change.”
Currently, about 30 percent of VTA bus service is geared to covering areas where bus rides are vital to the very few riders those lines carry. The two-year, $50,000 report by consultant Jarrett Walker + Associates said if that was lowered to 20 percent or 10 percent and money was redirected to the most heavily used routes, ridership and fare revenues would likely increase.
VTA riders are being given a hobson’s choice. They can choose either a comprehensive network with 30-60 minute headways, or a much more limited network with 5-15 minute headways.
The one choice they aren’t being given is to restore cuts made in bus funding.
In 2002. the VTA provided 1,508,300 revenue-hours of bus service. By 2013, service levels declined to 1,290,216 revenue-hours. The reason for the decline was to pay for very expensive expressway, LRT, and BART projects. The only logical choice is to reduce the highway spending, and to bring BART costs under control, in order to avoid eviscerating the bus network.