Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority

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Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
VTA logo 2017.svg
Santa Clara VTA Montage.jpg
LocaleSan Jose, California
Transit typeBus and light rail
Number of lines70 bus, 3 light rail
Number of stations62
Daily ridership120,200 (Q4 2019)[1]
Began operation1973
Operator(s)Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
System length42.2 mi (67.9 km) (light rail)

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, more commonly known simply as the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), is a special district responsible for public transit services, congestion management, specific highway improvement projects, and countywide transportation planning for Santa Clara County, California. It serves San Jose, California and the surrounding Silicon Valley. It is one of the governing parties for the Caltrain commuter rail line that serves the county.


VTA's old logo, which was used from December 1996 to January 2017.

Founding of Santa Clara County Transit District[edit]

In 1969, Santa Clara County had three private bus companies, all of which were in serious financial trouble: Peninsula Transit, San Jose City Lines, and Peerless Stages.[2] The California Legislature passed a Santa Clara County Transit District Act in 1969.[2] However, the Act did not supply any funding for the new district. The formation of the Santa Clara County Transit District was rejected in 1969 and 1970 before it was finally approved by county voters on June 6, 1972.[2] The SCCTD took over the operations of the three old bus companies on January 1, 1973.[2]

On September 26, 1974, the county Board of Supervisors dissolved the Public Works Department.[3] Non-transit operations went into a new General Services Agency, while transit operations were placed into a new Santa Clara County Transportation Agency.[3]

In its early years the Santa Clara County Transportation District approached the task of replacing the bus fleet it inherited from its predecessors, which was in need of upgrades and repair. At first the district bought propane-fueled Twin Coaches[4] and Gilligs.[5] SCCTD switched to an all-diesel fleet after six buses went up in flames between December 1977 and April 1978.[6] At the time, critics referred to the buses as "rolling propane bombs."[6]

A 1986 Flxible Metro bus of Santa Clara County Transit

On March 6, 1976, Santa Clara County voters approved a half-cent sales tax, Measure A, to help support the Santa Clara County Transit District. In 1977, the primary Overhaul and Repair Facility was built at the Cerone Yard. Also in 1977, County Supervisors decided to change the bus fleet from propane to diesel and ordered 102 buses. By 1979, three additional bus yards were built and commissioned into service.[7]

Another issue was improving the diversity of its workforce. In December 1978, the SCCTD approved an affirmative action plan for the Transportation Agency. After a long legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 6-3 majority upheld the gender component of the plan against a civil rights challenge on March 25, 1987.[8]

Guadalupe Line light rail[edit]

Light rail trackway between Old Ironsides station and a temporary station at First and Younger, near the junction of the branch running west on Younger to VTA's Guadalupe Division, opened for revenue service as the Guadalupe line on December 11, 1987.[9][10][11] Expansion of the single line continued in sections until 1991 when the starter system was completed to Santa Teresa station in South San Jose including the Almaden spur line.[9]

Formation of VTA[edit]

On January 1, 1995, the SCCTD merged with the county Congestion Management Agency to become the SCVTA. For convenience, the acronym was later shortened to VTA.

In 1996, voters approved a half-cent general county sales tax, Measure B, and a companion list of transportation projects recommended to be funded with Measure B, called (1996) Measure A. The two measures were designed to adhere to the rule in the California State Constitution that requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass any special purpose sales tax, but only a majority vote to pass a general sales tax. The measure was challenged, but in 1998, the California Supreme Court ruled that the two measure system was valid.[12] The tax was to be collected for ten years.

2000 Measure A and VTA's BART Silicon Valley Extension[edit]

In 2000, voters approved a 30-year extension of the 1996 sales tax to fund the Silicon Valley BART extension, which will eventually extend Bay Area Rapid Transit from its prior terminus in Fremont to Santa Clara. 2000 Measure A also includes funding for light rail extensions, bus service expansion, expansion and electrification of Caltrain service,[13] and connections from San Jose International Airport to BART, Caltrain and VTA light rail. The measure was placed on the ballot by the VTA and does not include funding specifically for highway projects. The measure passed with 70% of the vote. Revenues from the sales tax would not begin being collected until April 2006.

After 2000, due to the dot-com bust, existing revenue sources declined and VTA was forced to cut service and increase fares. VTA introduced a series of fare increases between 1998 and 2005.[14] VTA's farebox recovery is approximately 13% and the Authority is focused on increasing the ratio. VTA contemplated service reductions in 2003 [15] to address its budget problems.[16] Instead, VTA changed routes to respond to customer demands and by 2008 saw increased ridership numbers.[17]

In the process of obtaining the federal funding necessary to build the BART extension, the Federal Transit Administration issued a "Not Recommended" rating in January 2004.[18] The FTA was concerned about the ability of VTA to operate BART and other bus services at the same time. VTA continued to design BART and prepare the required environmental documents.[13]

In 2006, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors placed a half-cent general sales tax increase for unspecified transportation projects along with other county services. It was advocated by supporters of the BART extension and labor groups.[19] The measure would have funded improvements to local hospitals, clinics, and transportation.[20] On June 6, 2006, voters defeated the measure by a margin of 58% to 42%.[20] In December 2006, the VTA board authorized $135 million in contract amendments to continue engineering work and environmental clearance on the extension,[21] with a proposal to bring a tax increase to operate the BART extension in 2008.[22]

VTA is building the first ten miles (16 km) phase of the Silicon Valley BART extension to the future Berryessa Transit Center in San Jose. Work continues for the second phase of the extension, which is proposed to include a 5-mile-long subway tunnel through downtown San Jose and extend the BART system from the planned Berryessa Extension terminus for approximately six miles, ending at-grade in Santa Clara near the Caltrain Station. VTA will cede operations of the line to the Bay Area Rapid Transit District upon completion.[23]

2008 Measure B[edit]

By a two-thirds majority, Santa Clara County voters approved Measure B in November 2008, implementing a 30-year, 1/8-cent local sales tax dedicated solely to funding the operating and maintenance costs associated with VTA's BART Silicon Valley Extension. The 2008 Measure B sales tax took effect in July 2012.[24]

2016 Measure B[edit]

In keeping with 2000 Measure A, VTA needed additional funding to deliver the full 16-mile (26 km) BART Silicon Valley Extension. Measure B, added to the November 2016 ballot, would raise $6.3 billion for transit projects via a half-cent increase in sales tax. This included up to $1.6 billion for the BART extension, as well as funds for Caltrain electrification, grade separation, and road improvements.[25][26] Voters passed the 2016 Measure B, which required a two-thirds majority vote.[27]

A lawsuit was filed in January 2017 by Cheriel Jensen to challenge the validity of the measure. It was initially dismissed with prejudice in July 2017,[28] but an appeal was subsequently filed in August 2017 to the 6th District Court of Appeal.[29] Pending a resolution, the funds collected by taxes introduced by 2016 Measure B were held in an escrow account.[30] The appeals court upheld the dismissal,[31] and on January 23, 2019, the state Supreme Court refused to hear the final appeal.[32]

Climate activists pushed the VTA to reallocate funds away from road projects and into more transit improvements, but were voted down at the San Jose City Council, which controls a majority of the VTA's board.[33]


VTA accepts fare payment in cash, monthly passes, and Clipper card. However, day passes and monthly passes are only available on the Clipper card. Up to 3 kids under 5 with fare-paying rider can board for free.[34] As of 2019, the fares for VTA are: $2.50 for adults on local buses and light rail $1 for seniors and people with disabilities on all buses and light rail $1.25 for children above 5 on all buses and light rail $5 for adults on express buses

VTA also offers transfer fares to BART when using a Clipper card.


The Santa Clara VTA special district is governed by a 12-member board of directors whose members are:

  • 2 members of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors
  • 5 San José City Council members
  • 5 City Council members selected from the other 14 cities in the county

In June 2004, a Santa Clara County Grand Jury criticized the governance structure by calling it "too large, too political, too dependent on staff, too inexperienced in some cases, and too removed from the financial and operational performance of VTA." Since VTA board members are required to be elected officials, they must juggle their other duties in addition to VTA. The Grand Jury recommended that the VTA board be shrunk to 5 to 7 members, with members either appointed solely for transportation issues or directly elected by the voters.[35] This has still been a complaint from some organizations and individuals as of 2019.

VTA's current General Manager is Nuria Fernandez, previously the Chief Operating Officer of New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Congestion management[edit]

VTA also serves as the Congestion Management Agency for Santa Clara County. In this role VTA makes decisions on what local projects can utilize federal and state funding, and manage sales tax revenue that is specified for VTA usages, such as 1987 Measure A and 2000 Measure A sales tax measures.

Transit services[edit]

VTA operates three light rail lines, a number of bus lines, and paratransit service. VTA is a member agency of Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board that manages Caltrain commuter rail, providing one-third of annual operating funds and all the funding for specific improvement projects within Santa Clara County. VTA is also a member agency of Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority that manages Capitol Corridor intercity rail service.

As VTA covers Santa Clara County in general, it serves the major core city of San Jose (where VTA is based and headquartered), with service to the other municipalities of Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Saratoga and Sunnyvale. Only Campbell, Milpitas, Mountain View, San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale are served by light rail. Express bus service is provided to nearby Fremont where it connects with BART; it partners with Highway 17 Express to provide service to Santa Cruz and partners with Dumbarton Express to provide transbay service between Union City and Stanford University.

Light rail[edit]

VTA low-floor light rail vehicle at Tasman Station on the Santa Teresa line

Bus routes[edit]

VTA bus arriving at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills

VTA operates 50 regularly operating bus routes as of January 2020, including 37 regular bus routes, 3 rapid limited stop routes, and 5 express routes. Many of these routes connect to VTA light rail service, and Caltrain stations. In addition, VTA operates a special service for Levi's Stadium events, 8 school trip services, and 8 free shuttle routes connecting to ACE commuter rail services.

VTA's longest and most-used bus route is the 22, which connects VTA's Eastridge Transit Center in East San Jose with the Caltrain station in Palo Alto, which serves as a transfer point for SamTrans buses from San Mateo County. Line 22 is the only line with 24-hour, 7 days-per-week service, including night bus service as part of the regional All-Nighter Network. One side effect of Line 22's 24-hour schedule is that it doubles as a moving homeless shelter.[36][37] Line 22's fleet of coaches primarily consists of articulated low floorbuses.

On January 14, 2008, VTA implemented major updates in its bus service. Some routes became part of a community bus network that utilizes shorter buses and charges a cheaper fee than standard bus service. Others became part of a core network with headways of 15 minutes or less. Additionally, some bus routes underwent changes in routing, while other, less-used routes were deleted completely. The agency completed another bus service redesign on December 28, 2019.[38]

BRT (Bus Rapid Transit)[edit]

Current Service[edit]

King station along Rapid 522

On July 5, 2005, VTA implemented its first rapid bus line along the VTA's busiest corridor. Modeled after the Metro Rapid service in Los Angeles, rapid bus Line 522 follows most of the Line 22 route, and features limited stops, headway based schedules, low floor fleet, and signal priority along El Camino Real. However, the current rapid bus service by VTA does not fully qualify as BRT, due to the lack of separate ticketing stations and platforms, distinctive vehicles, and special lanes (which make BRT mimic more of a light rail or tram route, instead of a bus route). Rather, it serves as a temporary rapid bus service until VTA officially opens a BRT transit corridor along the same route, which will upgrade the current 522 route.


Santa Clara–Alum Rock BRT
El Camino Real BRT
to Palo Alto
    AmtrakAltamont Corridor Express Caltrain
Stevens Creek BRT
to De Anza College
Santa Clara
6th Street
Taylor & 10th/11th
Berryessa/​North San José
Bay Area Rapid Transit

VTA had planned to add distinctive vehicles, separate bus-exclusive lanes on Alum Rock Avenue, El Camino Real, and Stevens Creek Boulevard, ticketing platforms separate from other buses, and possible amenities such as wait time for successive BRT buses by 2016 (making BRT behave more like a light rail or tram system, instead of bus service). This would also upgrade the existing 522 bus service to an official BRT, and rename the entire VTA-operated BRT service to VTA Rapid, differentiating it from VTA's buses division.

This plan involved reducing general traffic lanes from 3 lanes in each direction which was unpopular and the plans were abandoned in January 2018.[39]

An additional rapid line, the 568, along the current route 68 is proposed to replace the current 168 express as part of the 2021 Service Plan.[40] This plan was put on hold to direct resources to reducing passenger pass-ups due to capacity limits during the COVID-19 pandemic.[41]


Paratransit service is door-to-door shuttle service available to disabled people that meet the requirements of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. MV Transportation, a for-profit agency, is the contract paratransit broker for VTA.

Future SJC–Diridon–DAC connector[edit]

VTA released a request for information in July 2019 to solicit concepts for a grade-separated system that would connect Diridon Station with the San Jose International Airport (SJC), a distance of approximately 3 miles (4.8 km). Potential SJC airport connector alignments include either an underground route following existing streets, or an aerial route partially along State Route 87. The RFI also asked potential bidders to design a continuation to De Anza College along Stevens Creek Boulevard. One major goal of the RFI was to determine if new technologies could be used to deliver a solution "at significantly lower costs than traditional transit projects."[42][43]

Vintage trolley service[edit]

VTA operates a vintage trolley service seasonally. It operates between Civic Center and the San Jose Caltrain stations. Information on this service can be found on VTA's website.

Bus fleet summary[edit]

The current bus fleet of VTA includes Gillig Low Floor (standard, shortened, and hybrid), and New Flyer Xcelsior (XDE60), and Proterra Catalyst (Battery Electric) while its paratransit fleet includes Dodge Caravan, Chevrolet Express cutaway buses, and Toyota Prius (includes second and third generations, not including other Prius variants).[44]

VTA previously operated the Rapid Transit Series (retired in 2003), the Flxible Metro (retired in 2007), the Chevrolet Kodiak chassis community buses (retired in 2014), the Gillig Phantom (retired in 2018), and the New Flyer Low Floor (D60LF) (retired in 2019).[45] In 2014, VTA received new hybrid buses from Gillig, utilizing as community buses (numbered 41--), express buses (numbered 42--), and normal services (numbered 44--) to replace the ageing fleet of now-phased out Chevrolet cutaways and the oldest Gillig Phantoms respectively. The New Flyer Xcelsior XDE60 articulated buses were added to the fleet in early 2015, and are primarily used on Rapid services. More Gillig Low Floor hybrid buses were added in January 2017. These buses are the first to feature VTA's new logo and paint scheme, and are planned for the complete replacement of the Gillig Phantoms, as well as the older non-hybrid low floor buses. Also, in late 2017 and early 2018, VTA added additional Gillig Low Floor hybrid buses (customized with BRT-styled headlamps as Low Floor Plus), as well as Proterra, Inc. Catalyst battery electric buses. VTA received a newer batch of XDE60 buses, which will use VTA's current livery featured on 2017 Gilligs (as opposed with older articulated buses), primarily for replacing the older D60LF buses.

Highway improvement[edit]

Besides providing transit services to residents of Santa Clara County, VTA also manages countywide highway projects that use county sales tax revenues, in conjunction with Caltrans. In this role, VTA was responsible for several highway projects such as widening portions of US 101 between San Jose and Morgan Hill, and Interstate 880 within Santa Clara County. VTA will also be the leading agency in SR 152/SR 156 interchange and future widening projects.


  1. ^ "Ridership Report - American Public Transportation Association" (PDF). Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d McCaleb (1994), p. 12.
  3. ^ a b McCaleb (1994), p. 16.
  4. ^ Norrington, Leon. "TWIN Coach". VIBES (VTA Bus Information Bus Enthusiasts Stop).
  5. ^ Norrington, Leon. "Gillig/Neopan". VIBES (VTA Bus Information Bus Enthusiasts Stop.
  6. ^ a b McCaleb (1994), p. 26.
  7. ^ Valley Transportation Authority (2005-11-17). "Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority History"[1] Archived 2017-07-04 at the Wayback Machine. Valley Transportation Authority. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
  8. ^ Johnson v. Transportation Agency, 480 U.S. 616 (1987)
  9. ^ a b Warner, David C. (April 1991). "San Jose: Guadalupe Corridor Line Completed". Passenger Train Journal. pp. 32–38. ISSN 0160-6913.
  10. ^ Robinson, Bert (December 11, 1987). "All Aboard - It's Off and Rolling". San Jose Mercury News. et al. Sec A:1.
  11. ^ Grant, Joanne (November 6, 1987). "Mishap Won't Delay Light Rail". San Jose Mercury News. Sec B:3.
  12. ^ "Measure B Transportation Improvement Program (PRG)". County of Santa Clara.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ "History of VTA Fare Hikes - 1996 to 2005". Santa Clara VTA Riders Union. 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-02-17. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  15. ^ "Save Our Transit - Victory in 2003!". Transportation and Land Use Coalition. 2004-05-10. Archived from the original on 2008-02-08. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  16. ^ "VTA on the brink of bankruptcy". The Gilroy Dispatch. Main Street Media Group. 2003-04-11. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Cabanatuan, Michael (2004-01-16). "New blow for BART-to-San Jose plans: Federal funding threatened by transit advisers, who rate 16-mile extension as 'not recommended'". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications, Inc. p. A-19. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  19. ^ Guardino, Carl (2006-01-25). "Survey Results - Potential County Measure". Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2008-03-29.
  20. ^ a b "Santa Clara County, CA Ballot".
  21. ^ "Summary Minutes, VTA Board of Directors Regular Meeting" (PDF). Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. December 14, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 4, 2008. Agenda items #23 through 28
  22. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  23. ^ Mohammed, Aliyah (23 September 2016). "Milpitas BART station: Trains to be tested for a year before fall 2017 opening". The Mercury News. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  24. ^ (2008-11-04). "Measure B: BART Extension - VTA"[2]. League of Women Voters of California Education Fund. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
  25. ^ Petermann, Felix (7 November 2016). "Santa Clara County to vote on sales tax increase for transportation projects as traffic worsens". Peninsula Press. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  26. ^ Kurhi, Eric (17 October 2016). "Stuck in traffic, Santa Clara County voters weigh transportation tax". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  27. ^ Dremann, Sue (9 November 2016). "Measure B wins by several points; Measure A just squeaks by". Palo Alto Online. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  28. ^ "Case Number 17CV304960, Cheriel Jensen vs Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority". Santa Clara Superior Court. 9 January 2017. Retrieved 29 August 2017. Search using the case number, 17CV304960
  29. ^ "Court of Appeal Case H044974, Jensen v. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority". California Courts. 17 August 2017. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  30. ^ Ross, Stacey Hendler (25 August 2017). "When Will the Potholes be Fixed? 2016 Measure B Funds Tied up in Court". Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on 2018-01-08. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  31. ^ Cheriel Jensen v. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Cal.App.6th (October 10, 2018).
  32. ^ Woolfolk, John (January 23, 2019). "Santa Clara County: Court decision frees 2016 transportation tax money for road, transit projects". The Mercury News. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  33. ^ Lopez, Nadia (January 28, 2020). "San Jose lawmakers vote against supporting Measure B funds reallocation". San Jose Spotlight. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  34. ^ "VTA Fares - Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority". Archived from the original on 26 January 2010. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  35. ^ "Inquiry into the Board Structure and Financial Management of the Valley Transportation Authority" (PDF). 2003-2004 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury. 2004-05-27. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2008-03-30. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  36. ^ Jane Lii, "Refuge On The Road: Homeless Find Nighttime Haven — The No. 22 Bus From Menlo Park To San Jose", San Jose Mercury News, 9 January 2000, 1A.
  37. ^ Cathy Newman, "Silicon Valley: Inside the Dream Incubator", National Geographic 200, no. 6 (December 2001): 52-76.
  38. ^ "New Bus Service". Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on 2008-02-27. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  39. ^ "VTA says bus-only lanes on El Camino are dead". Palo Alto Daily Post. 2018-01-31. Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  40. ^ "2021 Transit Service Plan - 90% Scenario". VTA. Archived from the original on 2021-01-23.
  41. ^ "Service Frequency Improvements to Begin Feb. 8 | VTA". Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  42. ^ Ross, Stacey Hendler (July 2, 2019). "Connecting San Jose Airport With Transit". Headways [blog]. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  43. ^ "Bid #RFI 2019-DOT-PPD-4 - New Transit Options: Airport-Diridon-Stevens Creek Transit Connection". BidSync. City of San Jose. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  44. ^ "Appendix B: Bus Fleet Management Plan". Short Range Transit Plan FY2014 - 2023 (Report). Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. February 2014. p. B-31. Retrieved 14 August 2018. Figure 4-1: Bus Procurement Plan and Schedule (As Of February 2014)
  45. ^ "Appendix C: Bus and Light Rail Vehicle Inventory". Short Range Transit Plan 2008-2017 (Report). Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. pp. 96–105. Retrieved 14 August 2018.


  • McCaleb, Charles S. (1994). Rails, Roads & Runways: The 20-Year Saga of Santa Clara County's Transportation Agency. San Jose, CA: Santa Clara County Transportation Agency. ISBN 978-0-9644-4660-1.

External links[edit]