It’s spring in the Bay Area. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the fountains are flowing again — but the buses are half an hour late. Despite Silicon Valley’s reputation as the hub of technological innovation, there is a glaring problem that we can’t seem to fix. Recent gains in virtual reality and artificial intelligence are contrasted by the fact that nobody seems to want to ideate the public transportation system or implement solutions already proven to work around the world. It’s time for this to change.
This November, Santa Clara County — of which Stanford is a part — will vote on a proposal that will provide sorely needed funding for our transportation infrastructure. If passed, the measure will shape our transportation system for the next 30 years. We have an opportunity now to tell the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) what to prioritize. For the sake of the Bay Area’s future, the VTA must invest in a equitable and sustainable transportation system.
The VTA’s vision is to “deliver transportation solutions that meet the evolving mobility needs of Santa Clara County.” With shifting demographics, skyrocketing housing prices and increased roadway congestion, it’s clear that Santa Clara County needs better solutions. As tech jobs boom in Silicon Valley, housing in the Bay Area is becoming increasingly expensive and scarce, forcing low-income residents to move further from the Bay’s economic hubs and deal with longer commute times.
The longer commutes are not only inconvenient but also place a financial strain on low-income people. Currently, the burden of transportation costs falls disproportionately on low-income families, which spend on average 33 percent of their household incomes on transportation, compared to the 13.7 percent on average spent by all families in Santa Clara County. The time and money that low-income people must dedicate to transportation limits their chance of upward mobility. In order to combat this issue, the VTA should consider providing funding for affordable housing near transportation services.
Transportation is more than just a problem of affordability; reliability and frequency are essential if public transit is to serve as an effective economic ladder. Despite a massive discrepancy in average annual income between Caltrain and VTA bus riders ($117,000 and $43,000, respectively), no emphasis has been placed on improving bus service, neglecting the needs of predominantly low-income riders. In fact, bus service hours are down 22 percent since 2000 even though population has increased by more than 10 percent. Low-income people are more likely to switch over to public transit as well, so we should invest in, not neglect, public transit infrastructure. The VTA must invest in bus reliability and service to reflect the needs of all its riders.
This ballot measure sales tax is a huge opportunity for Santa Clara County to build a better transportation system over the next three decades. Currently, attention is focused on high-stakes investments like expressways and BART, but if our county is to enhance the mobility and economic opportunity of all of its residents, we must also invest in the most basic form of public transportation: buses. We call on the VTA to invest in a better bus network; expand services for seniors and people with disabilities; provide affordable options for youth, seniors and low-income commuters; and invest in affordable housing near transit centers.
— Paloma Hernandez ‘18, Dan Holland ‘19, Stanley Gu ‘19, Mansi Jain ‘19, Isaac Meyer ‘19, John Zhao ‘18
Members of Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS)
Contact SSS at jzhao098 ‘at’ stanford.edu.