By Angela Sheu
Los Gatans are painfully familiar with our town’s notorious gridlock, which is especially bad after school, on weekends, or amid summer beach traffic. While it’s a complex and compounding issue with no single solution, expanding public transit infrastructure would offer a more sustainable and equitable future for Los Gatos. This step towards greater accessibility and inclusivity, however, requires the entire Los Gatos community — not just town and transportation officials — to enable and advocate for a larger, long-term role for public transportation.
The already minimal public transit options in Los Gatos are on the decline. Because of congestion and low ridership, Valley Transportation Agency (VTA) plans to redraw route 27 — the predominant bus through Los Gatos — on Saturdays and Sundays beginning Apr. 24. Instead, the buses will run on Saratoga-Los Gatos Road to circumvent downtown delays, and riders will need to walk up to a mile more to reach a stop. The VTA eliminated local routes 48 and 49 several years ago; now, Los Gatos lacks designated local routes and has limited connectivity with the rest of Western Santa Clara County. VTA has no current plans to improve Los Gatos transit.
The West Valley region largely fails to prioritize public transportation because the area is more affluent than other parts of Santa Clara County. At a Town Council meeting, Council Member and VTA Board member Rob Rennie elaborated that fewer people take buses, making the area harder to service. VTA cited that only two to seven residents take the 27 bus through downtown Los Gatos on an average weekend day, versus hundreds of riders along the rest of the route, which runs from Campbell to Santa Teresa. Ultimately, VTA must serve all of Santa Clara County, and downtown delays prevent buses from arriving on time to every following stop, including the hospital and the light rail. As is, traffic has continued to worsen and maintaining public transportation downtown has become increasingly infeasible and difficult to justify.
Traffic has made life within Los Gatos less accessible for all. Town Council Member Rob Moore reflected on feedback he received while speaking door-to-door with the Los Gatos community: “by far the number one [concern] I heard was traffic.” Between school, commuting, and beach traffic, “It’s a dominant issue that affects everybody.”
Dwindling bus service, on the other hand, impacts certain groups disproportionately: younger people, older people, and those without the means to purchase a car. While many Los Gatans neither need nor take public transit, it’s a necessity for those who do; our community’s passive acceptance of driving as the primary way to travel overlooks these groups and quietly reinforces social and economic barriers. As a result, expanding public transportation is an essential, tangible way to address inequity. Moore expounded, “when we talk about issues of equity and inclusion, we need much stronger infrastructure that allows anyone to make their way to and around Los Gatos.”
Moore encouraged Los Gatos citizens to organize around and directly advocate for public transportation, as “it shows it’s not only one person pushing for change. It makes all of us more effective and makes it a lot easier to get that change done.” He noted that while he’s heard many residents with general concerns about traffic, the town council rarely receives comments about public transportation. He invites residents, and students in particular, to participate in the public process by either writing letters or emails to the town council or speaking at public meetings.
VTA also requests public feedback. They are currently reviewing the Visionary Network, which will become a blueprint for Santa Clara County transit service and development over the next thirty years. They invite community feedback — particularly on where to introduce more service and how to encourage greater ridership — before their committees present it to the VTA board in May for adoption. Their Valley Transportation Plan 2050 survey takes ten minutes and is accessible online until Apr. 30. Responses, in part, inform the Visionary Network, and filling it out allows residents to provide direct feedback on future transit, streets, and highway projects.
Most importantly, Los Gatans should opt for taking the bus. Ridership data largely guides VTA’s decisions; by taking the bus, we can communicate that we value the system and think it deserves further resources. Moore concurred, “It’s not cheap to invest in bus routes…Riding the bus is seemingly small, but that is one of the best things anyone can do to demonstrate that we are a community that supports public transportation.”
Buses are particularly opportune for LGHS students. Senior Rosie Lu noted that taking public transit to and from school beginning freshman year enabled greater independence and helped lighten her parents’ load. Junior Alex George, who similarly rides buses as his main form of transportation from school, to work, and to weekend guard rehearsals, noted that more people taking the bus would help alleviate traffic and parking issues. With stops directly in front of the high school, riding the bus is also an expedient alternative to the LGHS parking lot. Lu reflected, “the buses are on time, they’re sanitary, and all of the stops are within walkable distance from where I need to go.” Furthermore, the Transit mobile app provides route planning and time updates that make riding the bus (or other forms of public transportation) additionally convenient.
As of now, Los Gatos’ public transportation network is weak, but we have the opportunity to advocate for better service, forge a stronger relationship between Los Gatos and VTA, and pave the way for future transformative infrastructure possibilities like light rail access. Opting for and providing feedback on transit is essential to enable robust service in Los Gatos and for ensuring that our town is accessible for all.