The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA’s) 81 mile long, light rail system is widely regarded as the most ill-conceived in the entire country. According to the National Transit Database, in 2013 the VTA’s 56 light rail cars carried just slightly over 35,000 riders a day. The reasons for this exceptionally low ridership are not hard to find.
First, much of the area traversed is low-density sprawl, incapable of generating enough ridership to justify the high cost of passenger rail service. To the South the density ranges from low-density, single family to miles of empty land bereft of virtually any potential riders. To the north the rail system meanders its way through Silicon Valley, passing sprawled out hi-tech “campuses”, each surrounded by acres of beautifully-landscaped free parking.
And then, to make matters worse, there’s what happens in low-density downtown San Jose. There the VTA made a really disastrous mistake. Instead of finding a way of moving its trains through the area expeditiously and reliably, the VTA opted for zigzagging them through the Downtown to reach important destinations without unduly interrupting downtown traffic. As a result, the VTA’s $3 million light rail cars creep along downtown streets and loudly squeak their way around tight turns at 2 miles an hour, causing would-be riders to find other ways of getting around.