Next Network Plan
What was the Next Network Plan?
The Next Network Plan was a transit service plan that VTA developed in 2016 and 2017 that proposed several significant changes to VTA transit service. The plan was the first from-scratch redesign of VTA’s transit network since 2008 and was intended to improve ridership, cost-effectiveness and connections to regional transit.
The Next Network Plan was informed by extensive discussion by VTA’s Board of Directors and over 10,000 points of public input and resulted in several conceptual changes to the design of the transit network, which are discussed below. All of the conceptual changes are included in the design of the Draft 2019 New Transit Service Plan.
Ridership and Coverage
The Next Network Plan started with a simple question: what is the purpose of public transit? This can be difficult to answer because transit agencies are asked to achieve two contradictory objectives: maximize ridership and provide geographical coverage.
Pursuing the ridership goal of public transit leads agencies to allocate most of their service to dense, walkable places where transit demand is high. Pursuing the coverage goal leads agencies to spread service out to many places regardless of transit demand. Ridership-oriented networks tend to have few routes, but many that are frequent while coverage-oriented networks tend to have many routes but few that are frequent. Ridership-purposed routes spend less per rider while coverage-purposed routes spend more.
Ridership and coverage are both good, but since doing more of one means doing less of another when working within a fixed budget, the first step to designing a transit network is to identify a preferred ridership/coverage balance. VTA’s current service employs a 70/30 balance. The Draft Next Network Plan proposed an 85/15 balance that was adjusted to 83/17 for the Final Next Network Plan. The Draft 2019 New Transit Service Plan proposes a 90/10 balance.
A Frequent Grid Network
The Next Network Plan embraced a frequent grid design that recognized emerging local hubs and downtowns and matched with Santa Clara County’s decentralized trip pattern. A frequent grid maximizes flexibility in getting around while minimizing travel distances. It allows transit riders to go farther faster.
More Frequent Routes
By moving to a more ridership-purposed network, the Next Network Plan greatly increased the number of frequent routes in VTA’s network and placed more homes and jobs within a short walk of frequent transit, making VTA transit more viable for more people.
Less Emphasis on Commuters
VTA’s current transit service plan provides extra service during weekday commute periods, but an analysis of travel demand suggests that midday and weekend demand is under-served while commute-period demand is over-served. The Next Network Plan decreased service levels during weekday commute periods and reallocated that service to weekday middays and weekends.
By providing service that is more useful for more people, VTA expected ridership to increase in the Next Network Plan, allowing the agency to serve more people per dollar spent. The routes that were proposed to be reduced or discontinued in the Next Network Plan were those that demonstrated low ridership and high costs per rider.
Additionally, by decreasing service levels in commute periods, the inefficiencies of owning extra vehicles and time spent bringing the vehicle in and out of service are decreased, which allows VTA to save costs and spend a greater portion of its operating budget on vehicles that are in service.
Relationship to the Draft 2019 New Transit Service Plan
The Draft 2019 New Transit Service Plan grew out of the Next Network Plan and strives to incorporate community input received during the development of the Next Network Plan, minimize impacts to current riders and provide equitable service while adhering to VTA Board direction to reduce cost. The new proposal makes the frequent network proposed in the Next Network Plan stronger and brings even more people into a short walk of frequent transit.