The Milpitas City Council Tuesday (10/8) rejected a plan from the city manager’s office to provide residents with a shuttle service centered around the city’s soon-to-open BART station.

The shuttle looked to serve workers and residents around Cisco, KLA, Flex, Nanosys, Kaiser Permanente, VTA stops, and the Milpitas Unified School District. The city manager’s office estimated that potential riders could have paid up to $4 per ride.

Mayor Rich Tran and Councilmembers Carmen Montano, Bob Nuñez, and Anthony Phan were on hand at Tuesday’s study session to hear city staff’s presentation on the matter, led by Assistant City Manager Ashwini Kantak.

The council praised the idea’s framework, but was bearish on its actual implementation, and how it would compete with the VTA. In the end, none of them felt confident enough to move forward with it.

“It costs way too much and doesn’t serve a purpose once you overlay VTA’s routes over it,” opined Nuñez. “I don’t know what problem we’re trying to solve.”

The main sticking point in the rejection was the project’s cost. Had the most comprehensive shuttle plan and routes been approved, city estimates placed the price tag at almost $2.78 million for a two-year pilot program. In contrast, a similar subsidy for Cupertino’s shuttle program costs taxpayers only $1.16 million, according to a city memo.

With no clear source of funding and no solid numbers as to who would be utilizing the shuttle the most, and facing the likelihood of Milpitians footing some of the bill, Tran urged city leaders to halt the proposal.

The proposal comes on the heels of similar initiatives proposed in the South Bay. In early February, rumors swirled about a potential self-driving shuttle partnership between the City of San Jose and entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Boring Company, which would connect Diridon Station with San Jose International Airport.

Other already-implemented shuttle programs across the Bay Area look to big company names to foot the bill. In Mountain View, tech giant Google partners with the city to offer their free shuttle service on Google’s dime. In San Leandro, a nonprofit undertakes their program’s financials.
“I would love to have a shuttle if it was funded by private businesses or grants or other sources rather than our own residents and taxpayers,” said Tran. “I think a lot of residents would be alarmed that it didn’t serve them or their neighborhood.”

Councilmembers were also concerned that riders would mostly consist of people who only worked in Milpitas. The heavy amount of tech companies on the shuttle’s route, argued the council, would shut out actual residents of the city.

“It’s a good idea,” said Tran. “But from the looks of it, this shuttle isn’t for Milpitians. It looks like this is for out-of-towners coming in.”

“That’s not looking good for Milpitas,” he added.

Had the proposal moved forward with all three routes approved, Kantak estimated the program would have begun in April, 2020, at the earliest. Councilmembers did, however, stop short of completely discouraging further research on the idea…

Toward the end of the meeting, Tran floated the idea of a shuttle system for Milpitas schoolchildren instead. He asked city staff to look into the possibility of redirecting the study to see if a shuttle could instead pick up students from locations within the city and drop them off at different schools.

City staff said they would take the proposal into consideration for a future date.

Lloyd Alaban
Lloyd Alaban is a freelance writer who has lived in Milpitas his entire life. He has a BA in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz and a MS in Journalism & Mass Communications from San Jose State University. He has written for publications such as AsianWeek, realtor.com, Work+Money, and SpareFoot, and currently writes for sports blog Uni Watch. He’s also worked at tech companies like Yahoo! and Google, and has subbed at every public school in Milpitas — except Pomeroy. In his spare time, he likes playing anything that has to do with trivia (especially watching Jeopardy!), running, drinking beer, reading, and playing with his Siberian Husky.

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