BART service to Milpitas and Berryessa stations starts Saturday

A public transit milestone Friday, as BART unveiled the next leg of its service, which stretches to North San Jose.

More than three decades after the concept came into the minds of South Bay leaders,

BART to Silicon Valley came to fruition.

“BART to Silicon Valley reflects the hope and the optimism of this region,” said Cindy Chavez, chairwoman of the VTA Board of Directors.

The transit agency, working in conjunction with the Valley Transportation Agency, opens two new stations – one in Milpitas, and one in North San Jose. Over $2B in federal, state, and local funding paid for construction of the 10-mile extension from War Springs south. The  extension is projected to transport 23,000 passengers per day.

“It’s gonna make it easier for me to get on a BART train and go to San Francisco or Oakland, or go to the airport. So this is just wonderful,” said BART passenger Hassan Basman, as he rode from North San Jose to the Milpitas Station.

Pioneers on the project say what’s a no-brainer now, needed considerable arm-twisting by multiple administrations over the years.

“And I started meeting with dozens of neighborhood associations to request their support for the specific route BART would take coming into our region,” said former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales. Added former BART Operating Board member Tom Blalock, “Partnerships are powerful to get things done.”

The new service starts 8am Saturday. But it does so under a COVID-19 cloud. Ridership on BART is down 90%, and VTA’s bread and butter is off 80%. Which sparks an important question: Will there ever be substantial passengers for the new service?

“This pandemic, it will be contained. It will pass. But there will always be a need for public transportation,” said Dr. Karen Philbrick, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute.

She said public transit ridership is already rebounding in other hard-hit COVID-19 countries, such as France.

“People who may not have a vehicle. Who don’t have a choice in how to get from point A to point B. these are our vulnerable populations  that rely on public transit. It’s a necessity and it will continue,” said Dr. Philbrick.

For now, all eyes are on this opening, and what lies down the track.

“We can lift our gaze and give ourselves the freedom to imagine and reimagine a different future,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo, (D) San Jose.

That future could include Phase 2 of the BART South Bay extension – six miles of track into and through Downtown San Jose and then north to Santa Clara by the end of the decade.