The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused devastating destruction to our community; loss of lives, loss of property and a loss of infrastructure. But it also brought out the best in our community, with neighbors helping each other in recovery and organizations collaborating to restore normalcy to our lives. This same spirit of collaboration and community was the catalyst that gave birth to our beloved Highway 17 Express commuter bus service. The earthquake caused massive damage to Highway 17 which restricted access to and from the San Jose area. Because of this, the Santa Cruz METRO and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) joined forces to provide service for its riders while sharing the costs.The service became so popular that once Highway 17 was reopened, riders petitioned the METRO’s Board of Directors to continue the service. The service, which started at the Scotts Valley Cavallaro Transit Center and was very limited at that time, was allowed to continue as METRO sought ways to expand the service.
In 2001, thanks to the relentless work of Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Fred Keely and State Senator Bruce McPherson, Santa Cruz METRO was able to secure $6.5 million from the Governor’s Traffic Congestion Relief Program to purchase eleven new commuter buses exclusively for the Highway 17 Express bus service. At the same time, Santa Cruz METRO’s General Manager Les White worked tirelessly on an innovative collaborative agreement between Santa Cruz METRO, VTA, CalTrans, AMTRAK and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority to consolidate service “over the hill” to one efficient and cost-effective service. In 2004, all five agencies, known as the Highway 17 Joint Powers Authority (JPA), signed the agreement which expanded the Highway 17 Express service to what it is today, immediately resulting in a 66 2/3 percent increase in ridership!
Now, 10 years after the formation of the JPA, riders of the Highway 17 Express can enjoy a service that runs 365 day a year and provides connector services to VTA services, AMTRAK, Capitol Corridor trains, CalTrain, Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) trains, and San Jose State University at a reasonable price. The buses are equipped with free WiFi internet service, high back seats, air conditioning, tray tables, foot rests, and best of all, they are powered by Compressed Natural Gas, making it one of the most com- fortable and energy-efficient ways to commute! Here’s to the next 25 years of Highway 17 Express bus service!