Lower ridership on Highway 17 Express Bus

The Highway 17 bus between Santa Cruz and San Jose CA is a mode of transportation near and dear to my heart. It’s the daily ride “over the hill” for myself and hundreds of others for work, school and outings. Santa Cruz Metro, which operates this bus service, increased one-way and roundtrip fares 40%, and the price of 31-day passes shot up 30% effective September 10, 2015. Just released ridership numbers show fewer passengers use the Highway 17 bus on a daily basis.

Highway 17 Express

A significant fare hike effective on September 10 may have impacted Highway 17 use. The September 2015 ridership report shows a 7.5% decrease in ridership compared to a year ago, while local routes in Santa Cruz show flat ridership compared against 2014 (after removing confounding UCSC factors, where ridership increased an astounding 102% for various reasons, including higher enrollment, a new route, and school scheduling). In general, dramatically lower gasoline prices reduce ridership, while higher employment increase ridership, so it’s difficult to determine how much the fare increase reduced Highway 17 ridership.

Santa Cruz Metro staff predicted a 10% drop in ridership for Highway 17 due to the fare increase, while I anticipated a possible greater decrease that I briefly explained in this post. Most daily riders purchase a 31-day pass, with several people I know stockpiling several passes before the fare hike, so the fare increase won’t effect them until these passes are used up. We won’t know the true impact of this fare increase until the October ridership report is available next March or April.

Once activated, the $145 Highway 17 pass is good for 31 days. I carpool with my wife one day each week, bike the entire way to my office at least a couple of times per month, and work from home at least twice monthly, so this works out to 14 to 16 days of use for my pass. That works out to as much as ten American dollars each day I ride the bus. Compare against the five bucks worth of gas and free parking for most people traveling to the South Bay from Santa Cruz, and the personal economics of riding the bus don’t make sense. It’s no wonder the “choice” riders this service is supposed to attract are abandoning the Highway 17.


  1. I have considered using the 17 Express, despite the cost (hey, that would mean spending some time catching up on reading!), BUT:
    I live about 5 miles from the nearest 17Express stop on the valley side, and work about 3 miles from the nearest stop on the Santa Cruz side. By taking public transport to reach the express bus route, that makes for at least 2 hours 20 minutes each way (instead of about 45-50 minutes by car).
    I could cut about 20-30 minutes of that by taking the bike to the nearest stop (Diridon), instead of using bus 522, and (*if* there is space on the bus for my bike!) another 20 on the other end. That would make it (almost) bearable: a total of 3 hours each day on buses and bikes.

    But that does assume that there is space for my bike on the bus… those days I see 17 Express from the car, it rarely seems to be the case.

    Thus, I have never even tried it.

  2. I would expect plenty of space for bikes for the reverse commute, so that surprises me to learn otherwise!

    That swing through Scotts Valley for those southbound morning buses slows the trip down substantially, unfortunately. Still, actual travel time to Santa Cruz from Diridon is more like 45 minutes instead of the full hour shown on the schedule.

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