Local leaders recently celebrated the start of a new bus route aimed to better connect residents in southern Santa Clara County to San Jose and the rest of the Bay Area.

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s new Rapid Route 568 takes commuters to and from stations in Gilroy and Morgan Hill to San Jose Diridon Station every 30 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The 568 route is an “upgrade” from Route 168 express bus service that offered direct trips from Gilroy Transit Center to San Jose Diridon, the VTA said on its website.

Though Route 568 is not an express bus, it offers more frequent rides, operates on the weekends and costs the typical fare of $2.50 instead of $5.00, which is the express fare.

“This is going to be an absolute game changer for what’s going on with transit to go ahead and help better connect the South County up into San Jose and beyond,” VTA board chair Glen Hendricks said at the VTA Gilroy Transit Center.

He was joined by mayors from Morgan Hill and Gilroy who also celebrated the new route and said this would be especially helpful for San Jose State University students and residents who work in other parts of the county.

What a relief

Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley said the new route would also help relieve highway congestion and traffic, especially as other areas south of San Jose grow in population.

“We all know that the growth that’s coming not only in South County, but in places like Hollister and Los Banos also feeds the same problem,” Blankley said. “Not only do we need these kinds of connections (for traffic congestion), but we need them to be steady, frequent and reliable so that residents can get to work because the job centers are still to the north of us.”

It is the first of a two-part strategy by VTA to revitalize public transportation in South County.

“First, we are establishing a very strong core service along the main corridor through South County to San Jose, with the 68 and the 568 (bus routes),” VTA’s general manager Carolyn Gonot said.

The second part of the plan is to provide point-to-point transportation throughout South County.

“We are dedicating 2016 Measure B funds to explore new innovative transit service models for areas where a larger VTA bus running on a fixed route and fixed schedule just isn’t the best solution to serve the community,” Gonot continued.

Morgan Hill will be the site of the pilot program that utilizes smaller vehicles to offer direct rides. The program will launch next year, Gonot said.

Route 568 will have 19 stops and travel along Monterey Highway.

South County’s new transit map can be accessed on the VTA website.