Go to the Friends of Caltrain for the most current actions to save Caltrain.
Today, the Caltrain board approved a program to advertise offpeak travel. The ad campaign may include radio, print ads, social media and possibly television. It’s financially smart to market capacity that is available offpeak, and good to get people in the habit of using transit.
There may be opportunities to work with cities whose lively downtowns are crowded nights and weekends, putting pressure on car parking. Not everyone enjoying dinner in downtown Palo Alto, Redwood City, and San Mateo has easy access to the train or bus – but some do. Could marketing transit help postpone the need to build new parking structures?
Do you use transit for travel nights, afternoons and weekends, in addition to rush hour commutes?
There are related opportunities to encourage commute trips that are earlier or later than the peak of rush hour, to relieve crowding. Stanford professor Balaji Prabhakar had developed a program offering commuters incentives to travel outside of the most crowded times. Caltrain and MTC are looking into this, according to Caltrain staff in response to a question at the borad meeting.
To alleviate crowding and bike bumps, Caltrain could also adapt a practice from BART, and show in its schedules how crowded a given train is likely to be.
The Caltrain electrification environmental impact report is published.
Here’s the schedule for the public meetings.
Tuesday, March 18, 6 – 8 p.m.
Caltrain Offices, 2nd Floor Auditorium
1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos
Wednesday, April 2, 6 – 8 p.m.
Redwood City Library
1044 Middlefield Rd., Redwood City
Monday, April 7, 6 – 8 p.m.
San Jose Main Library
150 E. San Fernando St., San Jose
Wednesday, April 9, 6 – 8 p.m.
UCSF Mission Bay,
Genentech Hall Room N114
600 16th St., San Francisco
The deadline for public comment is April 29 – send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project.”
Reading the EIR? Add thoughts in blog comments.
Last week in San Jose, and this week in San Francisco, Eric Eidlin of the Federal Transit Administration, which funds local connections to High Speed Rail, gave a talk with case studies of European rail station design. Update: here is his blog post on the topic.
Multimodal station integration
First, physical service integration. Here is the Central City station in Erfurt, where the local light rail pulls up below the High Speed Rail tracks. The station, in a mid-sized city with about 200,000 residents, serves 34,000 passengers per day with 344 underground vehicle parking spaces.
In contrast to the superbly-integrated Erfurt station, the station serving Aix en Provence, a city with about 140,000 people, is located 10 miles from the center of town, and serves 7000 passengers with 2860 parking spaces.
Integrated customer experience
High Speed trains in France are faster point to point than in Germany, and tend to use dedicated tracks. By contrast, trains in Germany often use blended tracks with local service, along the lines of the blended system between Caltrain and California High Speed Rail. While the German trains are slower point to point, the German system has much better connections – both physical connections, and integration of fares, schedules, ticketing, for an overall more seamless rider experience.
The app below lets you plan a trip, from origin all the way to destination, including a connecting bus, local rail, and high speed long distance rail. You don’t need to think about the fast that the components are provided by different agencies.
There is a service that integrates other first and last mile modes, such as carshare and bikeshare, into a rider membership program (I don’t think they are technically integrated yet, but imagine if they were?)
Station as destination
Some European stations do a superb job at creating stations that are shopping and entertainment destinations. The photos below show stations in Leipzig and Paris St Lazare which are popular shopping malls.
Lessons for the Bay Area
The Bay Area’s major multi-modal stations – Transbay, Millbrae, and Diridon – where local services connect, and also feed High Speed Rail have opportunities to learn from best practices in Europe to provide better pedestrian connections between modes, and to consider a high-traffic station as a potential shopping and entertainment destination. The most immediate application of these lessons are in Millbrae, which is considering a major mixed-use transit-oriented development for approval this year, and San Jose, which is reviewing the Diridon Station Area Plan this year. While the major transit new construction in Diridon is years off (BART, High Speed Rail), the zoning and policy decisions (like parking) will have a big impact on how successfully Diridon can transition into an urban destination.
The lesson about service integration is profound. In an ideal world, which may not be this one, our region would rally, and make use of the Clipper transition to demand actual integration of fares, schedules, and data, to enable the sort of rider experience provided by that app in Germany.
The 2014 Draft Business Plan for High Speed Rail includes some early hints about how Caltrain and High Speed Rail service might interact. Clem Tillier’s Caltrain/High Speed Rail Compatibility blog has a writeup and analysis.
The new business plan envisions High Speed Rail service delivering 4 trains per hour serving Peninsula stops within the corridor between San Francisco and Gilroy in 2040. The SF-SJ “super-express” would take 47 to 49 minutes, an 8-10 minute savings over today’s 57 minute Caltrain baby bullet. HSR projects that peninsula stops would generate 2.5 million riders per year. At $22 from SF to SJ, the peninsula stops would produce $51 million / year in revenue. This would be less than 1% out of an projected $5.7 billion HSR revenue base, but a much higher share of Caltrain’s operating revenues, which were $75 million in 2013. If Caltrain doubles ridership, that would be 30% of the local market.
If San Jose’s strategy to turn the Diridon Station Area into an employment center and destination that is tightly linked to downtown, a reasonably affordable San Francisco-San Jose super-express might be welcomed by riders. But a High Speed Rail operator taking 30% of local revenues would have unwelcome consequences for Peninsula corridor service.
Tillier argues that the scenario in the business plan is unlikely to happen, because a High Speed Rail operator would likely jack up fares for local trips so that they did not take seats from more profitable long-distance riders. He gives the example of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor, where “a seat on Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Express typically costs well over $100 one way vs. $14.50 on Metro North commuter rail.”
There are other motivations at play. The High Speed Rail authority has a mandate to not require an operating subsidy, and Caltrain, like other commuter rail and rapid transit services in the US (and roads and highways) requires public operating funds. So a HSR operator might have an incentive to skim the profitable parts of a local market. On the other hand, the Bay Area revenues would be a drop in the bucket of the High Speed operator’s revenues. As Tillier’s analysis suggests, an HSR operator would have more to gain by encouraging long-distance over local trips.
Meanwhile, the Bay Area has a regional goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and Peninsula cities are increasingly taking responsibility for reducing vehicle trips. And Caltrain owns the rails. So there would be a local and regional incentive to negotiate a deal that delivered better regional transit mode share.
Also, in an ideal world, Caltrain would be a seamless feeder service for long distance trips. A rider could buy a single ticket, get on at San Mateo or Redwood City or Palo Alto, transfer in San Jose and head on to Los Angeles. There will be some business arrangement regarding the value of the feeder service.
In follow up to the recent forum in San Francisco about options for Caltrain governance in the age of electrification, international rail consultant and HSR peer review board chair Lou Thompson commented that it might be beneficial to have the private operator for High Speed Rail service to bid for the Caltrain contract. If there was a single operator, how would this impact the balance between long distance and regional benefit?
It is early – the first High Speed Trains are not expected to get past San Jose to San Francisco til 2029 at the earliest. This is an early view of an important discussion and debate. What do you think about how best to balance local and long-distance service?
As Palo Alto gets started with its transportation demand management programs, with a proposal to launch major initiatives scheduled for City Council review on Monday night, they are taking a classic and straightforward standalone first step – offering the Caltrain GoPass to City employees who turn in their parking pass. Palo Alto’s request to Caltrain was actually much more ambitious, seeking GoPasses for the downtown area – but Caltrain turned them down. Hopefully Palo Alto and other area cities developing Transportation Management Associations will persist in encouraging Caltrain to adapt the GoPass program to this new and promising type of customer demand.
The GoPass proposal is part of a plan set in motion nearly a year ago. The existing GoPass program has the potential to be very beneficial for the City of Palo Alto as an employer, as the staff report explains. The GoPass offers a strikingly low rate of $165 per employee per year – as long as the employer buys GoPasses for 100% of employees, and pays a minimum of $13,750 per year. The employee can then use the GoPass for unlimited travel on Caltrain, including nights and weekends, Giants and Sharks games, dinner and a movie in downtown San Mateo, etc. By contrast, a 3-zone monthly pass (not annual) is $179. The initial counterintuitive factor with this program is that most employers don’t have 100% of their employees living near the Caltrain corridor. A GoPass is not very useful for an employee who lives in Fremont. But a common experience among organizational GoPass customers is that enough employees have access to Caltrain, and the subsidized transit access is enough to greatly increase usage, resulting in a higher share of transit use and a lower share of driving to work than without the program.
Stanford University, which offers the GoPass to its employees, has a 24% Caltrain mode share, and SurveyMonkey has a 50% Caltrain mode share, and SRI in nearby Menlo Park has a 15% Caltrain mode share.
Reducing city employee driving is particularly helpful in Palo Alto, which faces a parking crunch. Building new parking spaces will cost the city $50,000 to $60,000 each, so if a few more Palo Alto employees decide not to take a parking pass, the program is a big financial benefit to the city, not even considering the traffic reduction.
But Palo Alto didn’t just apply to participate in Caltrain’s standard GoPass program, they made another, more innovative request. On Monday night, Palo Alto City Council will review a major proposal to create a “Transportation Management Association” which will manage transportation programs such as shuttles, carshare, rideshare, and other transportation benefits for people who live and/or work in Palo Alto. Palo Alto staff asked Caltrain whether they would provide a GoPass for the downtown area.
Caltrain turned the request down, according to the city staff report. Caltrain gave two reasons. The first is that Caltrain has been experiencing a capacity crunch, and Palo Alto is one of the places where space is particularly tight. The other objection was a “concern of providing equitable programs with active participating companies.”
Some good news on the capacity issue – since Caltrain first turned Palo Alto down, Caltrain is putting in an offer to buy surplus rail cars from Metrolink, a measure that promises to add 20% more capacity. Hopefully that would create enough space for some additional Palo Alto riders.
As for the issue of providing “equitable programs”, there might be logical ways to address that concern as well. The requirement to buy the GoPass based on 100% of the employee base helps give Caltrain solid revenue for the program. If the proposed downtown program allowed employers to “cherrypick”, that would be unfair to existing customers who use the GoPass with the 100% rule. One possible way around this issue would be to have Palo Alto employers participating in the Transportation Management Association decide whether the company would participate as a whole. Today, the GoPass is not cost-effective for small companies because of the minimum $13,500 price. But if the Palo Alto TMA could bundle a set of 5, 10, and 20 employee companies into a group with with a few hundred employees, each company could participate 100%, the pool would be large enough to make the GoPass program cost-effective, and incent higher overall transit ridership, and it would not be unfair to existing customers who need to purchase for 100% of employees. The Palo Alto TMA would be saving Caltrain administrative costs by handling the set of participants as a pool, and marketing the program to Palo Alto employers. This is one logical option, may well be other ways to provide a GoPass program for a TMA, in a way that would be fair for existing customers.
The big picture here is that Palo Alto is one of multiple cities on the Caltrain corridor that are starting to set up Transportation Management Associations with the goal of reducing vehicle trips (other cities include San Mateo, Menlo Park, Mountain View, and likely San Jose). The TMAs pool funds, and are intended to provide more robust transportation benefits than the individual participating employers or developments. In our region, many have become familiar with the robust transportation programs by large employers, which enable them to greatly reduce driving, traffic congestion, and parking costs. TMAs are intended to provide a similar set of benefits to a larger set of participants, beyond the region’s few top employers.
The TMAs have the potential to be a major source of new customers for Caltrain. As it works to alleviate the immediate capacity crunch, and plans for increasing capacity through electrification and complementary measures such as longer trains, Caltrain would benefit by welcoming the new source of ridership, and working to create programs that work for the agency and the institutional customers. If over time Caltrain needs help with measures to improve capacity, such as longer platforms for longer trainsets, it could also partner with the cities that depend on the added capacity.
Hopefully Palo Alto and other cities with TMA will keep asking, and Caltrain will come around to work with them to deliver solutions that help make transit a larger share of our region’s travel.