Caltrain looks to expand GoPass

At today’s Caltrain board meeting, the Executive Director Mike Scanlon described a plan to expand the GoPass bulk-purchase-discount program.  The proposals being considered include making GoPass available to residential developments, and expanding GoPass eligibility to part-time employees and interns.   GoPass provides unlimited Caltrain use for organizations that purchase the GoPass for all members.  Use of the GoPass is correlated with strong increase in transit ridership.

This is good news.  Expanding the eligibility criteria for employees will likely increase the pool of companies who consider GoPass.  Currently, less than seventy employers on the Caltrain corridor use GoPass.  The minimum purchase is $13,750 or $165 per employee, whichever is greater.  This equals out to getting 3-zone monthly passes (e.g. SF to PA) for about 80 employees.  But, if a company predicts that 25% of its employees will use Caltrain, similar to Stanford,  then the company starts to get a discount at about 250 eligible employees.

The residential GoPass will be beneficial for the increasing number of residential developments near Caltrain in cities such as San Mateo, Redwood City and Mountain View.  Increasingly, transit-oriented developments are providing transit pass benefits, and other amenities for car-lite households, such as carshare spots and indoor bike parking, in addition to the more-familiar vehicle parking subsidies.    The residential GoPass will help increase the use of Caltrain for developments on the Caltrain line.

But, as more transit-oriented developments include transit pass amenities, they are starting to struggle with our region’s fragmented fare structure.  Developments and cities are wrestling with the question of whether to give train or bus passes. For developments on El Camino, such as the San Carlos Transit Village and new developments on El Camino in Mountain View, this the question doesn’t make much sense.  It would be great if Caltrain started to work with SamTrans and VTA to explore and pilot transit passes that worked for multiple choices.

Caltrain could potentially do even more to make version of GoPass that are appealing to a broader range of organizations.  For example, the bulk transit pass programs in Boulder and Seattle offer options that make financial sense to smaller organizations.  Also, cities including San Francisco, San Mateo, and Mountain View have set up Transportation Management Associations that manage transit benefits for multiple organizations in a geographical area.  It would be great if Caltrain offered GoPass for Transportation Management Associations, which would administer the benefits for their service population.   This would allow for example, smaller businesses that are tenants at the Bay Meadows office space to provide GoPasses.

Currently, GoPass generates over $6 million in revenue from GoPass, serving nearly 40,000 eligible employees.  Expanding GoPass participation would help Caltrain stabilize its operating budget, if the program is roughly farebox-neutral.  And if the program isn’t farebox neutral, Caltrain should consider increasing fares, since the large employers that use GoPass are getting a great deal.

Caltrain is taking public feedback on the expanded GoPass program at four community outreach meetings in November, and the board will review the proposals for approval at the December board meeting.

The meetings are:

November 19, 5-6pm
San Francisco Caltrain station waiting room

November 20, 4-5pm
Caltrain auditorium, 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

November 21, 3-4pm
Palo Alto Caltrain station, southbound platform by ticket machines

November 21, 5-6pm
Millbrae Caltrain station concourse.