At an event on Monday night in San Carlos, and in comments online, Caltrain riders and stakeholders brainstormed ideas for Caltrain’s strategic plan. The last time Caltrain did a strategic plan, Caltrain had only 28,000 average weekday riders, the Baby Bullet was about to get started, the Millbrae station was about to open, and San Mateo was still working on their major plans for station area development. Since then, ridership has nearly doubled, electrification planning is under way, and many cities on the corridor are seeing development near the station.
Do you have more ideas for Caltrain’s strategic plan for improvements over the next 10 years? Leave suggestions in the comments.
More frequent all-day service
The top message – at this event (and in Caltrain’s annual rider survey with 2900 responses p. 14), is to increase frequency without impacting travel times. Riders mentioned service frequencies of 15-20 minutes, with a predictable clock-based schedule for ease of use. Richard Tretten from San Jose said it best in blog comments: “Caltrain needs to compete with the automobile throughout the day.”
The ability to increase frequency without proportionately increased costs will be a major benefit of electrification. In the meantime, with revenue from increased ridership, Caltrain could potentially restore some of the mid-day and evening service that was cut during earlier financial hardship.
Several riders mentioned the need to maintain or improve speed. Speed and frequency involve tradeoffs. Clem Tillier of the Caltrain-HSR Compatibility blog, and other riders, urged Caltrain to develop and communicate clear metrics about service options and tradeoffs:
The timetable is Caltrain’s “product” and impacts to it should be the starting point of analysis and justification for all major expenditures or infrastructure projects.
For riders, their calculation of travel time is from origin to destination, not from station to station. To improve travel time, Caltrain can work with cities (like San Mateo, Mountain View and Redwood City and Palo Alto) and employers (like Stanford and Google) that want to improve the rider’s experience from origin to destination.
Major customers, including cities, major employers, and developers want more information from Caltrain about plans and potential scenarios to increase capacity. At the last Local Policy Maker Working Group, Palo Alto City Council Member Pat Burt urged Caltrain to plan to address the current capacity crunch, and to work with cities as it develops the plans. Even if the information is uncertain, these stakeholders are making major decisions based on the availability of transit, and would welcome a planning partnership with Caltrain.
Safety and reliability
Several riders commented in person and online about the importance of grade separations for more reliable service and to reduce fatal collisions.
Streamlined connections and payment
Caltrain riders are the least satisfied in the region with Clipper, and want the universal payment system to work better. Challenge include smoother transfers between stations, the ability to reload at more stations, and more conveniently located tag stations. Being able to purchase tickets using a mobile device would help avoid penalties. Now that the payment system is computerized, integrated, distance-based fares would streamline the experience for users.
Riders want more conveniently timed transfers to other systems. Level boarding will help improve transfers by making arrivals more reliable.
To help riders connect the first and last mile, bike capacity on the train remains important. More bike share and better bike lockers at stations helps reduce the need to bring a bike onboard. But overall growth in ridership and diversity of destinations means that onboard bike capacity continues to be important.
Riders at the valued carshare at the station to help with connections as well as mid-day trips, and wanted more car share options.
Riders would like to see stations have easier access for pedestrians, bikes, buses and taxis.
The Downtown Extension to Transbay is the major connection that riders want to see. The Transbay center will need good connections to Market Street, BART and Muni. Riders online and at the meeting called out 4th and King, 22nd Street, South San Francisco, Lawrence and Mountain View were called out by users at the meeting as needing pedestrian, bike and transit access improvements.
Caltrain users would like to see a better experience with parking as well, including easier payment (including taking Caltrain permits at the Millbrae garage). To free up space in crowded lots, riders wanted to see better enforcement and congestion pricing.
Station and onboard experience
Riders want stations to be comfortable, clean and safe. San Mateo and South San Francisco were called out as particularly problematic, as was the wind tunnel at Millbrae.
On the train, wifi is a perennial request. Riders would also appreciate food sold on trains and at more stations. Riders called out the need for clean restrooms.
On trains and at stations, more informative signs and announcements would help with regular schedule and information in case of problems.
Level boarding with wide doors will help with access to the train. Before then, Caltrain can make improvements to the boarding experience, including giving riders with bikes priority boarding in the bike car.
Riders at the event want to see Caltrain work better with cities to achieve transit-supportive and climate-friendly land uses and policies. For example, VTA has a program to review development proposals, and will identify issues like lack of sidewalks that could keep a development near a station from making good use of the transit.
Caltrain could also work with counties and cities to align with the jurisdictions’ climate goals. For example, Mountain View has a goal to reduce its drivealone rate to 45%, and San Francisco has goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, and plans to double investment in transportation demand management to increase use of transit and other climate-friendly modes.
As plan for the next 10 years, values and service goals set in the Strategic Plan will set Caltrain up for more detailed improvement efforts, and the capital investment goals in the Strategic Plan will set Caltrain up to be in line when money becomes available. The plan will have more public input in the Spring, and is expected to be complete by the summer.