SamTrans strategic plan seeks to improve Caltrain service connection, potentially reduce financial connection

SamTrans is working on an update to its strategic plan to carry the agency through 2019. The SamTrans Draft Strategic Plan includes several items relating to Caltrain – relating to service as well as finances.

Connecting service to airport, Caltrain, and other transit

One of the changes in the SamTrans Service Plan, a major service overhaul, was to cut the KX express route to the airport, which had low ridership, and low customer awareness. When SamTrans made these cuts, many transit users called out a need for improved airport connections.  Transit riders taking BART from San Francisco have an easy and direct route to the airport. But transit riders coming from south of their airport face a roundabout, time-consuming route with two transfers.   At the time, many suggested reinstating a direct airport shuttle from Millbrae. The Draft Strategic Plan reports that SamTrans may pursue this suggestion – it describes a goal to “Explore enhancing service in strategic markets, such as north-bound service to San Francisco International Airport and other emerging growth centers.”


SamTrans bus at Millbrae

SamTrans bus at Millbrae


Better transit connections

SamTrans is also looking at improving other transit connections.  According to Caltrain’s Triennial rider survey  (page 30), 7% of Caltrain riders arrived by MUNI, 5% by VTA, 5% by shuttle, and only 1% by SamTrans bus.  (For comparison, 28% walk, and 17% arrive by bicycle).

Part of the reason for the low level of transfers from SamTrans is service timing.  Shuttles schedules are timed to connect to the train. By contrast, bus schedules are designed independently. When schedules have long headways, this leads to long connection times that very few people use. The Draft Strategic Plan includes a goal to improve this situation with timed transfer “pulse” schedules that allow connections, even where routes have long headways.

Strengthening finances: ridership, reducing bond debt, reducing Caltrain expenses

The SamTrans strategic plan includes goals to improve the financial condition of the agency.

Currently, SamTrans covers 11% of its costs from riders. The agency is looking to improve its financial health by increasing fixed-route farebox revenue by 20 percent.


One major burden is the bond debt for the project connecting BART to Millbrae. SamTrans pays over $20 million per year, paying back those bonds.  In the short term, SamTrans is looking to refinance those bonds.  The bonds will start to be retired in 2019, which will relieve the burden of the debt at that point.

Another cost item that SamTrans may be looking to reduce is Caltrain.  On page 9 of the Draft Strategic Plan, SamTrans takes credit for reducing its contribution to Caltrain by $39,400,000 between 2009 and 2014.  Dedicated funding for Caltrain would relieve the obligation for SamTrans as well as the other partners.