In response to comments from the public at last week’s board meeting, the Caltrain board expressed interest in going above and beyond its basic obligations under federal law to pursue the agencyâ€™s goal of improving equitable access. Â At last weekâ€™s board meeting, the Caltrain board considered its obligations under Title VI, a provision of the federal Civil RIghts Act of 1964Â that prohibits agenciesÂ from discriminating against minority and low-income populations. Â The way the law works, however, Â it only prohibitsÂ new actions that discriminate. Â If low-income and minority travelers are already excluded from Caltrain service, the agency could be technically in compliance. Â Â
At the meeting, several members of the public (including your blogger) pointed out that Caltrain riders currently have an average income of $117,000, which implies that few low-income people are currently using the service. Â The recent fare hikes logically put an even greater barrier before low-income people. Â One public comment speculated that Caltrainâ€™s recent dip in ridership may be related to the fare hike, and another expressed concern that the upcoming fare studyâ€™s exploration of â€œfare elasticityâ€ – whether existing riders would reduce use with higher prices – could even further lock out lower-income non-users.
Your blogger shared research findings from the downtown Palo Alto Transportation Management Association that lower-income service workers drive to work at a rate thatâ€™s about double that of high-income tech workers – around 80% compared to below 40%. Â Further analysis showed that there are sizeable numbers of workers who live near the Caltrain corridor but find price to be a barrier. Â To test the hypothesis of whether lower-income workers would use Caltrain if offered, the TMA presentedÂ Caltrainâ€™s deep-discount GoPass to workers at the Epiphany Hotel, with explanations in English and Spanish, and found that 25-30% of riders would take the train with the deep discount. Â Unfortunately, the GoPass is currently available only to large companies, excluding most low-income service workers who work for smaller restaurants, retailers, and other small businesses. Â Â Â This problem could be solved by offering the GoPass program to collections of smaller businesses in a local area, the way that VTA provides EcoPasses for workers at San Jose airport, including workers at small service businesses.Â
Caltrain Board members including Malia Cohen and Joel Ramos of San Francisco, and Raul Peralez of San Jose, agreed with these concerns. Â Cohen notes that the federal law set a floor for equity, not a ceiling. Â These board members wanted Caltrainâ€™s fare study and equity program to look, not only at whoâ€™s using the service, but who has geographical access to Caltrain (including feeder transit) but isnâ€™t using the service. Â Director Cohen commented that since the agencyâ€™s goal is to improve ridership, it makes sense to explore opportunities to serve new groups of riders who may be priced out. Â Cohen also suggested that improving equitable access would also help build political support for Caltrain, which would help with measures to provide the service with stable funding. Â Â Following a suggestion from Director Ramos, board members were interested in holding a board study session to explore opportunities to improve access.
Hopefully this discussion will set the stage for opportunities to increase Caltrain ridership by serving people who currently are priced out of the system.
The even bigger issue is that this is prime time for “we’ve all seen this before”, in that we need to see if there are ant hidden agendas or interncine wars being held by Caltrain staff. Sure, I AB SO LUTELY agree with everything that needs to be done (Caltrain more affordable for the working class), but there has just been too many times where an agency has a chance to do right but they f it up.
At the same time: if you can nail CT on this and really, really do outreach to where the lower income earners are, then this could be a real model for other transit agencies who have no qualms about raising faes and pricing out the sets that need them the most.
Bottom line: monitor the staff. Keep an eye on how they work so you won’t get tripped up at the goal line.
CalTrain could appeal to a lot more riders by improving service frequency. The current service is optimized for people traveling long distances and with flexible hours, such as SFSilicon Valley tech commuters. For anyone who has to be at work at a specific time, it’s highly unlikely that there will be a convenient train, even if your home and job are right next to stations. BART runs trains in the East Bay on 10 minute headways, and I think CalTrain should aim for this level of service “density”, if it ever wants to be a mass transit system instead just serving a niche market. The transition to EMU trains is a first step in making this possible.
How do we define low income?
Who/what would set the parameters for low income?
In the case of Caltrain, low income would appear to be around $100,000.
Based on the September 2016, monthly ridership report, Caltrain riders pay $5.02/trip, (1,582,618 trips / $7,948,547 in revenue).
There are some misguides souls (CAC and members of public) that have suggested that Caltrain fares are too low. There have been suggestions of a low income fare for Caltrain. Caltrain fares should be low for everyone; people shouldnâ€™t have to prove an arbitrary income level to receive a lower fare. In the case of Caltrain some employees can take advantage of the annual Go Pass which is a very significant discount from the regular monthly pass. There are many high tech employers that participate in the Go Pass program.
I just ran across what looks like an interesting analysis of the Go Pass here:
Should be interesting readingâ€¦
Day pass and one way ticket generate highest per-rider income for Caltrain, and comes from midday and weekend. Increasing service during midday weekend makes sense and cost effective. Increase increase peak period cost for additional train-set, longer platform and siding construction and/or additional staffing. At the same time, revenue from monthly pass and Go-Pass is very low.