“I want you to push the limits” – Caltrain board, policymakers strongly support goals to meet pent-up ridership demand

Caltrain board members, corridor elected officials, and advisory committee members were strongly supportive of greatly increasing Caltrain service and ridership in coming decades, at recent meetings of the Caltrain board, Local Policymaker Working Group, and Citizens Advisory Committee.

The leaders and advisors were responding to new data indicating that Caltrain could increase ridership up to 250,000, addressing pent-up demand on the corridor, by providing service improvements and infrastructure to support increased service.

To reach the pent-up ridership potential, board members pushed for more information, and more infrastructure options that would help serve the most possible riders.  This includes investments to fully grade-separate the corridor – and the potential for more tracks.

Board member Gee, who is stepping down at the end of the year, spoke bluntly. “I want you to push the limits. I do not think you are misreading the need for more service. But, why are we constrained to two tracks – why not 4? What would it take to get to four tracks on the corridor. I only have 2 more meetings, I can throw down this stuff. “

Gee’s comments were supported by board member Gillett of San Francisco. Gillett was very pleased to see the Business Plan material start to show the benefits of investing in Caltrain service and infrastructure.  “From the San Francisco perspective, there has been eyerolling over time in response to messages that ‘Caltrain needs more money’, because we haven’t seen what we need the money for. That’s what the Business Plan should do, and that’s what it’s starting to do.”

Board Member Zmuda supported the goal of greatly increasing ridership, and sought to clarify the relationship between maximizing ridership and separating the railway tracks from intersecting roadways.  Zmuda asked staff, “can we get to maximum ridership without grade separations. The answer was that: “We’ll need a sealed corridor… “There’s billions of dollars on that slide [showing the remaining at-grade crossings on the corridor], that’s a megaproject that we haven’t called a megaproject yet. We’ll need to work with the region and the state.  This [the amount of grade separation] relates to the level of service we can achieve”

Board member Stone reinforced the need to clearly communicate the costs and tradeoffs to deliver the service that community members want to see.  “There’s pent-up demand. Some of our towns are looking to add housing; if we don’t have the service [to meet the needs of a growing population], I’ll get 400 emails.

See this thread for a livetweet transcript of the board workshop.

The week before, Caltrain’s Local Policymaker Working Group, an advisory body composed mostly of local elected officials in cities along the corridor,  were strongly supportive of more service, and their comments emphasized the value of more Caltrain service to communities on the corridor.  Encouraging comments from policymakers included:

  • “service drives ridership” – the substantial increase in ridership that could be gained by service improvements, keeping hundreds of thousands of commuters off highways
  • the value of service to support everyday travel needs, not just peak commuters, to serve additional sorts of trips and passengers, such as people who work at restaurants, and people who dine out, families with childcare trips, etc.
  • the value of increased service to stations that have been seeing transit-oriented development with currently low levels of service, such as San Antonio in Mountain View and Lawrence in Sunnyvale/Santa Clara
  • the value of supporting future transit-oriented that cities are planning
  • the potential for substantial climate/pollution benefits and congestion relief by carrying many more passengers
  • the importance of understanding infrastructure requirements, such as passing tracks and grade separations, to build support for these investments and funding

There is going to be more public outreach on the business plan starting in November so stay tuned and get ready to share your thoughts.