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The Green Caltrain blog is sponsored by BayRail Alliance, an all-volunteer non-profit organization supporting green rail transit in the Bay Area. This blog and BayRail have no affiliation with Caltrain.


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.

 

Google, Stanford expand use of GoPass

A major change was disclosed quietly on Caltrain’s list of GoPass customers.  Tech powerhouse Google,  known for its fleet of private shuttles taking employees home to neighborhoods in San Francisco, Oakland, and across the Bay Area, has joined the list of corporate customers of the bulk-pricing program, which provides discounts of nearly 90% for organizations that purchase passes for their entire site.

Google’s transportation team has long been interested in the potential for greater use of the public transit system, but have been concerned about Caltrain’s plans to add capacity to keep up with ridership increases.

Stanford, a longstanding major GoPass customer, has implemented a pilot program providing Go Passes for graduate students who live off campus.

The need to keep up with ridership increases has prompted major employers to join a consortium to encourage planning and funding to help Caltrain keep up with ridership growth.

 

 

 

 

San Francisco passes measures A and B, votes down Measure L

San Francisco voters passed measures A and B to fund Muni, Caltrain, walking, and bicycling, and defeated Measure L which attempted to turn the clock back on SF’s transit-first policy.  The transit funding will help with planning to advance the Downtown Extension to Transbay, pay for Muni equipment upgrades and service improvements, and increases the likelihood that San Francisco will pay its Caltrain bills.

Alameda County passed transportation funding measure BB.  Among a great many investments to transit, active transportation, and roads, there is a small amount allocated that can be used to fund staff to help seek funding to revive Dumbarton Rail.

 

For who support transit and active transportation, congratulations, and for those who voted and volunteered, and organized, thanks!

VTA postpones review of 2-station BART project

Faced with mounting community pushback to the proposal to eliminate the Alum Rock station, the VTA has changed the dates of its community meeting to November 12th a future date not  yet announced, and the VTA board discussion to December 11th.    The meetings will cover a VTA staff proposal to apply for federal funding for a 2-station project (Downtown and Diridon), without the stations earlier proposed for Alum Rock or City of Santa Clara.

Television news covered the community meeting  last week Thursday where local residents organized opposition to the Alum Rock station cut. The East San Jose station had been the centerpiece of an Urban Village plan that the community had worked on for over a decade, which was an inspiration for the urban village strategy in San Jose’s General Plan, fostering future development concentrated in walkable places near transit.

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If you live in San Jose – or if you want to see a great Caltrain/BART connection in San Jose – come to these meetings if you can.

Fast-moving discussions and decisions – BART to San Jose

The VTA board is scheduled to consider the next phase of the project bringing BART to Silicon Valley on Thursday November 6 – just four weeks after VTA staff first presented an updated recommendation about the next phase of the project. (The BART-Silicon Valley project is being managed by VTA).

As reported earlier, VTA staff proposed that the next phase to be implemented should include the Downtown and Diridon stations (connecting to Caltrain at Diridon), but should defer the stations planned for Alum Rock and City of Santa Clara.

Update: according to a clarification from VTA staff, the board will not be taking a vote on November 6.  So, is it the case that VTA staff can move forward with a 2-station project preferred for federal funding an environmental clearance without board approval? We’ll check further and post as we learn more.

In response to the announcement, community members in the Alum Rock area have been expressing concern (see the comments to this blog post). The community had engaged in a planning process for nearly a decade for the area around proposed BART station and BRT line, resulting in a urban village plans with broad community support.

Five Wounds Church - the central landmark in the neighborhood near the proposed Alum Rock Station

Five Wounds Church – the central landmark in the neighborhood near the proposed Alum Rock Station

VTA scheduled a community meeting meeting where staff will present and be available to answer questions about the proposal, the day before the VTA board meeting where the decision is scheduled to be made. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 5th at 6:30pm, at Martin Luther King Library 150 E. San Fernando second floor.  This close scheduling will make it difficult for community members to communicate to the board.

To prepare for the public meetings, there is a neighborhood association meeting tomorrow night – Thursday, October 30th at 6:30pm, at McKinley Center, 651 Macredes Ave in San Jose, organized by community members seeking to keep the Alum Rock BART station.

Why these decisions, and why so fast?

The reason given by VTA staff for the proposal to defer the stations at Alum Rock and City of Santa Clara is that the two-station version would have the highest likelihood in qualifying for federal funding.  VTA has published their high level analysis, but not the breakdown of the scoring criteria they estimated.

However, at a BART Environmental Justice Committee meeting after the announcement, the deferring of the Alum Rock station was raised as a potential issue with regard to federal Title VI legislation, which discouraged transit decisions that have “disparate impact” on lower income and/or minority populations.  Title VI concerns could increase the risk to federal funding.

To explain the speed of the decision, the VTA staff made a case that being further along toward receiving federal funding would help pass a November 2016 ballot measure.  This argument is difficult to understand – voters have approved the various phases of BART to San Jose because the project is popular.  There will be a minuscule number of voters who will vote based on their understanding of exactly where the project stands in a multi-step process to fully qualify for federal funding.

The decision to defer the Santa Clara station seems logical, since that station already has Caltrain service connected to Diridon, and the station only has about 800 daily riders.  It seems redundant to offer those riders an extra $800 Million station.   Another reason originally provided for that station a decade ago was an airport connection, however since the evolution of plans for High Speed Rail and the Diridon Station Area, there are more recent proposals to connect to the airport from the major Diridon multi-modal station.

Are you interested in the next phase of the project that will connect Caltrain to BART at Diridon, and in the overall benefits and impacts of the project decisions – here’s where to learn more and weigh in:

Upcoming Meetings

Thursday October 30, 6:30pm
Neighborhood Association Meeting
McKinley Center, 651 Macredes Ave, San Jose

Wednesday, November 5th at 6:30pm
VTA community meeting
Martin Luther King Library, second floor
150 E. San Fernando, San Jose

Thursday November 6, 5:30pm
VTA Board Meeting
Santa Clara County Supervisors Chamber
70 West Hedding, San Jose

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