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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.


Dumbarton Policy Committee seeks project restart

At Friday’s Dumbarton Policy Committee at Union City City Council, the group of elected officials took steps toward restarting the stalled project, starting with the potential for  service between Redwood City and Menlo Park.   At the next meeting on May 29, staff will bring back a summary of the funding available to jumpstart the project, and the cost to complete the environmental review process.

Redwood City Council Member Diane Howard, who recently rejoined after an earlier Council term, summarized the meeting saying “this is the most refreshing conversation I’ve heard about this project in a long time.”

At the beginning of the meeting, the staff painted a scenario that was not optimistic.   The environmental review had been put on hold since there was not enough funding to complete the project across the bay, and a precondition for federal environmental review is having enough money to qualify for more federal funding. But after some persistent questioning from Chair Carol Dutra Vernaci of Union City and Menlo Park’s Kirsten Keith, staff clarified that California’s environmental review process doesn’t have the same condition; that a Redwood City to Menlo Park project probably wouldn’t need seek federal funding, and that it is possible to approve a smaller subsegment in an environmental review; and therefore the project could use available funding to restart a smaller initial project.

The motion to move ahead was supported by all but one of the policy committee members.  The Fremont representative opposed it.  Supporters including BART board member Tom Blalock. This is significant because most of the funding moved from the Dumbarton project went to the BART Silicon Valley project.

In public comment, Jillian Kilby, a graduate student at Stanford talked about research she has been doing about the potential to create a public-private partnership to fund the project, potentially including employers on the corridor such as Facebook and Google. Kilby  has experience implementing public-private transportation projects in Australia. m

Unlike previous sleepy meetings, the meeting was attended by supportive members of the public from both sides of the Bay.  Policy Advisory Committee members encouraged members of the public to support the project restart at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and  the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.  We’ll post updates with new information and next steps.

Tomorrow – will corridor cities re-start Dumbarton Rail

Friday, February 27 is the first meeting of the Dumbarton Policy Advisory Committee following the passage of Alameda County’s Measure BB, which provided funding that could allow the group to re-start efforts to revive the rail project, which was mostly defunded last year due to lack of funds to complete the project.  The group will consider potential reorganization into a format such as a Joint Powers Board that can be more pro-active in moving the project forward.

Given economic recovery and traffic, there has been substantial interest in getting the project moving again, with particular interest starting in the Redwood City/Menlo Park segment.  Redwood City downtown is seeing substantial development, and Menlo Park is updating its General Plan with a focus on the area near Facebook.

The Citizens’ Advisory Panel, which met last week, discussed the potential to reorganize the Policy Advisory group into an entity that could pursue funding.  At that meeting,  Jillian Kilby, a Stanford Graduate student, reported on research on opportunities for public/private funding to help move the project forward, potentially including employers such as Facebook, Stanford (with a major campus in Redwood City), and Google.

The Dumbarton Policy Advisory Committee will also make a recommendation tomorrow about doing a study with recommendations for bus service expansion.

The meeting is in Union City at 2:30pm, which is a challenge for Peninsula corridor residents. If you have time, this is a good meeting to attend.  If you’re interested in carpooling, leave notes in comments. Or if you’re interested in reviving the project, send a note to April Chan (chana@samtrans.com), and copy the chair and vicechair,  Carol Dutra-Vernaci (CarolD@ci.union-city.ca.us ) and Kirsten Keith (KKeith@menlopark.org).

 

 

Update, Assembly Member Mullin’s 101 corridor bill AB378

How is Assembly Mullin’s bill planning to address congestion on the 101 corridor?  As his staff member notes, the bill is a placeholder; he expects crafting the policy to take another year.  The text of the bill’s introduction has some hints, and Michael Cunningham of Bay Area Council, which encouraged Assembly Member Mullin to introduce the bill, answered questions about the preliminary thinking.  Bold is the blogger’s question, italic is Cunningham’s answer, and the rest of the paragraph is background and commentary.

The bill intro says: “A coordinated agency response that integrates carpool or express lane development and operations, adaptive ramp metering technology and operations, and ridesharing can deliver meaningful commuter relief within a five year period and can serve as a model that other highway corridors in the state can emulate.”

Q. Does this mean that the main goal of the bill is to add new lanes on 101? Would the proponents support TransForm’s “optimized HOT lane” proposal which would instead convert an existing lane into a toll lane, and use the funding to support sustainable transportation?   A. Cunningham says the answer is yes – they are aware of the TransForm approach, and would consider it. TransForm’s high level analysis suggests that this approach would result in more congestion and GHG reduction than adding a new lane. San Mateo County is currently having this option studied, as part of its 101 toll lane study, but it would require a change in state law to allow the lane conversion.

Q. How about enabling public transit to provide cross-county express bus service?  A. Yes, this has been considered and could be part of the policy.   Currently, the big tech companies, Google, Facebook and others, run cross-county express shuttles in part because the public transit system makes creating such routes very difficult. Currently, each county transit agency has a monopoly on its territory, and creating a route that crosses territories (like the DB route, which crosses the Dumbarton Bridge from Alameda to San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties) requires a complex bi-direction or multi-directional negotiation.

Q. How about handling the multi-jurisdictional complexity of a congestion pricing policy?   A. Yes, high occupancy toll lanes use congestion pricing, and the goal of the bill is to bring the 3 counties together.   A few years ago, a congestion pricing proposal for 101 by San Francisco failed following opposition by San Mateo County.  This bill could bring the parties together to create a solution that would work for all

Q. How about a governance structure that could manage multiple transportation modes on the corridor with a mode shift goal.  A. Possibly.  There will be a process to gather ideas and evaluate what to do to achieve the goals of the bill.   The placeholder text (see below) discusses creating “governance structures as may be necessary” for new approaches for solutions crossing all 3 counties.

The opportunity for coordination. Transportation on the 101 corridor that cross multiple counties are currently hard to coordinate and fund. The bill is an opportunity to solve several types of barriers that have gotten in the way of transportation improvements.  The exact policies really aren’t decided in advance, there will be discussions over the coming year about which policies and technologies ought to be implemented.

The risk of congestion relief – “induced demand”.  One big potential problem with the framing of this bill is the framing in terms of “congestion relief” which has too often been a false promise undermined by induced demand.   Historically, this has meant adding vehicle capacity to roadways.  And historically, adding vehicle capacity to roadways has quickly been followed by additional vehicle travel on the roadways, consuming all of the extra capacity, and bringing congestion back to previous levels and worse.    Adding vehicle capacity can also reduce the effectiveness of transit; when 101 was widened down to Gilroy, Caltrain ridership to South Santa Clara County plummeted.

California state environmental policy is moving away from defining transportation quality in terms of congestion relief and improving automotive “level of service”, toward reducing vehicle miles travelled and greenhouse gas emissions.   But state law governing state highways still focuses on “congestion relief.”    For drivers stuck in traffic, “congestion relief” sounds like a welcome goal. The language sounds politically popular, who can argue with “congestion relief?”

The alternative is looking at the corridor as a whole, and looking for alternatives to improve the market share of space-efficient, climate-friendly transportation.   Today, perhaps a half-million drivers use the 101 corridor, and perhaps 10% use Caltrain and private express buses, and a tiny percentage carpool.   There is nobody in charge of a goal to reduce vehicle miles travelled and greenhouse gas emissions on the corridor, across all modes.

The ambitious vision for this bill would be to create an entity with a goal, authority, and funding to reduce vehicle miles and greenhouse gas emissions on the 101 corridor, using different modes and technologies, including familiar technologies that need investment and coordination (trains and buses), and new technologies as they become available (ride-sharing apps, autonomous vehicles).  Could this be done in our infamously fragmented region?

 

Assembly Member Mullin introduces bill to reduce 101 congestion

Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin of San Mateo announced AB378, a “placeholder bill” with the goal of relieving congestion on the 101 corridor.   While the text of the bill wasn’t posted yet, Mullin’s staff said that the bill was a placeholder that could encompass policies, governance structures, and funding mechanisms to achieve the goal of the bills.  Mullin expects that it will take more than one legislative session to flesh out the details of a bill to achieve the goals.

From a broader perspective, there is currently no entity with the mission to monitor and improve drivealone mode share on the Peninsula’s North/South corridor.   Caltrain has a goal to carry more passengers; but if driving on the Caltrain corridor increases at a faster rate than train ridership, and transit mode share falls on the corridor, this would not be Caltrain’s goal or responsibility.   This bill could potentially create an entity that could own that goal.

There are a number of specific gaps in the corridor’s policies that a state law could help fill.   Apparently (corrections welcome in comments), the region’s public transit services aren’t authorized to provide multi-county express bus service, leaving a large gap in service that is currently filled by private commuter buses run by leading Silicon Valley corporations; and leaving workers with smaller employers slogging through traffic. Caltrain lacks stable funding; a bill could create a district to raise a dedicated funding source.  There are other policies that would require legislative action; for example making it legally possible to implement TransForm’s proposal for optimized high occupancy toll lanes which would convert travel lanes to toll lanes and use funding to reduce driving.

There are plenty of opportunities for congestion relief – and beyond that, reduction in vehicle miles travelled and greenhouse gas emissions – on the corridor.  Hopefully the bill can be used to to address these goals.

 

Clipper 2.0 upgrade not considering fare/transfer integration

At last month’s Caltrain Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, Caltrain marketing and operations staff explained that fare and transfer integration would play a minimal part in the Clipper 2.o upgrade of the Bay Area’s regional transit payment card system. Rita Haskin, who heads marketing for Caltrain and Samtrans, explained that transit agencies were working on harmonizing the ages of youth fares across transit services, but not looking at larger questions about disparate fares and transfers.  

Update: the presentation covered opportunities to make changes to fare media (for example the ability to pay with a credit card or mobile app) and the ability for Clipper to be used for other transportation modes (such as car parking and bikes lockers).   Some fare coordination is being considered, such as youth age coordination.”

As an explanation for why integration is low priority, Haskin explained that there is currently very little overlap in the customer base for SamTrans (lower-income, youth, and elderly), and the customer base for Caltrain (higher-income employees.)   Update: Caltrain monthly pass holders receive local ride credit on SamTrans or VTA, but the inverse is not the case; SamTrans and VTA pass holders do not get ride credit on Caltrain.

This economic separation by transit mode is very different from the high-ridership, well-coordinated transit system described at a recent SPUR forum by Andy Nash, formerly of the Bay Area and now a transportation planner in Zurich, Switzerland.  In Zurich, Nash explained, there are higher-speed backbone services, provided by rail and buses with dedicated right of way; and a network of “feeder” bus services that take people to and from their destination.  There is a single zone-based fare system; a rider pays a single fare depending on the number of zones she travels through, even if the trip includes a bus and a train. The Zurich system is tightly integrated despite the fact there are 42 transit agencies in the metropolitan area, more than the infamously fragmented Bay Area.

The MTC is not considering comprehensive fare integration (such as an integrated day or month pass), because Bay Area transit agencies have concerns that such fare integration might cause transit agencies to lose revenue.  This is evidence that increased integration has the potential to increase ridership. For example, in the 1990s, New York City introduced a universal fare card technology along with free subway/bus transfers, triggering a ~20% increase in ridership, with a minimal decrease in revenues.

 In Zurich and other European regions, there is a “transport alliance”, that distributes funding and provides financial support for integration. Here in the Bay Area, BART and AC Transit are conducting pilot programs testing a hypothesis that better integration of fares and schedules between rail and bus in the East Bay can improve transit ridership as well as equitable access to the system. The pilot will also analyze the revenue implications of the integrated transfers.

Not only is the Clipper 2.0 project not contemplating more robust fare integration, staff explained that it was inappropriate under the state’s Brown Act law to consider the topic of fare integration, when discussing opportunities for Clipper 2.0.    The Brown Act says that members of an advisory body like the CAC, or a decision-making body like a transit board or city council, can discuss only items that have been publicly disclosed in the agenda of a public meeting.  But the topic of fare integration is sufficiently off-topic that it cannot be mentioned in a conversation about the next generation of Clipper.  Disclosure – this blogger asked the question, as a member of the CAC.   

Update: In a written comment in response to this blog post, Haskin explained that robust fare integration was not being considered because that was considered to be in the domain of fare policies set by each agency, rather than payment technology coordination being organized by MTC working with transit agencies as part of the Clipper upgrade.  The goal of Clipper is to support current and future fare policies.

While we hear that transit agencies understand substantial fare coordination to be not germane to the Clipper upgrade project,  numerous riders who need to make multiple payments to multiple agencies to travel across the region have a different perspective.  The Around the Bay Coalition,  a set of transit and active transportation advocacy groups, including Friends of Caltrain, had earlier presented MTC with a petition from community members asking for the next generation upgrade of Clipper to make progress on regional fare integration.

If the current Clipper project is not working on regional fare integration, the coalition would like to see  a fare integration task force that is able to commission studies of costs/benefits. The scope of the task force would include opportunities to increase transit ridership through fare integration (as with the AC Transit/BART project), and funding opportunities to address any financial needs created by integration.

Do you agree that it should be possible to use Clipper on a trip that crosses multiple systems, and pay a single fare?   Do you think that the MTC should re-engage an initiative to explore fare integration, including ways to address funding needs or funding shifts?  If so, sign this petition (if you haven’t already) so we can continue to encourage an integrated transit system in the Bay Area.

 

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