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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.


Caltrain balances 2016 budget with rider revenues

Caltrain is using extra funding from fast-growing rider revenues to balance its operating budget in 2016.    Ridership for FY 2015 is up 10%, farebox revenue is up 13%,  and Caltrain’s “farebox recovery” remains over 60%, which is excellent for US transit agencies.

For FY 2016, Caltrain is expecting $88 million out of a $139 million operating budget to come from riders (including fares and parking).  The three county partners (San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties) are contributing about $20million.  And an additional $18 Million comes from savings and extra revenue from the last year’s very strong performance.

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While the budget is balanced this year, the structural budget risk remains. The county partner contributions are voluntary  – every year, counties decide whether – yes, whether – to pay their Caltrain bill.   In a down year, when county partners face their own budget crunch, partners can choose not to pay their bill.  If any of the partners stiffs the check, they all do,  cutting up to a 30% hole in Caltrain’s budget.

In FY2021, with the start of electric service, Caltrain’s budget is expected to improve.  Electric service is cheaper to run (electricity is cheaper than diesel), and more frequent service is expected to generate more riders.  Caltrain is expected to disclose a draft budget for electric service this Spring, showing how much public contribution will need to be nailed down.

Caltrain’s draft capital budget for 2016 is not in the packet of materials published in advance for Thursday’s board meeting.  Watch for news about how and whether Caltrain will keep its trains maintained and running, while the project to electrify moves forward.

 

 

 

How on-demand carpooling can help reduce driving mode share in Palo Alto (and other Peninsula corridor cities)

Over the last couple of years, we’ve heard about employers including SurveyMonkey and RelateIQ that have started to  offer their employees credits for on-demand carpooling to get to Caltrain from neighborhoods in  San Francisco far from 4th and King, enabling them to take Caltrain to their jobs in Palo Alto rather than driving all the way.

To learn more about this trend, we interviewed Evan Goldin, product lead at Lyft, about the on-demand carpooling services they are offering, how they relate to existing transit services, and the potential to reduce drivealone mode share.

  1. Transit connections  Many people live in locations that are too far to walk from Caltrain or BART, don’t use bicycles, and don’t have practical options to get to the station by transit.   “First-mile” services are particularly useful for transit stations that have minimal or full parking, removing the risk that the commuter will drive to the station, find the lot full, and drive the rest of the way.
  2. On-demand carpool.  Lyft Line is an on-demand carpool service that provides a discount rate for multiple passengers who separately request a ride, enabling them to to share their ride if they’re headed in the same direction within a geographical zone.   Lyft sets up “hotspots” that are publicized pickup points, making the service like a micro-bus. Passengers get extra discounts for catching a Lyft at a hotspot, and the price for a ride starting at a hotspot is capped at $5. (Someone who requests a classic Lyft can use the ride themselves and with other parties in the same group, but not pick up additional passengers). This is is useful for relatively short commutes (for example, Palo Alto to Facebook), or for trips to popular destinations like a shopping mall.
  3. Commuter carpool. Lyft Driver Destination is a program where a driver going to a specific destination (like work), picks up passengers who are going to the same place (with classic Lyft, the driver goes where the passenger asks). Commuter carpool helps commuters make some extra cash, reduce their carbon footprint, and avoid parking charges in places that charge for parking.  This service can be helpful, not only for work commutes, but any trip where there are people converging on the same destination, like, say, Redwood City on a weekend evening.

Lyft Caltrain Connection  HotSpot

Lyft Line is currently available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Austin, and is likely on its way to Palo Alto and other Caltrain corridor communities.

These services have the potential to make better use of existing backbone transit, to connect routes that are not serviced by transit at all, or providing more cost-effective service when transit with full-time drivers and larger vehicles is marginally cost-effective to run.    These services also remove or reduce parking demand.  In Palo Alto, for example, the cost of building a space in a new parking structure is $60,000-$70,000; the same amount of money can go a very long way toward providing alternatives to driving including public transit and on-demand carpooling.

These services have the potential to be financially supported by large employers, or, following a growing trend in the region, by a Transportation Management Association with a mission to reduce vehicle trips in a moderately dense area.   As cities get serious about reducing vehicle trips in dense areas, these services can help achieve mode share goals and reduce traffic and parking burdens.

San Francisco Bicycle Advisory Committee to consider Townsend hazards

Faced with a powerful video published in Streetsblog showing the daily hazards faced by people who cycle on the chaotic approach on Townsend Street to the Caltrain 4th and King station, the San Francisco Bicycle Advisory Committee agreed to put the Townsend hazards on an upcoming agenda at it’s Monday meeting, and Supervisor Jane Kim offered support in working with SFMTA on solutions.

Your blogger showed the video for the Committee on Monday, and another daily Caltrain commuter told his story of the routine dangers.   At the meeting, the SFMTA staff member working with the Committee presented the agency’s list of bicycle projects in the works and confirmed that there aren’t any plans yet for safety improvements in the area.  While the topic could not be discussed since it was not on the agenda, Committee members asked staff questions about whether there might be opportunities to better manage the stopping areas for buses and taxis,which could potentially be done before any engineering changes.

Thanks to those who intended, and who wrote the Committee and Supervisor Kim.  The next BAC meeting is Monday the 18th. If you want to see the safety hazards on Townsend addressed, consider coming to the BAC meeting, and let us know in comments.  We’ll keep you posted on upcoming next steps.

Source: Streetsblog

Source: Streetsblog

Should Caltrain electric cars carry more bikes?

Tonight at the San Francisco Bicycle Advisory Committee, the advisory group to the Board of Supervisors will review a recommendation presented by the BIKES ONboard Project of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition that Caltrain’s new electric cars should have enough room for 20% of passengers to bring their bikes on board.

Currently, about 15% of Caltrain riders use a bicycle with Caltrain, because bikes are a convenient way to connect the “first and last mile” to and from the train. (About 13% bring a bike onboard, and 1-2% store their bikes at the first-mile station using locks, lockers or bike storage stations) Overall, bicycle ridership is growing.

The BIKES ONboard Project is advocating for 20% in other words 100% Caltrain-bike passengers to be able to bring their bikes on board.    This recommendation is despite the fact that data from a recent survey shows that at least 50% of bicycle users say that they would be willing to use bicycle lockers, bike share, or other alternatives instead of bringing a bicycle on board, if these options were available.

The recommendation was endorsed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, and Bike San Mateo County, before the survey data was available regarding bicycle user preferences, and before Caltrain has disclosed the amount of seated and standing passengers who will be able to take Caltrain at peak hour when electrification is first launched.

Update. Also, the 20% recommendation is not based on any estimate about how many overall riders will want to use a bike with Caltrain in the future, and what % of them would use offboard facilities if they were available and high-quality. Here is a presentation explaining the BIKES ONboard Project rationale for the 20% target.

Meanwhile, capacity on Caltrain is a major concern. Ridership continues to grow, and Caltrain is wrestling with ways to keep up, and ways to implement and fund capacity increases.  Space on the train will continue to be at a premium.

What do you think? Should Caltrain prioritize bicycles on board? Should Caltrain continue to support bicycles with Caltrain, but invest in lockers and bikeshare, so that fewer passengers will need to bring their bikes on board.   Should the wayside investments be included in the overall capacity investment spending package, as a way to ensure that more passengers overall will fit on the trains, while continue to support bikes as a great first/last mile solution?

The recent survey “oversamples” bicycle riders – over 40% of respondents use bicycles, a much higher share than actually use bikes with Caltrain.  When a survey has more respondents in a given population, this makes the survey potentially more reliable for that subpopulation.  However, the survey wasn’t based on a random sample. Caltrain will be doing more study of opportunities for first and last mile wayside facilities, using a $150,000 Caltrans grant.    Meanwhile, the recent survey strongly suggests that more people would use good wayside facilities if they were available.

Update: At an upcoming board workshop in May, Caltrain is expected to disclose the amount of passengers space that will be available at peak hour, for passengers standing, seated, and with bicycles, in various scenarios.   This information would help riders evaluate the about the relative amount of bike space and standing room that should be provided on the train.

Note: Friends of Caltrain strongly supports increasing the amount of bicycle use with Caltrain as an environmentally friendly and effective way for passengers to travel the first and last mile. FoC currently does not yet have a position about the number of bicycles that Caltrain should support on board,  As demand for bike use with Caltrain grows, it may make sense to have a relatively higher share supported by good lockers and bike share. What do you think?

Might Caltrain trains have less room after electrification?

At the last Caltrain board meeting, Caltrain staff reported results of technical investigations into the potential for rail cars allowing compatibility with High Speed Rail.   The good news is that it looks to be technically feasible, and High Speed Rail is offering to contribute funds to enable compatibility. The worrying news is that the resulting system might have less room for passengers than before electrification, and it could take ten or more years to catch up.
Electric train
The main reason that transit supporters – riders, employers, and anyone concerned about congestion and the environment – want electrification is more room on the crowded train line.   Caltrain and High Speed Rail need a better solution when electric service goes live.
Even in the best of circumstances, the new cars were going to have less room per car than today’s cars, because instead of a locomotive upfront, each self-powering EMU has mechanical gear on board.   Today a 5-car Caltrain train has about 650 seats.    Electric trains would only have 600 seats each.  (But Caltrain would run ~20% more frequently and stop at more stations, carrying overall more passengers.)   The double-door approach would remove 78-188 seats per 6-car train.
The result could be that in 2020/2021, when Caltrain starts electric service, there could be less room on the train than before (!)  While Caltrain can compensate for the loss by more quickly moving to longer trains – and eventually make it almost all back when the extra doors are removed – Caltrain staff say that Caltrain might not be able to get the room back for well over a decade (since it would take many years to raise and extend all the platforms)
The reason for Caltrain to do the double-door compromise was that High Speed Rail claimed that it would be difficult for it to procure lower level trains that could travel at the needed speed.    And High Speed Rail would advance money – somewhere between $600Million and $1Billion – to get the upgrades done, including longer platforms.
On a corridor that is starving for transit space, with a system that will need voter funding it will be a very hard sell to explain why to spend more money for improvements that won’t add more passenger space sooner.
There will be more details forthcoming at the upcoming board meetings for Caltrain, HSR, and the Transbay authority.  Hopefully staff will provide the boards the important information needed to evaluate decisions:
* How many people will Caltrain be able to carry per peak hour when electrification goes live?
* How many passengers will fit on the train, both standing and sitting?
* How will the double-door configuration affect “dwell time”, and therefore overall corridor travel time?
* How soon will Caltrain be able to provide longer platforms to carry more passengers?
There are important questions to answer very soon, before Caltrain and HSR spend money on trainsets.
* Might the state and taxpayers be better off if High Speed Rail looked harder for compromise-height trains?
* Electric trainsets are shorter because there’s no locomotive. Could Caltrain fit a 7-car electric train set in the same space as a 6-car diesel set, immediately adding 17% more passenger space at the cost of 17% more cars (see slide 14 here)
* Could the platform upgrades happen sooner?
* Could Caltrain run more frequent service sooner, and how would communities deal with the impacts on at-grade crossings?
* Should Caltrain and HSR give up on compatibility? What would that mean for service to Transbay, which would be the most-used station in the corridor?
Less room on the trains in 2021 is the wrong answer.   Caltrain and HSR need solutions that will give Peninsula corridor riders, employers, and tax payers more room on the trains.
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