Green Caltrain

BayRail Alliance Blog
Random Image

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 2015 operating budget is balanced; capital budget, not yet

At the last board of directors meeting, Caltrain reported that the proposed 2015 operating budget will be balanced, running the same schedule as this past year, and 64% of its revenue from riders.  The budget does not yet include the costs or proposed revenues of running the additional cars that Caltrain is acquiring from Metrolink.

The capital budget, however, isn’t close. Caltrain is asking its 3 partners in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties to contribute $109 million (down from $190 million last year) and the partners are offering only $10.5 million.   Staff report that the agencies are still negotiating.

Without dedicated funding, Caltrain should at least prepare a two year budget with its partners, to reduce the level of annual last-minute negotiations, and allay concerns that the agency won’t have enough funding to fix equipment to prevent breakdowns.

Caltrain proposed capital budget

“Can we open this up”? BART board wants more customer feedback for Clipper

At the April 24th board meeting, the BART board gave its staff feedback that they want to see more direct customer feedback on the MTC plans to upgrade Clipper.   To date, the MTC’s process to gather requirements for the next generation of Clipper is focused on working directly with agencies, and formal meetings with agencies’ advisory bodies. But the process has not included direct customer feedback from riders with surveys, focus groups, or other direct information, nor has it included engaging transit advocacy groups, bicycle groups, and other groups representing large numbers of riders.

In response to questions from Board Member Radulovitch, BART staff said that BART itself had done some rider focus groups regarding how Clipper is serving BART customers directly, but that there had been no outreach to riders about issues relating to fare integration and experience across multiple agencies.

In response to the description of this approach, Board Member Radulovich replied: “Can we open this up? Can we say this is an important discussion for the region to have and we need to involve all the stakeholders. This is really important, members of the public should have a say.  The procurement process is starting now and there hasn’t yet been public input, and that’s sort of backward.”       Board member Saltzman reiterated the strong interest in customer input.

Radulovitch also recommended consideration of the governance of Clipper. Rather than relying on MTC, perhaps it would make sense to have a consortium of operators.  Multiple board members expressed frustration with the lack of responsiveness of the current structure.

Other comments from BART board members included a desire to run more flexible and less costly experiments in fares and fare integration, and better integration of BikeLink bike parking and vehicle parking, the ability to acquire Clipper cards at BART stations, and the immediate application of customer payment to their Clipper account, rather than having to wait a few days for payments to be applied.

If you agree that there should be more rider feedback in the next generation Clipper, and a greater level of regional fare integration, click here to sign the petition tell the MTC and transit boards.

40% of Caltrain riders don’t drive – customer survey shows cultural shifts

According to Caltrain’s most recent customer survey, 40% of Caltrain riders either don’t have access to a car, or don’t drive. The survey didn’t even ask if riders use a car for a minority of their trips (“car-light” rather than “carfree”) – which would likely increase the percentage even more.

Similarly, only 23% of Caltrain riders get to the train station by driving and parking. The vast majority get to the train station by walking, bicycling, and taking transit.

Caltrain station access modes

Caltrain station access modes

Meanwhile, the share of Caltrain customers using a bicycle to get to and from stations has spiked from an already nation-leading 13% to 17%. The survey did not ask customers if they use bikeshare. I wonder many of the new folk are using bikeshare, and how much, if any diversion there is from folk who used to bring bikes onboard. The absolute number of people bringing bikes on board is still going up, according to the latest ridership survey.

Caltrain riders report these preferences not drive despite the fact that the average salary of a Caltrain rider is over $100k. These stats contradict the stereotype that wealthier people are more likely to prefer driving, and point to an ongoing cultural shift in transportation preferences.

Meanwhile, Caltrain riders say they greatly prefer to get their information from the internet (78%) vs. tv (32%), radio (22%) and newspapers (19%), and get their information about Caltrain mostly via web and mobile apps. (Although, a board member noted that the survey didn’t differentiate between medium and brand; it’s possible that people who get their news from the internet are using the Chronicle and Mercury News online).

These preferences have several implications:
* Cities with high Caltrain ridership that face decisions about policies like complete streets, parking, and transit-oriented development may want to assess whether they’re getting input from the rapidly growing segment of the population that uses Caltrain and has a strong preference not to drive. When you look at who speaks at city council meetings, is this population represented? Are you reaching out to them via media that this constituency prefers?
* Cities with stations that have high shares of station access by bicycling, walking, and transit, but also have tight parking (such as Palo Alto and Mountain View) may want to think about how best to improve access to the station. Both cities are considering expanding vehicle parking at the station, but might want to be working with Caltrain to assess if it would be effective to improve station access by improving bicycle parking and better bus/shuttle connections. Caltrain is working on a station access plan – these stats strongly suggest continued focus on the current policy direction to improve station access by means other than driving.
* Bicycling is a major form of first and last mile connectivity. Caltrain has a capacity crunch. To assess the role of bicycles on board in capacity, Caltrain should analyze the relative cost-effectiveness of various last-mile modes (bikes on board ~$5, shuttles $5 and higher, bikeshare kiosks at popular destinations ($2-$4), and should do more research to find out what alternatives might or might not work for people with bikes.

Salary, ethnicity, fares and equity

The report of the salary and ethnic mix of Caltrain riders (Hispanic riders are substantially under-represented compared to population) sparked a lively board conversation, with board members from San Jose and San Francisco calling out the need to think about the equity implications of the mix.

There were several public comments on the topic. This blogger noted that the GoPass program, which currently gives deep discounts to employees of large corporations, could conceivably be expanded to cover a service area of a city-based Transportation Management Association (like, say, downtown Palo Alto). That has the potential to increase equity by offering similar discounts to employees of companies with fewer employees and lower margins, including lower income workers. Other public comments talked about the potential for a low income fare (the LA area offers breaks on its toll lane program for workers who make under $25k). Such programs would cost money and have administrative costs, and might well require regional support. Still others see the current high income of Caltrain riders as an opportunity to raise fares and reduce the operating subsidy – Caltrain currently gets 64% of operating revenue from riders.   Executive Director Mike Scanlon noted at the meeting that roads and freeways also receive a substantial operating subside.  This blogger wonders whether people who want transit user fees be increased to cover operating costs also want many more roads to be tolled to cover operating costs).

The topic was sufficiently lively that Friends of Caltrain may host a forum on the topic, to have a more in-depth discussion and provide feedback for Caltrain’s strategic plan.

What a 2014 Santa Clara County ballot measure would mean for Caltrain?

On Friday April 25, the San Jose Mercury News reported that unexpectedly positive polling results could prompt Santa Clara County to put a transportation sales tax on the ballot in 2014, instead of 2016, as they had been thinking before the poll. A high level poll by the The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, surveying 600 likely Santa Clara County voters, showed that support for a transportation sales tax would be 73 percent in Santa Clara County, well above the two thirds required to pass.

A potential ballot measure could cover projects like road maintenance and pothole repair (particularly needed in San Jose), more funding for BART to Silicon Valley, and investments in Caltrain safety and capacity. A blog post by Carl Guardino, CEO of the Leadership Group has more details on the poll.

According to Bena Chang of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the details are not yet final, but there will be meetings with partners and stakeholders during the next several weeks. The time frame for 2014 is extremely tight – the measure would need to be filed with the registrar of voters by August 8, after a public process either through VTA’s Board or the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

Further polling is needed to confirm the amount of the tax and the projects to pay for with the funding. A quarter-cent sales tax would raise roughly $3.7 billion in Santa Clara County.

Projects for Caltrain could include a package of projects that build on on basic electrification to deliver greater capacity, reliability, and safety, such as:
* replacing the remaining 25% of diesel trains for faster performance and lower costs
* level boarding for faster service, greater reliability, and greater accessibility
* platform extensions to enable longer trains and more riders
* grade separations for improved safety and reliability, and intersection traffic relief

Funds contributing this package of improvements would be excellent, since continued strong growth in ridership would consume the capacity improvements provided by basic electrification.

Santa Clara County currently has partial funding for the Mountain View Rengstorff grade separation and no others. Information from Caltrain’s electrification environmental impact report and blended system studies show that increased service will provide increasing pressure on at-grade crossings.

One question is how Santa Clara County would prioritize the grade separations. The County could set up a process similar to San Mateo County, where the SMC Transportation Authority has a competitive grant program to fund grade separations. That way, the specifics don’t need to be decided in advance of the ballot measure.

Given the legal challenges to high speed rail, funding for Caltrain could potentially also serve as a backstop in the unwelcome event that the High Speed Rail funding for electrification goes away, and federal funds can’t be repurposed. A ballot measure could be written to enable the Santa Clara County funding to backstop basic electrification funding. It wouldn’t be enough to replace the $650Million from High Speed Rail but would be a notable help in plugging the gap.

If Santa Clara County really does go for a ballot measure in 2014, that leaves an open question of when San Mateo County would match the investments. The San Mateo County voters approved a sales tax increase last November which is contributing to SamTrans and helping with Caltrain stability. San Francisco is planning ballot measures in November of 2014 as well as 2016 for capital and operating funding including Caltrain.

This seems like good news, including the concept of funding a reasonable package of Caltrain capacity/reliability improvements, and a backstop for HSR risk.

What this does not do is align all 3 Caltrain counties in the same year and establish funding stability. If the Leadership Group and Santa Clara County do not make the very tight deadline for 2014, this could be an opportunity for 2016.

What do you think?

Clipper 2.0 update from Citizens Advisory Preso – BART board gets preso April 24

Last week, Rita Haskin of SamTrans/Caltrain gave a presentation about the MTC process for Clipper 2.0 requirements gathering.

Some good news with regard to ideas for increased fare integration. The MTC committees are considering station (distance?) based fares and a ride accumulator model, where instead of a monthly pass, you ride until you reach a fare limit.

With regard to fare integration ideas such as a regional day pass, Haskin’s perspective is that it would cost too much to have a fare that covered the maximum possible usage. Asked whether it would be possible to do statistical analysis to set fares that would cover more likely cases on average, Haskin commented that “we are mass transit agencies” – cross-regional travel is rare enough that it is probably not worth it to create fares that encourage cross-regional travel. Besides, cross-regional service is so poor that integrated fares would help only minimally to encourage use.

Haskin commented that ideas for fare integration that would increase ridership might not be seen favorably, since some transit services are at capacity. (This perspective does not consider regional growth, climate goals, freeway congestion, or planned transit improvements between now and 2019 when the system will go live.)

The process is converging fairly rapidly with input from the transit agencies and their formal advisory committees. The Mission and Vision have already been set, and the agency task forces are now working on goals and objectives. There is only 1-2 months left to have an impact on the goals and objectives of the project. The Clipper 2.0 project does not yet yet have any processes to take input from stakeholders other than transit groups, and would need board guidance to do so.

The next board review step is at the BART board on Thursday April 24 – if you want to see more rider input, sent a quick note to the BART board to give this guidance today.

If you want to see deeper regional integration with Clipper, sign this petition.

  • Subscribe to our RSS

    Total Posts 284
    Total Comments 731.

  • Interactive Caltrain schedule

  • Calendar of events

    • August 6, 2014

      SamTrans Board meeting

      Starts: 2:00 pm

      Location: 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos, CA

    • August 7, 2014

      Caltrain JPB meeting

      Starts: 10:00 am

      Location: Location: 2nd Floor Auditorium San Mateo County Transit District 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

    • August 12, 2014

      TJPA CAC Meeting

      Starts: 5:30 pm

      Location: 201 Mission Street, Suite 2100 San Francisco, CA

    • August 14, 2014

      TJPA Board Meeting

      Starts: 9:30 am

      Location: City Hall, Room 416, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102

    • August 20, 2014

      Caltrain CAC meeting

      Starts: 5:30 pm

      Location: Location: 2nd Floor Auditorium San Mateo County Transit District 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

    • September 3, 2014

      SamTrans Board meeting

      Starts: 2:00 pm

      Location: 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos, CA

    • September 4, 2014

      Caltrain JPB meeting

      Starts: 10:00 am

      Location: Location: 2nd Floor Auditorium San Mateo County Transit District 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

    • September 9, 2014

      TJPA CAC Meeting

      Starts: 5:30 pm

      Location: 201 Mission Street, Suite 2100 San Francisco, CA

    • September 11, 2014

      TJPA Board Meeting

      Starts: 9:30 am

      Location: City Hall, Room 416, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102

    • September 17, 2014

      Caltrain CAC meeting

      Starts: 5:30 pm

      Location: Location: 2nd Floor Auditorium San Mateo County Transit District 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos