New research conducted for Reimagine SamTrans, the comprehensive service planning for San Mateo County’s bus service, published for an October 12 board workshop, reveals that SamTrans riders often use connections – and a majority of those connections are to other transit services, both bus and rail.
In addition, the results, both from qualitative surveys and focus groups, shows that improved connections to rail service are top priorities for current SamTrans riders. These findings go against years of conventional wisdom that bus and train riders are non-overlapping populations of transit users and unconcerned about connectivity between modes.
Equity implications of connection needs
The findings that SamTrans riders frequently transfer across agencies and desire better service connections with regional rail have significant implications for equity.
At its last board meeting, the SamTrans board expressed support for participating in the Clipper Start means-based fare program at the 50% level to help low-income customers. However, the findings about transfers and connectivity needs show opportunities for fare equity beyond what can be achieved on an agency by agency basis. Fare integration is likely to be a complementary strategy to improve equity for low-income riders and convenience for all riders.
Also, the SamTrans findings reinforce the findings of Caltrain’s recent equity studies. Caltrain’s studies show that low-income riders are much more likely to access Caltrain by other transit. Better transit connections are an important strategy to diversify Caltrain’s customer base and ensure that service is accessible to all riders.
Regional change needed to meet rider needs
To meet the needs of SamTrans customers, better service integration is needed. However, this is not something that SamTrans can do alone. There are initiatives at the regional level, with the Regional Fare Integration Study and the Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force, that have the potential to advance service coordination and integration across agency boundaries. The Reimagine SamTrans findings shows that pursuing strategies for more seamless connections is important to meet the needs of SamTrans customers.