Caltrain schedule as an equity issue

When people think about improving equitable access to transit, the first thing that jumps to mind is often lowering fares.  But recent data from Caltrain shows another important dimension – the hours when service is provided.

With a new board policy to improve access for low-income community members, Caltrain staff analyzed the potential impacts of service changes.  The analysis found that low and moderate income riders were much more likely to use the service during the mid-day and weekends, and much less likely to use the service during the traditional peak period for commuting to white collar jobs. 

This pattern is also seen in parallel local transit routes that run more frequent service in hours outside the peak period for white collar jobs, and see much higher ridership among lower income people. So, in considering how to adjust Caltrain’s schedule while the Covid pandemic continues, Caltrain is considering running mid-day service every half hour, which is more frequent than the pre-Covid hourly mid-day service.

This goal is to better serve the needs of the essential workers using Caltrain during Covid and to address the equity policies adopted by the board.

Caltrain’s earlier studies showed that its fare policies have equity problems. The 50% discount using the Clipper START pilot program is a good start. But lower-cost fares are less helpful when transit does not run when someone wants to travel.