In line with the equity policies adopted in its business plan, and to address the inequities identified in Caltrain’s fare studies, the Caltrain board voted at its January board meeting to approve changes to the bulk-discount GoPass program to allow the GoPass to be used for contractors and part-time workers. This opens up the program to benefit large numbers of lower-income workers who were previously excluded. For example, large employers frequently staff low-wage food service and janitorial positions with contractors, and these workers were ineligible for the deep-discount transit.
An innovative aspect to this policy change is a two-year pilot program enabling employers to donate unused GoPass stickers to nonprofit organizations that serve low-income people. This program is possible because of the structure of the GoPass, which requires employers to purchase the passes for 100% of their employees at the site, even though typically a minority of employees use Caltrain. The nonprofit donation program could be a major benefit for transportation management associations such as the program in Palo Alto, that have provided free Caltrain passes to low-wage workers after purchasing the passes for full-price.
Caltrain staff tell us that the agency plans to do outreach to employers, TMAs, and social service nonprofits to develop the processes for the donation program.
The new GoPass rules have the potential to help Caltrain recover ridership from the steep drops during Covid. During the pandemic, a much higher share of Caltrain riders have been essential workers. Before Covid, Caltrain had been hesitant to expand the GoPass program because the trains were very crowded – now, there is plenty of space, and the agency has updated policies to improve access for low-income people.