Caltrain opens GoPass donation program for nonprofits with 700 passes from Intuit

Qualifying nonprofits, such as affordable housing providers, transportation management associations, and community based organizations, can now apply for free Caltrain passes, making use of 700 donated passes from Intuit, and Clipper cards provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.  Donations are tax-deductible, and donor employers will receive public recognition from Caltrain. (The image below is an affordable housing development near a Caltrain station in San Mateo)

The program will start with a pilot phase this summer, with passes good through the 2021 calendar year.  The pilot evaluation will consider success at attracting riders to Caltrain, and learning how participants use Caltrain; and will gather feedback on how to administer the program for nonprofits, GoPass participants, and Caltrain. Based on the experience of the pilot, Caltrain plans a full launch in January 2022 with a broader set of nonprofits, distributing passes good for the 2022 calendar year.

GoPass is Caltrain’s bulk discount program, where employers purchase deep-discount passes for an entire work site. Caltrain is inviting GoPass employers to participate by donating unused passes, and nonprofits to apply, by emailing b2b@caltrain.com.

The program is a helpful step toward making Caltrain available to a greater diversity of people across the income spectrum.  Like the pioneering program where the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association paid for and subsidized Caltrain passes in downtown Palo Alto, and showed enough demand for the city to defer building a parking garage, this program has the potential to show demand among other groups previously priced out from using Caltrain.

The innovative Caltrain program also opens questions and ideas about improving affordable access to public transportation.

  • Why should there be a special program for a particular transit agency? Shouldn’t it be possible to provide free or more affordable travel on any color of transit vehicle?
  • Why should affordable access to transit depend on the generosity of individual corporate donors?  Corporate philanthropy is obviously welcome, but are there ways to provide broader funding to provide affordable access to transit?

Broader strategies to provide affordable access to transit across the region may be forthcoming from the regional fare coordination and integration study this summer.  Stay tuned for opportunities to consider and support more systematic changes.