Integrated fares could help restore Caltrain ridership

Caltrain’s ridership was running around 15% of pre-Covid as of August, the latest reported, while BART’s weekday ridership has been running around 25%, as many white collar jobs remain full-time remote due to the Delta variant spike.

As the pandemic eases and people adapt to new travel patterns, a new MTC study shows that fare integration can be a powerful strategy to restore transit ridership by attracting new trips and riders.  

The study found that making transfers free for riders could reduce driving as much as Caltrain electrification. And the study found that standardizing regional fares (BART, Caltrain, ferry, express bus) could add as many riders as a pre-Covid Caltrain. And it found that fare integration is a more cost-effective strategy for increasing transit ridership than almost all other project in the region’s long range plans.

In order to achieve those ridership benefits, standardizing regional fares will require some sort of regional agreement, ranging from a direct agreement between BART and Caltrain, to a broader regional agreement to manage fares across more services including buses and ferries.

At its board meeting in October, some Caltrain board members expressed support integrated fares, with caution about protecting agency finances.

The Caltrain board will discuss how to participate in discussions about regional fare integration and other regional rail and transit governance topics on Friday, October 22.