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Caltrain ridership skyrockets

Original post made on May 3, 2013

After years of seeking emergency funding to keep from drastically slashing services, Caltrain is on track to balance its budget in fiscal year 2014 after high ridership numbers this year, rail officials announced on Thursday.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 3, 2013, 10:22 AM

Comments (45)

Posted by Shut-It-Down, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 10:32 am

47,000 daily riders = 23,500 unique people (riders).

There are easily 3,000,000 people in the Caltrain service area. 23,500 (maybe) is not very many customers--given the roughly $1B in capital costs that have been effectively squandered on this government run "train wreck".

Best to shut it down, and replace it with busses. This system is not cost effective, and will only create more debt in the future.


Posted by resident, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 3, 2013 at 10:49 am

Have you ever taken a public bus from San Francisco to Palo Alto? That is way too slow to be practical, unless you are talking about creating bus-only lanes on El Camino Real. Those Google buses are only practical because they stay on the freeway the whole time with no stops between SF and Google, but smaller companies can't afford that.

The amount of money they are talking about here is pretty small compared to the benefits. The real boondoggle is freeways like 101 and 280 which soak up billions of your tax dollars.


Posted by Shut-It-Down, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 11:27 am

> Those Google buses are only practical because they stay on
> the freeway the whole time with no stops between SF and Google, '

There is no reason that the public transit system could not run express buses from SF to SJ. Clearly it works for Google.

> but smaller companies can't afford that.

Perhaps not, but if there were express public transit buses, why wouldn't the employees of smaller companies be able to use this form of transit?

The trains are stuck to the tracks. The buses can deliver people to specific locations, such as business parks.

Even if the public ends up subsidizing an express bus system--the total subsidy costs will be a lot less with buses.


Posted by Ari Z, a resident of Southgate
on May 3, 2013 at 11:37 am

9 out of 10 of my Caltrain rides are 1 way, not two way ('cept SFG games, but even some of those.)

I would not take a bus as a substitute (used to w/ Niner gmaes at the stick but stopped.)

Shut it down. If you want to dump more money into buses, and you want thousands more cars on 101. And in line driving up your gas price.


Posted by Ari Z, a resident of Southgate
on May 3, 2013 at 11:39 am

>Even if the public ends up subsidizing an express bus system--the total subsidy costs will be a lot less with buses

Evidence?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 11:58 am

Public transport is getting more and more popular. With the increased populations, particularly of people who are used to using efficient public transit elsewhere, this trend is likely to continue.

Caltrain won't suit everyone, but a new way of looking at public transit is necessary. The Google and Facebook buses are efficient and fast, but not all small companies can do this. We really need to look at similar sorts of buses running up and down 101 and 280 as well as other highways, which stop at 5 mile intervals off the highway where there are efficient methods of 1st and last mile transits as well as parking. Shuttles to business parks, bike rentals, bike rickshaws, etc. could work to get these commuters to where they are going. Modern luxury buses where people can work that can zip along freeways have never been explored apart from big employers. Getting them to work for smaller companies can and should be done.


Posted by Craig Rockhold, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Thinking out of the box here --- what if we paved the CalTrain right of way and made it a bus only thoroughfare? You could even overhead electrify it (like up in SF, the electric busses that they use) if you wanted to...allowing "express" buses to pass the other buses stopped at stations (can't do that with a single direction rail line). Still use the existing train stations as well.

Think of the flexibility you could have. Plus the frequency of buses would far exceed CalTrain...only 1 train per hour on off-peak commute times and weekends.

This would probably be far less expensive to implement than to do HSR on the Peninsula. I would guess it would be far less expensive than electrifying CalTrain. And certainly less costly than converting the line to Light Rail.

I recognize that there still are some freight trains that use the tracks - so pave the right of way and leave the tracks in place. No doubt that there can be an easy way to manage the use of the tracks for the occasional freight train.

I would also suggest that the number accidents at rail crossings (and the unfortunate suicide attempts) would drop way, way down.

Am I crazy?


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I'll take it a step further - imagine a new hybrid bus. Where it can run up and down the line --- and then can separate from the line to go directly to an event or destination. For example, think about the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara...run the busses up and down the line and then separate and drive offline to the stadium. No transfers, direct destinations. Which is what many people see as a barrier to public transportation usage --- eliminate the hurdle and the hassle.


Posted by best of both worlds, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Best of both worlds - keep Caltrain and create express bus lanes on El Camino Real.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm

@Ari Z - Even rail advocates don't dispute that buses (busways) cost less to build, cost less to operate, and can carry more people than rail. The argument for rail is that people don't like buses, and willend up driving instead.

GAO report is a pretty good starting point:
Web Link


Posted by best of both worlds, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 3, 2013 at 12:47 pm

The argument is that buses are too slow to be practical for longer rush hour routes, unless you have dedicated bus lanes on the roads.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on May 3, 2013 at 12:53 pm

@Mr.Recycle

Are you seriously making the claim that buses have a higher capacity than rail? That report you linked to states several times that rail can carry more people, and the whole premise of this article is that Caltrain is already over capacity.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm

The problem with buses is that they are too slow to be practical, even with dedicated bus lanes on ECR they will still be subject to traffic lights and bus stops. A better idea would be to have them on the highways stopping every 5 miles or so at dedicated transit/parking areas which would afford the first/last mile with parking as well as bike rentals, bike rickshaws, shuttles, people pod movers (MountainView Google are already exploring this). We need new innovative ideas as well as keeping Caltrain.

One Caltrain carries far more people than a fleet of buses. Trying to use buses to take over from Caltrain won't work from a practical point of view. Buses on highways will move at a better speed to make transit practical for commutes of over 20 miles.


Posted by anon, a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm

You guys are taking shut-it-down's comment too seriously. Sometimes the first comment is the most irrelevant one.


Posted by Matt L, a resident of Downtown North
on May 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Caltrain should be talking about dedicated funding sources ala BART, Muni, VTA, SamTrans, etc. The fiscal emergencies will recur until Caltrain doesn't have to go hat in hand every year to SamTrans, VTA, and SFMTA annually for their money.

I live in walking distance of the University Ave, and work in walking distance of 4th and King. Caltrain has been great. It saves time, saves money, and I get good free time to read. I'm thankful that the area has Caltrain, and we should be further investing in it. Electrification and positive train control are great, let's press for level boarding and higher top speeds.

With fewer teenagers getting licenses each year, Caltrain should continue to increase in demand. Let's meet the needs.


Posted by Janet L, a resident of Mountain View
on May 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Caltrain is experiencing tremendous ridership growth because it's convenient and efficient way to get up and down the Peninsula, especially when combined with bikes to solve the "last mile" problem of getting to and from the stations. Caltrain takes people between San Jose and San Francisco in an hour, something you can only do on 101 or 280 only in the best conditions, certainly not during rush hour.

I'm taking a wild guess here that everyone wanting to replace it with bus service or otherwise shut it down doesn't ride it much. I'm also guessing that those same people drive everywhere, contributing to bad air, noise and congested streets. Caltrain works, fund it for increased success.


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on May 3, 2013 at 2:13 pm

"During the peak-hour commute, some trains are operating at 130 percent of capacity."

How is that "not very many customers"? They literally can't fit enough people in those trains. I ride them daily, and even with the crowd it's still a great way to commute. Shut it down? Really!? I don't get all the negativity towards the tracks coming from Palo Alto. Our town has a history of being a rail town. Drive along Ramona and see the mural of a train at the Mayfield station for some perspective. They aren't going to rip the track out or replace trains with buses because some of you are worried about your property values. Get over yourselves!


Posted by Ari Z, a resident of Southgate
on May 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Mr Recycle

Building a bus system to REPLACE an EXISTING train system is prohibitive, according to your so-called evidence.

"The Bus Rapid Transit systems generally had lower capital costs per milethan the Light Rail systems in the cities we reviewed, although neithersystem had a clear advantage in operating costs. Adjusting to 2000 dollars,the capital costs for the various types of Bus Rapid Transit systems in citiesthat we reviewed ranged from a low of $200,000 per mile for an arterialstreet-based system to $55 million per mile for a dedicated busway system(see table 1). Light Rail systems had capital costs that ranged from $12.4 million to $118.8 million per mile. "


Posted by Heavy D, a resident of another community
on May 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Just to interject - Doesn't Union Pacific own freight and Intercity rights to those tracks, thus rendering any change to the right of way moot?

Wouldn't it make more sense to electrify and grade separate the right of way, therefore providing a safer, more efficient system?


Posted by Matt L, a resident of Downtown North
on May 3, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Heavy D:

Yes. Caltrain is scheduled for electrification by 2019, and grade separation requires involvement and funding from communities with people who would rather see Caltrain shut down than improved.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I am not suggesting buses to take over from Caltrain, never would.

I am using the increase in ridership to show that public transportation works and should be increased with buses on highways.


Posted by Heavy D, a resident of another community
on May 3, 2013 at 4:13 pm

@Matt L - Does the ownership of the right of way preclude eliminating rail service along the corridor regardless of Caltrain operation? ie. If Caltrain closes will others still have access to the right of way?

I'm merely asking, not suggesting I agree with the idea. It just seems a pointless argument to end Caltrain service if the corridor will continue to be used.

I am in fact as satisfied Caltrain rider trying to understand the reasoning of the residents of Palo Alto. And of the full expectation at least someone will yell at me for asking!


Posted by Matt L, a resident of Downtown North
on May 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm

@Heavy D: From Web Link

"""Regardless of actual demand, the peninsula freight operator, Southern Pacific (and its successor, Union Pacific) retained trackage rights from Caltrain when the latter acquired the tracks, giving UP the right to operate a certain quota of freight trains on the peninsula. Such agreements are administered by the Surface Transportation Board, and would likely be difficult to terminate not only because of the bureaucratic process, but because UP (no supporter of the HSR project) might attempt to use their rights as a bargaining chip against the high speed rail authority."""

In my opinion, arguing for the elimination of Caltrain is short sighted. People should be arguing for better Caltrain: grade separated (so horns aren't blown at intersections, lower collision and fatality rates), electrified as planned (lower costs, greener, and quieter), and a few other major, useful improvements.

Eliminating Caltrain comes with high other costs - adding lanes to highways, adding lanes from population centers to highways, higher pollution, higher car traffic. The peninsula downtowns were built for trains.

Plus, HSR is coming down that right of way.


Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park
on May 3, 2013 at 5:26 pm

To those of you who want to replace Caltrain with buses:
Do any of you ever ride Caltrain?
Are you aware that highway coaches typically hold only 40-45 passengers, and will thus require far more crews to carry the same number of passengers that Caltrain now carries?
Are you aware of the massive federal subsidies (=every taxpayer in the US!) that go to build and maintain the highways those buses would run on?

To those of you who want to shut down Caltrain:
Do any of you ever ride Caltrain?
Do any of you care about "promoting the common welfare", as stated in our Constitution?
Are you aware of the massive traffic jams that would inevitably occur if Caltrain were shut down?

I was a regular rider on Caltrain for many years, and chose to live on the Peninsula because of the commute trains.


Posted by CaltrainRider, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 3, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Given that the caltrain CEO's salary is over $400,000, it is not surprising that they are always in the red.


Posted by Shut-It-Down, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2013 at 10:18 am

> Given that the caltrain CEO's salary is over $400,000,
> it is not surprising that they are always in the red

Although Scanlon's salary is obscenely high for his achievements, his salary is not the problem. The problem is that the ridership is woefully too small to pay the bills via farebox recovery, and those who do use Caltrain do not want to pay the true cost of what takes to build/maintain/operate the service.

Since those in charge (effectively the elected officials of San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties) believe that "trains are good"—they have managed to allow Caltrain ticket prices to be set at too low a price, augmenting the operating deficits from local sales tax revenue. Every time each one of us buys something that is taxable, a portion of that tax ends up in the pockets of Caltrain riders. Other revenue sources come from the State, tyically. It would not be too difficult to imagine that most Caltrain riders would claim that "Caltrain should be free", if give an opportunity to express their opinions on the matter.

The capital costs for this white elephant have been buried in various State and Federal grants, and other hard-to-trace bond issues. So, again, people who don't use the service are forced to pay the difference between the manipulated ticket prices, and the real costs to run the railroad.

People claiming that Caltrain needs a "permanent funding source" are looking to force more of the costs of running this tragedy onto the backs of taxpayers all over the state—while all the while claiming they should not be expected to pay for the services they use, themselves.

Oh, and the addition of maybe 4,000 additional riders out of a service area of 3M can hardly be considered a "skyrocket increase" in ridership. For the past several years, Caltrain has been documenting ridership (measured for one week only) at/about 40,000 "riders".

And for those claiming that new lanes would have to be added on the highways—while that might be true, the number-of-travelers-accommodated/dollar-of-highway-investment vastly exceeds anything that "investment" in Caltrain will ever be able to demonstrate in terms of travelers-accommodated. It's difficult to believe that our highway system could not accommodate the current Caltrain riders without a need for vast investment in new highways. A goodly percentage of Caltrain riders are "short hop" riders—meaning that their journeys are less than twenty miles. It's very difficult to believe that these folks could not use existing public transportation at a much lower cost to the public than the current cost of operating Caltrain for "short hops".


Posted by buses stink, a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Where is the proof that adding more buses saves money? The study above refutes it.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2013 at 1:41 pm

@Robert - try reading it again. It just says 1 train carries more than 1 bus. Obviously. But you can have dozens or hundreds of busses for the cost of running rail. If you turned Caltrain into dedicated bus lanes, you could have buses running every 5 minutes carrying, in total 10 or 20 times as many people. It would be cheaper, more convenient, and more flexible.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I can't understand the logic of saying that buses would be cheaper and more efficient than trains, although I can perhaps see that they may be more flexible since they don't stay on rails.

Each bus would need a driver. Each bus would need to be serviced and mechanically checked on a regular basis. Each bus would require many more people employed per passenger than a train. On top of that, each bus requires fuel. How much more fuel for a fleet of buses than one train and how many more people would a fleet of buses need to employ than one train? Fuel and employee costs (wages, insurance, liability, pension, health care costs, etc. etc.).

I can see an argument for luxury, high speed buses on highways. I cannot see any just argument for using buses instead of Caltrain.

And as an aside, bus has one s. Buses has 2. Buss, busses, and bussing are all to do with clearing tables at restaurants and nothing to do with vehicles for carrying multiple passengers.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm

2 things that are important to me and others who ride mass transit. Travel time and the ease of transfer.

It would make sense to build along Caltrain offices, medical centers, malls, stadiums, colleges, high schools, large residential areas, and most attractions. But seeing we built everything for cars and freeway access. It will cost loads of money to even have Foothill College on a transit line.

Think tram line down Foothill Expressway which will also run to De Anza College.


Posted by Matt, a resident of Atherton
on May 4, 2013 at 5:23 pm

"If you turned Caltrain into dedicated bus lanes"

Do you read other posts? Caltrain does not own the right of way.

I don't want a bus that takes an hour to get into the city. If I had my druthers, connect BART and ring the bay.


Posted by Annie, a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2013 at 7:07 pm

FANTASTIC,

what can I say. Its wonderful, its green, its social, its safe, its fast.


Posted by Larry Cohn, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 5, 2013 at 5:07 am

CalTrain does indeed own the right-of-way (through the Joint Powers Board) but it is obligated to allow Union Pacific (the successor to Southern Pacific) to run freight trains on the tracks. So the tracks aren't going to be paved over and turned into a busway. I don't see the advantage of doing that anyway.

Buses are not the panacea people think they are. You could add bus-only lanes to Bayshore, El Camino or 280 but unless you widen those roads (at great expense) you'll be taking lanes away from automobiles and adding to the existing congestion.

<< Each bus would require many more people employed per passenger than a train. >> Absolutely right. Then people would be whining about the bus service being more expensive to operate than CalTrain was.

A lot of people don't appreciate the advantage of rail's exclusive use of the right-of-way, i.e. not having to share the road with other vehicles. I can't remember the last time a train got stuck in a traffic jam.

Garrett: it may shock you to learn that entire communities have already been built around the CalTrain tracks including Palo Alto itself. Go check out Palo Alto high school, Stanford university and its stadium and P.A. medical foundation. You're about 150 years late with your suggestion.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 5, 2013 at 6:54 am

@ Larry Cohn.

I know about the communities being build around the San Francisco San Jose Railroad, that how planned in the day went. Talking about the last 50 to 60 years. Stanford Medical Center and Mall were built to face the Willow Expressway, never was built but the traffic still came. Sand Hill Road (Willow Road) can't even support the traffic, and yet 101 is still use as primary freeway.

I have told people on how to get Stanford Mall via Caltrain or 280, amazing how many people will drive.

We have planned and built around cars, thinking that little tweaks here and there would help. Add more car length, time the lights, double turn lanes. We can't widen lanes nor can take lanes away.

In the sense of old train centered planned which would work like this.
Stanford Medical Center and Mall would be built facing Cal Train. Both projects would be denser, taller with El Camino running under or behind.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 5, 2013 at 6:59 am

It is true that Caltrain passengers do not pay the full cost of the train and that taxpayers are asked to subsidize the rest, but that is no different than other forms of transportation. In Mr Roadshow's column today he says "California faces a staggering $293.8 billion shortfall over the next decade to maintain its crumbling roads, outdated freeways and cash-strapped transit agencies." Clearly, car drivers are not paying the true cost of their roads and are being subsidized. Even if we don't directly use freeways, expressways, local roads, airports or shipping ports we support them with our taxes. Our leaders have decided they are a general good for society that we should all support. We benefit from them all, including Caltrain, indirectly even if we don't use them directly.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2013 at 7:44 am

Public transit is infrastructure and of course our taxes should go towards it.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 5, 2013 at 8:37 am

But you got who don't use it, they don't want to pay taxes on something that they don't use.


Posted by Remy, a resident of Community Center
on May 5, 2013 at 9:17 am

I love riding the train for various reasons, but it is just not practical. Due to all the stops, and the time necessary to load and unload passengers, I would have to get to the train station by 5:00 am to get to work by 8:00. That adds too much dead time to the commute, as well as cutting into sleep, work, and family time. No can do!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2013 at 9:22 am

Garrett, of course we all pay taxes for many things we don't use, but we might at some stage.

I have only once had cause to call 911 for police, I have never used the fire department, but I expect them to be there. At present it seems you are able to drive to where you are going, but you pay taxes to support the roads on which you drive and it isn't just gas that pays for our roads and streets. Your taxes pay for street lights, traffic lights, etc. which are used by pedestrians and bikes as well as cars. Perhaps one day you will be forced to not drive due to age or infirmity. Perhaps then you will be pleased to find a means of public transportation that will enable you to remain independent. My mother in another community gave up driving several years ago, she walks, uses public transportation and the occasional taxi to get about. She happily (?) pays her taxes to support pubic transportation as well as fares. If public transportation was not as affordable as it is for her, she would probably have remained driving long beyond when it was safe for her to do so. That would not have benefited anyone in her community. The fact that she no longer drives is a public benefit of public transportation.

Public transportation is infrastructure.


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on May 6, 2013 at 2:03 pm

@Remy,

If it takes you 3 hours to get to work, I think you might be taking the wrong train. P.A. to any direction should take an hour at most.

Also, when did it become reasonable to demand where your specific tax dollars go? I don't want my tax dollars going to paying for bombs and bullets, but it happens everyday. Am I within my rights to demand that this stop? Of course not! So what makes people think they can choose the destination of their contributions?


Posted by Brian, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Craig Rockhold,

Yes, I think your suggestion is crazy.

Until they can invent electric driverless buses that can safely operate at 125 to 250 mph at closely spaced distances I don't see what you are proposing ever happening.

However I could imagine your idea becoming widely popular in Palo Alto. Seems like Palo Alto has quickly been making a name for itself as one of the most anti-rail communities in the nation.

People here really do think Google has all the answers and will literally "save us from ourselves" through driverless cars. It's about time people around here start looking beyond themselves besides just their own little provincial interests.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

About 2019 electrification. Isn't there a lawsuit that is attempting to block HSR funds from being used for Caltrain electrification? Something about that the bond measure didn't allow for spending on anything unless specifically HSR?


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 6, 2013 at 7:14 pm

I am a supporter of HSR but seriously don't think it will get built, so forget it. Lets upgrade the train and the transportation network. Also build station that have retail, offices and other uses to generate a income for Caltrain.

I am 49 years old, we have been talking about so sort of upgrade to this system, guess I will see it when am old and infirm.


Posted by Jame, a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I find Caltrain to both expensive and not frequent enough. I've investigated taking Caltrain to do a car free commute, and only a few trains stop at my desired stations. Even at peak times there are only a handful of trains that would get me to work on time. And the same in the evening.

Taking Caltrain in the evening or weekend is terrible as it only runs once an hour best case. You need to plan your schedule around the train not vice versa.

Caltrain isn't as useful as it could be due to schedule and lack of funding.


Posted by Hutch 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2014 at 5:44 pm

No more bus's we need longer trains.

Triple tracking cal-train adding longer and more trains. Eliminating more grade crossings would make it more efficient. Downside to electrification is were gonna have to build more Powerplants.

Funny how none of you complain about VTA's boondoggle light rail to nowhere. How about BART, now that's a serious fiscal hole.

BTW Caltrain celebrates 150 years Jan 18th.


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