Monday, April 24, 2006

VTA helps to tank Gilroy Caltrain ridership

With all the recent mumbling from Don Gage's office about double tracking the Caltrain line from San Jose to Gilroy, we should realize that Caltrain is only carrying a fraction of riders in the South County than it was six years ago.

Gilroy extension ridership:
2001 - 1,555 riders per day
2002 - 1,143
2003 - 987
2004 - 667
2005 - 636
2006 - 471
(source: Caltrain February 2006 passenger counts. Passenger count provided to VTA showed 364 South County riders)

Why has the Gilroy extension ridership gone down all these years, especially during the last two years when the overall Caltrain ridership increased by over 25% due to the introduction of the Baby Bullet service?

Although the economic decline during and after 2001 is a major factor for the drop in ridership, VTA also took actions that essentially chased passengers away from the trains. In Spring 2003, VTA completed the widening of Highway 101 between South San Jose and Morgan Hill. While the original project called for expanding one lane in each direction, VTA built two lanes instead, thus doubled the width of the freeway.

Later in September 2003 at VTA's support, Caltrain increased the train fares south of the Tamien station as a part of the fare structure modification. Prior to that, Caltrain had a total of nine fare zones, of which the two are located south of Tamien. The fare structure change reduced the number of fare zones north of Tamien and increased the fares traveling between the zones, but kept the same number of fare zones south of Tamien. The modification resulted in a 40% fare increase for trips between San Jose and Gilroy. VTA reportedly requested the fare increase as a way to reduce its Caltrain subsidy. Within a year, Caltrain ridership south of San Jose dropped by 1/3 as passengers chose not to pay high fares and opt for a wider, less congested freeway.

Last year, Caltrain released new operating plans to reduce operating costs and increase fare revenues. In accordance to the plan, Caltrain reduced one roundtrip to and from Gilroy, and scheduled one of the remaining Gilroy round trip to skip most stops in Santa Clara County. This service reduction again eroded ridership by another 25%.

Since the passage of Measure A in 2000, VTA has failed to keep its promise to support Caltrain and transit in the south county. The largely completed double tracking project in South San Jose, which was funded by VTA, will not result in any immediate service improvement or ridership increase.

VTA and Don Gage can plan for more double tracking south of San Jose, but unless comprehensive transportation planning takes place, along with providing sufficient operating funds, realistic transit improvements will not happen. This is something to think about as Don Gage and SVLG lie about their support for Caltrain in their promotions for Measure A this June.

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