The poor economy is hitting transit agencies in two different ways:
1. Declining tax revenue forces agencies to cut back service
2. Less service, higher fares and high unemployment kept riders away
Just a year ago most transit agencies saw record ridership as the gasoline prices continued to soar. This year, financial and economic pressures resulted in ridership decline. In June 2008, Caltrain had a ridership increase of more than 16% compared to 2007. This year, Caltrain lost 11.7% riders compared to 2008. Overall, Caltrain still gained ridership from 2007.
Earlier this month, BART imposed a $4 surcharge on all riders entering and and exiting the SFO station, including airport employees. While the surcharge still make BART competitive to driving and parking at the airport or taking a taxi or airport shuttle, that $4 surcharge is a significant financial hit to employees at the airport, especially those who do not work for the airlines.
The SFO did one right thing in response: operate a free shuttle between the airport and Millbrae station. Although the shuttle may look silly and adds travel time for those transferring to and from BART, it helps to cut down fares as much as in half. For those who transfer to and from Caltrain, the shuttle avoids an even sillier transfer at the San Bruno station between two BART trains, which isn't worth the $4 fare, or even the old $1.50 fare.
Although the shuttle is intended for employees, there's no restriction for other riders from using this service. As long as BART refuses to waive the surcharge for SFO's employees, you can try this shuttle.
No cell phones for transit operators
Recently, yellow stickers are appearing inside VTA buses over the driver's area. These yellow stickers remind drivers not to talk on cell phones (including hands free) or text while driving. Some agencies apparently have gone much further by prohibiting drivers from possessing a phone while on duty. In Boston, a driver got a suspension by carrying a cell phone (was reported to the management by a journalist who thought the driver was talking on the cell phone but was actually talking on the bus radio). Another driver in Boston got fired by making a stop enroute, leaving his driver seat and talk on a borrowed cell phone.
The tough rules were recently implemented in Boston as an reaction to the light rail crash on the Green Line two months ago, which the operator was texting and rear ended another light rail vehicle. The agency at that time permitted operators to carry those devices as long as they don't use them, and have fired operators for cell phone violations prior to the crash.
While drivers should never use any kind of personal communicating devices while on the driver seat, the agency in Boston was overreacting to score political points. On the other hand at VTA, because it is typical for bus drivers to relieve another enroute at a bus stop, having a cell phone in those situations keep them in contact with the supervisor. Also, it is a bad policy to encourage passengers or others to snitch on drivers who are obviously not putting anyone at risk.