Friday, April 23, 2010

End of the road for that SFO shuttle

After raising the SFO surcharge from $1.50 to $4.00 last year, SFO and BART finally came to an agreement (with lots of horse trading over ad revenue and so forth) to revert the surcharge for airport employees, and that the employee shuttle between Millbrae and SFO would be eliminated.

Rising that surcharge for employees was a terrible idea in the first place. The airport has many blue-collar jobs and most of the current round trip fares on BART exceed their hourly wages.

However, eliminating the shuttle will increase expenses for employees. Even before BART raised the surcharge, the fares at SFO have always been higher than the fare at Millbrae. For the employees who take SamTrans buses on El Camino or Caltrain, that means no more free rides.

Of course those who got impacted the most are travelers taking Caltrain to SFO. Without that shuttle, they would have to pay the $4.00 fare with a confusing transfer in San Bruno. A decade ago, BART promised a free transfer for Caltrain riders because the extension would replace a free shuttle.

Even without the employee shuttle, Caltrain riders can still boycott the ridiculous $4.00 fare just to get between Millbrae and SFO. Here's how:

- From any station between Palo Alto and Hillsdale, just skip Caltrain entirely and take the SamTrans KX. SamTrans only charges $2.00 and KX stops by (on El Camino) many of the Caltrain stations between Palo Alto and Hillsdale. The northbound bus stop at Hillsdale is located a block south on El Camino and 37th Avenue.

- From Hayward Park, San Mateo, Burlingame, and Broadway station, skip Caltrain and take the SamTrans 292. Again it charges $2.00 and the bus picks up by many of the above stations.

- From further south, you can take Caltrain to Burlingame station and transfer to SamTrans 292. The northbound bus stop is located on California Drive and Howard Avenue, a block from the Caltrain station. From the station, just walk south to Howard Avenue and turn west to California Drive.

The timings between Caltrain and 292 work out some of the time. Before Caltrain and SamTrans slashed their services last year, it was possible to take Caltrain and transfer to the KX.

A better solution (and the best boycott against BART and SFO) is to use San Jose Airport. VTA and San Jose Airport still offer a direct, frequent, and free service to connect Caltrain and the light rail to the airport. The only downside is that San Jose Airport doesn't offer as much international flights or direct flights to big cities.

You can thank Quentin Kopp (former state senator and now HSR boardmember) for the mess at SFO. Back in the 90s, he lobbied for the current BART alignment at SFO knowing that it will drive up operating costs and make transfers (BART to Caltrain, and Caltrain to SFO) inconvenient. Last year, he was at it again by trying to prevent HSR from getting to Downtown San Francisco by throwing roadblocks at the Transbay Terminal project. Two weeks ago, when HSRA staff told him that his trojan horse alternative was considered infeasible, he casted the only no vote on the HSR alternative analysis for the Peninsula corridor. He was and still is an enemy to Caltrain riders. The sooner he becomes irrelevant, the better off we are.


Anonymous said...


Let's look at the numbers here. BART carries more riders in San Mateo County (not including SFO) then Caltrain. Compare bout 18,000 BART boardings with about 12,000 for Caltrain (3:2). Even if you increased headways on Caltrain and serve all this latent demand, demand on BART would still exceed Caltrain in San Mateo County. BART comes close to meeting its operational costs in San Mateo County while Caltrain as a whole barely hits about 40% (less if you look at just San Mateo County). which rail transit investment is more critical to the citizens of San Mateo County.

From a regional perspective, which is more important, a few hundred transfers a day to/from Caltrain to SFO or thousands and thousands of trips from SF and the East Bay that need to go directly into SFO? Serving the market from the north is a bigger priority, especially since SJ Airport is more accessible from cities in Santa Clara County.

Still, I agree Kopp needs to retire.

accountablevta said...

A large part of the BART ridership in San Mateo County comes from Colma and Daly City. Those cities also has a large SamTrans ridership too.

Nobody is talking about ending BART service anywhere. The problem is that what is considered an improvement for some people is a huge service deterioration for others. (Before 2003 BART and Caltrain each had a non-stop shuttle connection to SFO. Caltrain's was free and BART's was very low cost)

$4 surcharge may be worth it for those who get to enjoy a direct ride, but is a rip off for those who have to transfer from a less frequent Caltrain and then have to make a very confusing transfer in San Bruno.

Anonymous said...

KX Charges $5 if you are going to the airport and $2 if you are going only on the local route (El Camino Real). It is rather confusing because the driver has no way to determine if one is going to the airport or not. After San Carlos, the bus gets onto 101 and passengers who remain on the bus are the ones that are expected to pay $5 even though many drivers don't check this. 397 which also goes to the airport however charges you only $2. SamTrans buses run all night long. So, it is a convenient way to get home as long as you don't mind the 2-3 hour bus ride on El Camino Real in the night.

Also, if you have a day pass or monthly pass from VTA (no eco-pass sticker) you can ride SamTrans for free in Palo Alto. Get on either KX or 397 using this pass and you don't have to pay anything else. This helps people who live in Santa Clara county to get to the airport for free without having to do Caltrain to Millbrae and then BART + the surcharge!

accountablevta said...

The $5 fare on the KX actually applies between San Francisco and SFO. You only need to pay $2 between SFO and San Mateo. SamTrans always charge local fare even if it is an express route as long as it is within San Mateo County.

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