Monday, October 04, 2010

First day of express light rail

With little fanfare and limited press coverage (compared to Caltrain's Baby Bullet a few years ago), VTA rolled off its express light rail trips. The new trips go from Santa Teresa to Baypointe and do not stop between Ohlone/Chynoweth and Convention Center stations. The cars used for the express trips have special blue and orange wrap and also have free wifi.


VTA Boardmember Sam Liccardo and general manager Michael Burns were on the platform at Ohlone/Chynoweth waiting for the first train to arrive from Santa Teresa. Other VTA top brass were there as well. There were no speeches nor ribbon cutting. However some riders were treated with free Red Bulls and newspapers. Liccardo boarded the first northbound express train presumably heading to the City Hall.


When a northbound express train arrives, another one deadheads to Santa Teresa.



At other stations, signs are in place to warn others about express trains that won't stop.


VTA is not accepting Clipper... yet.

The express light rail is an experiment whether operational changes can bring in additional riders, similar to how the Baby Bullet has transformed Caltrain. MTC is conducting a regional study of transit sustainability and recently found that Caltrain has raised ridership and improved cost effectiveness compared to most transit agencies (including VTA) because of the Baby Bullet. Caltrain is now considering providing weekend Baby Bullet service, despite deficit, to draw more riders.

The light rail system however is very different from Caltrain, so the opportunities to speed up service are limited. Let's see whether skipping stops and having onboard wifi will help draw riders.

13 comments:

arcady said...

I think onboard wifi is a great idea that should be put on all light rail trains: it makes up for some of the slowness by making time spent on the train more useful. I've definitely seen lots of people with laptops on the Mountain View branch. As for the express service itself, we'll just have to wait and see. The Los Angeles MTA tried it on the Gold Line, but ultimately abandoned it. I don't think it had a huge impact on ridership, at least not nearly as much of one as a 5 minute speedup of the schedules on the whole line (done by adjusting cab signal codes). The increased ridership made increased service necessary, and with 8 trains per hour, they just couldn't fit express service. On the other hand, NJ Transit started express service on the Hudson Bergen Light Rail, and that is still running, with half-hourly express service, and that system has more service than LA's Gold Line, at least on part of the line. And while it's true that VTA's express service only saves a few minutes, trips are much shorter than Caltrain, and sometimes it's as much about the perception of speed as it is about speed itself, as in the case of the Gold Line in LA.

Peter said...

I think VTA should push to implement Phase I of their Light Rail improvement as early as possible. Otherwise the Light Rail system will continue to be a waste.

An even more effective thing would be to implement TOD around light rail stations. The park-and-ride system has failed for light rail. Time to remake the corridor, especially along 87. Zoning the areas surrounding 87 for Light and Heavy Industrial is NOT working. San Jose should push to redevelop the station sites.

amandainsjc said...

The VTA needs to expand express service; skipping more than the gap between Ohlone and Downtown is needed. I've always thought that a big chunk of slowdown occurs because of all the stops on North First and Tasman. I'd also be happy with increased service on the Winchester-MV line if they junked the worthless Almaden extension.

*sigh* I suppose in an ideal universe all of the lines north of downtown would be elevated.

Steve Ly said...

You wrote "The new trips go from Santa Teresa to Baypointe and do not stop between Santa Teresa and Baypointe stations."

I think you meant "The new trips go from Santa Teresa to Baypointe and do not stop between Ohlone/Chynoweth and Convention Center stations."

accountablevta said...

Thanks for the tip.

arcady said...

The Almaden shuttle is more worthwhile than you might think: I think those two stations get more ridership than any station on the Mountain View branch other than Mountain View itself, or something to that effect. And as I've said before, it's always easy to talk about taking away someone else's transit service. Anyway, I think the more important thing for the Mountain View branch is getting rid of the pointless mandatory stops at Whisman, Middlefield, NASA/Bayshore, and Moffett Park. It'll shave two minutes off off-peak schedules and, more importantly, give at least a slightly better impression of speed, when the train no longer stops in the middle of nowhere for 30 seconds just to avoid delaying nonexistent cars. And hey, it worked for the Gold Line: when it first opened, at many stations, there was a very severe cab signal enforced speed restriction partway along the platform, so the train would come into the station at a normal speed, then brake abruptly, and spend a very frustrating 15 seconds crawling along at 10 mph for the last 150 feet to the stopping point. Then, they reworked the cab signals to raise the restriction to 25, and that together with a few other cab signal changes made the whole line 5 minutes faster end to end. That coincided with the point at which the ridership, which had been mostly stagnant since the line's opening, finally started growing.

amandainsjc said...

The only feature of interest on the Almaden line seems to be a rather (IIRC) upscale apartment/condo complex. I'm sure most if not all of them own cars and can easily drive the short distance to Ohlone.
Do lots of people really take the light rail to the freaking mall?

Peter said...

I had an idea yesterday about how to speed up the downtown section. The main problem is the fact that pedestrians are freely walking across the tracks everywhere. How about if we put up some type of unobtrusive barrier, such as a simple metal bar, that limits where pedestrians are allowed to cross. Limiting the number of pedestrians would be a good way to speed up Light Rail through there.

arcady said...

Amanda, actually lots of people do take light rail to the mall. Well, not in the sense that a large fraction of the mall's visitors are coming by light rail, but at least in the sense that a noticeable fraction of the light rail ridership is going to the mall. I think in the latest ridership study, Oakridge got more ridership than Almaden, which would confirm that hypothesis, and anecdotally, what I see when I ride the Santa Teresa line (which I do about 1 or 2 times a week) seems to confirm this.

arcady said...

I took the express a few days ago, and it seems to be reasonably well used though not really full, especially by rush hour standards (it was around 5:30). Over half of the ridership seemed to be going to Ohlone/Chynoweth. The speed was impressively good, and if nothing else, it's good to see trains fly by the traffic jams on 87. The 45 mph speed limit through stations is a bit annoying though, as otherwise trains would not slow down at all along the express segment.

Peter said...

Maybe they'll raise the speed limit through the stations after people have "gotten used" to trains going through at "high" speeds. I mean, hell, Caltrain goes through stations on platform tracks at 79 mph, and Acela does the same at 150 mph. 55 mph should not be a problem.

arcady said...

One other question brought up by the express light rail: what's the minimum headway on the North 1st and Santa Teresa segments? I imagine for North 1st, it's limited by the traffic light at Montague, and on Santa Teresa by the signal system. The couple of times I've taken the express train, I got off at Snell, and the train had a yellow signal as it was leaving, which implies a realistic minimum of around 5 minutes.

Peter said...

Apparently, VTA is limited from raising the speed in the Downtown Pedestrian Mall by San Jose Municipal Code section 11.88.010, which limits the speed that any train can cross an "unprotected" intersection to 12 mph.

If that speed were raised, VTA could run at 20 mph in the Mall, as permitted by CPUC GO 143-B, table 1. A lower speed may be required for malls with paving flush with tracks.