Monday, January 24, 2011

The Caltrain summits

A lot of attention is focusing on Caltrain given the budget situation and the possibility that most of the train service could be eliminated.

SVLG held a summit last Friday at Stanford mostly attended by representatives from businesses and governments. This Saturday, "Friends of Caltrain" will host a "grassroots" summit in San Carlos. The goals of both summit are to find solutions to the Caltrain funding problem and to the rally support.

The Caltrain situation is bring together political factions that have been at odds. SVLG, as we know, is behind the BART project and also supports high speed rail. On the other hand, cities like Palo Alto and Burlingame are lending support to preserve Caltrain service as they fight against the High Speed Rail Authority.

Regardless of their true intentions, it is clear that cities and businesses will hurt if Caltrain service were to be eliminated or curtailed significantly. The high tech businesses in the valley rely on Caltrain to bring employees that prefer to live in San Francisco. The cities up and down the Peninsula take advantage of Caltrain to promote downtowns and transit oriented developments. Employers like Stanford University depend on Caltrain to reduce traffic and cut down the parking spaces that otherwise would be required.

Some people, perhaps blinded by their pure hatred against high speed rail, think that Caltrain should be eliminated to kill any chance for high speed rail. At the same time, some high speed rail supporters suggest that high speed rail could be completed sooner if Caltrain were eliminated. But as history shows (Caltrain was closed on weekends from 2002-2004), there's no transit that can truly substitute Caltrain. There's also no room to add lanes on 101 without tearing down homes.

Given Caltrain's performance and potential, Caltrain needs and deserves a strong regional coalition in order to survive the financial crisis. If done right, Caltrain could be a catalyst for a more integrated and efficient regional transit system. If groups on both sides of the high speed rail issue can work together to save Caltrain, it is possible that they could agree on a high speed rail scenario that is integrated, achievable, and does not create unnecessary fear.

Location: SamTrans Auditorium,
1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos (near Caltrain)
Date: Saturday, January 29, 2011 Time: 8:30 am to 2:30 pm.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Clipper, Caltrain, and VTA

At yesterday's Caltrain JPB meeting, staff announced that Caltrain will stop selling paper 8 ride tickets at the end of this month and paper monthly passes at the end of February. Caltrain delayed the mandatory transition for monthly passes because VTA has yet to accept Clipper but is expected to do sometime next month.

For VTA, only monthly passes and e-cash for one way fares will be offered on Clipper. Day passes and annual passes will not be available for now. The only realistic solution for day passes on Clipper is the implementation of a daily fare cap. Otherwise all other alternatives are inconvenient (either putting cash at the farebox to activate day pass on Clipper, which is a process already implemented on LA's bus system, or use Clipper e-cash to buy a paper day pass).

The current transfer policies with Santa Cruz Metro and MST, which are outside MTC's jurisdiction, present a problem with the mandatory Clipper transition for Caltrain and VTA. On Highway 17 Express, the cost of a day pass is $4.00 with a VTA day pass or a Caltrain monthly pass. Also, riders with a VTA express monthly pass or a Caltrain monthly pass with 3 zones or more can ride MST free. Highway 17 Express and the MST 55 line are partially funded by VTA.

Currently the other agencies cannot read Clipper cards for valid passes and honor the transfer discounts. Until something's changed, a transition to Clipper only tickets would mean a de facto fare increase (and a substantial one) for people who rely on these inter-agency transfers.

Is it feasible to stop the mandatory transition? At this point MTC does not have a plan to transition all bus agencies to Clipper within its jurisdiction. There's no Clipper version of BART Plus ticket (which can be used as a bus pass with a number of local transit agencies, except AC Transit) available, even through BART and Muni fully accept Clipper. On one hand, it is possible that sales of paper passes be continued on a limited basis for those who intend to transfer to H17 or MST. On the other hand, people who bought passes on Clipper but suddenly want to ride H17 or MST would find themselves having to pay more.

Besides H17 and MST, VTA also has transfer policies with AC Transit and SamTrans. Under the existing policies, VTA and AC Transit honor each others monthly passes at shared transfer points (including DB bus for local credit). Between SamTrans and VTA, either passes (also include VTA's day pass) are valid anywhere in Menlo Park and Palo Alto. With Clipper, transfers to VTA will be free within 2 hours after boarding another agency's bus with Clipper (no e-cash deducted).