Saturday, July 16, 2011

SamTrans's version of the COA: The SSP

To address a mounting structural deficit, SamTrans is conducting a comprehensive operational analysis hoping to boost productivity and reduce costs. SamTrans calls the process the "SamTrans Service Plan." The agency is planning public meetings throughout the county in the next few months and plans to wrap up the process next year.

SamTrans's process is particularly overdue because its financial problem has threatened Caltrain service earlier this year. This process is being conduct in parallel to MTC's Transit Sustainability Project, which is a region-wide effort to address the transit funding shortfall.

Unlike most transit agencies in the Bay Area, the transit corridor in San Mateo County centers around Mission Street/El Camino Real, which is also served by BART and Caltrain nearby. The county also has areas of low income, high transit demand communities like East Palo Alto as well as extremely wealthy, low transit demand cities like Hillsborough and Atherton. San Mateo County also have strong intercounty commute particularly to and from San Francisco.

Besides the large number of cities, the county also has many city and employer sponsored shuttles, with some of the service created to fill the gaps left by SamTrans (e.g. Foster City). One of the reasons SamTrans was established was to unify the transit operations that were operated by the cities. Because of service reductions by SamTrans, many cities used their own funding to operate shuttles. While shuttles are valuable to cover the service gap, the transit system is no longer unified.

A problem SamTrans has is poor schedule planning, which resulted in duplicative service. This is especially apparent between routes 390 and KX between San Mateo and Palo Alto. There are many weekday and weekend trips that these two lines depart and arrive at the same time. When that happens, there's wasted capacity and that riders who can't make the schedule have to wait 30 minutes or more for the next bus. If the trips are staggered (like VTA lines 22 and 23), then the effective frequency would be every 15 minutes, a big difference especially for riders trying to connect with VTA in Palo Alto.

Let's see whether this effort will help SamTrans address those planning issues, which if done correctly it could have an immediate improvement in service and increase in ridership.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Light rail is now offering wifi on all trains

Today VTA is making a claim to be the first transit agency in the world to offer free onboard wifi on all light rail vehicles. VTA is hoping that the new wifi system would attract new riders by making the slower trip on light rail more productive. VTA initially introduced free wifi on special "express" trains last October. Already, many private employer shuttles, Highway 17 Express, and MST buses are offering onboard wifi.

As a part of the wifi promotion, VTA is conducting a contest this weekend and offering a prize of two Giants vs. Dodgers tickets and Caltrain tickets to the game. To enter the contest, just ride the light rail and log in to wifi.

If commuters are pleased that VTA is offering wifi on all light rail vehicles, they would be more pleased if Caltrain offers free wifi as well. While wifi has been one of the most requested service on Caltrain, the agency has not been very responsive to that demand, even though Caltrain would stand to benefit much more than VTA from increased ridership and fare revenues.

Since VTA provides operating subsidy to Caltrain, it wouldn't be a bad idea for VTA to provide technical assistance to Caltrain on installing wifi.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

VTA July 2011 service changes

Next Monday VTA will implement its regular quarterly service changes. Most bus routes and all the light rail lines will have new schedules. The two main lines (Santa Teresa-Alum Rock and Mountain View-Winchester) will have minutes added to each trip time. The express trains will also have a new time in the southbound direction.

Line 102 will also have a round trip added to the schedule. Line 37 will have Saturday service between Winchester and Capitol light rail stations.