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Caltrain is on track to a sustainable transit future

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    Published Wednesday, September 10, 2008, by the Palo Alto Weekly Comment Caltrain is on track to a sustainable transit future By Yoriko Kishimoto There is a
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 12, 2008
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      Published Wednesday, September 10, 2008, by the Palo Alto Weekly


      Caltrain is on track to a sustainable transit future

      By Yoriko Kishimoto

      There is a referendum on Santa Clara county's vision for transit
      and how we can achieve it this fall, with Measure B which is an
      additional 1/8 cent sales tax to finance a BART extension into
      San Jose and Santa Clara.

      I vote "no" to this new tax. There is an alternative.

      The story of Caltrain -- its past and its future -- is a model of how
      transit can be built up in a adaptable, flexible way. Although it may
      look like an old-fashioned train system to some, it has morphed into
      a competitive and attractive service to today's green and demanding
      knowledge-based workforce.

      Some 25 percent of SRI employees and 17 to 20 percent of Stanford
      campus employees take Caltrain to get to work and Google and Apple
      are among the many technology employers that regularly dispatch
      buses to shuttle workers from Caltrain "Baby Bullet" stations to
      the office. (My husband is one of those employees.)

      Caltrain anchors most of the walkable downtowns up and down the
      Peninsula and leaves enough funding on the table for a diverse bus,
      shuttle and bicycle network. A ride from Palo Alto to San Francisco
      can be as short a half hour, or an hour from San Jose to San

      Caltrain continues to explode in ridership growth, with standing
      room only on some trains during rush hour -- not quite as crowded
      as Tokyo but impressive.

      The average Caltrain weekday ridership jumped 18 percent this summer,
      leading to a historic high of over 46,000 daily riders. This is
      almost a doubling compared to the daily ridership of less than 26,000
      before Baby Bullet service began in 2004. Even more astounding is
      that this increase in ridership has been accomplished with the same
      operating resources.

      Caltrain's Rail Transformation Officer Bob Doty tells the tale of
      how they were forced to innovate to survive the dot.com bust. With
      plummeting employment and ridership, they faced the dilemma: Should
      Caltrain cut service to reduce costs?

      Caltrain was indeed forced to cut local service, but it increased
      its express service -- and ridership and revenues -- with two clear

      One was to reduce trip time for its customers, with the business
      model in mind that ridership would rise as trip time came down.

      The second was to increase earned revenue per employee, which linked
      consideration of not only farebox recovery but optimizing customer
      satisfaction and responsiveness and broadening markets and revenue.
      Caltrain earns its riders' loyalty with comfortable, reliable, safe
      and, most important, time-competitive rides.

      The Baby Bullet service is a clear winner. With $4 to $5 per gallon
      gasoline and enlightened workers interested in reducing their
      greenhouse-gas footprints leading to capacity problems on the trains,
      Caltrain has been developing a vision for its next phase.

      Caltrain's vision for the future is one that would upgrade the
      inefficient diesel locomotive trains into a BART-like modern electric
      cars. Unlike BART, they would run on standard-gauge tracks and be
      integrated into future statewide high-speed rail and freight
      systems. Its vision is "Rapid transit service on a commuter rail

      BART to San Jose/Santa Clara is a vision that sounds attractive.

      But the difficult reality is that it is doomed to fail. It does not
      work as a fast way to get from one part of the Bay Area to another,
      with no express trains and round-about routing.

      It does not work as a cost-effective way to travel within the county.
      It would not be compatible with high-speed rail, meaning there may
      need to be two multi-billion-dollar heavy-rail systems on the East
      Bay. With the same investment, we just might be able to build a
      smart, responsive system that would provide fast inter-city travel
      and also provide for a dense network of buses, shuttles and diamond
      carpool lanes to support our valley's future.

      Too many transit investments have been made based on political
      promises without the evidence-based planning that truly evaluates
      options and weighs informed choices.

      The Valley Transportation Authority's light-rail system is indeed too
      slow and does not work as well as it should. BART's extension to the
      San Francisco International Airport has effectively eliminated our
      Peninsula and South Bay's convenient transit access to that airport
      and led to worse bus service in Santa Mateo County.

      We can't afford another huge mistake, which I and many others believe
      Measure B represents.

      Santa Clara county is the healthiest county in the Bay Area. We don't
      need to become like San Francisco. This is our opportunity to create
      our own family-friendly, green, tech-savvy model for land use and

      Yoriko Kishimoto is a member of the Palo Alto City Council and
      serves on the boards of the Valley Transportation Authority and the
      Bay Area Air Quality Management District. She can be e-mailed at
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