Caltrain Go Pass Is a Win-Win-Win

Caltrain Go Pass Is a Win-Win-Win

Would you ride Caltrain if it was free? That’s the lure of Caltrain’s Go Pass, which allows employers to purchase an annual pass for unlimited rides throughout Caltrain’s system for all employees. 

Subsidizing an employee’s commute is a powerful benefit and can actually help companies recruit and retain staff.

The Skoll Foundation has just 36 employees but sees major benefits from its participation in the program. “The foundation has a strong commitment to the environment, and we were looking for ways to encourage our employees to use public transportation,” said Controller Rob Lenahan.  “At the time, we had a few people using the train, but many were driving.”

Lenahan called the Go Pass “wildly successful” with more than half of the foundation’s employees now regular Caltrain riders. “It’s one of the most popular benefits that we have,” said Lenahan. “And it has been a huge boon in helping us recruit employees who live in San Francisco.”

Lenahan also said that at one point the company was considering a move to another location. “We are so convinced that Caltrain is the way to go that we decided we would only move to a location within walking distance of Caltrain.”

The Go Pass - a small sticker affixed to an employee photo ID badge - is purchased by employers for all of their regular, full-time employees and can be used in any zone throughout the system, seven days a week.

Employees traveling on Caltrain simply present the badge with the Go Pass sticker when asked for proof of payment by a Caltrain conductor or fare enforcement officer.

Introduced in 2003, the pass has proven to be a winner among employees who are enjoying a commute that was once far more stressful.

Caltrain rider Jed Michnowicz uses his Go Pass to commute to his job at Adobe in San Francisco. Although Michnowicz considers the free ride the most attractive benefit of the Go Pass, he also said, “Caltrain is fast and convenient and gives me free time that would otherwise be spent in a car stuck in traffic.”

Omeed Badri, who has been a Caltrain rider for years, only recently began using a Go Pass as a new employee at Disney Interactive in Palo Alto. Badri appreciates the convenience of the Go Pass. “I never have to worry about zones or fares. I can just hop on and get off wherever I need to go. The freedom that comes along with that is priceless,” said Badri.

Badri also values the time he saves by commuting on Caltrain. “I get nearly two hours of my day back that I would have spent staring at traffic. I catch up on emails on the train in the morning and get a good head start on my work day. When I arrive at the office I have taken care of anything that was pressing, thanks to Caltrain.”

At the end of the day, Badri said he arrives home “refreshed and full of energy” for time with his family.

For employers, the Go Pass is an attractive addition to their benefits package, an asset for recruiting and retaining employees.

Nektar, a pharmaceutical research firm, relocated from San Carlos to San Francisco in 2012. Senior Benefits Analyst Brenda Chu was charged with developed a robust commute program that would retain the company’s highly skilled work force. “I did an analysis to see where our employees lived and discovered that more than two-thirds of them live on Peninsula or further south.”

Chu worked with Caltrain to implement the Go Pass program, and since the company’s move to its new Mission Bay location, Chu said the Go Pass has become “vital to our benefits package.” The company subsidizes the full cost of the Go Pass for each of its 225 employees. Chu considers it a worthwhile investment. “We are a small company and our employees are highly specialized. I have been told that recruiting and training just two new employees would cost us more than participating in the Go Pass program,” said Chu.

Stanford University is the largest participant in the Go Pass program, with nearly 50 percent of its employees participating. The university considers the pass a valuable tool in meeting its goal of a zero-net increase in peak-commute traffic.

“Since we have so many employees living on the Peninsula, the Go Pass is a wonderful option for us,” said Brodie Hamilton, director of parking and transportation services.

The Palo Alto Caltrain Station, the closest station to the university, is Caltrain’s second most popular station. Stanford further supports Go Pass riders by providing robust shuttle service between the station and campus. “Ridership on our shuttles has more than doubled since the introduction of the Go Pass,” said Hamilton. “We have nearly 40 shuttle buses on the road during the peak commute.”  

Hamilton said the university promotes the Go Pass as part of its benefits package when recruiting new employees. “When combined with all the other costs of driving, such as fuel, parking fees, wear and tear on your car and higher insurance costs, the financial benefit can be substantial,” said Hamilton. “One of our employees reported that her accountant said she was saving $5,000 a year by not driving to work.”

SRI International Inc., headquartered two blocks from the Menlo Park train station, also participates in the Go Pass program. “People here love the Go Pass,” said Sandy Hinzmann, manager of staff programs and transportation. “Even our upper-level managers think it is one of the best benefits you can have. People who participate in the program save thousands of dollars.”

Of SRI’s 1,200 employees, 700 participate in the program and Hinzmann estimates that 300 are regular Caltrain riders. Before signing up for the Go Pass program, SRI was purchasing train passes for employees. “Go Pass actually saves us money,” said Hinzmann. 

Ancestry.com, the online family history company, has an office just two blocks from the San Francisco Caltrain Station. The company has a reimbursement program for employees who use public transportation, but Janetta Wood, human resources director, finds the Go Pass the easiest program to administer.  Because the Go Pass is an annual program, paperwork only needs to be done once a year. “Our employees are so grateful to have the Go Pass. It is so easy to use,” said Wood. “All they need to do is take a survey once a year and they are done with all the administrative stuff.”  About 33 percent of the company’s 150 employees live south of San Francisco and take advantage of the pass.      

The Go Pass also has been a winner for Caltrain, which offers the program as a way to increase ridership on the commuter railroad. Since 2009, revenue from the Go Pass has increased from $2.3 million to nearly $6.5 million. The number of participating companies has nearly doubled, from 35 to 60, and the number of eligible employees has gone from 20,407 to 38,398.

To participate in the program, companies pay an annual fee of $165 per eligible employee, regardless of how many use the transit pass. The total cost for employers to participate in the program is determined based on the total number of employees. The minimum participation cost is $13,750.

Companies interested in participating in the Go Pass program can call Caltrain’s Market Development Department at 650.508.6292 to inquire about the program or visit www.caltrain.com/gopass

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About Caltrain: Caltrain is owned and operated by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, a partnership of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the San Mateo County Transit District and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. The commuter railroad provides service from San Francisco to San Jose, with limited commute service to Gilroy. Caltrain has enjoyed 28 consecutive months of ridership increases, surpassing more than 50,000 average weekday riders earlier this year. While the Joint Powers Board assumed operating responsibilities for the service in 1992, the railroad will celebrate 150 years of continuous passenger service in 2014. Planning for the next 150 years of Peninsula rail service, Caltrain is on pace to electrify the corridor by 2019, reducing diesel emissions by 90 percent and adding more service to more stations. 

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Media Contact: Christine Dunn, 650.508.6238