Caltrain Bicycle Service May Update - May 5, 2009

Dear Caltrain Bicycle Service Customer:  

Our efforts to increase bike capacity on our trains are moving forward.

As of this writing, we have removed seats and added bike racks to many of the bike cars on our gallery train sets – those are the older, silver trains – and we expect to complete this work soon.

Two months ago, at the direction of the Caltrain Board of Directors, we committed to increasing on-board bike capacity on the gallery cars from 32 bike slots to 40 and on the Bombardier cars – those are the newer, red and gray trains – from 16 to 24.

Once the conversion of the gallery cars is completed, every bike car on the gallery train set will have a minimum of 40 bike slots.

As many of you know, we are endeavoring to provide two bike cars wherever possible, and with the additional capacity, that means that many of our gallery train sets will have as many as 80 bike slots.

We are finding that converting the Bombardier cars is more difficult than we had originally hoped and it is going slower than we expected. Nonetheless, we are working as fast as we can to remove seats from the Bombardier cars and add bike racks.

By summer, we hope to complete the removal of seats on all the bike cars and the replacement of those seats with additional bike racks.

At that time, all Bombardier trains with bike cars will have a minimum bike capacity of 24 slots, and those trains with two bike cars will have 48 bike slots.

When we are finished, there will be an increase of about 28 percent in our systemwide bike capacity.

When our Board directed us to make these changes, they also indicated that they wanted these changes to be incremental. Ideally, we are providing enough improvements to meet the needs of all of our cycling customers, but we must implement these changes in the context of our entire system.

So, once we have made these additions to bike capacity, we will need some time to study their impact on our bicycle customers, our overall service, our on-time performance and our ability to continue to manage the train system for all of our customers.

As always, your thoughts and comments are very useful and it is continuously helpful for us to hear directly from you.

Please feel free to write to me directly at simonm@samtrans.com.

TWO BIKE CARS – In last month’s message, we indicated that we began providing two bike cars on as many trains as possible, as often as possible. Just in case you missed it, here’s the list of trains where we are committed to providing two bike cars as frequently as possible:

Northbound: 103, 135, 151, 155, 189, 197, 207, 211, 217, 231, 241, 245, 261, 267, 275, 277, 287, 383
Southbound: 134, 142, 154, 158, 194, 196, 210, 216, 220, 228, 230, 252, 266, 312, 362, 372, 378, 386

That means 36 of our daily 98 trains are scheduled to have two bike cars – many of them in the peak commute hours.

Many of you have written to ask a series of questions about this new effort: Why can’t we provide two bike cars on every train? Why can’t we provide two bike cars on my train? Why can’t we provide two bike cars on the most heavily used trains? Why is there only one bike car on trains that are supposed to have two bike cars?

The simplest answer to most of these questions is that we don’t have enough bike cars to put two on every train, or even on every peak train, and, in doing all we can to expand service for our cycling customers, we have to be mindful of the impact of these changes on our entire system and all of our customers, particularly on on-time performance.

All of our cars, not just our bike cars, serve our entire schedule throughout our entire day, which means they rotate through the schedule, and also must be rotated out of service for fueling, washing, maintenance and federally mandated safety and operational inspections.

A train set that starts its day in San Jose may finish its day in Millbrae and be cycled to San Francisco for its daily maintenance and to begin the next day at the San Francisco station.

Because of this rotation – because of the demands of our entire service schedule – we can’t guarantee that a specific stop on the schedule will have a specific train.

And, of course, all of this goes out the window when there is an incident, whether it’s a mechanical problem or a collision between the train and another vehicle or a person. It is rare when we finish a day with the same configuration of trains with which we started the day.

Our effort to provide two bike cars on the trains listed above is a guarantee of our best effort, but there are times when we will be unable to make that happen.

We are monitoring closely our performance in providing two bike cars on the trains listed above and we are committed to providing as much bike service as possible.

It is our hope that with the additional bike slots and the provision of two bike cars on as many trains as possible, we will ease the crowding that some of you are experiencing.

NO FREE RIDE – We are heading into troubled financial waters. The state has eliminated a major source of funding for transit, and it will hit Caltrain particularly hard and complicate an already-complex funding relationship between the partners who own the railroad.

The Joint Powers Board is a partnership of three transit agencies – the San Mateo County Transit District, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Each is an independent agency with its own budget.

Each agency funds Caltrain operations out of its general fund – there is no dedicated, permanent source of funding for the rail system. In these tough times, each partner agency is tightening its belt and looking for ways to cut costs.

I mention this because while the farebox – our paying customers – is an important source of revenue, the price our customers pay for a ticket does not cover our expenses.

In fact, for every dollar it costs to operate Caltrain, we make back about 40-45 cents from our customers. In other words, every ride costs us money. That means the rest of our operating costs must be subsidized by the partner agencies and by other sources.

We will be working hard over the next several weeks to balance our budget for this coming fiscal year, and we will be working equally hard in the long-term to identify a permanent source of funding for Caltrain. In the meantime, we continue to do the best we can with diminishing resources.

THANK YOU – We continue to appreciate your loyal ridership and we regret – always – when we are unable to provide you the service you need. We are doing all we can as fast as we can to make the improvements to which we are committed.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience and your understanding, and for your thoughts and comments. We read every message you send us and we take your concerns seriously. It is not possible to respond individually to every comment we receive, so it is our continuing hope that this kind of general mailing provides most of you with useful information. If not, let me know and we can have a lengthier exchange.

Stay in touch.

Mark Simon
Special Assistant to the CEO
Caltrain
simonm@samtrans.com
650.508.6340