After six years of consecutive growth, Caltrain’s annual ridership count dipped slightly in the past year, but remains a necessity for tens of thousands of commuters.
Initial findings from the annual onboard ridership count showed that the average weekday ridership (AWR) for 2017 is at 62,190 passengers, which is a 0.4 percent drop from 2016, but still 82 percent higher than in 2010 when AWR was at 34,120, and 159 percent increase since 2004 when AWR was at an all-time low of 23,947 and the Baby Bullet service was later inaugurated.
The results of the annual ridership count, given to the Board of Directors at its monthly meeting on Thursday, provides a snapshot of Caltrain that can be used to plan future service improvements, allocate resources to address capacity issues and validate revenue-based ridership estimates.
The count, a physical head count of riders, is typically conducted in late January and February when there are fewer holidays and special events that could skew ridership numbers. Weekdays, every rider on every train is counted for one week and averaged over five weekdays. Weekends, riders on every train were counted for one weekend. This year counts were conducted in February through early April due to coordination with a new consultant and subconsultant team that was brought on to manage, conduct, and compile field surveys.
Average weekday rider numbers vary widely throughout the year with Caltrain’s peak season for ridership picking up in summer and may last through the fall. Based on current trends, the agency expects to continue to see those numbers climb through the coming year.
Most riders continue to travel during peak commute hours. There was a 0.9 percent increase in traditional peak riders (defined as North Bound in the morning and South Bound in the evening) from 31,948 riders in 2016 to 32,241 in 2017. There was a 2.1 percent decrease in midday riders, 1.9 percent decrease in reverse peak riders (South Bound in the morning and North Bound in the evening) and 0.1 percent increase in evening riders.
The 10 most popular train stations are San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose Diridon, Mountain View, Redwood City, Millbrae, Sunnyvale, Hillsdale, San Mateo and Menlo Park, marking no change since 2016.
When comparing ridership by county, Santa Clara County still has the highest average weekday ridership with 26,397, a 0.5 percent drop from last year; San Mateo County has the second-most at 18,630, 2.8 percent lower than 2016 and San Francisco County has 17,162, a 2.5 percent increase. Ridership has decreased by 6.3 percent on the Gilroy extension, which includes the Capitol, Blossom Hill, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy stations, from last year.
Results show that riders are traveling further on Caltrain, with the average weekday trip length for 2017 being 23.3 miles, over 22.8 in 2016.
During peak period travel, Baby Bullet service trains saw the highest growth, with a 16.2 percent increase in ridership, with Limited service clocking in at 8.4 percent. Local service shrank by 3.8 percent. Overall, weekend ridership service decreased by 2.7 percent, falling from 27,634 riders last year to 26,886 this year.
For the sixth year, the number of bike riders that were not able to board the train due to overcrowding also was counted. Results show that bike ridership decreased by 5.5 percent this year, with 27,369 riders bringing bikes on Caltrain in an average week. The severe rains this winter season likely had an impact on passenger ridership in general, and the bicycle counts in particular. On the days and trains that the count was conducted, 87 bikes were denied boarding due to a lack of capacity in the bike car, a decrease from 118 in 2016.
Caltrain will continue to analyze the data in order to maximize the efficiency of the system. Future service planning also requires use of ridership data to develop potential service scenarios to improve capacity pre- and post-electrification. The entirety of the 2017 Annual Count Key Findings Report will be uploaded to https://www.caltrain.com/about/statsandreports/Ridership.html this summer.
About Caltrain: Owned and operated by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, Caltrain provides commuter rail service from San Francisco to San Jose, with limited commute service to Gilroy. Caltrain has enjoyed more than five years of consecutive monthly ridership increases, surpassing more than 60,000 average weekday riders. While the Joint Powers Board assumed operating responsibilities for the service in 1992, the railroad celebrated 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, reduce diesel emissions by 97 percent by 2040 and add more service to more stations.