For the sixth consecutive year, Caltrain’s annual ridership count confirms that more people are riding the train than ever before.
Initial findings from the annual onboard ridership count showed that the average weekday ridership (AWR) for 2016 is at an all-time high with 62,416 passengers, which is a 7.2 percent growth from 2015,an 83 percent increase since 2010 when AWR was at 34,120, and 161 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, which was presented to the Board of Directors at its monthly meeting on Thursday, May 5, 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. However, this year’s count was suspended for special events in February including 10 days during Super Bowl 50 week and construction activities, such as the Santa Inez Bridge Replacement and bus bridge in San Mateo. Counts resumed at the end of February and continued through mid-March.
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, with a 9.6 percent increase growing from 29,143 riders in 2015 to 31,948 in 2016. Caltrain also saw a 3.8 percent spike in reverse peak riders, from 18,842 last year to 19,564 this year.
The 10 most popular train stations are still in the top 10 with San Francisco coming in at number one and Palo Alto remaining in the number two spot. The San Jose Diridon and Mountain View stations are now third and fourth respectively, and the Redwood City and Millbrae stations, now fifth and sixth respectively, switched rankings. Sunnyvale, Hillsdale, San Mateo and Menlo Park are the remaining stations on the top 10 list.
When comparing ridership by county, Santa Clara County has the highest average weekday ridership with 26,518; San Mateo County has the second-most at 19,160 and San Francisco has 16,767. Ridership also increased on the Gilroy extension, which includes the Capitol, Blossom Hill, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy stations, up 12.7 percent since last year.
There is continued growth for all train travel time with the most growth for Baby Bullet service trains. Overall, the average weekday trip length for 2016 is 22.8 miles, which is slightly higher than 22.7 in 2015.
Overall, weekend ridership service increased by 5.3 percent, growing from 26,241 riders last year to 27,634 this year.
For the fifth 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 11.1 percent this year, with 5,520 riders bringing bikes on Caltrain on an average weekday. The rain this winter season, the most in the past several years, likely had an impact on the bicycle counts. On the days and trains that the count was conducted, 118 bikes were denied boarding due to a lack of capacity in the bike car, while a total of approximately 29,130 riders with bikes boarded the train. At the beginning of April, Caltrain added a third bike car to its Bombardier-style train sets, increasing onboard bike capacity from 48 to 72 bikes.
Caltrain will continue to analyze the data and review the allocation of the six-car train sets to address onboard capacity issues. Future service planning also requires use of ridership data to develop potential service scenarios to improve capacity pre- and post-electrification.
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.