As the only transit agency in the Bay Area without dedicated funding, and with federal relief funds set to run out by the end of the year, Caltrain is considering service adjustments aimed at increasing ridership and better serving those that depend on the system during shelter-in-place. By mid-December, Caltrain plans to provide riders with more frequent off-peak and weekend train service as the agency continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The changes would provide more service at times when essential workers and lower income, transit dependent riders are likely to travel.
The changes were discussed during the Caltrain’s Work Program – Legislative – Planning Committee (WPLP) meeting on Wednesday afternoon, and will be reviewed by the full Board on November 5. Staff said the new winter schedule develops a consistent service framework that can be scaled up (and down) based on demand and funding availability while minimizing disruption and confusion for riders and connecting transit. The proposed service plan focuses on serving the riders who need Caltrain the most, with an emphasis on implementing key elements of the agency’s Equity, Connectivity Recovery & Growth framework policy. It also balances travel time and coverage goals while maintaining capacity for social distancing.
The recommended Base Service Plan would provide 68 trains during the weekday, with two trains per hour, per direction running throughout the day. Operating at least two trains per hour at most times of day allows the railroad to provide 30-minute frequency at higher demand stations, reasonably competitive travel times, coverage to all stations, and coordinated connection to every BART train at Millbrae. Expanding midday service to two trains per hour, and increasing weekend service frequency to hourly trips is a significant improvement and responds to needs of low-income riders and essential workers who rely on the system throughout the day and week.
Caltrain’s current ridership has skewed toward essential workers, who tend to be low-income and people of color, and the railroad has observed that demand for midday and weekend trips remains comparatively strong.
Weekend ridership now makes up 17% of total ridership -- three times greater than pre-COVID-19. The resiliency of weekend ridership is likely due to continued use by essential workers and low-income riders. For these reasons, staff is recommending that Caltrain provide hourly Local service instead of the current 90 minute frequency to better serve ridership demand and promote social distancing. The proposed changes also respond to the needs of low-income riders and essential workers by increasing service frequency by 50%, and offers regular hourly service that better enables coordinated transfers with other transit providers. Under this new service plan, weekend Baby Bullet service would be eliminated. Staff is comfortable recommending the elimination of weekend Baby Bullet service in exchange for significant overall frequency increases, having observed that ridership on weekend Local trains is about 20% higher than on Bullet trains.
Ridership is not expected to fully recover in 2021. Depending on public health conditions and the railroad’s finances, Caltrain may need to make further service adjustments including scaling service levels up or down to meet changing needs.
An Expanded Service Plan could restore service back to 92 trains per day, and an Austerity Service Plan could reduce service to as little as 44 trains per day (approximately one train per hour, per direction) and suspend weekend service.
The Base and Expanded service plans expands service for all riders, and in a manner that supports the observed travel patterns of low-income riders who rely on Caltrain and enacts key service components of the Equity, Connectivity Recovery & Growth framework. The Austerity Service Plan is not being recommended by staff, but it remains a strongly preferred option rather than shutting down, and later restarting the entire railroad, which would take two years and carry a $155 million price tag.
During the month of November, staff will continue refining the proposed service plan winter schedule, and seek input from connecting and partner operators, in addition to soliciting feedback from the Caltrain Board of Directors, the Caltrain Citizens Advisory Committee, and other stakeholder groups.
As ridership continues to change, Caltrain is complying with public health measures outlined in the regional Riding Together: Bay Area Healthy Transit Plan.
Caltrain will monitor conditions to ensure that passengers can maintain physical distancing in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and may implement additional service changes, as needed.
Caltrain reminds passengers that face coverings are required both onboard and at stations. Riders are also encouraged to take advantage of onboard restrooms to wash their hands.
Caltrain cleans and sanitizes its fleet and stations daily using hospital-grade disinfectant products. Station touchpoints are wiped down multiple times each day and cleaning crews use spray foggers on trains overnight and midday at the San Francisco Station.
Caltrain is assessing the impact that reduced ridership is having on the agency’s ability to maintain operations in the coming months. Average weekday ridership has dropped from 65,000 to approximately 3,600. With no other dedicated source of funding, Caltrain normally relies on fares to cover 70% of the system’s operating costs. At this time, the agency is planning for a gradual return of ridership and will continue analyzing passenger data to track evolving trends.
For more information about Caltrain schedules and fares or for help planning your trip, call Caltrain Customer Service at 1.800.660.4287 (TTY 650.508.6448) or visit www.caltrain.com. For Caltrain’s latest updates regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, visit www.caltrain.com/COVID-19.
About Caltrain: Owned and operated by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, Caltrain provides commuter rail service from San Francisco to San Jose, with commute service to Gilroy. 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.
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