On Monday, December 14, Caltrain will begin operating a new schedule that is designed to improve service for essential workers and transit-dependent riders, and is consistent with key service components of the Framework for Equity, Connectivity Recovery & Growth.
Caltrain’s service adjustments are aimed at increasing ridership and better serving those that continue to depend on the system. The new schedule provides riders with more frequent off-peak and weekend train service. Caltrain’s current ridership has skewed toward essential workers who are more likely to travel during off-peak times. The railroad has observed that demand for midday and weekend trips remains comparatively more resilient, and the schedule reflects that. It also balances travel time and coverage goals while maintaining capacity for social distancing.
The new schedule provides 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 and reasonably competitive travel times, while improving the connection from/to BART at Millbrae. Expanding midday service to two trains per hour, and increasing weekend service frequency to hourly trips is a significant improvement to off-peak service and responds to the travel needs of low-income riders and essential workers who tend to rely on the system during these times.
Weekend ridership now makes up 17% of total ridership -- three times greater than pre-COVID-19. For this reason, Caltrain will now provide hourly Local service on weekends instead of the current 90 minute frequency to better serve ridership demand and promote social distancing. Weekend Baby Bullet service will be discontinued. Under this new plan, train service will be extended to the Tamien station, eliminating the weekend and holiday Tamien-San Jose Diridon Shuttle. The weekend changes also include a separate schedule for Saturdays and Sundays to maintain connections from/to Millbrae BART.
In order to implement the Equity Framework, Caltrain needs to survive the impacts of the pandemic that have reduced ridership by 95%. During the region’s shelter-in-place, approximately 3,600 weekday riders continue to rely on Caltrain for essential travel. In September, the Caltrain Board of Directors voted to suspend certain fare increases over the next year that will help ensure the system continues to be accessible to these riders. Caltrain has taken additional steps during the pandemic to enhance affordability by providing low-income riders with a 50% discounted fare through the Clipper START program.
In addition to the new service changes, Caltrain’s agreement with the Town of Atherton will result in that station being permanently closed as of Saturday, December 19. The closure of the station allows Caltrain to reallocate service to nearby stations such as Menlo Park and Redwood City, which have much higher rates of existing ridership and where denser land uses are projected to generate higher levels of demand for future rail service.
Ridership is not expected to fully recover in 2021. Depending on public health conditions, Caltrain may need to make further service adjustments including scaling service levels up or down to meet changing needs.
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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The changes also provide more service at times when essential workers and lower income, transit dependent riders are likely to travel.