Caltrain Rider Survey Shows More Essential Workers Onboard


Caltrain released the results of its Pandemic Rider Survey today, providing insight into how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the rail service.

This survey clearly shows the demographic shift that took place after the shelter-in-place order in March. The average annual household income of 2020 Caltrain riders is $95,000, down from $158,000 last year, affirming Caltrain’s decision to join Clipper START, which offers discounted rides to low-income transit users. Additionally, the amount of Latino and African American riders on board has doubled, with the former going from 12% to 26% and the latter from 4% to 8%. Based on the survey, this is due to higher income riders being concentrated in fields that more easily allow work from home, leading to a larger percentage of essential workers using the service, a trend common throughout the Bay Area and beyond. The shift towards essential workers was a major reason Caltrain recently changed its schedule to provide increased off-peak and weekend service to more effectively meet their needs.

A major shift in rider behavior came from riders’ access to a personal vehicle. Only 12% of riders drove to their home station this year, down from 24% last year, while 11% of people took a bus to the station, up from 1%. This stems from the fact that only 36% of riders had access to a vehicle to make the trip, down from 51% in 2019. The primary reason for choosing to ride Caltrain, given by 46% of riders, is lack of access to a car, double last year’s number. Given the amount of essential workers that do not have another means of getting to and from their jobs, it shows the necessity of keeping transit service operational during this time of crisis.

Rider frequency has decreased, with only 43% of riders using the service five days a week or more, down 10% from 2019. Only 39% of current riders are using a Go Pass or monthly pass, down from 59% last year, another indication that tech workers are likely to make up a much smaller share of current riders compared to before the pandemic. Only 65% of riders are using the service to go to work or school, down from 87% last year, although 20% said they were riding for social or recreational purposes, up from 9% last year.

Out of current riders, 78% were riding prior to the shelter-in-place order, showing a substantial amount of new riders in the system. Exactly 53% of current riders are riding as often as they were prior to March, 32% are riding less and 15% are using the system more.

Riders generally approve of the safety measures Caltrain enforces on board, with 86% saying mask wearing is an important safety measure, with 61% saying the same about social distancing, 54% about cleaning and sanitation practices, and 34% about ventilation. A mere 0.2% of riders said such measures were unnecessary.

Caltrain will continue to analyze the data in order to maximize the efficiency of the system, and support planning to improve the experience of current and returning riders. The full report for the 2020 Pandemic Rider Survey will be uploaded to in early 2021.


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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