PR2000 and COST critique Caltrain 20-year plan

Comments from PR2000

In September, Peninsula Rail 2000 submitted the following comments on the CalTrain 20-Year Strategic Plan:

Page 3, Mission Statement -- CalTrain needs to move beyond being just a "commuter rail service." This term, while it may be accurate, can serve to limit the vision of what CalTrain ought to be. Far preferable terms such as "urban" or "metropolitan" or "transit" would suggest that CalTrain aims to serve not only peak-period weekday trips (commuters), but also a wide variety of off-peak non-commute trips, many of which are impossible or too inconvenient to be practical given CalTrain's current spotty off-peak (midday, night, weekend and holiday) schedule, characterized by unacceptably long headways ranging from one to two and a half hours.

Pages 4 & 5, Goal performance measures -- all numeric (measurable) performance measures should be accompanied by the current actual performance against each such measure. Without this, the reader cannot know or judge whether the goal performance measure represents a maintenance of the status-quo, or an aggressive improvement.

Pages 4 & 5, Goal performance measures -- target dates of 2017 are much too far out for any meaningful intermediate/short-term assessments of goal attainment. There need to be near-term interim dates and goals to allow for any sort of assessment of performance in the next one or two years.

Page 4, Goal 2 Principles & Policies -- An increase in on-board bicycle accommodation and ride quality improvements should also appropriately be addressed here.

Page 5, Goal 3 -- Rather than holding the rate of operating cost increases "to or below the rate of inflation", why not aim to realize some obvious cost efficiencies and change the performance measure to lower the cost per train mile?

Page 5, Goal 4 -- the performance measure states "connect to regional transit systems, major employment centers and residential areas by 2017." This measure is vague in that it does not spell specific connections. The 2017 target date is unsatisfactory as it does not allow for any intermediate assessments in the near term. To summarize, the measure is not measurable (no specific connections listed) and does not provide for any progress for the next 20 years (between now and 2017).

Page 6, Accomplishments -- the last two JPB accomplishments listed on page 6, ticket vending machines and the public address system, were Caltrans-initiated projects.

Page 11 -- the sentence highlighted in large type on this page states "CalTrain has the ability to make incremental improvements, which should double present day ridership by the year 2017." This sentence should more accurately conclude that the ridership doubling can occur just as soon as CalTrain makes the improvements. We do not have to wait for the year 2017 to see ridership double, provided CalTrain can accelerate the rate of improvements.

Page 12 -- the 1st paragraph states that CalTrain reaching its full potential is "contingent on overcoming system constraints." Please state specifically what those system constraints are and in what way they are keeping CalTrain from reaching its full potential. Also, the report does not discuss or define the "full potential" of CalTrain. This needs to be added.

Page 12, Operating, Short-term (1 to 2 years) -- this only contains one measurable deliverable (4 additional shuttles) for the next 2 years! The rest of the items fall into either maintenance of the status quo ("maintain") or into non-measurable realm ("coordination" and "outreach"). That there are no off-peak service increases--which do not require more equipment--to improve CalTrain's currently woefully inadequate midday, night, weekend and holiday service frequencies is a major disappointment.

Page 12, Operating, Mid-term (3 to 10 years) -- the first six items are all specific and measurable (specific numbers of trains, shuttles and a 15% overall run-time reduction). This is good. What is not so good is that there is an 8-year window (anywhere from 2000 to 2007) in which these could happen. This is much too vague!

Page 12, Operating -- in general, the measurable improvements listed are too little too late. These service frequency increases should be accelerated to occur as soon as possible. Specificity and/or measurability need to be increased throughout the table.

Page 13, Capital -- in general, measurability (list specific dates and quantities) can be greatly improved throughout this table. Many of the items listed have specific dates associated with them in subsequent pages of the plan. For easy reference, such dates ought to be listed in this table too. Electrification is only listed as "potential" and appears in both the 3 to 10 year, as well as the 11 to 20 year column of the table. Full system electrification implementation can and should appear in the 3 to 10 year column. Lastly, we are concerned that parking is not expanded in favor of promoting alternatives, and that parking rate increases be used to both manage demand and to maximize net system revenue.

Page 14, Service Strategies -- the terms "peak" and "off-peak" need to be defined. CalTrain ought to drop the distinction between Saturdays and Sundays. From a travel demand perspective, the two days are both weekend days and are nearly identical. The schedule would thus be simplified, listing only 2 categories: weekday and weekend/holiday service. The average boarding figures given for each train type (peak, off peak, Saturday and Sunday) need to be discussed and/or justified. How do the figures given relate to current averages? Should average load factor also be used and tracked? These figures can serve to prevent CalTrain from ever serving the fringes of the service day, which are generally lightly patronized.

Page 22 & 26, Track Rehabilitation -- the plan ought to include the establishment of a ride quality standard as measured by a suitable device (such as an accelerometer) designed for that purpose. CalTrain ride quality is rough in some areas due to poor track condition; this needs to be measured and tracked against a standard.

Page 22, Run-time reduction analysis -- the discussion should include a schedule (timing) for the run time improvement program.

Page 25, ART Connection -- the discussion ends with a very passive statement: "PCJPB supports the ART connection to CalTrain and will monitor its progress." CalTrain needs to take a much more aggressive role in promoting and advancing the progress and construction of the proposed SFO ART connection.

Page 27, Short-term financial Strategies -- there is a section here on "Revenue Enhancements." A corresponding section discussing "Cost Reductions" is missing and needs to be added.

Page 29, Fare Policy Changes -- full implementation of a ticket vending machine program with a proof-of-payment (POP) fare collection system is long overdue. While we recognize this needs to be implemented with care, it cannot happen soon enough. A POP-based fare collection scheme can and should cut labor costs, decrease lost fares and fare evasion (thereby increasing revenue) and allow for a more equitable fare structure that does not, for example, charge riders who take a one-station stop ride across a fare zone boundary nearly double what riders who take a 4 or 5 station stop ride within a single fare zone.

We are greatly disappointed in the de-emphasis of the ultimate importance of a downtown San Francisco extension serving a centrally-located terminal convenient to most jobs and a multitude of transfer opportunities to BART, Muni Metro lines, buses and ferries. The opportunities for joint use of CalTrain's right of way with inter-city and high speed rail should also be acknowledged to depend largely on the presence of such a downtown San Francisco rail terminal, as well as a direct link to SFIA's on-airport people mover system (aka ART or ALRS).


Adrian Brandt, President
Peninsula Rail 2000

Comments from COST

COST (Coalition for a One-Stop Terminal) submitted the following comments on the Caltrain 20-Year Strategic Plan. ("SamTrans staff," referred to in this letter, also work as Caltrain JPB staffers. SamTrans provides the staff that also serve as JPB staff. It is also of interest that SamTrans is the partner with BART in building BART extensions to Colma and SFO/Millbrae. Gerald T. Haugh serves as General Manager of SamTrans and Executive Director of the JPB.)

As with the 10 year "plan" which SamTrans staff attempted to foist on the public two years ago, this so-called Strategic Plan document is extremely weak, disappointing and at its core anti-Caltrain. Once again, you clearly indicate a desire to do as little as possible for Caltrain, preferring trivialities and status quo to any serious efforts to actually accomplish the many promised improvements which were committed to when the commute service was purchased from Southern Pacific.

Specific Issues

The "Plan's" weaknesses are legion:

1. The Caltrain Downtown Extension has been abandoned in the plan; the EIR document should be completed and this vital improvement remain in the plan. Mayors change, even in San Francisco, and the next occupant of that office will likely be friendlier to public transit.

2. Electrification has been studied, is being studied yet again, and is an obvious candidate for implementation NOW, not treated as a "possible" 20 years hence. Electrification would allow for system speedup, is cheaper to maintain than diesel over time, would insulate the system against any coming fuel price shocks, and most important, would contribute to the reduction of Bay Area pollutants. This improvement in air quality will qualify for preferred funding consideration, especially at the federal level.

3. The notion of delaying substantial Gilroy improvements up to 10 years is equally ludicrous. Work needs to begin now to double track on essential sections of the Union Pacific ROW, in order to facilitate increased service ASAP.

4. The notion of taking 20 years to increase 40 trains is equally unrealistic. So few locomotives and new cars are included in this plan that it is obvious most of these "added" trains, like the six most recently added, are midday infill, rather than increases in essential peak period alternatives to congested auto use. It makes much more sense to begin the process to add substantial new trains immediately, not many years down the line. Ordering more vehicles at one time allows for economics of scale, as well as better service, quicker. Since Caltrain is at its highest levels of usage in 40 years with minimal improvements, think how much more patronage you will attract implementing REAL improvements.

5. This document is consistently breathtaking in its shortsightedness. On one hand you talk about increasing transit (shuttles) to destinations (employers), yet on the other hand you encourage increased auto use by promoting larger parking lots. What about increased transit service from origins (home) to Caltrain stations? If not SamTrans busses, what about using the shuttles for increased transit runs to Caltrain? Again, diminished use of autos, not increased use of autos, should be transit's goal.

6. Your own goals highlight promoting transit connectivity and doing a better job of connecting residential and employment centers, but you immediately dismiss one of the primary ways of doing this, the Dumbarton rail bridge, which would connect East Bay residents with Silicon Valley jobs.

Broader "Plan" Weaknesses

It is immediately obvious that this is the employee's plan, not the public's or even that of responsible public agencies. Nothing is proposed other than maintaining the status quo, or cautiously and inexpensively adding minor service improvements. Aren't you folks aware that freeway congestion in San Mateo County alone was up over 120 percent last year, in just one year? Aren't you prepared to recognize this, and do something about it?

The fact is, this is a "Plan" in name only. Any responsible planning professional in predicting out five, 10 or 20 years first looks at growth projections; residential population increases, congestion increases, and most important job growth. This growth should be the basis for responsible public transit growth, yet you have not bothered to do this

Where are the ABAG job and population growth projections? What about Santa Clara Manufacturing Group employment growth projections? Where are Caltrans or San Mateo Congestion Management Agency projections of Highway 101 congestion? The fact is, your Market Demand Study is only a momentary snapshot of conditions, and your service level increases grossly underestimate the demand for increased transit service. You already have increased ridership almost 20 percent this year, despite a fare increase and little service improvement; you should be able to double ridership in five years, with some truly ambitious programs.

You should have true Goals, not just reluctantly predict what service you will be forced to put out by public demand.

The Municipal Railway has predicted that opening their Muni Metro connection will increase Caltrain daily usage by 10 percent or about 2,000 new patrons daily. BART, of course, predicts tens of thousands of transfers between Caltrain and BART at Millbrae (How will this be accomplished, by the way, when only five of 12 morning commute expresses stop at Millbrae?) and that Caltrain ridership will double.

We all know BART's numbers are fatuous, but it still seems reasonable to predict that between Muni Metro and BART there will be a lot more than 3,800 new passengers daily.

Caltrain utilization from residents of San Francisco to Silicon Valley jobs has grown consistently, ergo, access to San Francisco stations needs to be improved. What about the Downtown Extension? What about working with the Municipal Railway on improved a.m. connections? What about increased bicycle access, including fostering bike racks on Muni?

The new San Francisco Giants ballpark will be located one block away from the existing Fourth and Townsend station, yet you don't even bother to quantify the many thousands of new trips which will be created.

Silicon Valley is rapidly becoming the economic engine of the Bay Area, and will soon be the primary justification for Caltrain. Where are the improved connections from the East Bay (Dumbarton), the South Bay (Gilroy service increases) and the North Bay (improved San Francisco Access)? To once again belabor the point, your "plans" and "predictions" do not take into account the elementary principles of planning.

COST Proposals

1. At a minimum, the approval and release of this "Plan" be postponed at least 90 days, so that job, residential and traffic congestion projections for Caltrain's service area can be properly reviewed.

2. The timid and tepid proposals of the "Plan" should be abandoned in favor of an aggressive approach to the region's congestion problems. Present goals espoused should be telescoped from 20 years into five years, and more ambitious programs proposed, including costs, funding sources and minimum time lines.

3. These should include, but not be limited to; (a), electrification, (b) substantial service increases now, (c) genuine investigation of a Dumbarton rail service connection to BART and AC Transit in the East Bay, (d) Gilroy track and service improvements now, (e) generate substantially improved access to Caltrain in San Francisco, and (f) develop improved SamTrans access to Caltrain stations in lieu of substantially increased parking.

It goes without saying that most residents of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties take the improvement of Caltrain service very seriously. Any plans proposed by your office should reflect that fact, rather than bureaucratic hesitation to aggressively move forward.


Pam Rianda,
COST Chairwoman

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Last updated: November 28, 1997

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