Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sean Elsbernd, Caltrain JPB Chairman, on service cuts

I emailed Scott Wiener - who is running for Supervisor in San Francisco's District 8, about the Caltrain cuts. Scott is sharing his campaign headquarters with FIX MUNI NOW which is the organization pushing Prop G which entails some reforms to MUNI's labor negotiation rules. FIX MUNI and Prop G are in large part the work of Sean Elsbernd - the District 7 Supervisor (D7 is Park Merced, West Portal, etc...)

Sean Elsbernd is also the Chairman of the Caltrain Joint Powers Board - the group overseeing Caltrain Staff.

Scott Wiener read my missive on the Caltrain cuts and forwarded it to Sean. I gave Scott some background as to how important Caltrain is, that there is no excuse for Caltrain not to close a 2.3 Million dollar budget gap, and that they should be creative in finding more revenue and reducing costs. This of course including getting over the last hump to solid bike capacity and weekend limited/express trains.

Here is my petition for limited/express trains on the weekend! Please sign it and pass it on!

Here is Sean's response - unedited.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this one. Feel free to pass on this
e-mail, cut and copy parts of it, or just toss it.

Caltrain is the forgotten step child of Bay Area Transit. Unlike every other
regional public transit system, Caltrain has no dedicated source of revenue.
60% of itsoperation costs are covered by fare revenue (which, as an aside, is
actually a tremendously high level of fare box revenue) and 40% is covered by
the 3 member agency (MTA, SamTrans, and VTA) contributions. For years, those 3
contributions have been a steady source of funds. This year, however, SamTrans,
in order to balance their budget, reduced their contribution to Caltrain. Once
they did that, the MTA followed suit. The VTA has not done it yet, but its a
given that they will next fiscal year.

So, long story short, the financial troubles of the MTA, SamTrans, and the VTA
are the cause of Caltrain's poor fiscal condition. I do believe that this year
we will be able to make it through the budget without some of the draconian cuts
listed below, except for maybe the Gilroy cut - that service could very well be

My very real worry is July 1, 2011 and forward. If financial projections hold
at all accurate, Caltrain will fall off the cliff next year.

We are looking at all kinds of other revenue ideas, and I will absolutely pass
on the suggestion of a limited line on the weekends - that's a new one to me.
The issue of bikes on the train has been discussed at nearly every meeting I've
attended. If it was as a simple as simply removing some seats to make room for
my bikes, that would have been done already. It, of course, is not. We have
doubled the amount of space available for bikes in the last 12 months, and
continue to do more. The number of bicyclists who are "passed up" has dropped
significantly. We are working on it.

Shirley Johnson pointed out that Sean's numbers were a bit off. The farebox recovery is 42%, the bike capcacity was increased 39%.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Letter from Dan Connelly to Caltrain regarding Monthly Passes

Letter to Caltrain from Dan Connelly on the Monthly Pass vs. 8 ride conundrum. I agree wholeheartedly

Presently the monthly pass is an unwise investment for many due to the
relatively large ratio of cost of a monthly pass to a 10-ride.

Consider the following example:

30 days in month
21 weekdays
1 holiday, on average
1 vacation day, on average
1 sick day
travel for business, 2 days per month
alternate transportation, average 2 round trips per month

That's 15 round trips per month, yet the ratio of a monthly pass to an 8-ride
ticket costs is 16 round trips. And with the gradual reduction and impending
cancellation of weekend service, there's little if any value there.

So the reality is for many professionals the monthly pass is an economic loss on
average. I therefore propose you spare the monthly pass from further fare
increases, decreasing the ratio of monthly to 8-ride tickets well below the
present 16 to a level which makes more economic sense. By encouraging riders
to buy monthly passes, you will likely increase revenue, as more part-time
riders choose to spend a bit more for a monthly and become full-time riders.

The economic sense of this is further supported by the view that regular train
users are likely more price-elastic than, for example, Giants fans, who view the
cost of a train ticket a small portion of an evening's expense, while commuters
are already in large numbers making the decision that using a car is cheaper.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sky View Tours San Francisco, run by Grey Line Bus

Tuesday, leaving 22nd Street Caltrain Station.

My route home goes down Pennslyvania and then right onto Cesar Chavez. The run in to Cesar Chavez is downhill, my Garmin typically pegs me at 25 MPH leading into the right hand turn. At that speed, to make the banked corner onto CC you need to set up a line in the left side of the lane. I do a shoulder check to see if some driver appears really impatient and set up the line. I can make this corner at speed because the bike is more maneuverable than a car going through the narrow turn pocket, and my exit line goes into the far right hand side of Cesar Chavez - a motorist making this turn must merge into Westbound Traffic on CC.

I look back, see nothing, and go to set up my line. Then my spidey sense goes off and I see one of those big double decker tour buses coming up to my left. There is a small possibility he's turning left, but the bus starts to veer towards my line and I look over at the driver.

The bus is open air, so I look right into his face and say "What the hell are you doing" and he flips me the bird and says "FUCK YOU", then continues to merge into the turn pocket. I hit the brakes and head for the sidewalk. There is no bailout here - there are parallel parked cars right up to the turn itself, so I do sort of a kung fu stop and get right next to the cars.

I follow the bus through the turn and note the bus number - 91237.

He heads up CC to make a left turn onto Evans. He has a red arrow so I can catch him. I pull up and fumble with my cellphone in an attempt to get a picture as he screams at me in some foreign language. Light turns green and he slams off the accellerator, still yelling.

I had to get home to Liam, so I bypassed the SFPD, and after that I knew they weren't going to do shit anyway. So I called Sky View tours, which happens to be Gray Line Bus. The reservation person transfers me to the dispatch, who transfers me to "Safety and Training". I get voice mail and leave a nastygram. As predicted, 2 days later, no word back about their driver who decided he was going to play chicken driving a 4 ton bus against a 200 lb cyclist, and he wasn't going to lose even if he killed me.

Please do not patronize Grey Line Bus/SkyView Tours.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Townsend bike lanes.

They have finished striping Townsend on the Westbound side from 4th to 7th.

Bike lane - townsend @4th Westbound on Twitpic

I feel like crying. Not because we have a bike lane on such a notoriously bad stretch of road - but because San Francisco managed to get this done quickly despite a minor logistical hurdle.

See those cars? Thursday, they were parked perpindicular to the road. As I rode down Townsend this AM, I noticed the parallel parked cars and was a little shocked that a change went in without months of public notice and hand-wringing.

"Park Parallel" - new signs reminding of parking co... on Twitpic

A "PARK PARALLEL" sign is in place reminding the regulars of the change. I tried to snap a photo but failed - there were signs that designated this stretch of road a tow-away zone last Friday, they must have just rousted all the cars off Townsend and put the stripes and signs in that day.

This is a huge improvement to the street. The travel area is now wider with a designated bike lane in a spot that was formerly occupied by perpendicular parked cars - cars that would back out into bike traffic with little notice at alarming frequency.

I also saw workers on the Eastbound side of Townsend this AM - probably prepping the parking changes that will happen on that side of the road, that will supposedly allow the City to add a sidewalk, removing pedestrians from aimlessly walking down the roadway.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bike lane on Townsend

Finally - a bike lane on Townsend.

Jenga! Townsend @ 7th on Twitpic

This street sees a lot of bike traffic, being the primary route for the majority of Caltrain bike riders - 2500 people ride Caltrain with bikes daily. It's also a primary route to a large part of SoMa with people from the Mission and Potrero hill going this way to the Embarcadero.

Previously this intersection was completely unstriped. Vehicles would set up where you see the line of cars right now, but impatient drivers would swerve out of the line and into the unmarked area that is now a marked bike lane and a right turn pocket - often without looking for the cyclists off to their right. This problem was exacerbated because some motorists would see that the cyclist had "room" to their right, of course that "room" includes 2 train tracks and getting pushed into those tracks by a swerving car is a recipe for disaster. Supposedly with CEMOF in place for Caltrain, these tracks can be paved over/removed/whatever now, but the bike lane dilineates space for the cyclists to the left of the tracks.

Of course, the first time I rode down this lane - a car did the same thing, using the bike lane as a through lane on Townsend.

V C Section 21209 Motor Vehicles and Motorized Bicycles in Bicycle Lanes
Motor Vehicles and Motorized Bicycles in Bicycle Lanes

21209. (a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207 except as follows:

(1) To park where parking is permitted.

(2) To enter or leave the roadway.

(3) To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.

(b) This section does not prohibit the use of a motorized bicycle in a bicycle lane, pursuant to Section 21207.5, at a speed no greater than is reasonable or prudent, having due regard for visibility, traffic conditions, and the condition of the roadway surface of the bicycle lane, and in a manner which does not endanger the safety of bicyclists.
Amended Ch. 262, Stats. 1988. Effective January 1, 1989.

Townsend on Twitpic

That day, the stripes were down but the cyclist symbol was not. I predict this lane will be utilized in this manner anyway, but the striping will help. And if it gets real bad - there are plenty of cops at the Starbucks at 8th and Townsend who we can ask to help patrol this intersection.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tell Caltrain - switch weekend service to Bullets/Limited Service

I'm going to go to the next JPB meeting the first Thursday in September (10 AM, San Carlos at the SamTrans/Caltrain Headquarters near the San Carlos train station) to make the case that instead of cutting all weekend service, they should go to a limited schedule, reducing overall runtimes at the cost of some stops losing service.

The spiel from Caltrain on service cuts and fare increases can be found here

On the chopping block are Gilroy service, midday service, early AM and late night service, and weekends.

I suspect Gilroy is in big trouble, ridership there cratered once the 101 expansion was complete. Midday service and the AM/night service cannot be cut without crippling the system - I for one could not risk taking an AM Caltrain and be put in a situation where I could not get home for the next several hours, or where I could not work late. I am sure I am not alone.

The service in the balance is the weekends. Caltrain's latest ridership numbers show ~39,000 weekday boardings, ~11,000 Saturday boardings, and ~7400 Sunday boardings. It is cheaper to run the weekend service as a whole since there are fewer trains, but the rails are still open and crews are in place.

My proposal to Caltrain is that they run a limited/express service on the weekends. This will increase ridership much the same way that similar service had this impact on weekday ridership. The cost to run the train, if scheduled properly, could be lowered - the fuel costs of stopping and starting the train are eliminated, and there is the potential to run fewer trainsets - reducing labor costs.

I think that Caltrain should at least consider this option. But they won't respond to one person showing up to a Public Comment meeting - we all think that we are the Oracle of Delphi but it just doesn't work that way. I want to show up to that meeting with the ability to tell Caltrain that others are of like mind. So I have set up an online petition for people to sign onto this idea - I'll bring the signatures to the JPB meeting.

My petition can be found here - Caltrain Weekend Bullet Petition

I realize that losing that local service will be a painful experience for people who have used the local service - many of whom are transit dependent. However - those people will have NO train option if Caltrain cuts Weekend service. There is substitute service on the Caltrain Corridor from VTA and SamTrans. Apparently Caltrain thinks that is sufficient - the head of SamTrans is the same person who runs Caltrain, and the head of the VTA is on the Joint Powers Board that oversees Caltrain.



Thursday, August 5, 2010

Letter to Caltrain.

Dear Mr. Scanlon et all…

To me, a clear winner for Caltrain would be to modify weekend service to run bullet or limited service instead of local service.
Currently, instead of even providing the poorly received local service you run midday and late night, you add the Broadway and Atherton stations to the weekend schedule, making an inconvenient, slow use of Caltrain even worse. Admittedly I do frequently ride my bike from San Francisco to Palo Alto on the weekend and then return to the City on Caltrain, but by that time I am tired, have purchased a lunch and a newspaper to enjoy on the train, and can sit back and relax. However, if I were in the need to get anywhere in a timely fashion on the weekend, Caltrain is not a palatable option.

I am not a railroad operator, but it stands to reason that less starting and stopping would reduce fuel costs – albeit perhaps by a trival amount. This proposal would also make schedules more reliable. The key gain is that such service – just as it has on weekdays – would attract MORE riders – and most of these riders (unlike on weekdays) would be non-regular travelers paying full fare. The difference between one hour from Palo Alto and 30 minutes from Palo Alto would be a dealmaker for many casual riders, especially Giants fans and other ATT Park event goers.

Certainly there is some downside from communities that feel they would be left out of the stop list. However, all of those stops are serviced – roughly – by buses like the VTA 22 and Samtrans 295, among others. Fortunately Mr Scanlon is also the head of Samtrans and could coordinate the parallel bus service to work with the bullet Caltrain schedule, and the VTA head should be amenable as well. If the alternative is NO service at all, I see little room for those communities to complain.

Thank You

John Murphy – San Francisco, loyal rider since 1996