Thursday, September 30, 2010

Caltrain Clipper FAILBLOG #4

This is a good one.

The Millbrae Intermodal Terminal contains both the Caltrain and BART stations in Millbrae. You can connect from the two services at this spot. Depending on the connection you are making, this can be difficult - for example transfering from BART to a Southbound Caltrain, you must go up a set of stairs, exit BART, walk across the upstairs level, and down a flight of stairs to the Caltrain SB platform.

However, if you are transfering from a Northbound Caltrain to BART, it's a snap. Exit your Caltrain, and on the opposite side of the platform are the BART gates. There are two sets of BART gates on the platform, one on the Northernmost part of the platform, and one sort of in the middle. Since I have my bike with me, I am usually in the Northernmost Caltrain car - the bike car. This means from the door of my Caltrain to the BART gates is roughly a 5 yard walk. Perfect.

Aside - For the purposes of this conversation we will ignore that this set of fare gates which is next to the Caltrain bike car does not have a faregate that facilitates bikes, and the emergency gate which you are supposed to use to get your bike onto the BART platform is routinely blocked by BART staff.

OK, so I am getting off Caltrain and I'm going to get on BART, by entering the gates which are five yards away. There is only one problem. Since I am adopting our fancy new technology, I am using my Clipper Card to pay for both my Caltrain and BART fares - which should be super convenient. However, before I enter the BART system, I need to "tag off" from Caltrain. I look to my left. I look ahead. I look right.

There is no Clipper Reader in sight. What is in sight is the rarest of all birds, a BART train at the station at the same time as my Caltrain arrival. If I can just get "tagged off" and "tag in" to BART, I can make this train and avoid a 15 minute wait. So I start running down the platform. With my bike. Wearning bike shoes.

I run 30 or so odd yards and there it is - tucked behind a bank of pay phones.

At the far end of this picture is where I got off @Caltrain a... on Twitpic

Aside - why are there more payphones here than there are Clipper readers?

Suffice to say, shortly after I heard the "BEEP" from the Clipper reader, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a BART train leaving the station. That left me the time to take the picture.

In the right foreground of the picture you can see the Clipper reader. If you squint real closely and look on the left side way in the background, past the handicapped lift and the handicapped riser platform, a sign that shows where I came from - the BART gates that I wanted to enter but could not until I ran 30 yards down the platform to find a Clipper reader.

The BART gates aren't near anything else. The only persons who would use those gates are transferring from Caltrain - someone initiating a BART trip at Millbrae has to enter the Intermodal station from the BART side and go up to the upstairs level where there are a dozen or so gates, and would have no reason to then trek down to the Caltrain platform. If both systems use Clipper, the only way those gates retain any usefulness is if there is a Clipper reader at the fare gates. But no - they put the Clipper reader in the middle of nowhere, positioned in a way that adds no value (pun not intended) to the ridership.

Of course, how it really should work is that I don't need to "tag off" from Caltrain at all. When "Tagging on" to BART at Millbrae station, the system should recognize an open Caltrain trip, and "tag off" of Caltrain and "tag on" to BART in one fell swoop.

But what do I know, I'm not a train guy. I'm a computer programmer.

If you squint real closely


Mark said...

As someone who lives car free in San Jose, and does a fair amount of travel for work, my most common use of the Milbrae multimodal station is getting to the airport. Why do the transit authorities make it so hard to get to airports in any way other than driving a car? - To transfer from Caltrain to SFO requires not only that you transfer through BART, but that you transfer within the BART system. To get to SJC via either caltrain or VTA light rail requires that you use a bus transfer which does not run very frequently. Add to that the fact that the new SJC airport has been designed to be hostile to bicycles.....

murphstahoe said...

Mark - my friend Ammon lives near San Bruno Caltrain and *walks* to SFO. Well, he walks to the Airtrain by the rental car area and takes that into the airport.

I doubt walking is faster than doing the BART shuffle, but it saves you 4+ bucks ;)

Michael Graff said...

"Why do the transit authorities make it so hard to get to airports in any way other than driving a car?"

The cynical answer is that airports make a lot of money on taxi fees and parking. People who arrive by transit, bike, or foot are less profitable.

John C. Baker said...

I don't know why there's no provision to tag on and off using Clipper on the train itself. If Golden Gate Transit can use tag on/tag off on their buses and use GPS to calculate zone/fare, then Caltrain should be able to do so as well!

murphstahoe said...

@John Baker -

You can't get onto a GGT Bus without passing by the driver and paying your fare. Caltrain is open boarding with POP. If the fare readers were on the train, you could wait until the conductor came for a ticket check, then tag on, evading fares completely or at least paying for fewer zones.

Even if the on-board readers only allowed tag off, you could tag off a zone early and evade fare. For example train 275 which expresses from Burlingame to San Bruno - across a fare boundary. Assuming the readers were GPS based, if you tag before the Millbrae border, you just saved $2.25.

Even if we solve this problem, this would cause dwell time and crowding issues in the vestibule. GG Transit has few boardings per stop on locals, and for the expresses where everyone gets on at the same stop, dwell time is still minimal compared to the travel time.

georoad said...

A recent MTC news blast crowed about how clipper use "soared". I need to call them about why they printed their documentation in such hard to read typeface.

Here is some information on why the SFO extension sucks so much for San Mateo:

My comment is that they gave the engineering of Millbrae to their interns; further reflection was probably that the concrete union noogied the architect.