Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Caltrain funding rant.

The absurdity of this situation is beyond comprehension.

There is a $30 Million deficit. Meanwhile, Caltrain is spending $165 Million to put in three grade separations and elevate the San Bruno Station.

Grade separations are certainly a helpful thing. But what irks me is this. According to the 2010 ridership stats San Bruno station is used by ~380 riders daily. Meanwhile Caltrain cancelled trains 236, 237, 256, and 257 – trains that carried roughly 1100 passengers daily. Why is it that the riders of those trains are expected to use a different train, but the people of San Bruno – who have voted against Caltrain with their feet – are not expected to use a different station? Millbrae Caltrain/BART is 2 miles from San Bruno station and has a lot of parking. San Bruno BART is 1 mile away from San Bruno station.

Eliminate stations – not trains. Run faster trains, attract more riders – the same fact sheet indicates that the average Caltrain trip is twenty miles. Running with fewer stops – permanently – provides a superior service on the whole that will attract more riders and removes the cost of maintaining, upgrading, and rebuilding the underutilized stations.

This is already proven – since the introduction of limited and bullet service, the stations with bullet service have seen an increase in usage, and the ones without have had decrease in service – it is not far fetched to conclude that the people living near Hayward Park (current ridership 227 per day) simply started using Hillsdale instead – the extra time to the train more than made up for by a faster trip to their destination.

Of course, we then get into the issue of “Capital vs Operating” budgets. If Mike Scanlon is really worth $350,000 per year, he can work on solving that problem. He has the access – US Congresswomen, Mayors, and CA assemblymen are showing up to these meetings.

On another note, SamTrans – also run by Mike Scanlon – has reduced funding to Caltrain last year and is threatening another reduction. This for service that is inferior and in many ways duplicative to Caltrain and BART. Why? Occam’s razor says – if SamTrans funding were cut, there would be no “Friends of SamTrans” with Congresswomen and CEOs showing up to save the system. Given the choice of cutting the budget of SamTrans and losing the money for good, or cutting Caltrain and enlisting high-powered allies to get more money – Scanlon made the obvious choice, except from the standpoint of the ridership.


295bus said...

Hi Murph

I share your rage, but here's a few things to consider;

- San Bruno grade separation is not really for the benefit of San Bruno passengers in particular--it's to keep trains from hitting people and cars in San Bruno.

- Without the divide between capital and operating funding, probably every capital project would be cancelled any time the economy dipped, and nothing would ever get done. That's for the best, normally. In this case CalTrain's problems are so severe I have to pause and think about that.

- The whole BART+CalTrain Millbrae/SFO/San Bruno thing is such a mess, it's hard to know where to start, but one aspect of this new SBruno project is that the CalTrain station is getting moved closer to SB/Tanforan BART. Enterprising commuters might be able to take advantage of this and connect in San Bruno.

BART should have connected with CalTrain in San Bruno and skipped Millbrae entirely.

- I get a lot more use out of CalTrain than SamTrans busses, but SamTrans does have riders and they've cut back a lot of routes in the last few years.

murphstahoe said...

I'm proposing they do the grade separation but not rebuild the station.

The separation of capital and operations means there is no incentive to optimize capital expenditures. The decision I describe above would not be made, because not building the station means forfeiting funds, not optimizing funds from the same pot.

I've transfered Caltrain to BART in San Bruno before. Short bike ride. Very useful if the Caltrain doesn't stop at Millbrae or if you are in the window where BART will be going through the airport.

I'm not suggesting SamTrans should be deprecated - we need to fund both operations but I don't appreciate the strategy of threatening the more white collar/connected ridership on Caltrain to get more funding for SamTrans - which is effectively what is happening, a funding swap - take money from Caltrain, give to SamTrans, pass the hat for Caltrain because that's an easier sell.

ammon said...

From what I've heard around town, one of the original proposals was to have San Bruno Bart and Caltrain AND SFO's AirTrain all junction at the site where the new Caltrain station is going (San Bruno Ave & San Mateo Ave). As the crow flies this site is half a mile to the present terminus of AirTrain, and by foot it's just over a mile on sidewalk (map).

San Bruno's largest single taxpayer, Artichoke Joe's Casino, was a big proponent of that plan given their location. Ultimately other vested interests, particularly those in favor of building a new big box mall at the empty racetrack pushed Bart in that direction and kicked off the gradual decline of the old downtown. I'm sure there's more to the story.

There are some other interesting stats in the caltrain 2010 ridership counts document. Saturday boardings show Broadway beating SSF. Broadway is a really nice spot for a train station with a great shopping area and high density housing on both sides of the tracks. Someday when caltrain electrifies maybe it'll get more service. Atherton on the other hand, which like Broadway was cut from weekday service, has forgotten about caltrain and saw a 27.4% ridership decline. Sunday numbers show Atherton 50.7% down (but SSF is ahead of Broadway in that count).

Finally, I have to wonder about the cost of the new temporary station in San Bruno. It might have been cheaper, and they could have kept many old trees, by closing the station until the new one is complete and operating a shuttle bus service to Millbrae instead.

djconnel said...

I fully agree: there appears to be no cost-benefit analysis on capital projects. I'd be willing to bet you could get through a dig-hole fill-hole grant request if you pushed the job angle hard enough. But operating cost? People scream subsidy.

I notice no births or deaths on the train last year, or so it seems.