12 February 2011

Schedule Scare

It looks like the scheduling department at Caltrain is very quick to publish a proposed reduced 48-train timetable when funding cuts loom... and yet for years has utterly failed to publish or market an improved timetable to promote the electrification project. They do a great job selling the downside of service cuts, but when it's time to sell the upside of electrification, nobody's home. Hello?

UPDATE 2/15:

Caltrain's reduced "Armageddon" timetable has been put through the metricator, using the same methodology as before.

First, the Caltrain 2010 timetable: the basis of comparison is today's 90-train-per-day, 5-train-per-hour timetable, to which we assign a score of 100 as before.
Now, the 48-train Armageddon timetable, which features 4 trains per hour serving fewer stops, during rush hours only:
Not surprisingly, the rush hour service quality score drops, but not quite as much as you might first expect. That's because service to the highest-ridership stops is mostly retained. A curious feature also emerges: rush hour service to certain stops such as California Ave and Sunnyvale is actually improved thanks to regular half-hourly service.

Do note, however, that these metrics measure only peak-hour service quality… obviously, the score for off-peak service would be zero.


  1. Are they planning on running the trains slower too? In the new schedule, the southbound trains take 20 minutes to reach Millbrae from SF. Today's baby bullets with the same stopping pattern (SF, 22, Millbrae) take only 18 minutes.

  2. @Martin: It probably saves gas.

  3. They did say only 7 of the 10 shaded stops would be removed, so they would need 3 x 3 minutes = 9 minutes of slack spread around. That's probably why 20 > 18.

    One thing's for sure, they're not trying to make it look pretty.

  4. The difference is that the schedule cuts might actually happen. The electrification, not so much.

  5. @Clem Actually, maybe the extra 2 minutes is what's needed for the San Bruno grade separation S-turns/switching to the shoo-fly. Has anyone asked Caltrain what kind of delays are expected during construction?

  6. Actually, that schedule doesn't look bad. A train every 15 minutes. Now we need to just extend it over the whole day :-)

  7. I must disagree Caltrain has not publicized their improved timetable under electrification. I mean, it is right there in Appendix k of the SF-SJ Preliminary Alternatives Analysis report, on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

    And anyone who has seen this schedule won't be surprised that it was not publicized. Billions of dollars spent on a tunnel and new terminal, but still many trains still going no further than 4th St. Given such awful cost/benefit, no wonder they kept it hidden.

  8. @Drunk Engineer: that's not Caltrain's schedule, that's the HSRA's idea for a schedule for Caltrain.

  9. The proposed austerity schedule does not make the best use of the remaining resources available: For example Catrain and BART will each provide 15 minute service at the Millbrae transfer. A random effort should produce an average 7.5 minute wait while transferring between services; the proposed schedule guarantees a 12 to 14 minute wait between BART and Caltrain in both directions.
    The most onerous feature is the complete cessation of service starting at 6:30 pm. Will ridership be sustained with 15 minute headways right up to the time when all service ceases? For those who miss the last train how many would go back to work in order to spend the night in the office?
    When deciding which stations to close a planner should take into account the distance riders travel to or from each station in addition to the number using a particular station. For example Santa Clara and Lawrence Stations slated to close have users more likely to travel further than most San Mateo County Station passengers.
    Apparently the schedule writer didn’t check his work. This schedule shows it takes 15 minutes to travel between San Jose and Mountain View with an intermediate stop in Sunnyvale. The next train takes 17 minutes to go non-stop between the same two points.

  10. @Arcady:
    The 2025 Caltrain schedule
    came from Michelle Bouchard ("Director Caltrain Rail Transportation"). There is even a Caltrain letterhead logo.

  11. @Drunk Engineer, well what do you know, that really is a Caltrain document. I stand corrected, I don't know how I managed to miss that in the first place. I also have to wonder whether Caltrain still has the expertise to make decent timetables. It could be that whoever was responsible for the 96-train Baby Bullet timetable has already left, and they just don't have anyone left who has any idea about timetables. The fact that pretty much only cut service so far bears this out, because it might well have been more effective to do some restructuring of service around the edges of the peaks to greater effect than just cutting midday trains.

  12. For those of you who are interested, I did a full blog post about Appendix K shortly after it came out last April. I also compared that timetable to the existing timetable as well as a proposed timetable with mid-line overtake.

    I'll run the metrics on the 48-train timetable shortly, although that will only measure the quality of peak service. Obviously, there will be no off-peak service to speak of.

  13. Clem, how would you score the reduction in convenience to travelers coming from having to get on a train by 6:30 or take a taxi?

  14. "Clem, how would you score the reduction in convenience to travelers coming from having to get on a train by 6:30 or take a taxi?"

    Those travelers would not (or should not) use the train service in the first place.

    The conventional wisdom is that most people are off by 6PM, but everybody I know who works a 9-5 actually gets off around 6:30 or 7. As companies push employees to work harder after layoffs (and no rehiring), salaried employees are going to push themselves beyond what used to be quitting time.

    Peak hour service is just impractical for them. Also for people whose bosses ask them to stay late. In this economy, you stay later.

    It will result in unhappier lives.

  15. And in Silicon Valley in particular, it's pretty common for schedules to be more like 10 to 6 rather than 9 to 5. The new schedule is not especially helpful for this. Btw, it looks like this schedule takes 12 trains, with each train doing one round trip in the morning and one round trip in the evening. I hope they make the crews work split shifts, because it would be pretty ridiculous to hire a whole train crew for just 3 hours of work a day. On the other hand, a split shift would be pretty tough on a crew, having to work from, say, 5:30 am to 6:30 pm with a 7 hour break in the middle.

  16. The proposed services cut are despicable. These appalling service cuts will affect people’s livelihoods, PEOPLE CAN LOOSE THEIR JOBS BECAUSE OF THE PROPOSED SERVICE CUTS.

    Caltrain is asking people to make severe sacrifices, while at the same time scarce transit dollars are going into useless ferry service in San Mateo County (South San Francisco and Redwood City). Huge amounts of scarce transit dollars are going into political pet projects that are of dubious value: San Francisco Central Subway and BART to San Jose. While we constantly hear that capital funds CAN’T be used for operating expenditures, there are no attempts to change the law or even request an exemption in this time of fiscal crisis. ALL transit is hurting, Caltrain, Samtrans, MUNI, VTA, yet they keep pushing extremely costly capital projects. What’s more, these capital expenditures will only add to the structural deficits that exist in our woefully underfunded transit agencies as they will increase the operating costs on our struggling transit systems. Caltrain refuses to even attempt to ask the authorities if Caltrain can use/borrow capital monies in this time of severe financial crisis/fiscal emergencies.

    If Caltrain riders have to make such sacrifices, why can’t they sacrifice an insignificant portion of these billion dollar capital projects?

    And no, DO NOT sacrifice Caltrain electrification funding!!!

    Former leadership in San Mateo County (as has MTC), heard from Caltrain/transit advocates on numerous occasions over the last 20 years that Caltrain needs a dedicated and permanent source of funding. Such requests were totally ignored by San Mateo and MTC leaders, many of them shaking their heads NO in a rather blasé manner. Instead these former leaders (BART cheerleaders) were fixated on the BART to SFO extension because there were some 70,000 people that just can’t wait to get on BART to SFO. Herein lays the root of the problem, as the BART to SFO debit is a major portion of SamTrans structural deficit.

    Granted Samtrans did step up to the plate in the past on behalf of Caltrain, first in 1977 with a 30% discount (dubbed the Southern Pacific Fare Stabilization Program) on multi-ride Southern Pacific tickets, which was prior to the California State Department of Transportation (Caltrans) taking over management and subsidy of the Southern Pacific Peninsula service and changing the name to Caltrain. This offset a 25% fare increase by Southern Pacific and along with the late 1970’s gas crisis; turned around years of declining ridership on the train into a huge ridership increase in 1979. Samtrans stepped up to the plate again in 1991 to secure the purchase of the Caltrain ROW as Santa Clara and San Francisco did not have the funds to purchase the ROW.

    Perhaps a little history lesson is in order here.

    To be continued...

  17. Continued, part 2...

    Perhaps a little history lesson is in order here.

    Fact: San Mateo paid a $200,000.00 ‘buy in fee’ to BART which was used for BART extensions outside of San Mateo County. And Samtrans loaned additional monies to cover the BART extension shortfall during construction of BART to SFO/Millbrae.

    Fact: Ridership projections made in the early 1990’s stated that BART to SFO/Millbrae will carry a ridership of 68,800 on the FOUR station extension. A side note: Colma which would open several years prior to SFO/Millbrae would have a ridership of 16,200, and would NOT loose any ridership when the SFO extension opened.

    Transit advocates disputed these ridership projections and they (transit advocates) were told that they don’t know what they are talking about by San Mateo/MTC leaders.

    Fact: Former San Mateo County leadership swore up and down the BART to SFO/Millbrae extension will make money, i.e. turn a profit for SamTrans.

    Once again transit advocates disputed these claims and they were told that they don’t know what they are talking about by San Mateo/MTC leaders.

    Once the SFO/Millbrae extension opened and ridership/revenues were nowhere near the projections, BART apologists found every excuse in the book to justify the failure of the BART to SFO extension, oh it’s the poor economy, oh we ‘revised’ (lowered) the ridership projections, we ‘opened the extension at the worst possible time,’ some BART flacks even blamed Caltrain Baby Bullet service for BART's low ridership.

    The BART apologists also added Colma (which opened 7 years prior to SFO/Millbrae) ridership into the SFO/Millbrae extension ridership numbers to make it (SFO) look better than it actually was. Additionally the revenues were made to look better that they actually were because of a bizarre agreement between BART and Samtrans, whereas all revenue for trips that began or ended in San Mateo County (with the exception of Daly City) went into the Samtrans pot. On the expense side, Samtrans only had to pay for the BART operating costs south of Daly City/north of Colma. For example, a trip/fare from Millbrae to Concord is $6.40, the cost of that trip, based on a 60% BART farebox recovery, is $10.67. The distance from Millbrae to Concord is 45.1 miles; cost is $0.24/mile. So Samtrans only pays $1.73 for the 7.3 miles of Millbrae to Colma, the rest of the cost, $8.94 is born by BART yet Samtrans is keeping the portion of fare received for the trip beyond Colma now how fair is that? This is like Caltrain keeping all fare revenue for trips that begin on end in San Francisco, but only paying for operating expenses for the 5 miles of Caltrain in San Francisco, somebody else pays the rest.

    Sadly, VTA is moving full speed ahead with BART to San Jose, which is going to lead VTA into a similar situation as the failure of BART to SFO/Millbrae has led Samtrans into financial doldrums.

  18. Okay, here's another bizarre solution: have all trains terminate at Millbrae to connect to BART, discontinue service south of San Jose, and still continue the off peak and weekend schedules.

  19. Amanda, BART is inherently slow and uses the old Southern Pacific route, whereas Caltrain uses a much faster cutoff. There's a big difference in time - check the schedules.

    But I can't argue with discontinuing service south of San Jose.

  20. Alon is correct. The great folly of the BART extension is that it uses the old, circuitous route that SP abandoned in favor of the current Caltrain route. BART goes the long way around San Bruno Mt. into downtown SF. Caltrain follows the direct route by using the Bayshore Cutoff, a major engineering work in it's time.

  21. I disagree that BART's current routing is a "great folly". The current route better serves the population centers in Daly City, South San Francisco, etc. I am glad that we have rail service on both sides of San Bruno Mountain.

    That does not mean that stopping Caltrain in Millbrae is any kind of acceptable solution... I would guess that a significant share of Caltrain's ridership depends on its connection to the 4th and King terminal.

  22. Would this be a good opportunity to close Hayward Park, Broadway and Atherton permanently? Could save a good 6 minutes of some of the local schedules.

    If Atherton and others wans the train station open, perhaps they should set a quote for minimum number of boardings per day.

  23. Atherton and Broadway receive no weekday service, so there's not much to close. Hayward Park is a basket case, being a stone's throw from Hillsdale... and Hillsdale will be moved north, so it will be even closer. It is an excellent candidate for closure.

    Discontinuing service north of Millbrae is kind of like amputating your leg to stop the bleeding on your knee. It would lose some of the highest-ridership, most-profitable Baby Bullet customers... if the point is to reduce costs while increasing revenues, that particular idea is notgonnahappen.com

  24. I'm very interested in two questions:
    1) has anyone considered that an environmental impact report should be done. the increase in cars on the road would be real, significant and have such an impact. Could be a way of slow rolling the implementation of a heavily reduced schedule.
    2) wouldn't this be a black eye for Obama's HSR. detractors of HSR would point to the fact the SF bay area cannot even make their own commuter rail work, how do people expect HSR to work.

    I'm not saying these things about HSR. I'm an avid HSR supporter, and ride caltrain daily. I voted for HSR and hope it actually happens. But Obama's administration should consider this and lend some support in getting CalTrain back on track. Reducing ridership seems just bad.

    Raise the corporate rates, raise the rates for individuals, cut some trains, get Fed assistance.

    But cutting this down to bare bones is going to put CalTrain into a death spiral.

    My $0.02

  25. "has anyone considered that an environmental impact report should be done. the increase in cars on the road would be real, significant and have such an impact."

    You can do an environmental impact but if the money is not there, the serve gets cut.

  26. No EIR is required in a fiscal emergency. The hearing that is being called is specifically to exempt the changes to Caltrain service from CEQA.

  27. Adirondacker1280002 March, 2011 16:31

    How does the Federal government feel about state or local actions that have bad effects on air quality?

  28. The federal government can impose air quality standards on state air boards under the Clean Air Act. When the state refuses to enact air pollution controls that meet the federal minimums, then the feds come in. It's a pretty big incentive for the states to implement their own controls, because they normally don't like the way the feds do it.

    In short, they wouldn't do anything until air quality degrades, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District refuses to act.