09 May 2020

Pandemic Open Thread

These are challenging times. We can ponder ideas that are significantly outside the mainstream, taking an existing concept and extrapolating it, Black Mirror style, to its extreme conclusion. Here are some controversial conversation starters:

Southbound BART Purple Line train arrives at Palo Alto
Merge Caltrain Into BART.  The long-standing push to get the operation of Caltrain a dedicated source of funding (via November ballot measure) looks shaky at best, with the economy heading down the toilet. San Mateo and Santa Clara counties see this tax measure as a way to push Caltrain off their books, but for residents it supplements one tax with another. Why not blow it all up, and merge the two counties into the BART district?
  • Secures dedicated operating funding, via BART half-cent tax to join district.
  • Removes a warring tribe from the balkanized landscape of Bay Area transit.
  • Retires the awkward and unwieldy Joint Powers Agreement between the peninsula counties.
  • "Rings the Bay" in 2023 with a new BART Purple Line, using state of the art HSR-compatible technology.
  • Ends decades of silly talk about closing a perceived "missing link" between Millbrae and Santa Clara by using wide-gauge technology, as most recently encouraged by VTA (!)
  • Replaces the passive-aggressive operational antagonism that is routinely on display at Millbrae with coordinated, centrally-planned, seamless connections.
  • Puts in charge managers who actually understand from direct experience the value of short dwell times and level boarding.
  • Raises the bar for mega-project delivery, which has been set so low by Caltrain's spiraling trouble in managing delays to the electrification project (and the large budget blow-outs that are 100% certain to follow) that we might as well just let BART take over.
  • Removes the pretext for VTA's ridiculous plan to duplicate the Purple Line with an expensive BART tunnel from San Jose to Santa Clara, with BART instead establishing coordinated, centrally-planned, seamless connections at a modernized San Jose Diridon station.
  • Frees BART and VTA to plan for a far more logical extension along Stevens Creek Boulevard to serve the sprawling automobile-captive transit deserts of Santa Clara County.
  • Keeps the really good people at Caltrain employed. They can work for BART.
  • Just makes categorical sense. Caltrain's trajectory of modernization, described extensively in its business planning effort, takes it out of the old-fashioned category of "commuter rail" and into the category of "rapid transit," right here in the Bay Area. You could then describe it as Bay Area Rapid Transit, or perhaps just BART for short. If it walks like a BART and quacks like a BART, then it surely must be BART!
Kill the DTX project.  The San Francisco Downtown Extension (DTX) is one of those projects that is so important that everyone got tunnel vision and let costs explode as we forgot why we were doing it in the first place. A quarter century of planning later and at six billion dollars and rising, the benefit is no longer worth the cost. Why not blow it all up, and merge DTX with the Second Transbay Rail Crossing?
  • Solves the problem once, not twice, something taxpayers and riders will all appreciate. DTX and Transbay Tube II both connect a mega-region by creating high-speed, high-capacity arteries to supply the economic heart of the Bay Area. Both projects solve a geometry problem that no amount of additional freeway lanes or autonomous vehicle technology can possibly address. They should be one project, and the distinction between them is not only operationally counter-productive but astronomically costly for taxpayers.
  • Defuses an emerging and highly toxic competitive dynamic between two competing mega-projects, which threatens to delay both.
  • Makes the Salesforce Transit Center a through-station, which is enormously more efficient to operate and enables far higher throughput capacity (trains and passengers) within the existing station footprint. Yes, this requires dismantling a couple of medium-sized high rises whose foundations stand in the way on the northeast end of the train box; this is the cost of progress.
  • Enables seamless high-speed electric through service from the East Bay / Sacramento to the Peninsula and Silicon valley, just like the Paris RER or London Crossrail.
  • Stores the EMU fleet on the Oakland side of Transbay Tube II, presumably somewhere inside the dystopian freeway mess of the Maze, thus removing the anachronistic need for a train yard in the heart of San Francisco.
  • Allows a large-diameter tunnel boring machine (big enough to allow for 2 wide-gauge tracks stacked on top of 2 standard-gauge tracks for the Transbay segment) to start from a more accessible construction site on the Oakland side. The TBM would land in San Francisco near Howard Street, providing the start for a Geary BART subway.
Yes, crayon plans like this do not factor in important things like Environmental Impact Reports and shovel-readiness, or the entrenched politics of established bureaucracies, or the deeply carved flows of monies from various federal, state, regional and local sources into the pockets of the private Transit Industrial Complex. But sometimes, difficult times call for big changes. Changes that put riders and taxpayers, who are all suffering to various degrees through this pandemic, in a stronger position at a table of stakeholders that rarely has much room for them.


  1. Sounds legit.

    Except for the Second Transbay Tube nonsense. Not happening. The time to do something about SF-Oakland was 25 years ago. (Thanks, Steve Heminger!)

    Not un-coincidentally, that was about the last chance to do anything about catastrophic climate change. (Thanks, a couple thousand evil Heminger-alikes around the US in exactly the wrong places at exatly the wrong time!)

    1. Why do you think Transbay Tube II wouldn't happen? I think it's a project that has a more compelling value proposition than DTX.

      We'll assign you to the team that designs the Golden Gate Locks. Good for 70 meters of sea level rise, which is apparently the maximum if all the ice in the world were to melt.

  2. I think it would be helpful to dispel some common myths about the legal framework for expanding the BART District, and offer a set of principles for how such a merger should work. See the relevant section of the California Public Utilities Code here: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=PUC&division=10.&title=&part=2.&chapter=9.&article=1

    29500 - "Any county not included within the boundaries of the district, including a county which has withdrawn from the district pursuant to Chapter 10 of this part, may be annexed thereto in the manner provided in this chapter."

    San Mateo County can rejoin the BART District even though they previously left. (So could Marin County, in theory.)

    29501 - "The board of supervisors of the county proposed to be annexed shall agree in writing with the board of directors of the district upon the terms and conditions of annexation, which agreement (among other things) may provide for the levy and collection of special taxes within the county in addition to the taxes elsewhere in this part provided for, the fixing of rates, rentals, and charges differing from those fixed or existing elsewhere within the district, the incurring or assumption of indebtedness, or the making of a payment or payments, or the transfer of property, real and personal, and other assets to the district by the county."

    The terms of the annexation are negotiated between the BART Board of Directors and the County Board of Supervisors. They can include:
    - Special taxes that only apply to the new county
    - Bringing the county into line with existing taxes levied by the BART District
    - Assumption of debt
    - Transfer of property

    29502 - "As a condition of annexation, the district shall require any county seeking to annex to the district to reimburse the district for the county’s equitable share of the previously incurred cost of financing capital expenditures within the district theretofore imposed by taxation on territory within the district. The amount of reimbursement due from such county, **unless otherwise provided for in the annexation agreement entered into pursuant to Section 29501 of this code**, shall be computed on the following basis: one-half in the proportion that the population of the county bears to the total population of the district and one-half in the proportion that the assessed value of the real estate of the county bears to the total assessed value of the real estate of the district. Determinations of population shall be made by the district on the latest official information available to it. Determinations by the district as to the amount of capital expenditures shall be conclusive in each case." (emphasis mine)

    The infamous "poison pill" provision, requiring back taxes all the way back to the formation of the BART District… or, you know, whatever the BART Board of Directors and County Board of Supervisors agree is fair.

    Sections 29503-29504 go on to outline a way to kickstart the annexation process with a petition. If you collect signatures numbering 10% of turnout at the last general election, it's equivalent to a resolution by the County Board of Supervisors to start the annexation process, and they are then required to start negotiations with the District.

    1. So what should the annexation agreements for San Mateo and Santa Clara counties look like?

      - Each county’s 1/3 ownership stake in the PCJPB, BARTD-operated stations/tracks/facilities, and any related assets/debt/taxes are transferred to BARTD
      - Each county agrees to the ongoing tax obligations associated with all three existing BART counties, including Measure RR
      - Each county agrees to participate in a BART-led regional planning process for Dumbarton Rail, HSR, Transbay Tube 2, et al
      - BARTD agrees to treat the counties as full members, maintaining equitable service levels and granting board members
      - BARTD agrees to treat Caltrain as an integral part of the BART system, retaining as many staff as possible
      - BARTD agrees to purchase feeder transit services from SamTrans and VTA, along the lines of existing agreements with SFMTA and AC Transit, specifically including transbay service on the Dumbarton and San Mateo-Hayward bridges that approximates the frequency and hours of operation of the combined BART+Caltrain system

    2. "Each county agrees to participate in a BART-led regional planning process for Dumbarton Rail, HSR, Transbay Tube 2, et al"

      Ms Teapot, this is moot. WSP already controls "planning" on both the BART and Caltrain/CHSRA sides as well as the funding flow at MTC, so all this could accomplish is throwing a few extra tens of millions at some "visioning exercise" do-nothing consultants for a year or two. Been there, done that, done that, done that, done that. So many "Bay Crossings" studies over the last decades!

      The practical, as measured in tens of billions of dollars of your tax money and mine, outcome is the same as it has always has been.

      Skip it. You're not going to get a better deal after the studies than "sign the blank check", so just sign the blank check now and move on to some more feasible project, such as, I don't know, an easier and more feasible one like a population-proportional US senate.

  3. I think merging DTX with 2nd tube makes a lot of sense, but there a need for some catching up in terms of where Caltrain would continue on the east side. Follow Capitol Corridor and split north and south as a straw man?

  4. Thanks Clem, it seems exactly the right time to seriously discuss merging Caltrain into BARTD for the many reasons you mention. I am curious if there is has been any discussion by Seamless Bay Area, SamTrans, VTA, SM or SC County, etc. I’d be interested to hear from Adina and others, their thoughts on how best to advocate for this.

  5. America's Finest Transporation Professionals: dig a hole, fill it with cash, and set it on fire. Repeat again and again and again and again.

    Can we please get Jared Kusher involved in this somehow, too? He's exactly as qualified as and has just as excellent an engineering track record as URS and PTG and allied rent-seeking sleazebags do.




    Thursday, May 14, 2020
    REGULAR MEETING 9:30 a.m.


    11. Authorizing the Executive Director to execute an amendment to the Professional Services Agreement 13-02-PMPC-000 with URS Corporation for Program Management/Program Controls services, to exercise the remaining option to extend the Agreement term by four years (July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2024); increasing the budget by $14,600,000 for a not-to-exceed total contract amount of $50,597,000 to support the advancement of the Transbay Program Phase 2/Downtown Rail Extension to ready-for-procurement status; and other amendments.


  6. Where does TBT2 go in the East Bay? Downtown Oakland only has congested BART rail and East Bay standard gauge rail is congested and low speed.

    1. ConnectOakland has a good plan for both BART, Caltrain, and Capitol Corridor.


    2. Please can we stop advocating for putting BART/Caltrain station at the edge of the Oakland CBD just because its an easy location? If you're going to spend billions of dollars on a four track tunnel that even in smart reasonable countries like Spain or France would be expensive, we should at least provision for the stop to try to be in the heart of Oakland's economic activity, and not on the edge because there's an easy to use trench. The latter idea is very America post WWII train planning brain.

    3. LOL. The proposed location is not even a 4 minute walk to Oakland City Hall.

    4. Downtown Oakland already has BART service. With a second line for all those SF-bound commuters, they can board trains bypassing downtown Oakland and free up standing room on other trains for people actually working and living there.

      If not 980, then which street, Clay?

      If money grew on trees, DTX would be funded. It's insane expense is holding it back. Doing a 4-track transbay tunnel costs tens of billions of dollars. I'm more interested in finding ways to make it happen without cutting either BART or standard gauge rail.

      Lastly if you read more of the connectoakland website, the plan replaces the trench and covers it with a boulevard of TOD as many stories tall as ultimately allowed. A station there and mid-rise or tall buildings shifts the center of the CBD westward, or expands the CBD geographic area depending on how you think about it.

    5. Agree with putting rail on 980 generally but not to close 980 completely (if that’s what they want ultimately). Agree that 980 isolates west Oakland from downtown but a lot of that is due to the ridiculously wide ROW of the freeway. 980 only needs 4 lanes but the trench looks like it can fit 20. Slim it down and keep it to the west edge of the trench, use the rest for the station and rails, and cover it up to sell development rights on top that help pay for the project. Win for not adding to the chaos of the maze, win for diverting cars from downtown streets, win for space and funding for rail, win for better urban connectivity across the trench.

    6. ConnectOakland's plan is horrible. So many dead ends and reverse branches. Just a recipe for excessive connections, crowding, low capacity and construction expense.

      A sensible plan would involve through-running and limiting service patterns as much as possible. Here is what I would suggest:
      - All trains on the existing BART line from SF run north to Richmond or Pittsburg
      - The new BART tunnel continues to a West Oakland stop (approximately Mandela&14th), to Oakland City Center (with transfer to the existing line), then merging into the existing South Bay line before Lake Merritt. The Orange Line is cancelled, its riders would transfer in Oakland
      - It's less obvious what to do with standard gauge trains from SF. In the short term they could go to Jack London or any other peripheral station - just getting the terminal out of underground SF saves immensely on construction costs. In the longer term there could be two branches to the north and south Capital Corridor. A third branch could be HSR to Sacramento, using the 980 corridor in Oakland and then following the Pittsburg BART eastward.

    7. Eric, what dead ends (plural) are there after Phase 4? One where a new line crosses 19th St. Station. The purpose of that is so BART can extend as a Phase 5 to parallel i-580, connect to Lake Merritt, or both.

      Your idea looks like this as described:


      It adds less capacity and will have more crowding than Connect Oakland's. With the CO plan, The Red and Yellow lines (Yellow carries the most passengers of all the lines) double in possible capacity and trains per hour without any transfers required by passengers. Or any less trains they run through the existing transbay tube can be taken by more Green and Blue trains.

      Your plan doubles capacity on the Green and Blue lines. Because 12th St. Oakland has 3 platforms, not 4, the Red and Yellow lines can't double capacity. They can only split the canceled Orange line train slots. But that doesn't add much capacity, because Orange line riders still fill those trains and have to transfer en mass down stairs and escalators to the new lower platform on the new line.

      Capitol Corridor and Caltrain riders going to Oakland will have to use Jack London Station, which isn't as close to downtown, and because of the split, service to Jack London will be less frequent. The result will be extra transfers in Richmond, Millbrae, and the Salesforce Transit Center, which are avoided in the Connect Oakland plan.

  7. I disagree there is a merger need between Caltrain and BART. The connectivity issue such as in Millbrae will become moot when Caltrain is running at higher-enough frequency after electrification. Tokyo, for example, has many operating agency/private/public rail companies serving the area, the only coordination I see are compatible smart cards between different systems (SUICA, Pasmo, etc...), occasionally through running projects/agreements, and central planning agency to approve expansion proposals.

    I don't think there is an disadvantage on Caltrain and BART to remain separate agencies and run their services slightly different. This can create driving forces for improvements, such as "if XXX can run service this way, why can't XXX?".

  8. I also disagree merging Caltrain with Bart. From a passenger standpoint, Caltrain offers substantially better service and management than Bart. Caltrain needs a lifeline but maybe their efficiency comes from the fact that they have to manage the budget coming from fares, rather than some pre-assigned tax money

  9. BART recovers like 70% of its operating costs in fares. Caltrain is around 82%. That's far higher than actual international giants like RATP in Paris. Anyways the idea that Caltrain provides better service is nuts. Every BART station receives better off peak service than all except a few Caltrain stations do even during the height of the peak.

    1. "Anyways the idea that Caltrain provides better service is nuts."

      I like the shiny pins on the conductor hats that say "CONDUCTOR". They give me a funny feeling inside.
      I like the REALLY LOUD RADIOS that the men with the "CONDUCTOR" pins have. Just like when the whole team is getting the go-ahead in an exciting combat movie, but louder!

      I also like the DING DING DING DING DING DING DING HONK HONK HONK HONK. Theme park rides should be LOUD! Caltrain goes up to ELEVEN!
      A good thing is that Caltrain's new trains will ALSO go up to ELEVEN, too. They had to order extra non-Swiss all-American compressed air just to be loud enough. Whatever it cost, it was worth it!

      And I especially like the especially the lurching. Lurching is fun. I like lurching. WHOA! Did we pass through a Caltrain Standard switch? Hit a car? Encounter a Caltrain Standard curve?
      AREMA and Caltrain Standard Track Geometry make my tummy just all over and feel all wobbly and tingly. HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS!

      I like waiting an hour and a half for a train, and never seeing any black people. BART just doesn't offer that sort of experience.

      HIGHBALL ON THE GREEN, good buddy!

    2. Wait Richard what is this about the compressed air? Did they have to order an extra loud whistle or something?

    3. I think the point about better service on Caltrain had to do with lack of massive thefts, people actively smoking on the train or visibly injecting themselves.

    4. Rebrand the red trains blue if you must but the conductors act as act as effective and lawfully empowered security (unlike certain other 'ambassadors') for the system and must be kept to maintain political support. Case in point - the capitol corridor runs through the exact same rough territory as BART does (and worse) yet suffers none of the crime and problems.

    5. "effective and lawfully empowered"

      Hoo boy.

    6. Hey don't get me wrong. I'm with you on the anachronistic railroad 'conductor'. I wish it weren't so but this is not Tokyo and it's not Munich. It's the Bay and here people are gonna take advantage. I'd like to see sane regional transit integration happen in my lifetime so if having a few more heads on the payroll keeps the vultures away (both the NIMBY type and the type that sets up camp), then its what it is.

  10. 1. I support merging BART and Caltrain mostly for creating a single fare system so that it cost significantly less for travels that need to cross the two systems...but BART is shitty enough I wish we can start fresh with a new agency instead.

    2. Always find the DTX project...and the transit center itself, a waste of taxpayer money. If ppl are gonna take a train to SF from farther places (South Bay or LA), they are gonna use it whether it ends at Salesforce or 4th and King. And with Central Subway it’s going to be even less of an issue. Not to mention the stupid location of Salesforce forcing trains to make 2 sharp 90 degree turns from 4th and King to the terminal.

    3. If I were in power I’d shut down VTA right away. First they built the useless light rail. Now that want SJ - Santa Clara BART. VTA is just a group filled with twisted minds.

    1. "If ppl are gonna take a train to SF from farther places (South Bay or LA), they are gonna use it whether it ends at Salesforce or 4th and King."

      Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

      "Not to mention the stupid location of Salesforce forcing trains to make 2 sharp 90 degree turns from 4th and King to the terminal."

      Insightful! To think there were so very many other locations in or adjacent to the SF CBD where a 420m x 50+m site was available, not built out, nearly entirely in public ownership, but yet, tragically -- tragically! -- overlooked!

    2. To think spending billions on a terminal with only 6 tracks, a few extra billions to build a slow, screeching connecting track, and a station block that is boxed in by high-rise that prohibits any future expansion, and think that all the extra cost and limitation is going to be economically worthwhile to move the station just a few blocks closer to Market instead of just building out big, open, public-owned 4th and King, is a real tragic - - tragic thing indeed!

    3. DTX is the single most important transit investment in the core Bay Area. The Salesforce Transit Center has more jobs within walking distance than every other Caltrain station, combined, and the lack of transfers between BART and Caltrain depresses regional transit ridership.

      That one-mile gap is a key culprit in why there are normally so many cars in SoMa, making its sidewalks and public spaces unpleasant. It's people Ubering to the office from Caltrain, or who have given up on transit entirely because Caltrain stops a mile short from where they need to go.

      Central Subway helps with East Bay commuters working in Mission Bay, but it doesn't go to FiDi. And being light rail, it's not enough by itself to handle all the regional commutes to an extremely dense job center.

      It makes no sense for Caltrain to end where it does, and it's gonna look even sillier when it's the BART Purple Line.

    4. Cities everywhere have built commuter railway terminus located not at the very core but very close to the core of the city where there’s more space and slightly less pricey real estate. These terminus serve as a dispersion point where people from farther suburbs come and transfer to different local connections that brings them to whichever part of the city they need to go. That’s why you see multiple termini spread across cities like London and Paris and Tokyo where people coming into the city from different directions transfer to local connections to get to the exact place they need to go. They don’t build one big terminus in the middle of the core and feed everyone into it because it’s expensive to build such a huge facility where it’s the most dense and expensive, and overcrowds that area while leaving other parts of the city less accessible. They spread it out.

      Right now East Bay people gets off on Market; Marin people gets off at Embarcadero; South Bay people gets off between SoMa and Mission Bay. And it’s not like Caltrain riders don’t have local connection options: central subway to Union Square, T MUNI to Mission Bay and Embarcadero, and if you are so insistent on getting off right at Montgomery (and too lazy to walk 5-10 min from Powell), you can always switch to BART at Millbrae (schedule of which should be coordinated if Caltrain is BART).

      The solution to your last mile Uber gridlock is not about spending tens of billions just to dump everyone at Salesforce (well it is sort of a solution, albeit an expensive one that broke CA and SF is having a lot of difficulty to afford), but to use a fraction of that money to improve all these local connections to make it much more convenient and frequent so that it increases accessibility for long distance commuters and improves local transport options for people living in the City.

      (And trust me, if a subway line is sufficient to handle all the people working at Canary Wharf, having 2 MUNI lines plus a BART transfer can totally accommodate commuters getting of Caltrain. I find the US tend to grossly overestimate ridership and that’s why we end up with some many low ridership rail services deep in the red)

      I spent most of my life living in a public transport city (and take commuter trains + subway every day) and I’m glad I came to the Bay Area late enough to not see most of my tax money thrown into stupid projects. Hopefully better decisions will be made in the future (no high hopes though)

    5. The last ridership study done for DTX (by Cambridge Systemmatics) showed just 8k new transit trips (20k new Caltrain trips overall, but many of those would be poached from other operators).

      Granted, the study was done 10 years ago and perhaps out of date....but those numbers do not indicate that DTX is "the single most important transit investment". I can think of lot better things to spend $6+ billion on.

    6. Probably “the single most expensive transit investment relative to its sad social-economic returns” lol

    7. I agree with the anonymous poster, in thinking that closing 4th and King would be a completely asinine decision. The 4th and King railyard is the only easily accessible and expansion ready land that Caltrain has in San Francisco. If anything, it's the only place with potential to become a "Grand Central" of the bay. The fact of the matter is that the new Transbay Terminal has built the line into a corner, with almost no possibility of expansion past six tracks. I think there is possibility for development within the 4th and King city block, but the train station should come as priority because it vital for the long term. Just imagine that the $6 billion promised for DTX could go towards a real investment into making 4th and King a viable and future-proof terminal, while at the same time satiating the desire to develop the area for housing. I imagine that some of the infrastructure at 4th and King could be put underground, and similarly to the rebuilding of Penn Station in NYC (minus the lack of foresight and mismanagement) there could be buildings built on top.

  11. Interesting idea, this has been suggested a number of times in the past, many of which were to replace Caltrain with wide-gauge BART, a very costly endeavor. It was commonly promoted by BART directors and some politicians of the 1980’s and 1990’s, they were all about extending BART everywhere, much to the detriment of the core BART system. The current BART BOD doesn’t appear advocate such a plan anymore.

    BART has good points and bad points…
    The bad:
    No monthly passes, no express service, low seated capacity, platforms limited to 10 cars, fare surcharges, wide gauge, custom design, meetings in Oakland.

    The good:
    Frequent service, distance-based fares, to name a few.

    Of course, there are more good and bad points with BART. Obviously Caltrain has it’s own sets of good and bad points. Creating a system using the best of both is a worthwhile endeavor but how do we keep the convoluted politics of Bay Area transit out of the mix?

    The way I read this is that the BART Purple Line would manage the existing Caltrain ROW. How would we ensure that BART doesn’t end monthly passes, or end express service? How do we ensure that BART doesn’t end service in the Bayshore corridor?

    1. Correcting your good/bad list. Inequitably distance based fares belongs among the bad points. Really all BART's good points are frequent service (after the first two decades of poorly scheduled unreliability) and ADA accessibility. Beyond that it is a textbook case of misdesign on almost all counts.

    2. Please explain how distance-based fares are inequitable and what is bad about them?

      Please explain how Caltrain zone fares are equitable when a person can pay $6.00 to go 2 miles while someone else only pays $3.75 to go 10 miles?

      Lack of a monthly pass is a bad thing. Fare surcharges might be considered a bad thing.

    3. Caltrain fare zones are a holdover from the era before electronic ticketing. I don't see a technical reason why clipper card validators cannot be reprogrammed to bill by origin and destination. Caltrain fares are already distance based - just not very granular.

      Many European and Asian systems combine point-to-point one-way fares with zone or line-based passes. Perhaps not inconceivable for the newly expanded BART to offer a purple line only monthly pass.

    4. Yes, it goes back to when conductors sold and collected tickets on-board trains, I started riding the train in 1977. Zones used to be shorter prior to 2003 when Millbrae BART opened, when there were 9 zones. Caltrain went to six 13-mile zones, claiming to ‘simplify’ the fare structure, however one of the underlying reasons was to make the Caltrain to SF fare similar to the BART to SF fare from Millbrae. Caltrain did a fare study and everything, LOL. The problem with bulky 13-mile zones is that the base fare and the per-zone fare has to be abnormally high.

      I have developed a distance- based fare matrix based on mileage, which proves that it can be done relatively easily. It includes single ride, monthly pass, 7-day pass, and 10-ride. It can be revenue neutral, revenue positive or revenue negative all depending on whatever base fare and per mile fare you want to plug into it.

      One potential problem is to re-program Clipper, the Clipper contractor will charge MTC/Caltrain or whoever an outrageous fee to do so, possibly into the high $100k or over $1 million.

    5. david vartanoff14 May, 2020 17:40

      About fare inequity. As a child I discovered that 10 miles from my home to anywhere in downtown DC was double what I paid in Chicago when visiting kin. In fact Chicago not only charged a single flat fare within city limits, but offered 1/2 fare until I turned 12, while DC Transit charged full fare from 6 yrs, and zone fares in the near in suburban areas beyond the arbitrary border. So, later, living in (briefly) Philly and then NYC, I benefited from a single flat fare within most of the city with subway routes of 20 miles or more. Thus,to me, since farebox recovery in much of transit is less than 30 %, my attitude is that high fares are simply a gift to the auto and petroleum companies. We build transit and sidewalks because they enhance our access to the features that bring us to cities in the first place. Surcharging during rush hours targetsthose of us required to work a specificschedule--universally the lower paid segment of the workforce.

    6. Interesting how fare policies differ from region to region. The Bay Area is fairly consistent with an under 18 youth fare and is working to have all transit agencies comply.

      You raise a good point regarding flat fares on local/city systems. Should local bus and light rail service be a flat fare, while long haul rail service (Caltrain, BART, ACE, SMART, Capital Corridor) are distance based? Should a 45-mile bus trip cost $2.50? It will take a few hours and require transfers for this trip. The trip on Caltrain would be $9.95 and take 60-90 minutes depending on express/or local trains.

      I totally agree that high fares are a gift to auto and petroleum industries and that peak-hour surcharges hurt those of us who must adhere to a specific work or class schedule. How do we get transit agencies to understand this?

      Problem with most fare policies, is that they are developed by non-riding transit planners who don’t see things from a riders perspective. Another problem is the “commuter rail” ideology many agencies are caught in, i. e. riders are well-paid and can afford high fares. Unfortunately, there are plenty of lower income riders who can not or can barely afford these high fares, especially when they have to transfer between multiple systems. Additionally, many of the high-income riders fares are fully or partially subsidized by their employer. This means that this class of riders are least likely to be impacted by high fares and fare increases. Caltrain fails to fully take this into consideration in their fare policy and so-called fare study. While Caltrain is moving ahead with means-based fares in conjunction with MTC, it is unknown what would happen if ALL riders were required to pay full retail fares without employer subsidies.

  12. Great post Clem! Yes let's deliver the DTX along with a 2nd Transbay Tube, and merge the two agencies together while we're at it – this makes so much sense.

    Here is a paper I wrote in 2014 describing one potential way to get Caltrain to Oakland and connect it with BART – yes it becomes the Purple Line!


    I presented this at SPUR in 2016:


    My understanding is that BART is still studying the 2nd tube and is considering standard gauge tracks. This is a big project but it has to happen sooner or later (probably later)

  13. Until they start serving complementary Clorox martinis I think investment in mass transit should be put on hold and instead we should be hedging are bets on Uber, Tesla and mini Hyperloop pods. We'll need the taxes generated from congestion pricing to pay for new high tech PT. Public Transit which will include plexi-glass seating barriers, drop down airplane style mask, self sanitizing seats and etc. A vaccine would work as well.

  14. My idea
    * Unify BART, ACE, Caltrain, Muni, SMART, VTA, AC Transit, County Connection, FAST, Golden Gate Transit, Muni, SamTrans, Santa Rosa CityBus, SolTrans, Sonoma County Transit, Tri Delta Transit, VINE Transit and WHEELS into a single agency, like NJT, MBTA, MTA and SEPTA. This new agency would be called Bay Area Transportation Authority.
    ** Divisions
    *** City Transit Division: Local bus routes, light rail trains such as Muni Metro and VTA Light Rail
    *** Suburban Division: Intercity bus routes, the former BART system
    *** Railroad Division: The former Caltrain, SMART and ACE.
    * Extend eBART into Tracy, where it can connect with ACE
    * Build a new rail line that largely follows I-880, bypassing the UP tracks. This includes relocating the freight tracks away from Embardcadero. As part of that, build a new rail line following I-80 from Richmond to Fairfield to bypass the freight tracks, and new rail lines following I-680 and I-580.

  15. Merging Caltrain and BART is a great idea, especially for all of the coordinated planning. Look how well this works in New York, with the MTA controlling the Subway, Long Island Railroad and Metro North to ensure the commuter railroads cooperate sharing space at Grand Central and Penn Station, plus the unified fare structure with a single mode-independent price from Jamaica to Manhattan.

    Sarcasm aside, why should TBT II use a TBM, instead of immersed tube like the current crossing? Also, why go for a massive 4-track tunnel instead of two 2-track tunnels for the different services. In addition to avoiding Seattle Bertha-like complications, it would allow the services to have different endpoints for different needs (such as BART from 2nd/Embarcadero to Alameda Pt, then on-land construction to JLS and DT Oak; while heavy rail goes from Howard/Emb to join existing tracks in Oakland Middle Harbor.)

    1. TBT II: the immersed tube involved digging trenches for the tube, which stirred up huge volumes of contaminated sediment. I've read (here, usually) that that won't pass current environment standards.

      As for why massive 4-track tunnel rather than 2 two-track tunnels: if that is a better idea, then it illustrates perfectly the _utter futility_ of merging BART and Caltrain.

      BART suffers from the same issues as Caltrain: absence of in-house expertise to oversee (or overrule) contractor proposals; contractor capture; incompetent or uninterested (not disinterested) management (exhibit A: Steve Heminger, Bay Bridge bolts and rods!), and so on.

      Personally, I don't see how merging BART and Caltrain helps Caltrain. It just makes it even harder to reform the (larger, older, more ossified) management. Obviously, Clem disagrees. I'll have to write a longer post with more of the problems I see.

    2. Vallco project was approved by the courts. Wolfe/Stevens Creek will look much denser and more transit friendly in the future. It's better to get ahead of that by improving transit.

  16. San Jose doesn't need BART to get a line serving Stevens Creek Blvd, it just needs VTA to plan well and build a line of its own there. In fact, an E-W route on Stevens Creek from De Anza College to SJSU should have been the second line VTA built, after the N-S route. Instead they have fiddled about with low performing extensions.

    This actually brings up a little recognized point about VTA's poor performance: like BART it has an S-Bahn/RER topology, with all lines sharing a single route downtown, instead of an urban rail topology with a net of intersecting lines (1st+Monterrey, Stevens Creek+San Carlos, El Camino+Santa Clara).

    1. People keep talking about rail transit along Stevens Creek, but it’s like they’ve never been there. There is approximately zero transit demand outside of students as evidenced by the 323 ridership. All significant destinations except for the mall are 2-3 story office parks surrounded by oceans of free parking. Santa Clara and Cupertino want to keep it that way.

    2. "People keep talking about rail transit along Stevens Creek, but it’s like they’ve never been there."

      Exactly. Thank you.

      VTA's problem is not enough BART.
      That Caltrain SF extension's problem is not enough tunnels.

    3. I feel there are really 2 niches for transit to succeed in the US - one is a highly urbanized core where density presents practical impediments for automobile ownership by residents. Few parts of this nation, and certainly no part of Santa Clara county falls in this category.

      The other niche is commuter rail, which is necessitated by the inability of existing highway and parking capacity to accommodate the influx of 1) suburban workers into 2) a dense cluster of employment. This, in my opinion, is ALSO a more uncommon scenario than rail boosters around the country would have you believe. Most 'light rail' systems in this country struggle for this reason. The ones that do succeed, do so by leveraging the suburban lifestyle and cars already in driveways to complete the last mile efficiently and at minimum operating cost to the transit agency.

      It happens that the condition for commuter rail to succeed DO existing in the bay area. However, one has to identify these rare markets for success. This requires an understanding of consumer demand and choice economics which I feel has been absent in VTA decision making. Much of the VTA network has been laid down without the necessary push factors to succeed, and the same would apply, in my opinion, to a Steven's Creek scheme.

    4. Here is a pie-in-the-sky counterpoint that follows commuter rail principles:

      1) Remove half the stations on existing Winchester stub, expand parking at those remaining.
      2) Run along the existing freight tracks into Cupertino.
      3) Single commuter rail station 'Cupertino' at De Anza college, provision 2000 spaces.
      3) Run down 85 median, merge back onto VTA ROW at Mountain View. (This would be the most expensive part of the proposal, but still no worse than Stevens Creek BART). There is room for value engineering - with no intermediate stations between Cupertino & Mtn View, a single track along the freeway can easily support 4 TPH.
      4) Operate SJ Diridon -> Mountain View DMU service by way of Campbell & Cupertino, with timed transfers for SF bound BART 'purple line' at Mountain View.

      My expectation is that this alignment would bring attract better ridership (and congestion relief) than either Stevens Creek and/or Santa Clara BART, at a fraction of the cost.

    5. @Pete I think what you are basically proposing is rail along the vasona line/85 median from 85/17 to MV. VTA looked recently at light rail in 85 median along this stretch and decided it was a terrible idea. See this article:


      Basically job density in MV is not high enough to support park+ride rail, Also,note that the freight line belongs to UP and is single track through residential neighborhoods so would be a tough sell to use for commuter rail.

    6. Vallco project was approved by the courts. Wolfe/Stevens Creek will look much denser and more transit friendly in the future. Plus you have continuing development at Santana Row and midtown San Jose. It's better to get ahead of that by improving transit.

    7. @JohnBrant None of those developments will generate much transit demand, certainly not enough to justify rail. Bus lanes, or at least queue jumps at major intersections would be a good place to start on Stevens Creek, but the car dealers will scream if you try to remove any street parking. That's where their employees park.

    8. @jpk122s Thanks for the link. That article describes roughly the route that I have in mind, however the implementation being discussed just underlines my point about the disconnect between VTA's perception of public need and reality. An analysis regarding job density along the route completely misses the point regarding the role of commuter rail in a suburban environment. Likewise a fixation on employmentin Mountain View alone ignores that the project would not be a standalone line but part of a wider hub-and-spoke regional network.

      And then there's the uninformed quip about parking being 'cheap and plentiful' in Mountain View, and that west county commuters should 'just drive' to the Caltrain. The time limited city garages are not for commuter use, and the Caltrain lot fills up quickly in the morning - to speak nothing of peak-hour congestion on the 85 corridor which is the entire point of the discussion.

      That VTA study appears to envision 'light rail' on this alignment as it exists elsewhere in the county today - fully electrified dual track with tightly spaced stations geared for pedestrian access with minimum surface parking. Personally I would NOT support a project in this form. Examples in Asia and Europe demonstrate that a low cost, DMU operated commuter line can serve as a very efficient feeder for mainline service. Closer to home, Antioch BART's 1000 spaces were oversubscribed on opening day, necessitating a rush to build out a second lot.

      You do have a valid point regarding the political challenge of developing the UP quarry ROW, or the freeway median, for that matter. Thats why I prefaced my comment with an acknowledgement that its all just futile musing.

  17. BART has left the extension track and Milpitas and San Jose stations sit unused for three years. BART, obviously, can't handle what it has now. BART doesn't have the management or engineering to add Caltrain to its plate. Ask BART why it blew 100 thyristors (power electronic switches the size/shape of a hockey puck at $1000 each) on one section of East Bay track. It couldn't figure it out. [People want BART because it has its own completely dedicated, isolated track. It doesn't block roads. It doesn't have the dozen deaths per year that Caltrain has. BART runs the Oakland Airport Connector --- $500 million spent, $6 for a three mile one-way tram ride. Can commuters afford that every day? SFO workers didn't use the BART extension until they were given special dispensation from the SFO surcharge.]

  18. Stadler recently contracted for 21x6 KISS with Hungary MAV for EUR 313m.

    That's about $2.7m per "car" for 216 "cars". (Oh, and the trains come with ETCS2, which, you know, fucking works and can be bought from multiple vendors, utterly unlike any bullshit bespoke signal system crap Caltrain's criminal contractor scammers pull out of their rear ends.)

    Now compare Caltrain: $203m on top of $551m (!!!!!!!!!) for 19x7 = 133 "cars".

    A cool $5.7m per "car".




    Well over twice as much for the same product from the same manufacturer, only ... worse (no working signalling system; no realistic plan for level boarding ever; 1 instead of 4 toilets per train, etc.)

    Three cheers for American Capitalism, and for American contractors, and American sub-contractors, and American sub-sub-sub-contractors, and for the most professsional public agency management team that has ever been assembled using bits and pieces of the Redwood City city council wetlands real estate development syndicate!

    1. To be fair, this order is based on a framework contract over 40 units, dating back to 2017. And they are built in the lower cost plants of Stadler.

      But still, the USAn contracts are very high… and not everything is explained by the customization.

    2. "And they are built in the lower cost plants of Stadler."
      Caltrain could have chosen to buy at lower cost. It was an explicit political decision to involve federal cash (with "Buy American" bullshit) and to involve layer upon layer of negative-value permanent unfirable USA consultants and layers of negative-value American shell corportations in the procurement.

      Paying more than twice as much for trains as necessary and "customizing" them (Stadler pretty much customizes everything for everybody -- as you well know that's how they started, and it's how they're continuing even while selling hundreds of standard platform trains) is something the criminals at Caltrain freely chose to do. That money's not going really going Stadler Rail AG and it's not going to make more service or cheaper servife or better service -- it's going to line the pockets of the rent-seeking consult mafia.

      It can't be repeated often enough that spending money is the primary purpose and very often the only purpose of American "public transit". Delivering service -- if it ever happens -- is an accidental side-effect.

      Just to be clear -- Caltrain is paying TWICE THE GOING RATE for its rolling stock, and having it delivered without a working signalling system, and delivered years late. TWICE, not 5%, not 10%, TWICE.

      Heckuva job, LTK and PTG and friends. Heckuva job.

  19. On the topic of merging DTX and TBT II, Caltrain's SF route should be reevaluated to hit the areas of maximum ridership. Namely, the tunnel should continue up 7th St and make one right turn onto Mission St, which removes the three right-angle turns that will slow down the trains. Build stations at Oakdale, 16 St Mission Bay (replaces 22 St), 5 St Mission, and 1 St Mission. Close the existing 4th & King terminal and extend the N Judah to the new 16 St station to cover the gap. Treat the STC train box as a sunk cost; maybe it can be reused as an HSR terminal when CAHSR makes it up to SF.

    On the Oakland side, Caltrain service should split into two branches. The south branch has an intermediate stop at Oakland JLS before terminating at an intermodal 14 Ave / San Antonio station. In the very long term, this branch can be extended further south to Bay Fair, and have it take over the existing Dublin/Pleasanton branch (rebuilt with standard gauge rail) to connect with Valley Link. The north branch should follow the existing Amtrak ROW with stations at Grand Ave, Emeryville, University Ave, Central Ave, Cutting Blvd, Richmond, and Market Ave. This branch should ultimately be extended to Hercules, but the alignment is TBD. Lastly, Caltrain's new maintenance yard will be located at the West Oakland wye.

    As for TBT II itself, stick with a dual-bore standard-gauge tube for now. The Geary subway shouldn't be a regional rail line and is better suited for Muni to operate.

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  21. Caltrain's signal woes continue: besides weirdness around CP Dumbarton and Redwood City (the things that caused the gates to require police officers to direct traffic a few months ago), weirdness with the signalling/PTC around CP Trousdale led to other issues in Burlingame. Then (based on engineer testimony) someone intentionally drove through Broadway's gates, breaking them and causing more havoc and delay. Based on just cursory evidence, around six additional trains were subject to delays yesterday because of it.