Caltrain’s Financial Woes Show Need for Statewide Rail Funding Solution

May 19th, 2013 | Posted by

Caltrain is in the midst of a stunning yet totally unsurprising (to rail advocates at least) surge in ridership that began nearly ten years ago. Yet the agency might still be forced to cut service because it doesn’t have a dedicated funding source to support operations. Such is the madness of transportation funding in California.

Take a look at that chart. The growth is stunning. Caltrain ridership has doubled since 2004. The recession in 2009 was but a short dip in the strong upward trend. Ridership has grown by 5,000 in the last 12 months alone. Caltrain is clearly a big success.

But as NBC Bay Area reports, that doesn’t help its financial woes:

So with fare revenues flowing in at historic levels and ridership showing no signs of slowing down, it might come as a surprise that Caltrain is actually fretting how it will pay for its 2015 budget, with a projected shortfall of $17 to $19 million staring administrators in the face.

How to explain this apparent contradiction?

“Caltrain is one of the only transportation agencies in the Bay Area that lacks a dedicated funding source,” observed Jayme Ackemann, spokesperson for both Caltrain and its managing agency, the San Mateo County Transit District.

“The fare revenue covers about 60 percent of our budget, which is a significant amount,” said Ackemann. “But it doesn’t cover the entire budget. And that 40 percent hole, roughly, that we’re looking at is the part of our budget that’s difficult to fill every year.”

Caltrain basically has to cobble together a budget every year by doing the governmental equivalent of lifting the couch cushions and going hat in hand to the partner agencies, who have their own money woes. At least Muni and VTA, for example, have their own dedicated revenue sources. Caltrain doesn’t and that is why service might have to be cut even as ridership soars.

Rod Diridon has a two-pronged solution:

His suggestions are two-fold: Have the Joint Powers Board member agencies make more of a financial commitment, and/or implement a new tax with the approval of voters.

“I think if we told the public what it was going to buy and what the advantages are, they would approve it,” said Diridon. “We’re in a remarkable area in California where the people do really understand how transportation and the economy work,” he added.

The polling suggests otherwise, however, according to Ackemann.

When Caltrain studied the likelihood of passage for such a tax in each of the participating counties, it found that San Francisco would likely come just short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass the measure (60% approval), San Mateo would barely clear the threshold, and Santa Clara would come nowhere close to passage.

It would help if the state legislature would put an initiative on the ballot to lower the threshold for transportation taxes to 50%+1 as has been discussed. And Caltrain could seek revenue from just one of those counties (San Francisco, obviously) but that might not be a sustainable solution either.

My initial thought on reading this article was to suggest a regional solution. Other Bay Area transit systems need revenue too in order to sustain and expand operations, whether they’re primarily bus or rail agencies. A regional transit tax of sufficient size could generate enough revenue for Caltrain and the other agencies through a higher gas tax or some other method. The politics of getting nine counties, dozens of cities, and numerous transit agencies to agree AND to ensure that Caltrain gets enough money would be difficult, to say the least. But it’s a solution worth exploring.

But then I realized that other agencies around the state are facing similar woes. For those that aren’t, more funding is still needed to expand service. That suggests to me that this is really a statewide problem that needs a statewide solution.

Last year SPUR put out a plan that showed how California could fund high speed rail on its own. SPUR’s plan combines a variety of new revenue sources to generate $2.7 billion a year for HSR. Increase the size of some of those revenue sources – a higher statewide gas tax, for example – and you would have money available to support existing and future operations at Caltrain and other agencies.

The last statewide gas tax increase came in 1990 and was approved by voters. Whether it’s a gas tax or some combination of it and other revenues, it’s time for the state to step up and take a bigger role in funding rail and other transit operations. California’s streets and freeways are jammed with traffic. Buses and trains are popular with the public where available. Just look at Caltrain’s huge ridership gains and you’ll see there is a lot of demand for more transit and rail service.

For the sake of California’s economy and its ability to address the climate crisis, more rail service is needed. Rather than force each agency to fend for itself, sometimes competing against each other or against other local transit agencies, and instead of asking each region to hammer out a solution, the state itself needs to help provide the answer. The 2016 ballot with its high presidential turnout is less than three years away. Now’s the time to start thinking big.

  1. Richard Mlynarik
    May 19th, 2013 at 14:40
    #1

    Caltrain is a trivial little regional operation with extraordinarily high costs and dismal level of use.

    What business is it of the rest of the state or the rest of the country to throw money at it?

    VBobier Reply:

    Sounds like you’d like to see Caltrain shut down and the tracks pulled up, that would mean more traffic on the local highways and possibly loss of jobs as industries relocate…

    Joey Reply:

    Sounds like you have no clue what you’re talking about.

    VBobier Reply:

    So Caltrain is an empty train? sounds like the untrue refrain “that no one rides on a train”. ;p

    Joey Reply:

    Richard’s point is that CalTrain is a relatively small and simple operation, and making it work shouldn’t require boatloads of cash.

    Eric Reply:

    60% fare recovery is very high for a US agency. If its operations are small then the subsidy it needs is also very small.

    BMF from San Diego Reply:

    The service models provided by Caltrain will be duplicates by HSR. HSR in the peninsula can, and likely will, assume many of the markets currently served by Caltrain.

    Joey Reply:

    HSR’s four stop local service won’t be a replacement for CalTrain’s 8 stop expresses.

    blankslate Reply:

    Furthermore, HSR won’t be running on the Peninsula for another 10-20 years, so we will need Caltrain in the meantime.

    Clem Reply:

    Nor will HSR fare structures be tailored to local commutes. Every commuter on the train will potentially displace a high-yield long distance passenger, so fares on HSR will be significantly higher than Caltrain’s in exchange for very limited time savings.

    To BMF’s point: the two services will most definitely not duplicate each other.

    Derek Reply:

    that would mean more traffic on the local highways

    And that’s one reason why price ceilings are so bad.

    Jonathan Reply:

    oh, bullshiit. Caltrain isn’t even regional; by world standards, you can easily cal it suburban commuter rail.

    It is a true statement that Caltrain has extraordinarily high costs. But that’s what you get when staff think _everything_ has to be custom-built due to “unique local needs”. What’s the bill for CBOSS, and how does that compare to what Auckland, NZ, spent for both electrification of 80km of track, _and_ a world-class, world-standard overlay signaling system?

    VBobier: don’t be an ass. Richard doesn’t want to see the tracks pulled up. He wants to see decent management. No, _halfway_ decent management.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    but but but it connects the third biggest subur.. city in the state to the state’s fourth largest city…

    Jonathan Reply:

    Precisely.

  2. synonymouse
    May 19th, 2013 at 14:50
    #2

    Who or what is going to stop the “authorities” from squandering the money on payroll when the unions go on strike and are endorsed by the party bosses benefiting from dues money converted to political contributions. 13 undocumented no-shows.

    In the Northbay when SMART stumbles utterly the voters will have to threaten the “insiders” who misplanned it with exactly the opposite of what you are proposing – pulling the sales tax support so they can’t go on operating empty trains. How else are you going to influence these morons?

    Jonathan Reply:

    Payroll? Payroll? Small potatoes, compared to *hundreds of millions* too much on capital expenditure.

    synonymouse Reply:

    In the case of Muni and BART payroll is a major cost of operation.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Payroll money, up to a certain salary level, gets spent and goes right back into the economy (as well as generating sales taxes, income taxes, etc.)

    In gross economic terms, the major problem is inequality: spending money in ways which cause it to end up in the hands of hoarders, the billionaires. This effectively takes it out of circulation.

  3. Joey
    May 19th, 2013 at 15:06
    #3

    It might help a bit if BART to SFO hadn’t bankrupted SamTrans.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    All the more reason for a state solution.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If any Bay Area entity begs for State intervention it is BART-MTC. Heminger out and some parts of the BART Empire converted to standard gauge(the route to LIvermore)

    But the State – read Jerry Brown – is just as incompetent as Bechtel which sabotaged BART with Indian broad gauge and now BART is paying the price in rolling stock problems, but never has exculpated its sins. Jerry is so enervated(just learned correctly what that verb means – thank you Gaius Petronius)he does not have the potency to stand up to the Ranch, Darth Walt or Palmdale.

    And you cannot let BART anywhere near administering Caltrain. They will cut its throat like a baying sheep and convert to broad gauge forthwith. Who’s gonna stop them? – they have the run of the Bay Area.

    Jon Reply:

    CAHSR would stop them. If BART converts Caltrain to broad gauge, HSR lose their access to SF and we’re back to four tracks everywhere for $10-$15 billion of HSR’s money and a fight with the NIMBYs. Not gonna happen. HSR > BART > Caltrain.

    synonymouse Reply:

    CAHSR to terminate at Diridon Intergalactic – a lot easier for 2:40. SF gets bought off in very valuable Caltrain downtown real estate.

    Jon Reply:

    None of the ‘power brokers’ you keep talking about want HSR to terminate at San Jose, and neither does CAHSR. 2:40 is for SF to LA, not SJ to LA.

    The Caltrain line is essentially 50 miles of free ROW for HSR, and HSR needs all the free ROW it can get right now. No way they’re going to give that up to be broad gauged.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Tentative power broker line-up: Kopp, Willie Brown, Diridon, Ed Lee, Reid, Heminger, and all the rest of the patronage machine once BART has gotten to them. Not to mention Amalgamated., etc.

    If you had been around in 1991 you would know how BART works. Caltrain would not stand a chance once the lobbying got started in earnest.

    You somehow think the politicians take hsr seriously. Not at all, it is just a means of rewarding friends and welfare-workfare. They don’t care it if works or loses money, none of that. That’s why they could give a shit about the mountain crossing.

    Jedi-PB mind trick – works every time on Jerry’s Judges.

    VBobier Reply:

    Only SF to LA is legal, SJ to LA is not and nothing you and yer nimby friends will make it so either.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That’s why they call it a mind trick. You tell the judge it is legal and the judge repeats it. Voila.

    PB has been doing it all along. Tehachapi fabulous; Tejon terrible and they lap it up.

    flowmotion Reply:

    CAHSR really wants a completely separate track system with zero blending. I’m sure they’d be happy to split the ROW with BART. “Good fences make for good neighbors.”

    synonymouse Reply:

    That would mean 4 track berm or hollow-core aerial from San Jose to the City. And how stupid – two segregated pairs.

    I suggest it is either the “blend” or BART solo. Naturally I prefer the blend but if you confer Caltrain to BART’s care it will be fratricide.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Robert, you’re being a dunce.
    You want to reward failures like BART-to-SFO – and now BART-to-San-Jose-flea-market — made with local funding? You want to give them state funding, so they can make even bigger blunders?

    I’m at a temporary loss for words.

    jimsf Reply:

    give control of caltrain to bart to manage and get rid of caltrain as an entity. eventually you can have hsr on the row while bart closed the millbrae santa clara gap via else camino subway

    Joey Reply:

    What gap? There is existing somewhat fast (faster than BART would ever be), reasonably frequent rail service on the corridor already.

    Giving CalTrain’s operations to BART might make sense though – their operating practices are at least reasonably competent given the infrastructure they have to work with.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It doesn’t have a BART logo on the side so it doesn’t count.

    jimsf Reply:

    short of closing the gap with regular bart it couldn’t least be ebart with timed crossplatforms transfers at millbrae

    Joey Reply:

    That would work very well (though whether or not you call it “CalTrain or “eBART” is a triviality). It would, however, require reconfiguring BART’s temple at Millbrae, which is apparently not allowed.

    jimsf Reply:

    actually bart would have to build regular bart and a new row because you cant have bart frequencies sharing track with hsr. As for travel time, bart would be just as fast as caltrain because the stations would be further apart and in addition to that bart is planning to start limited and semi express services.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Well, 5′ 6″ gauge precludes that. Blame it on Bechtel sabotage.

    Time to put a cap on any more broad gauge in the exurbs . It is already a botched NYC subway too far.

    blankslate Reply:

    Good luck convincing cities on the Peninsula to give up their stations.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The demand for Caltrain commute service is great and growing whereas virtually nil demand for trains to Mojave. BART would supplant Caltrain and hsr and would award PAMPA the subway it wants along the ROW. Cut and cover versus exorbitant boring under parallel El Camino. No need for two lines.

    HSR to terminate at High Diridon or find another entree. That’s your BART plan.

    blankslate Reply:

    The fact that BART-MTC-SamTrans made a terrible blunder with BART to SFO does not mean that we should let useful services such as Caltrain be defunded. How would that make sense? All your tough-minded talk of “reward” and “punishment” is misapplied to transit agencies. When you “punish” a transit agency for a failure such as BART-SFO by allowing other service to fail you are actually punishing riders, the economy, the climate, the future generations of Bangladesh and so on and so forth.

    joe Reply:

    How would that make sense? All your tough-minded talk of “reward” and “punishment” is misapplied to transit agencies.
    ..
    When you “punish” a transit agency for a failure such as BART-SFO by allowing other service to fail you are actually punishing riders, the economy, the climate,….

    Exactly.

    Caltrain lacks stable funding so regardless of any real or imaginary transgression, the core problem has to be fixed. Caltrain It needs a stable funding source.

    These other issues – real or not – can be addressed independent of fixing this obvious problem.

  4. shorebreeze
    May 19th, 2013 at 15:12
    #4

    If the Peninsula folks won’t fund its operating costs with taxes, and won’t fund capital upgrades that would lower operating costs by way of bonds, then I suppose Caltrain will have to do what unsupported passenger railroads did in the olden days — raise fares. In fact they should probably raise fares to the highest point they can without diminishing revenue.

    But perhaps the state of California can intervene and use the situation for some constructive bargaining. Perhaps it might be an idea to dilute high speed rail NIMBYism for the state legislature to offer to subsidize electrification of Caltrain and thus lower both operating and capital costs to local governments if the NIMBY people finally drop their opposition to four-track in return.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The state has the power to override NIMBY objection to a four-track system. But I don’t think it should be up to the Peninsula – or even the region – to fund Caltrain. The state needs to step in and provide assistance to regional agencies.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Why should Los Angeles and San Diego pay for a rail line that does not benefit them in any way, shape, or form?

    VBobier Reply:

    Cause by doing so, they would get a piece of the pie and money talks, BS walks…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Why should people in the Bay Area pay to widen I-405 in LA?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Because the entire state lives to serve Los Angeles.

    Actually, I don’t think that the state or federal government ought to pay for its widening (or that it should be widened for that matter).

    Donk Reply:

    If the Sepulveda Pass rail line is still 30+ years away, then we need to widen the 405 in West LA.

    Joey Reply:

    The Sepulveda Pass rail line might be less than 30 years away if money put toward it rather than widening the freeway.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    I believe the widening is actually more expensive than the mass transit options.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Substantially more expensive.

    Jonathan Reply:

    If the Peninsula folks won’t fund its operating costs with taxes […]

    Stop right there. It’s not, repeat NOT just the Peninsula. It’s San Francisco; and San Mateo County; and Santa Clara County.

  5. shorebreeze
    May 19th, 2013 at 15:14
    #5

    Oh, and while we’re at it, perhaps it’s time in general for the Peninsula people to name their price regarding four-track rather than implacably oppose it. I heard SamTrans had a nice little chunk of BART-related debt that needs retiring . . .

  6. Jon
    May 19th, 2013 at 15:33
    #6

    It makes no sense to have two separate heavy rail operators providing heavy rail service with the Bay Area. It also makes no sense for VTA and Samtrans to foot the bill for the cost of operating BART in their territories. So why not have Santa Clara and San Mateo counties join the BART district, with BART taking over operation of Caltrain as a standard gauge EMU line and integrating it into the rest of the BART system? The BART sales tax revenue generated in those two counties would to cover the operations cost of BART to SFO and BART to San Jose, and also towards the cost of operating the Caltrain line, providing financial stability for both Samtrans and Caltrain.

    Such a vote might get support on the peninsula if it was seen as ‘buying BART service’- you could provide some nice mockups of BART EMUs and call it pBART, or something. It might also allow for sensible reconfiguration of Millbrae station, sn integrated fare system, and timed transfers at Millbrae and Santa Clara. I believe the eBART stations will be open platform with payment via Clipper reader; BART could take the same approach on the peninsula rather than installing faregates everywhere.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    San Mateo is already in BART. It would make sense for Santa Clara County to join too. But I don’t think that alone solves the problem. BART has its own funding needs, particularly on the capital side. Caltrain is the reverse – their capital budget is in excellent shape now that electrification is funded but until that’s completed in 2019 their operating budget is fucked.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Funding and Electoral History (2000-2008) [edit]

    Since Santa Clara County is not among the member counties of the BART District (having opted out of the district at its inception, like neighboring San Mateo county), VTA is responsible for building the extension within Santa Clara County. VTA allocated initial funds for constructing BART using the proceeds from a sales tax referendum which was passed by Santa Clara County voters in 2000. In December 2002, VTA purchased a freight railroad corridor from Union Pacific Railroad which will serve as much of the necessary right-of-way for both the Warm Springs and San Jose extensions for $80 million.[13] In 2004, the Federal Transit Administration decided to wait to fund the project, citing worries that BART did not have enough money to operate the extension.[14] In addition, the San Jose extension project received a “not recommended” rating from the Federal Transit Administration placing the federal portion of the funding in jeopardy because of concerns about operation and maintenance funding.[15] To address these concerns and help secure federal funding, Santa Clara County voters were presented with 2008 Measure B, a 1/8-cent sales tax raise, in the 2008 presidential primary election.[16] Projections by an independent consultant recommended by the Federal Transit Administration predicted that the 1/8-cent sales tax would more than cover operation and maintenance of the planned extension.[17] In initial vote counting from election day and well into the counting of absentee and provisional ballots, the measure was too close to call but was on the side of failing. On November 17, 2008, the measure flipped from failing to passing in the vote count update, with the required 66.67% of voters approving the tax increase, the very minimum for the tax measure to pass.[18] On November 21, 2008, the result was announced that Measure B passed with 66.78% voter approval.[19][20]

    Clem Reply:

    Santa Clara Measure A 2000 had a big chunk of funding for Caltrain electrification. It was spent on BART.

    jonathan Reply:

    Clem, there you go again, derailing Robert’s mindless cheer-leading with facts.

    Jon Reply:

    From the BART wiki page:

    “The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District is a special governmental agency created by the State of California consisting of Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and the City and County of San Francisco. San Mateo County, which hosts six BART stations, is not part of the BART District.”

    This is why there is a special arrangement with SamTrans to cover the operating costs of the SFO extension, and why fares are higher on the extension that the standard BART fare formula suggests they should be.

    Joey Reply:

    BART never seems to have trouble finding capital funding, even if that means stealing it from other projects.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Yes, recall how the Dumbarton bridge was re-opened in, um 2008?

    And dumb ****s like Joe think BART should take over Caltrain. There wouldn’t be anything left!

    synonymouse Reply:

    I think the younger people have difficulty conceiving of BART as malicious and devious as it really is. It sounds like attributing human villainy to an agency, which just seems illogical and a little primitive.

    Well remember the Supreme Court in its wisdom did grant all the human characteristics and rights of citizenship to corporations in the late 19th century so perhaps that is an analogy that can be used. For whatever reason, yes, BART as a functioning institution displays great hubris and guile, almost like one of us flesh and blood sinners.

    Jonathan is sadly entirely correct. And BART is not afraid of the CHSRA, from which it gains very little. BART gets along better with freeways and airports and yes, the highway lobby, which considers it a growth enabler. More people, more roads and more cars – and more BART.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Not all human characteristics and rights. Corporations can’t get married. They can merge but that’s not getting married. They can’t adopt children. They can’t write living wills. Or be the designated agent for yours It goes on and on.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Please don’t give them the nannies ideas.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Oooh, I can see it now: Stephen Colbert demands the right to marry his 501(c)(4)!!!

    Nathanael Reply:

    Corporations also can’t be executed or imprisoned, which has created a lot of problems when corporations commit felonies.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Supreme Court said that corporations have the same due process rights as people. That’s all. The original court case was about whether Santa Clara County could do eminent domain on land owned by Southern Pacific without the usual due process.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Which became “corporations are people too” in Citizens United.

    joe Reply:

    No Jonathan. I don’t believe BART should take over Caltrain.

    The peninsula wants to restrict HSR and if it successful, Caltrain service will be squeezed and BART will ring the bay.
    It what I speculate will happen and why BART isn’t opposing electrified blended service.

    Joey Reply:

    You still have to find room for two more tracks.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You aren’t paying attention, the tunnel fairy is going to dig tunnels for BART under El Camino.

    jimsf Reply:

    I expect to see bart inch its way down the peninsula little by little. You haven’t heard it yet, but once the livermore and and silicon valley extensions are done, you are going to hear the plan for extending bart one stop from milbrae to downtown san mateo

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No doubt right next to the Caltrain stations so that the people who don’t take the bus to the stations can not take the bus more frequently and have a choice of either BART or Caltrain.

    jimsf Reply:

    bay area people are just particularly fond of having bart because they feel more easily connected to the rest of the bay area. Its sort of communal. caltrain gets you to sf sure, but bart brings the world to your doorstep in a lovable trusted format.

    blankslate Reply:

    If Millbrae was built to allow timed cross-platform transfers from Caltrain to BART and Caltrain ran on 15-minute headways from 5am to midnight people would feel that same communal connection to the Bay Area.

    It seems worthwhile to ask whether making these improvements to Caltrain is more or less expensive than replacing 33 miles of Caltrain with BART.

    blankslate Reply:

    Oh, and the final step would be to paint the word “BART” over the word “Caltrain” on the sides of the trains.

    Jon Reply:

    Dumbarton didn’t get funded because it wasn’t BART. That’s kinda the point… make Caltrain part of BART and it might actually get some money.

    jimsf Reply:

    exactly!

    synonymouse Reply:

    Not

    BART would simply convert Caltrain to BART, always the plan. The hsr scheme has lost its plurality and that will just worsen with the utter fiscal collapse of Deserted Xprss. It would be an easy political sell for the BART Empire, whose power is routinely underestimated by those with a short memory.

    Now if the State were to seize BART-MTC, oust Heminger, and retire any Bechtel loyalists still about, that might work. But as proof that BART had been neutered, some of its lines need to be converted to standard gauge.

    Ain’t gonna happen – best to be hoped for is the “blend”.

    jimsf Reply:

    If bart took over a future electrified caltrain at the time that the extension to santa clara was complete, they could run emus – ebart- with timed connections at milbrae and santa clara and they would get direct access to tbt giving them more downtown presence in sf. I think this would be very desirable for bart.

    Joey Reply:

    eBART is actually DMUs.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If I understand correctly you are proposing electric and diesel trainsets commingling on the Caltrain ROW?

    Diesel performance lags and that would be a problem. It reminds me of the sad fact that New Orleans Public Service scrapped its newer and faster 4 motor 1000 class streetcars because they would run up on the 2-motor 800-900 class that are still around on St. Charles Avenue.

    jimsf Reply:

    ebart is just their brand, they could easily implement dmu and emu ebart in many parts of the bay. well not easily, but its the brand to which im referring.

    Peter Reply:

    eBART isn’t a “brand”. It’s the name of a particular extension.

    Jon Reply:

    BART’s supposed obsession with broad gauging everything is routinely overestimated by those who never got over the loss of their beloved streetcars and standard gauge passenger trains back in the 50s. eBART shows that BART will compromise on technology if it helps get an extension built; no reason why the same wouldn’t apply on the peninsula.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The BART Empire is a predator and a spoiler – it is in the blood.

    Most things in life I am reluctant to make hard and fast predictions about, but there are two exceptions:

    1. Deserted Xprss is a bodacious fiscal crapout in the making

    2. BART will eat standard gauge Caltrain alive if let too close. Goodby hsr on the Peninsula.

    You keep thinking SF will oppose. Not necessarily – they can leave the TBT basement empty. Why? All that Caltrain property they would receive in exchange for dropping the TBT tunnel and the highrise developers would be freed to drop all the deep foundations around the TBT they want.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I know you think corporations are people but along with all the other things they don’t have that people do is, blood.

    Meg Whitman was going to win the election in a landslide wasn’t she? Along with all
    your other election predictions that were wrong. Why should any of your current ones be any better.

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART has no use for Dumbarton and suffers no competition. BART has the same attitude toward hsr – it does not need it.

    Michael Reply:

    San Mateo County is NOT in the BART district. The three BART counties, SF, Contra Costa, and Alameda contribute both DEDICATED sales AND property tax.

  7. Paul Dyson
    May 19th, 2013 at 15:48
    #7

    The farebox should always be viewed as the primary source of revenue. With a two way traffic flow and an affluent population how hard can it be to make money? Next, the expense side of the ledger needs to be reviewed, minutely. This ought to be a very simple railroad to operate and one wonders how many tiers of management are necessary. Speaking of simple railroads, we have ACE and Capitol Corridor with equally simple, low key services, all contiguous at San Jose. Does it not occur to Mr. Cruickshank that serious money could be saved by combining the management and administration (not to mention maintenance, purchasing etc.etc.) of these services and thus saving large amounts of overhead dollars? Simpler to cry for a new tax.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    As you can imagine, I disagree with your statement about the farebox. As a public service transportation ought to be heavily subsidized if needed. Its purpose is to move as many people as possible, not to make money. I’m sure there would be some small amount of savings that could be generated from combining management and administration, but it would not be nearly enough to address the operating shortfall, and would come with its own problems (fewer people to do the same amount of work).

    Ultimately the ideas of “make riders pay more” and “slash management costs” are 1970s-era solutions that have become obsolete and no longer meaningfully address our present woes. In fact they often make those woes worse.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Fewer people doing the same amount of work isn’t a bad thing. Many agencies have large inefficiencies coming from the fact that technology’s improved but staffing levels are the same as in the late steam era.

    For example, people on OPTO regional trains are not being overworked.q

    VBobier Reply:

    Though too few people is a bad thing…

    Joey Reply:

    Yes, but the current situation is too many.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s very hard to have too few people on a train. Here the trains are driverless, and cost less to operate per car-hour or car-km than in any US rapid transit system, usually by a factor of at least 3. The system operates safely. But to hear New Yorkers talk about driverless trains you’d think they’re the end of the world. There’s a coalition there of union people, who are against making their workers redundant, and Manhattan Institute people, who are against reducing staffing levels because it’s a distraction from their main agenda of wage cuts; both spread FUD about trains with just one employee on board (New York subway trains have 2, commuter trains in the US always have at least 2 and have around 6 in New York), let alone zero.

    jimsf Reply:

    maybe someone should cut your job.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    US science funding has already gone down like 20% because of the sequester, and college administrators try to do stupid things like expect professors who teach 4 classes a semester to be research-active.

    joe Reply:

    First, that 20% cut is not true and second, what does that have to do with your work being redundant?

    You mock rail for having unionized steam engine era staffing. Well, colleges have unionized chalk era staffing. Let’s modernize and cut.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/daphne_koller_what_we_re_learning_from_online_education.html
    Daphne Koller: What we’re learning from online education

    “In many of our [online] courses, the median response time for a question on the question and answer forum was 22 minutes — which is not a level of service I have ever offered to my Stanford students.”

    On-line college courses No need to have every university create a redundant courses when Stanford and other universities have high quality, superior on-line courses that can be taken, tested and credit given. You even get customized grading results. Just proctor the damn course.

    So let’s cut waste by cutting redundant courses and chalk era faculty levels.
    http://see.stanford.edu

    (SEE)
    For the first time in its history, Stanford is offering some of its most popular engineering classes free of charge to students and educators around the world. Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE) expands the Stanford experience to students and educators online. A computer and an Internet connection are all you need. View lecture videos, access reading lists and other course handouts, take quizzes and tests, and communicate with other SEE students, all at your convenience.

    Joey Reply:

    In both cases you have to ask yourself “If staffing is cut what will be the impact to the quality of rail service/college education?” Prove me wrong but I don’t think you’re going to get the same result.

    jimsf Reply:

    elites are important. regular working people are dispensable.

    Joey Reply:

    Stop overgeneralizing. Cutting university administration would probably have no ill effects.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Student-faculty ratios have been constant for decades (and no, it’s not possible to cut using technology except for a narrow set of people who can learn online), and the trend is toward longer ladders eating up most salary gains. But the size of the administration relative to the number of students has doubled since the 1970s. There’s technology that lets a single train employee do the work that used to be doable by six in the 1930s; there’s no such technology with teachers.

    Also, US professors aren’t unionized (I think Canadian ones are). Tenure offers some protection, but not if the university eliminates an entire department, which almost happened to my ex-It’s Complicated’s mother.

    Joe Reply:

    Joey – cutting adiministration has happened for years. Most systems are digital, on-line and staff cut – responsibilities are dispersed to departments. Administration are things like processing student aid and loans – admissions.

    Alon – compliance for grants and contracts and fiscal management, which are a much larger fraction of universitty income, require proportionally more work and support. If you don’t bill the gov’t on time, the money is lost. Safety and following regulations for human test subjects, visas for students and travel and reimbursements, equiment purchases and etc.

    As for teaching and technology – you are plain, stubbornly wrong. Just willfully ignoring the current trends and data on benefits of teaching massive courses including improvement in how the material is broken up and tested. Look at the TED video or not.

    There is no reason for me to devleop a course that is already available – I’d be wasting time and money. Far better to use the on-line course and certify results for a local institution.

    UC could easily have one massive on-line Intro to Comp Sci course taught at all campuses and CSU too. ONE. Each campus would certify the course work and provide credit to the student, – offer a meeting room for study sessions and faciliatate the course.

    ONE course. Saves many hours of preparation and grading.

    Yes, Professors can be Unionized. Not universal, some of the top private institutions do not but it is NOT uncommon at public institutions.

    Leave the chalk and blackboard era – cut labor on preparing and grading course work and impove the quality of education.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re quoting TED talks as your source? Really?

    I come from a private test prep family. There are things that can be done massively online, but these always, invariably, complement real-life classes taught by actual teachers. For example, auto-generated math questions, and memory games that help you learn vocab. The way my parents’ company uses technology actually requires smaller classes, i.e. more teachers, because teachers have more work to do monitoring students’ online progress. Tellingly, Shai Reshef, one of the people pushing online education the hardest, ran a competing company that took years to use technology at all, and lost the market completely and lives off of a low-end acquisition providing classes withing high school facilities. This is also true in much bigger countries than Israel: for some reason, Berlitz keeps teaching languages in person, Kumon keeps doing cram school classes in person, and SAT tutoring is invariably in person and commands ever-higher rates (a Columbia grad student can make $75 an hour at least). The for-profit colleges make a profit using nefarious techniques like Kaplan’s scam keeping charging students who’ve dropped out.

    (In contrast, in transportation, successful private and public companies routinely do what we say American public agencies should do: short turnaround times, clockface schedules, low on-board staffing levels. The one thing that we insist on that doesn’t exist in the private sector much is fare integration.)

    The rule, for pretty much everything on this matter, is, “the US is irredeemable and should look elsewhere.” And here’s what they don’t do in France or Italy or Sweden or Germany: they do not make people take online courses, just like they don’t make people take high school courses online. (Personally it was easy for me to learn online what I would’ve learned in high school, but hard to do the same at the college level.) They provide public education at low or no cost because it’s a social service, just like high school education.

    Preparing courses does not take thaaat much time. The big cuts were already achieved by using streamlined textbooks that are in many cases teacher-proof; the textbook publishers now get to charge $150 for a textbook that’s used for one semester. The recurring preparation time is more about pedagogy than preparing the course itself, and that can’t be put online reliably. Yes, there’s Khan Academy. There’s also Wikipedia and somehow it didn’t kill colleges in 2003.

    The basic problem is that the people trying to push MOOCs don’t care about education. They think it’s all about job training, as do you. I say something about math and physics majors and the immediate reaction is, who cares?. The courses that are easiest to put online are the very basic training courses, in specific subjects. The reading-intensive courses are impossible to do this way, higher math is impossible to do this way, lab courses of course are impossible to do this way.

    So in reality, technology can improve education, but can’t really save money on it. It’s the same with health care – technology can improve outcomes more than it can reduce costs. That’s why neither has had any reduction in cost as a percentage of GDP over the decades, and just keeping the costs level has been a challenge not all countries have succeeded on. For what it’s worth it’s the same with grocery stores. Because there’s approximately zero policy expertise in the US about parts of the modern industrial economy that aren’t hi-tech, there’s a pervasive assumption that everything can and should grow at Moore’s Law rates. It’s the same problem with talking about electric cars: everyone just assumes battery costs will go down at integrated circuit rates, and they’re not. Best you can do is cut the admin bloat, same as with health care, and treat universities as universities and not as glorified football teams.

    joe Reply:

    The video explains the learning advantages with the latest technology.

    Your long response clearly shows you have not viewed the video to address the examples and choose to wander onto various topics. Private test prep isn’t an option so why even bother to bring it up.

    Preparing, teaching and grading a college course takes great deal of time. I’ve taught college courses on and off since 1984, yes 1984 and not as a TA but as the only instructor at 4 year engineering school.

    Ask any faculty about teaching load and they explain which courses they have lesson plans and which are new (and taking time to prepare) and grading and lectures. It’s a load.

    MOOCs reduce costs and improve quality. Anyone who watches the video can see the evidence.

    It’s easy to wish automation on areas you don’t have experience, harder to see the inefficiencies in areas that are your primary interests.

    Joey Reply:

    The world changes, and occasionally jobs get cut. Should be still employ people to shovel horse crap out of the streets, simply because that job existed at one point in time? If things are done right then more jobs are created than destroyed.

    jimsf Reply:

    typical attitude of an invincible youngster.

    Joey Reply:

    You didn’t answer my question.

    jimsf Reply:

    horses still crap in the street so yes we need people to clean that up. and trains still operate and people prefer they be staffed for both customer service and safety.

    jimsf Reply:

    you know in the 70s they told us the technology would give americans a lot more free time some day, what they didn’t mention was that all the free time translate into unemployment. If you paid people to retire earlier instead of later, it would open up more jobs for young people entering the market and if you cut the work week from 40 to 32 hours at the same salary, you would also employ more people, in fact it would pretty much get rid of unemployment.
    You create employment by putting more people to work not by putting fewer people to work. shocking but true.

    Joey Reply:

    But by your logic we still need the same number of horse crap scoopers that we did 150 years ago even though there is less horse crap in the streets.

    people prefer they be staffed for both customer service and safety

    Excellent. Presumably you did a poll of all current and potential transit riders using some sort of random sampling technique to determine this?

    jimsf Reply:

    no, ive just been alive and riding transit for a long time.

    jimsf Reply:

    when we have less transit then we will need fewer transit workers.

    Joey Reply:

    You reduce unemployment by creating productive jobs and generating economic activity, not by paying people to stand around. And I reiterate what I said earlier – I do think that any plans should be job-positive, i.e. you either create more jobs than you remove or you just shuffle people around. In the case of transit – we need more transit, but staffing levels (at least in certain areas) are higher than they need to be – so run more trains with fewer crew per train.

    Joey Reply:

    no, ive just been alive and riding transit for a long time.

    That’s not good enough. You can live 100 years and only ever interact with a certain group of people. In your case, you’ve spent a lot of time at Amtrak, which caters to a very specific niche of the travel market, i.e. people who want more service but don’t care as much about speed or punctuality. But does that really represent everyone?

    jimsf Reply:

    people freaked out when they were going to have bart be driverless

    jimsf Reply:

    and I just rode metrolink which has no services at all and only the sheriff doing random fare checks and it sucked.

    Joey Reply:

    people freaked out when they were going to have bart be driverless

    People freaked out about steel-framed buildings. People freak out about all sorts of things. That doesn’t make them rational.

    jimsf Reply:

    well Im sure you know best. I’m sure you’re a fan of saving money on cheap products made by cheap labor too.

    jimsf Reply:

    bottom line is santa clara and san mateo county need to cough up the money to fund caltrain in the form a sales tax increase or they need to buy into the bart district or they need to go without.

    Joey Reply:

    well Im sure you know best. I’m sure you’re a fan of saving money on cheap products made by cheap labor too.

    I am not a shining example of frugality, though I know people who are. For instance, I pay more for food (within reasonable limits) if I’m I think I’m getting better quality food or if the growing of said food has less ecological impact or if the farmers are paid a decent wage (though not if it’s grown by two farmers instead of one :P).

    But keep in mind that this discussion is about public money. As to where private money is spent, I could care less most of the time.

    bottom line is santa clara and san mateo county need to cough up the money to fund caltrain in the form a sales tax increase or they need to buy into the bart district or they need to go without.

    Yes. What were we arguing about?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Jim, come up to Vancouver and try to convince everyone here that the trains are unsafe because they are driverless and the stations are unstaffed. Go ahead.

    jimsf Reply:

    Alon, as far I know, caltrain has already gotten rid of ticket clerks, only uses one engineer in the cab, and I haven’t ridden recently but they use pop, so they have at least one person walking the trains checking fares. There’s nothing to cut unless you want to start cutting management and I would agree that with so few employees, you don’t need much management. As for skytrain, my friend and I rode the skytrain in VAC back in about 1999 or so and it worked just fine, but what we found shocking, not just on tranist, but all over town, was just how docile, civilized and well behaved the canadians were. They do not need any supervision. One gets the impression that if a fire broke out on skytrain, that the canadians would quietly evacuate single file and go about there day.

    I would agree that shifting jobs to other areas would be a good idea what is really needed on bart, caltrain, muni and amtrak, is a much greater and more visibile security presence. So indeed hire more cops.

    joe Reply:

    bottom line is santa clara and san mateo county need to cough up the money to fund caltrain in the form a sales tax increase or they need to buy into the bart district or they need to go without.

    Given the economic importance of Caltrain for the SV, the decision is going to have an impact.

    When the SamTrans pulled Caltrain support a few years ago and put service at risk Caltrain proposed cutting lesser used Santa Clara Co stops and keep heavily used San Mateo stops open.

    The position my city and I understand others in Santa Clara was to push for cuts to San Mateo stops or have VTA pull back funding proportional to Santa Clara services cuts.

    There is no free lunch and it is hard to coordinate different counties and their interests.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Caltrain indeed does POP, but there is still a conductor and an assistant conductor, whereas German POP means zero conductors and roving ticket inspectors working on consignment.

    The stereotype of Canadians is very exaggerated. Yes, people in Vancouver are the kind who say “thank you” to the driver after they get off the bus, and make eye contact and chat with strangers. But in terms of actual behavior toward other passengers, not too big of a difference from New York or BART.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They sell fare inspectors that are owned by someone else for a small fee that is a percentage of the sale price? Commission perhaps?
    Or they let the bounty hunters loose on the riders?

    Nathanael Reply:

    There are people who should be employed, but they don’t need to be driving trains.

    Docklands Light Railway has “train captains”, one per train, but no driver. That’s sufficient to deal with any incidents on the train, and people were uncomfortable without them, for security reasons. DLR works fine.

    Nathanael Reply:

    For another example: NYC Subway could do with a lot more visible, uniformed employees assisting customers on the platforms and in the hallways of major stations. And, honestly, it could use more maintenance workers. It doesn’t need as many people driving and “conducting” trains or sitting in ticket offices as it actually has.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It doesn’t need people on platforms, either. It needs to keep the boarding level – actually level, within ADA tolerances, rather than with a 2-3″ vertical gap that wheelchairs get stuck in.

    Maintenance workers, maybe. I don’t know the maintenance staffing practices either in New York or elsewhere. Though, maintenance costs are a surprisingly low percentage of total operating costs, on both subways and HSR. Before looking the HSR numbers up I actually thought maintenance was a majority of ongoing costs, rather than just $100,000 per route-km-year.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The NYC subway hasn’t had tickets since someone came up with bright idea to use nickels as tokens. So the ticket agents became change clerks. And it worked the same way when the fare went up to a dime. They needed tokens when it went up to 15 cents. So they became token clerks. Those people you see in the token booths are supposed to go out on the platform now and then since they don’t have anything to sell anymore.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    “if needed” writes Mr. C. A well run organization with a strong revenue stream should not need heavy subsidy. It’s interesting, you can always tell those who work in the public sector. Money grows on trees and their own particular interest is always deserving of “heavy subsidy”. Robert, you should start by running the numbers on these duplicative administrations, especially when you take into account the public sector pension liabilities. When you have done all that, then come back to the taxpayer and say we truly have done all we can to run a tighter ship, but we still need some help, then you may have a case. To ask for a handout first before cutting all the deputy assistant chief executives et al is shameful. The lower the subsidy for each operation, the more public transportation we can afford.

    joe Reply:

    Caltrain doubles ridership and you are still making the same lame arguments. There is really nothing but scolding organizations for failing to meet your moral standards.

    Since you obviously haven’t taken your own advice for Robert, why would I think you know better? What are the numbers? You haven’t even offered a specific ratio of recovery. Would 50 or 60 or 70 or 80% recovery be better?

    And your expert assessment hasn’t factored in air quality or positive impacts of removing cars for roads or quality of life in the area, savings from not owning a car.

    Just money and efficiency as you see it and it’s always something wrong.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Robert is the one asking for a subsidy and a tax on the rest of us. It’s up to him to make the case. Do you agree or disagree with my last sentence, the lower the subsidy, the more we can afford? Money and efficiency are great things, you can buy electrification and more service. It’s just lazy thinking to ask for a greater subsidy without trying to make ends meet without it. And going back to my idea of combining agencies, perhaps under a single umbrella we could also enjoy improved connections, better ticketing arrangements, a single source of information that would encourage through journeys. Or do you believe that nothing can be improved, and the same old agencies are there in perpetuity, their begging bowls set in aspic like their thinking?

    joe Reply:

    I don’t even understand your last sentence. What can we afford? I want useful public transit that reduces congestion, (it odes) and improves air quality, and reduces car trips.

    You are singularly fixed on TAXES. Re-read your comment – it’s about money, not service. MONEY and the lazy people who run the system.

    Caltrain rider ship doubled, it is one of the few systems without a dedicated fund source. It services a heavily congestion corridor and it’s a very economically vital corridor.
    That’s the case – period.

    And as for “same old and perpetuity”, How long have you been a rail watch dog and advocate? 30 years!

    Evans Reply:

    Fully agree. Caltrain have ~70% volume of reverse commute traffic (comapred with traditional direction) while most other rail agency don’t.
    One train set carried passenger at least 2 times AM and 2 times PM. Metroling, Coaster, VTA light rail, NJ transit, MetroNorth, Metra… even BART, they carries full of passenger only 2 times a day.
    Passenger car generate revenue only when passenger is on board. Idling at terminal/storage generate expense.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Someone on another forum said this:

    Using the figures released by the Federal Transit Admin. for 2011 (the latest I could find) the farebox recovery ratios reported (with the estimated ‘loss’ in parentheses) are-
    LIRR – 53.4% ($498 million)
    MNR – 62.3% ($343 million)
    NJT – 59.1% ($342 million)
    SEPTA – 56.7% ($103 million)
    MBTA – 44.9% ($165 milliion)

    He says he got those numbers from table 26, which is a worksheet, It can be found at
    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/dt/2011/excel/DataTables.htm

    Just awful how Metro North has a better recovery ratio with less reverse commuters. And NJTransit has a whole tenth of percent less than Caltrain does with all of it’s reverse commuters. And that SEPTA, SEPTA mind you, had three tenths of a percent less.

    Jon Reply:

    It makes much more sense to integrate Caltrain with BART than with the Capitols and ACE, which are low frequency regional lines bringing people into the Bay Area rather than high frequency metro/commute lines moving people within the Bay Area. With electrification Caltrain can and should have the same level of service as BART. The Capitols, ACE and San Joaquins all have similar service levels and technology and it makes sense to integrate those together, as is happening with the Northern California Unified Rail service.

    I would also split off south of Tamien service from Caltrain and integrate it into NCUR, either as an extension to the Capitols or as a standalone Gilroy – San Jose service, again because the frequency and technology used on this route matches the other NCUR services.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    No argument here. There’s more than one way to do this. Same as in southern California, there are just too many agencies, too much overhead, not enough integrated service to help the passenger, especially the newcomer to public transportation, have an experience that they would want to repeat.

    jimsf Reply:

    management will never allow it as turf is the goal.

    Michael Reply:

    Yes. Exactly, except I’d draw the line at Diridon, not Tamien.

    Jon Reply:

    Logically, yes; I only said Tamien because that’s where Caltrain plans to electrify to.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The farebox should always be viewed as the primary source of revenue.

    How much should the automobile fuel taxes be so that they are the primary source of revenue for the roads?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Zero; same reason cigarette taxes are not a source of revenue for cigarette infrastructure. The purpose of fuel taxes is to get people to pollute less.

    The correct way to fund roads is to fund local streets out of general revenue and toll everything that’s grade-separated to fund the freeway and arterial networks.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Why? the people I know, they are everywhere. even out here in the woods, who don’t own cars don’t particularly care how well paved roads are. Or even if they are paved. Gravel is good enough for the occasional UPS delivery. Well into the 70s there were suburbs in New Jersey where the residential side streets were not paved. Up until the 60s the garbage haulers had an unending supply of coal cinder to spread on them. It’s good enough. Picking up my garbage and disposing of my sewage contributes to the general good. I paid for private hauler to come take my garbage away in New Jersey. I paid use taxes on my water bill to pay for sewage treatment. People who were on septic didn’t pay them. And people who were on well water didn’t get a water bill at all. Streets are so brightly lit that you can’t tell when it’s a full moon. That’s done for the automobile drivers. Pedestrians need much less lighting.
    Why should people who don’t drive subsidize automobiles?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They shouldn’t. But paving local roads for 50 km/h is cheap, and very difficult to charge to a user fee. All that gas taxes or VMT fees or whatever do is make sure that someone who drives on a road (for example, a city street) pays for another road (for example, a state highway), and the political ramifications of drivers thinking it’s their money are a lot worse than those of funding local streets out of property taxes.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The bicycle lobby was one of the main groups who originally pushed for paved roads, back in the 19th century. And yes, they still want paved roads.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes. And that lobby turned into the car lobby once cars became a mass-market product.

    JB in PA Reply:

    I dream about paved secondary roads or even city streets that have an order of magnitude improvement in smoothness, bank angle, curvature, easement into the curves etc. Some of the rutted and pot-hole infested roads are embarrassing. Hopefully it could be done without too much cost by using computer controlled finishing equipment. If I ever get back to Germany I would like to experience the Autobahn. Last time I was in Germany was December 1966 and I do not recall if my parents drove on the AB.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    What’s the gas tax in Germany?

    Evans Reply:

    Caltrain’s 60% farebox recovery is “relatively high” and only ~70% with “Electrified” BART. Caltrain’s strength is good volume of “Reverse” commute, which utilize resorce ~2x efficiently. Do we expect full farebox recovery after elecrification, because off lower operating cost “like BART”?
    Ridership doubled (+100%) since 2004 but farebox recovery is +50% from 40 to 60%. It seems operating cost is increasing, too. (Some of them comes from fuel price)

    JPB is not profit organization, however they need to look for more efficient operation and reduce reliance to the funding.
    There is one example. Japanese national railway (JNR) used to generate large operating loss before privatarization of 1987. Not many of electrified commuter rail line in Tokyo and Osaka generated operating profit, even with 200% of train capacity. (=6~7 times of seating capacity). Now, electrified commuter rail in smaller cities (Niigata, Shizuoka, Hiroshima) generates operating profit. JNR was over staffed and difficulties with labor union.
    Caltrain is over-staffed with conductor. Its trainset is less utilized because of long turn around time and long idling at SF and SJ terminal midday and weekend.

    Eric Reply:

    Are there more frequent trains? More passengers would seem to imply more trains. And more trains cost more money, so of course the farebox recovery wouldn’t match the ridership increase.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    “More trains” (ie more service to passengers) doesn’t necessarily mean “cost[s] more money.”

    You could, for example, drag your staffing levels out of the 19th century.

    You could, for example, drag your maintenance practices and efficiency out of the 1950s.

    You could, for example, not operate empty trains to non-destination terminals but instead turn some of them short to provide higher service where there is higher demand.

    You could, for example, operate regular and predictable headways with regular and predictable connecting and integrated non-train service.

    You could, for example, choose to base service around human demand rather than around parking lot occupation counts.

    You could, for example, drastically reduce turnback times and station dwell times (level boarding!) in order to improve all of average speeds, ridership, equipment utilization, crew utilization, revenue, and operating costs.

    You could, for example, focus and prioritize capital spending around those projects that improve service and decrease operating cost.

    Or instead you could do what Caltrain does. MOAR MONEY!

    Joey Reply:

    You can’t say that around here. Apparently if you think transit is overstaffed you’re an elitist who hates the working class.

    Evans Reply:

    Not always. Here is one example.
    One set of 5 car train converted into 2 set of 3 car train.
    [Before] 2 conductor, 1 engineer, 1 locomotive
    [After] 2 conductor, 2 engineer, 2 locamotive. (Fuel is not 2x because of lighter weight)
    Frequency doubled but operating cost is not doubled. Get faster accerelation, more accepatance from customers.
    This is best way to attact more customer during midday, evening and weekend.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That seems crazy when BART has no conductors.

    You are clamoring for BART with that kind of staffing.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Evans: Glad someone is thinking this through.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, but that’s not The Way We’ve Always Done Things. IRUM proposed to do just this on the LIRR, where it’s even easier since the trains are EMUs and can be shortened without changing the composition of the consist. The response: cricket cricket, chirp chirp.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I makes less than no sense for Caltrain, however.

    Splitting and rejoining trains is hugely expensive and time-consuming for an FRA-regulated freight railroad (which is what Caltrain is, including standard freight couplers.)

    Just think about it for a second! It means breaking the train lines (manually), doing the FRA break test jive, pulling the shortened consist away, then driving in a spare locomotive (from somewhere), attaching the locomotive (manually), doing all the brake test jive. And then undo it all in two or three hours, ie after only one or perhaps and and a half round trips. This is slow and labour-intensive (which is where the real costs are, not fuel) hence expensive and unreliable failure-prone.

    The fuel savings is peanuts — remember that “locomotives” (yes, they use locomotives, for that extra nostalgic olde tyme feeling) weigh over 133 tonnes, while the unpowered (ultra suede retro!) passenger trailer cars are under 56t; and also remember that aerodynamic drag doesn’t scale linearly with train length.

    Your loco+2 and loco+3 trains weigh about 60% and 75% of a loco+5 (today’s standard Caltrain consist), so the direct fuel savings are less than that, and the total operating budget savings are negligable. Remember that fuel is only 15% or so of Caltrain’s budget, and given that the fuel savings from the shorter train is perhaps only 10%, and that this is only for 10 round trips per day …

    The fuel savings are not in the same order of magnitude as the extra make/break operating costs.

    Not only that, but Caltrain’s FRA-style maintenance is all time-based, not distance-based, so leaving a consist sitting idle while splitting another into two (and adding a spare locomotive) doesn’t save maintenance cost, except perhaps wheel break (so retro! incredible!) wear.

    Once you’re out of the FRA and once you’ve got rid of locomotives and once you’ve got fully automatic couplers and once your train weights are remotely down to where “energy efficiency” isn’t a joke and once you’re down to single person train operation (which is the killer) and once your maintenance regime isn’t six decades out of date then maybe it makes sense to split long peak trains into short off-peak trains. But even then it isn’t cut and dried — there are still reliability risks associated with make/break, there are logistical issues with ensuring that all the pieces end up back together again at the right place at the right time, and it will still be the case that fixed operating overheads make the energy+maintenance savings of shorter trains a small fraction.

    In short, this is the sort of thing that sounds plausible until you think about it. Which is why it comes up again and again, and will continue to do so.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    “wheel break”. I can’t believe I wrote that. Ugh. Sorry. (“FRA break test” was a deliberate bad joke, but still.)

    jonathan Reply:

    Richard, we all know you prefer your rants to reality, but do try to keep up with the discussion. Evans said clearly that the savings from shorter consists aren’t from fuel; they’re from downsizing the crew: shorter consist, loco + 3 cars has two crew, locomotive driver and conductor.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Running two locomotives with the same amount of cars will use more fuel than one locomotive running with the same amount of cars. And you need to amortize, maintain etc two locomotives.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Eric: That’s Amtrak thinking, that’s loser thinking. Think like a business, squeeze more value out of existing assets, run more service, GROW, employ more people but fewer per unit of production, reduce overhead because Overhead Kills!

    Reedman Reply:

    I agree. The “dedicated source of funding” should be the farebox.

    Presenty, there is no reason for public transportation providers to bother to listen to complaints ffrom riders, because riders don’t ‘pay their way’. To borrow another phrase: “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

    The ultimate example of where this should be implemented is with the new Oakland Airport – BART Connector — the taxpayer should require the project to be shutdown due to insane financials, where it would be cheaper to pay for a free cab ride for every person using the Connector than to continue down the present path.

    joe Reply:

    I agree. The “dedicated source of funding” should be the farebox.

    Presenty, there is no reason for public transportation providers to bother to listen to complaints ffrom riders, because riders don’t ‘pay their way’. To borrow another phrase: “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

    No example of how this 100% farebox service works in the real world. it doesn’t anywhere else.

    Pure MBA thinking here including how good it is for people to pay 100% fares. Everyone wants a fare increase so they’ll be the boss of Caltrain.

    Given a choice, the rider-ship would not choose to pay more. They already have the attention of Caltrain with their substantial contribution.

    If Caltrain is orphaned then the highways will choke, people will leave and jobs will go elsewhere. It is so simple even the major employers get it and support Caltrain. They aren’t stupid.

  8. David K
    May 19th, 2013 at 15:59
    #8

    I’m all in favor of state funding for Caltrain to improve service and create a reliable revenue stream. I’m also in favor of this for Metrolink and Coaster down here in SoCal. But if we are going to do this, lets attach some strings first. If additional funding for Caltrain will pay for electrification, quad-tracking and increased service, then upzoning around stations along the entire peninsula must be required for state funding. No upzoning and additional housing next to stations, no state funds. The Bay Area (and LA and San Diego) needs much more housing than it has right now, if a little state funding can help create more housing, built around these rail stations, then its worth the cost.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Caltrain can’t pay, that’s the point. They have no revenue of their own. As to strings, why make Caltrain and its riders suffer for zoning policies outside its control? Most riders are coming from or going to destinations not in the most NIMBY locations. So you’d be giving the small number of NIMBYs a veto over Caltrain operations. The state can and should simply change its rules to mandate upzones near transit stations and be done with it.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    “They have no revenue of their own”. Forgetting that pesky farebox again? I suppose you want everyone to ride free? While we’re at it, what about free bread? And free beer for all the workers!!

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Who gives a crap about your “no revenue of [its] own” bleating? Caltrain has expenses of its own.

    Its staff freely choose to be and remain an FRA-regulated freight railroad forever.s

    Its staff freely choose to never have level boarding.

    Its staff freely choose to have massive train over-staffing.

    Its staff freely choose to be technically incompatible with HSR.

    Its staff freely choose a globally unique $250m signalling system to go with its globally-unique train dispatching system. Because, you know, a little 50 mile shuttle line with 25 trains and pathetic market penetration and not one single remotely competent or professional employee will the one to show the entire planet how it really should be done.

    Its staff freely choose to to endorse Pachecho HSR and thus screw up the entire corridor.

    Its staff freely chose the worst possible downtown San Francisco rail extension configuration.

    Its staff freely chose never to design grade separations with quadruple tracking capacity.

    Its director-for-life freely chose to enter into the BART-SamTrans agreement.

    So the Cruickshank solution is to throw billions more public dollars at these criminals and clowns? Because EVERY CHOO CHOO is a GOOD CHOO CHOO!

    VBobier Reply:

    Face It Richard, you’ll never get rid of the rails, UP would never allow that to happen, nor would the CHSRA and abandoning Caltrain would mean more traffic on the local highways than the local highways currently can handle and that can’t be expanded as inexpensively as rail can do, since rail can run more trains at higher speeds and automobiles can’t go as fast or as safe. Yer beaten, surrender and get on with yer life, as rail transportation will be here after yer gone.

    Joey Reply:

    If you actually got the impression that Richard was anti-rail then you really do fail at reading.

    joe Reply:

    He’s pro-rail like the guy with girlie magazines is pro-women. He hold an unachievable, idealized vision of a system that is heavily used and useful to real people he couldn’t care less about.

    Caltrain lacks a dedicated funding source.
    That’s a problem regardless of all the transgressions he can list, fabricate or imagine.

    Stabilize funding.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    But it is achievable, in just about every other developed country. If Americans can’t do it, get people in charge who can; the world’s full of them.

    joe Reply:

    Playboy or Maxium?

    Jonathan Reply:

    Its staff freely choose to be technically incompatible with HSR.
    </blckquote.

    Be fair. If you're talking about signalling, then if you read their press statements and public answers, it's miuch more liikely that they simply lack the competence to _understand_ that CBOSS is imcompatible with HSR.

    Its staff freely choose a globally unique $250m signalling system to go with its globally-unique train dispatching system. Because, you know, a little 50 mile shuttle line with 25 trains and pathetic market penetration and not one single remotely competent or professional employee will the one to show the entire planet how it really should be done.

    Your rant is missing a verb. “wll BE the one”, perhaps? And a comma after “employee’.
    f

    Joey Reply:

    Let’s not start attacking each other over something as trivial as grammar here. Especially from the one who messed up formatting.

    As as to incompatibility – it’s not just signaling, but platform height too (and probably some other things I’m forgetting right now). And what does it matter if they made the choice deliberately or are just incompetent? It’s still a problem that isn’t getting dealt with.

    Jonathan Reply:

    …. I’m struggling with a new keyboard on a new laptop, which is far, far too small for my hands.
    Still, I _think_ I guessed what Richard meant, but I’m not 100% sure.

    Caltrain _has_ a platform height, it’s the platform height it’s had since SP, going back to whatever pre-1948 version of CPUC General Order 26-D specified 8in above top-of-rail. Again, in point of fact Caltrain did not “choose” a platform height incompatible with CHSRA; ChSRA is going to choose a platform height that’s incompatible with General Order 26-D. Those are facts.

    One can (and arguably should) decry Caltrain management for a failure of imagination, with a basic failure for understanding how to run suburban commuter rail in a world-class (or even third-rate) fashion. But that’s not the same as actual malfeasance, which is what Richard states.

    Fichard may well have a point about the grade-separations which are willfully incompatible with HSR and with quad-tracking. But again, one has to ask: is that malfeasance, or simply lack of basic competence? “Never attribute to malice that which i adequately explained by stupidity”.

    And it’s not that the problem “isn’t getting dealt with”: it’s not even perceived as a problem!

    Joey Reply:

    It is a problem, because if it’s constructed that way then we will have inferior transportation. It’s only not a problem in the minds of our illustrious transit planners.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Planners? Planners? The “planning” is done by the Transport-Industrial Complex, under contract.

    Joey Reply:

    Okay, fine, but that doesn’t change the fact that we end up with a poorly designed system.

    jimsf Reply:

    if caltrain is going to continue to exist in its current form then the people of santa clara and san mateo county are going to have to pass a sales tax increase to fund it. period. And if they don’t then it will be cut and fares will be raised.

    jimsf Reply:

    you have people in alameda and contra costa counties who have been paying bart taxes for decades and not received service, meanwhile you have two of the wealthiest counties in the state refusing to join the bart district and refusing to fund caltrain. its bullshit. no pay, no train. kill it.

    Jonathan Reply:

    David K,

    be careful what you wish for. Be very, very careful.

    The splendidly cmpetent minds in the Samtrans building in downtown San Carlos, are planning a 99-year lease for development next to the Calrain station.

    Only problem is, that land is _EXACTLY_ where they need to put shoo-fly tracks, to widen the current elevated station. And, oops, on Clem’s blog, you can see that the catenary masts have to go _inside_ the planned building. Again, “oops”.

    and CBOSS…..

  9. Paul Druce
    May 19th, 2013 at 17:58
    #9

    Switch to distance based fares and raise them while at it. There, problem solved.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    To make things mildly clearer: An average fare of less than $8 would have a self-sufficient (or nearly self-sufficient) Caltrain. Currently the average fare looks to be around $3.5 dollars, less than half of what Metrolink gets per rider.

    Evans Reply:

    Do you know Metrolinks farebox recovery rate? Metrolink have nearly one-way commuter flow (toward LA in the morning, leaving LA evening) and very poor weekend service.
    Caltrain have bi-directional commuter flow of both traditional and reverse commute. Weekend service is poor but much better than Metrolink.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Including other revenues (such as freight and Amtrak access fees), FY11 actual including maintenance of way
    San Bernardino: 62.3%
    Ventura County: 41.5%
    Antelope Valley: 49.7%
    Riverside: 60.6%
    Orange County: 71.3%
    IEOC: 32.3%
    91 Line: 53.7%
    Total: 54.4%

    FY11 actual without maintenance of way:
    San Bernardino: 76.2%
    Ventura County: 50.8%
    Antelope Valley: 60.8%
    Riverside: 74.2%
    Orange County: 87.2%
    IEOC: 39.5%
    91 Line: 65.7%
    Total: 66.6%

    Alon Levy Reply:

    That’s not going to help the high operating cost problem, unless you’re using the fare change as an excuse to get rid of conductors and integrate tickets and schedules with other agencies.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Gouging is more realistically doable. You can always use it as an excuse to try and make the cuts however, playing the political game (giant fares as “Oh no!”, sensible things as the middle option that you want them to choose anyhow).

    joe Reply:

    Like not increasing tuition until they cut faculty and courses. Get those costs down.

    Evans Reply:

    I agree this point. Caltrain should implement distance base pricing Sunnyvale to Lawrence (2 miles) and Milbrae to Sunnyvale (25.1 mile) cost the same.

  10. J. Wong
    May 20th, 2013 at 14:00
    #10

    The reality is that no matter how efficiently Caltrain was run, it would still need a subsidy.

    That said, it there is no way to prove Caltrain is inefficient and therefore no way to hold them accountable.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    That said, it there is no way to prove Caltrain is inefficient

    Sure. Just compare to any first world operation (not Special Olympics; not unique special needs; not sheltered workshop; not developmentally challenged; not a pure staff/contractor welfare scam) and do the arithmetic.

    and therefore no way to hold them accountable.

    Absolutely true. NEED MOAR MONEY. MAOR! CHOO CHOO GOOD! TRANSIT GOOD! WANT MONEEEEEE! You don’t hate baby polar bears and love the Koch Brothers, now, do you?

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    What is your point?

    J. Wong Reply:

    By “prove” I meant in a political or legal sense. You can show them the “numbers”, but they would just have an “expert” claim that they don’t apply to Caltrain.

    Unfortunately, we know what happened when Richard tried to go up against the politics.

    joe Reply:

    “The reality is that no matter how efficiently Caltrain was run, it would still need a subsidy.”

    Yes and Caltrain needs a stable funding source regardless of its sins.

    Subsidy and stability are necessary but not sufficient.

    Evans Reply:

    Caltrain’s farebox recovery rate improved from low 40s to 60s last 10 year (2004-2013). Why do you think it is impossible to reach to 100?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Why do you think it is impossible to reach to 100?”

    Not impossible, but it will take time; it’s mighty hard to do when your highway competition almost gives road space away for free.

    What’s California’s road system cost recovery ratio? For the nation as a whole it’s around 50% on a cash flow basis, but there are likely variations.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Is there a single train system in the world that runs at 100%?

  11. trentbridge
    May 20th, 2013 at 15:56
    #11

    We are talking $19 million – Tim Lincecum’s salary in 2013 is $22,000,000. And he only works one day in four or five. In the fabulous wealth that’s the Peninsula and SF, this is fricking chump change.. and yet we have almost two hundred posts thinking this is a political time bomb!

    Leave a penny jar at each station for the commuters to chip in…

    Really!

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Ah, but how to extract it from those that have to those that need it? A tax on major league baseball pitches?

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