Has Caltrain Ridership Hit A Ceiling?
Yogi Berra might have something to say about the news that Caltrain ridership has dropped for the first time in six years. “Nobody rides Caltrain anymore – it’s too crowded” seems to be the story:
Caltrain’s average weekday ridership in August decreased 2.7 percent from the same month in 2015. Year-over-year ridership declined 3.3 percent in September and 3.5 percent in October. And according to data to be presented at Caltrain’s Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, average weekday ridership dropped 1.8 percent in November compared to the same month in 2015.
“We might be victims of our own success,” Reisman said.
Translation: Caltrain is now known for having very crowded trains during the morning and evening commutes. That congestion is turning some riders away.
The KQED story suggests BART is facing similar problems – “chronic commute-hour overcrowding” there as well.
Caltrain, at least, has a solution. Thanks in part to high speed rail and Proposition 1A, Caltrain electrification is finally under way and should be done by 2021. BART is further behind but Measure RR will help provide some relief, though a substantial funding infusion will be needed to build things like a second Transbay Tube.
Bay Area commuters face these problems in part because during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, not enough was done to build out transit capacity in anticipation of the future growth that everyone knew was coming. The lesson for HSR is clear: build now and build in the ability to handle higher capacities. That means not locking in HSR and Caltrain to just two tracks on the Peninsula forever.
Caltrain believes that some of their riders are switching to Lyft and Uber. But that’s not a long-term solution either, as regional freeways and roads are also quite congested. The only way forward for the Bay Area is to follow LA’s lead and pass a massive expansion of transit service in the regional core. State support would certainly help make this possible.