On any given day, where would you rather be?

The radio was on this morning in the shuttle, playing various things, including a traffic report. It was almost like it was calculated: 101-S is a complete mess in two different places, as is 237. Aren’t you glad you’ve been on the train?

But of course, on any given day, you might rather be on the road if there’s a Caltrain snafu. Still, just thinking of all the nightmarish traffic I regularly miss was a reminder of why I prefer a cycling/transit commute.

On the other hand, I find Caltrain just mind-boggling sometimes. Recently, they decided to change the shuttle schedule for the shuttle I take. I discovered the shuttle back some months ago and was thrilled to find that I could not bike and still take the fast trains. It used to connect to the limited train in the mornings and I would arrive at work around either 8:30 or 9:30, which was great because the bullet trains + bike got me to work at either 8:00 or 9:00, and the local train + walking around 9:15, so I could pretty much arrive at any time I chose, with intervals of 15-30 minutes. That’s about all I expect or need as far as tolerances. There was even a late shuttle run that would get me to work around 10 on the unusual occasion I can’t get in any earlier. In the evenings, it picked up at 5:15 or 6:15 and connected to the bullet and limited trains that got me home around 6 or 7 (usually the latter). Perfect.

Well, nothing is perfect for everyone (the bullet people used to wait quite a while for the shuttle to leave, for example), but the change was just stunningly bad. Suddenly the shuttle only connected to the morning (crowded, slow) local train, despite the fact that the bullet comes in only a few minutes later. (Which, additionally, would push more people onto the bullets’ crowded bike cars, since they no longer had the shuttle option.) In the evenings, the convenient pickup times had changed to inconvenient 5:45 and 6:45, the latter completely killing the time advantage for the last shuttle in the evening, and only connected to local trains also.

They’ve now retooled the schedule again — to their credit, they have fixed the morning and it makes complete sense now. It meets the local and bullet trains, albeit not the limited, and most people who take it get to work around 9. Cool. This is awesome. (Why not do this in the first place?!)

But the afternoon schedule is still bizarre and, to my view, stupid. The pickup times have moved ten minutes earlier so that allegedly the shuttle meets the limited trains, at least. However, the leeway is one minute. You need at least five minutes of leeway in case the shuttle is late, and/or to cross the platform, buy or validate a ticket, etc. Plus, they are now claiming to meet the bullet trains, even though they really are not doing so, because you would have to wait almost an hour for a northbound bullet. (Most people who take these shuttles are going northbound in the evenings, in my experience. It looks like the schedule does serve the southbound trains a bit better, but considering a southbound bullet saves you a ten minutes, compared to a northbound one which saves you about twice that, and serves fewer people, I can’t see that this is a huge benefit.)

One of the biggest things that bothers me about how this has occurred, which is completely typical for Caltrain, is that they don’t seem to have actually thought the changes through from the perspective of the users, or communicated to the users aside from announcing the new schedule, or asked for feedback, or anything. (I think a lot of people have called or written them to complain, though. I certainly did.) The complete illogic isn’t necessarily typical, but the fact that they’ve now gone through three schedules (one proposed, which I guess was so bad they just abandoned it and delayed the change by a week, and two actual) and the schedule still seems somewhat stupid, doesn’t really give me a lot of confidence that they thought about it, not just from a user perspective, but honestly, at all. It’s been so bad that even the drivers noticed it and started surveying people and collecting comments. I mean, really. Good for them, but what went wrong here that this was, and is, so messed up?

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