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?

Caltrain bike tips

Courtesy the brilliant minds on the SVBC listserv and especially Margaret Okuzumi, ED of the Bay Rail Alliance and a very nice and friendly person:

Caltrain Bike Tips

Caltrain will tell you the bike rules, but those of us who use it every day will tell you how to do better than the rules and be a courteous bike commuter when using the train as part of your commute.

One thing we missed: don’t obstruct pedestrians getting on or off the train. Caltrain says pedestrians have the right to board and exit first. Try not to get in the way of a pedestrian or contact one with your bike — it could end in reprimand, anger, or injury. Sometimes simultaneous bike/ped boarding and deboarding is permitted by the conductors. If the stairs are divided unevenly, it’s bikes through the wide side unless you’re experienced and have a skinny bike, but if the wide side is on the south (pedestrian) side of the car, the pedestrians get to go first.

Electric squid, metal gorilla

I enjoyed MetroRiderLA’s series of posts on transit in the Bay Area.

My most-used system: Caltrain

Best line:

The January 17 journey on Train 362 was very fast.
Then again, this trip didn’t cover anything south of Millbrae. Had
there been more time, this 10-part miniseries would have been a Greek
epic, with the transit odyssey including entries on the Santa Clara
Valley Transportation Authority’s bus and barren light rail and the
ruins of the once vast samTrans duchy. Any transit agency rebellious
enough to begin its name without capitalization is worth a write-up.

The system I hate to love: BART

This is a really excellent analysis of the pros and cons of BART. A few excerpts:

BART focuses its primary trunk service on San Francisco, with it
forming the head of a squid. The four endpoints on the east side of
the Tube form its tentacles, with a secondary trunk formed through

In the East Bay, this squid service also took on the characteristics
of a gorilla. It was very burdensome to maintain both San Francisco-
like train and bus service. BART had something that AC Transit
didn’t: funding primacy.

When counties buy in to BART by joining the district, they take on
the responsibilities of funding both their construction and and
operations within their jurisdictions. This solved the problem of
the who’s-subsidizing-whom issue, but there was always a threat of a
county chiseling its obligation. So the BART service obligations were
the first to be paid. It sounded like a fiscally upright arrangement.

The burden would then fall on bus riders. Since BART only had to
be concerned with its trains and would get first dibs on money, it
didn’t have to worry about local bus service. AC Transit bore the
brunt of service cuts, even though there was very heavy demand for
local East Bay bus service….

The Bay Area’s biggest loser has to be samTrans. San Mateo County bet
it all on a massive BART extension and watched it backfire bad. San
Mateo opted out of being a charter member of the BART district, but
it still got service as far as Daly City, on the northern edge of the
county line, and then Colma, the city where the dead outnumber the
living. The line kept creeping southward, going in as far as Millbrae
and San Francisco International Airport. The county paid for these
extensions by pawning samTrans service. The massive service expansion
southward proved to be a colossal failure. Airport ridership had been
abysmal, plus BART was largely duplicating the service of the more
culturally ingrained Caltrain commuter rail service. The saddest part
of all: samTrans lost more bus riders than BART gained rail riders.

Now the squid-gorilla is coming after Santa Clara County, with a
long-term vision of forming a ring around the Bay. The Valley
Transportation Authority is grappling with paying for an excessively
expensive BART extension, all while being infamous for having an
extensive but unproductive light rail network. It also already has
service along both sides of the bay by the more antiquated technology
known as conventional rail. BART would be astronomically expensive,
redundant and if light rail has been any indication … Santa Clara
County should know what the First Rule of Holes is.

Just yesterday I was reading an editorial that used San Mateo County BART as a success story. <game show eeeeennnnnnnt>

I haven’t read the whole series but I suspect it’s worth reading.

In the meantime, tonight I’m off to Sunnyvale City Hall to tell the City Council that that all road users deserve safe accommodation.

More later: I’m planning a letter to the Menlo Park City Council telling them I think they have their heads in the sand (or somewhere else, perhaps) if they really think opposing high-speed rail on the Peninsula is a good plan.

{City} Caltrain on Google

This is super cool.

Type in “{City} Caltrain” in Google Maps where X is a city name with a Caltrain station and you get a map with a pic of the station, indications of the time of next 6 trains, their type (Bullet, Limited, Local), and their final destination (SF, SJ, Tamien, or Gilroy). Pretty goshdarn awesome in a world that needs more awesomeness.

Some of the non-city names work too, like 22nd St or San Antonio, but others don’t, like California Ave and Tamien, which do bring up the station location and snapshot but only bring up bus and light rail info, respectively. Still awesome!