Mountain View Voice

News - August 10, 2012

All aboard! Caltrain hits record high

Train ridership growing for 23 months

by Emily Efland

When Caltrain announced its latest ridership statistics, even its own employees were surprised.

The public transit agency experienced a record high in ridership, transporting an average of 50,390 people on weekdays in June, an increase of almost 11 percent since last June, Caltrain officials said Aug. 2. This increase also made June the 23rd consecutive month in which ridership increased, despite Caltrain's shaky financial situation that has caused an increase in fares and a removal of several midday trains from the schedule.

"People are continuing to ride in spite of the fact that we've raised the fares, and we also eliminated some trains last year," said Caltrain's public information officer, Christine Dunn. "It's kind of amazing to us, too, but I just think that people value the service."

Caltrain plans to add two new evening trains and restore four midday trains in order to reduce crowding from the increased demand for train service. The new trains will begin running in the fall.

The steady increase in ridership is a respite from the decrease that occurred in 2008 as a result of job loss from the economic recession. Dunn says that the increase demonstrates an economic recovery in the Bay Area, as more companies hire new employees and encourage their employees to take public transportation to work. Under Caltrain's Go Pass program, employers pay for their employees to take Caltrain. Caltrain also operates various free shuttle services to transport commuters to work.

"The economy in this region is healthier than in most areas of the country, so we're seeing a big increase in shuttle ridership, and shuttles go directly from train stations to (people's) work," Dunn said.

Dunn also acknowledged that high gas prices could contribute to an increased use of public transportation, as commuters look for ways to save money.

San Francisco resident David Siegel said he takes Caltrain to work five days a week, and has noticed crowding on Caltrain during peak transportation hours. While Siegel says he uses Caltrain in order to cut down on transportation time and avoid searching for parking, the free shuttle and financial assistance offered by his employer, Mountain View-based Intuit, also encouraged him to take public transportation.

"My company pays a subsidy if you take mass transit, so definitely I take that into consideration," Siegel said.

Caltrain receives 50 percent of its funding from fare box revenues, which have increased 22.1 percent since last year due to increases in fares and ridership. Another portion of the company's funding comes from contributions from Caltrain's three partner agencies, Samtrans, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and the City and County of San Francisco, but it's not enough to cover its budget. Difficulty in finding enough outside funding often forces Caltrain to raise its fare prices, but Dunn says the increase in ridership will stave off any immediate fare hikes for now.

Caltrain's most recent fare hike took effect July 1.

"We made more revenue than we thought we were going to make," Dunn said. "I don't think we have any plan at this point to increase the fare."

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