Today’s Headlines

  • DUI Driver Arrested for Critically Injuring 80-Year-Old Woman at Van Ness and Vallejo (BCN via Appeal)
  • Man Pinned by Trolley on Market Street (ABC 7CBS 5SFGate)
  • Muni’s 83x, A.K.A. the Twitter Bus, Begins Service (ABC 7)
  • MTC to Vote on $4M For Free Muni For Youth, $1M More Still Needed (SF Examiner)
  • Central Subway Tunnel Construction to Begin on Fourth Street (SFGate)
  • More on Broadway Pedestrian Improvement Plans in Chinatown (SFGate)
  • Mercury News Hit Piece on CA HSR Neglects to Mention the Costs of Highways
  • Nearly 100 Protest Car Dependency in SF’s World Naked Bike Ride (BCN via NBC)
  • SFMTA Eastern Neighborhoods Parking Meter Expansion Plan Inches Along (SFGate)
  • BART Making Progress on Fixing Broken Escalators (ABC 7)
  • Caltrain Budget Moves From Doom to Boom, but Forecast Could Get Gloomy (Mercury News)
  • Hit-and-Run Driver Arrested for Critically Injuring Cycling Professor In Penngrove (Press Democrat)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Joel

    Last link is wrong.

  • If Caltrain is getting overcrowded, perhaps they should make self-sufficient operations a strategic goal rather than just dedicated funding. That would likely mean a mix of service increases and relatively steep fare hikes, but clearly demand is there.

    I’d love to see it become a Peninsula mass-transit line rather than simply commuter rail, but without dedicated funding and subsidies that likely won’t happen soon. So, why not aim for 110% farebox recovery?

  • mikesonn

    Make 101 a toll road and I’ll pay 3x what I pay now for Caltrain. Clearly, the demand for 101 is there.

  • Thanks, fixed.

  • mikesonn

    I don’t understand the CS article, 4th (under the freeway) has been half torn up (only 2 lanes open) for the last 5 months or so. I assumed the box was already being built.

    No mention though of the utility relocation work that is about to start at Columbus/Union at Washington Square Park in North Beach. The MTA has a little bit of money so they are going full steam on what work they can to force the feds into giving them the $900+ million since “the work has already started”.

  • Come come now, @mikesonn:disqus . Just because the Peninsula’s transportation network is an unjust system with perverse incentives doesn’t mean we have to abandon the use of market forces. You have one thing in abundance – demand – and one thing in shortage – money and seats.

    Now you could charge more and boost capacity, putting more people on the road. This is bad for the environment and for communities but at least the trains will be at capacity rather than over capacity. You’d end up with a solvent system and enough seats for everyone. No existential threats because of supervisorial whim.

    But there are more ways to do it. Hong Kong’s metro makes its profits from real estate around stations. Improved frequency, if each run can more than cover its own costs, would also do it.  All I’m saying is Caltrain should investigate how to get itself off this wheel of fortune for good, and that may mean fare and operational changes.

    As for tolls – San Mateo has threatened to reciprocate any congestion pricing scheme implemented at its border with San Francisco. Perhaps we could start there.

  • mikesonn

    I’m arguing for a more stringent application of market forces, actually.

  • And I’m arguing we shouldn’t wait for one before implementing the other.

  • mikesonn

    Which just proves the problem: easier to slash transit, raise fares than address real issues. Don’t need a EIR when you claim a “fiscal emergency”, but we’ll need 20 years and a couple politicians willing to commit political suicide to further congestion pricing past committee hearings.

  •  Octavius – the problem with increasing the fares, you then make the train less competitive with the subsidized car commute. People on Caltrain are acutely aware of the math. The math tips the other way, and someone buys a car, or rents a parking space in SF, whatever. Now that they’ve done that, the barrier to entry is not going from train to car, but from car to train, and we’ve permanently tipped the scale towards the form of transport that is worse from a collective standpoint. The train’s budget problems get worse, not better.

    I’d argue that Caltrain is being as capitalistic as it gets – they are risking their limited venture capital to expand service in order to get more riders. More riders means more money. And by that I do not mean running a profit from an operations standpoint, I mean that they will get more money because the populace will demand that more of their tax dollars go to running the train, much as large parts of the populace demand that their tax dollars go to building a road.

  • Anonymous

    @OctaviusIII:disqus If you raise fares on Caltrain so that you get 110% farebox recovery, you would have to more than double current fares. You really think this is an option? As a regular Caltrain rider, I know that a lot of people I talk to about Caltrain (who mostly don’t take it, at least not regularly) complain that it is already too expensive for them (since they externalize the true cost of driving and usually only count gasoline). So if you make a roundtrip from SF to Palo Alto $25 (approximately double what it currently is), the ridership numbers will drop massively. Sure, you have now “solved” the problem of overcrowding on the train, but have you really solved the bigger (and much more important) issue of getting people to and from their destinations efficiently and with minimal environmental impact ?

    And as @mikesonn:disqus pointed out, if you look at this bigger issue of moving people efficiently, if you are only applying market forces to public transit and not driving, that’s the classic societal bias of preferring one mode of transit (which is also the most inefficient and dangerous). This makes no sense form a larger regional transit policy perspective.

    If we as a society want to go down the route of no longer having government subsidizing any form of transit, then fine. But then that has to go for *all* forms of transit, including the automobile. The principle needs to be applied evenly.

  • Here’s the overarching goal: move people in the most efficient way possible, and that probably means Caltrain.

    Here’s the problem: Continuing existential threats and doom budgets because of political intransigence on the part of the participating counties.

    How do we get out of this cycle? The best way is to price roads and get Caltrain a sustainable funding source. Political possibility is slim. The next way is how it has been done: rely on riders to lobby against the massive service cuts the doom budgets require and just endure the packed trains.  The last way is to seek ways (not necessarily through fare hikes) to get Caltrain operationally profitable, politicians be damned.

    Of course raising fares would put people on the road. If you don’t want overcrowding and you can’t afford more trains the only way to solve that is through higher fares. If you don’t mind overcrowding and put a higher priority on taking cars off the road, then keep fares low, but if Caltrain faces demise because it can’t bring itself to raise fares that’s a worst-case scenario.

  • mikesonn

    I think you just described the situation of nearly every transit agency in the country.

  •  The next problem with your argument, Octavius, is that in most cases the primary goal of transit is to provide transportation to the transit dependent who don’t have a car, not just wealthy SF/Silicon Valley residents who decide they don’t want to drive. If you raise the prices, the people you hurt the most are the ones who don’t have an alternative.

  • @twitter-14678929:disqus – There are policy ways to accomodate the social problem of captive ridership, like with low-income transit discounts.  I don’t see that as a problem with my argument but an offshoot. The core is still this: Caltrain should examine ways to permanently leave the boom-doom budget cycle.  Real estate, fare hikes, service improvements – a blend of these may be enough. 

    But the consensus seems to be that fare hikes are worse than overcrowding and that the answer to Caltrain’s budgetary woes isn’t to study solvency but to pursue dedicated subsidies.  This is because Caltrain provides a social good with positive externalities that should be paid for by more people than just riders.

  • mikesonn

    Again, describing every transit agency in the country.

    But I don’t see how a sales tax dedicated to Caltrain, ala BART, is a “dedicated subsidy”.

  •  I assert this. The only way for Caltrain to be self-sufficient is for it to shut down. Raise the fares enough to pay for the trains, and the laffer curve will dictate that ridership will drop to the point that revenue goes down instead of up despite a higher per rider collection. Since the majority of Caltrain’s costs are fixed, that reduction in ridership doesn’t save money, other than by reducing the service more, which reduces ridership more, etc…

    Which is pretty much the same for everything that the government has a hand in. The overall subsidy of Caltrain is peanuts, the annual taxpayer contribution wouldn’t build a single freeway on/offramp on 101.

  • I misspoke in my OP. I should have said, Why not go for solvency? rather than Why not go for 110% farebox recovery?

    Anyway, I don’t think Caltrain is at its optimal market price. We don’t know if there is a path to solvency because we don’t try for it.

    Now, if Caltrain got a dedicated funding source or permanent subsidy, that would be good. Funding at the same level as roads would be fantastic, too. I just don’t think those things are within reach, wo we might as well maximize internal funding sources, including but not limited to fare revenue.

  • Anonymous

    The argument that Caltrain is underpriced because the trains are full is flawed.

    If you increase service, the trains won’t be overfull. Why does a government agency need to respond to popular services by cutting them when private businesses would simply grow to expand supply to meet demand?

    By this argument line we should be lowering the price for VTA because the buses run empty.

  • Anonymous

    If I’m not mistaken, Caltrain’s parking lot rates are well under market rate. Instead of raising fares, raise those. Then compare the income from that to the income from leasing the land to developers.