Yesterday my commute was not fun, as you can clearly tell. This was on the heels of Friday (fatality - this stuff happens) and Tuesday (mechanical). A new day, and I calmed down. I was bumped off the 7:59 from SF this AM, and I took it with my more regular simple resignation. My friend Joe had met me for that train and we decided to take the 8:19. He grabbed his bike back from Warm Planet (he detrains in Redwood City, the 8:19 only stops at San Carlos so he'd need his bike).
The 8:19, of course, had a mechanical. Given that the replacement train was bound to depart late, we tucked it in, re-checked his bike, and got on the 8:44 which would deliver him to Redwood City sans bike and me to Sunnyvale (closer to work).
I got so wrapped up in the bike capacity issue and the poor handling of it, that I got off track of the general concept that Caltrain needs some more funding - now. I definitely want them to get a little smarter - but the system is breaking down. In addition to 14 train cars going out of service, the number of mechanicals seems to have gone up lately (granted this is just anecdotal). They are squeezing everything they can out of their gallery cars in the promise of "electrification" - who knows if that will ever be funded.
Ridership is through the roof. There are stats from (I think) February that support this, but anecdotally I believe that it has gone way up in the last 4-5 months. February is a bad month to measure, the rain chases away not just the cyclists. If you take MUNI or VTA to Caltrain, rain is a good reason to "Just Drive". Capacity for special events (basically Giants games during commute hours) is completely maxed out.
The value to SF and the Peninsula of Caltrain is very high (in my opinion, anyway). It is attracting many new riders right now. The long time riders are putting up with the disruptions because we have already decided that we don't want to drive, for various reasons (can't afford car, hate to drive, environment). And even disrupted service now is substantially better than it was even 6 years ago.
The new riders however, are just being thrown over a tipping point, most likely for gas prices. I can't really vouch for traffic congestion since I haven't driven the 101 during rush hour for but I doubt it is at the level of the dot com days. Regardless, those new riders will react poorly to bad experiences. "We" need to keep those riders on transit. This means keeping the service level up to at least current standards.
Of course even if the trains run on time, there is the issue of how to get the riders on board. That is why bike capacity and handling that capacity cannot be ignored. The diehards will figure it out. Some buy folders. I am probably buying a used bike from Walt's and locking it up at Sunnyvale and praying it doesn't get stolen. I'm going to go to the Caltrain bike master plan comment and make sure Caltrain is acutely aware that bike racks won't cut it for most people because they cannot afford to have their bikes stolen. I saw a longtime cyclist on the train this AM, she had thrown in the towel and was going with a skateboard. That won't work for me - I'm too klutzy, and skateboarding down Central Expressway just doesn't sound too fun, let alone motoring through SF. But new riders are being turned off by being bumped, and if they try to drive, the parking is limited.
My worry is that throwing money at Caltrain might not do the trick, of course, but if Caltrain does need the money, it will take a while to get, the campaign should start tout de suite.
Arjun Kapoor rides a bicycle
2 days ago