A Caltrain train pulls into the Palo Alto station.

Arguing that the South Bay’s transportation system is breaking down, the urban planning think tank SPUR released an ambitious proposal for the region Thursday. In its Caltrain Corridor Vision Plan, SPUR proposes improvements to Highway 101 and calls for Caltrain to quintuple its ridership, expand service into downtown San Francisco and upgrade infrastructure. The SPUR report follows the Trump Administration’s decision last week to suspend $647 million in funds for Caltrain’s electrification, a move the rail agency says will hinder its ability to make needed improvements. We discuss the future of Caltrain.

The Caltrain Corridor Vision Plan (Spur.org)

Guests:
Ratna Amin, transportation policy director, SPUR
Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs, Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Seamus Murphy, chief communications officer, Caltrain

  • Paul

    Sanctuary status gives cover to criminals, be they violent or otherwise. If you don’t care about the victims of those criminals, and pro-immigration fanatics clearly don’t, maybe you’ll care about getting to work on time. But note, a true racist or nationalist, which is what too many immigrants are, will be happy to destroy their host city before giving an inch to suffering Americans.

    • Jon Latimer

      WOW. Right! I see, it’s the immigrants who are the racists and nationalists? It’s all so clear to me now! So you’re not actually another racist xenophobe scapegoating the immigrant community for all of America’s shortcomings? Right. And it’s us, the poor Americans who are suffering so much! Poor you. Poor me. Poor us. SAD.

      • Curious

        La Raza.

      • Paul

        You think only white European-descended people are racist? You should run for president of Sweden, the rapists there will love you.

  • EIDALM

    That just a fake excuse for Donald Trump to shift more wealth to his friends in the Wall Street and his buddies of billionaires. while putting extreme hardship on the American working class.as well the extreme damage to the environment from fossil fuel pollution from millions of cars that could be curtailed by more mass transit projects.

  • Kurt thialfad

    The feds are holding up the money because of the Trust Act. Let’s repeal the Trust Act please. Repeal Sanctuary Cities please.

  • Another Mike

    Per Ralph Vartabedian of the LA Times, this is Trump’s excuse for stopping funding: [Carolyn Flowers], “a top Obama administration executive at the U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $647-million grant for a California rail
    project in mid-January and less than two weeks later went to work for a Los Angeles-based contractor involved in the project”

    The combination of last-minute funding from which the executive would directly benefit is at the very least, “bad optics.”

    • Curious

      Yeah, Barry buried a lot of landmines on his way out.

      • loujudson

        Oh Barry White again! Which song was that?

    • Edward

      Mr. Vartabedian has been virulently attacking high speed rail since the idea arose. The Republican congressmen who asked for a delay in payment are the same ones who have been allied with him for years to stop high speed rail. Even though there is independent utility to electrifying Caltrain, they think that delaying it will hurt high speed rail. There is no news here.

      • Another Mike

        The conflict of interest was obvious enough for even the Trump Administration to notice. If the contract was really a good deal, why wait till the day before Trump’s inauguration to sign it? The fact that the contract funded her next job is the smoking gun.

  • Another Mike

    The Transbay Terminal is just a mile away. Why not just take a bus, or even walk from Third and King?

  • aslevin

    If you are listening and want more – you can hear Ratna Amin of SPUR in person next week Wednesday March 1 at 6:30pm at the San Mateo Public Library talk about the Caltrain/101 Corridor Vision, with other experts, and ask questions. RSVP here: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/741/p/salsa/event/common/public/?event_KEY=99577

  • Another Mike

    Bring back the free SFO-Millbrae CalTrain shuttle bus! This was discontinued just to make people pay to ride BART.

  • sstanley

    Will the south bay (Morgan hill / Gilroy) ever get more trains??? Maybe even weekends like the rest of the cities? We now have weekday only and the 3 trains leave before the sun rises!

  • Todd Stiers

    Maybe its time for California to start holding money from the Feds to get done what needs to be done locally – #californiafirst

    • Chris1030

      Exactly! California is getting from fed government around 80c per every $1 we pay into federal budget. If we have it all to ourselves, we’ll be much better off than subsidizing the republican states.

      • Curious

        California is the nation’s welfare queen: one eighth the nation’s population, one third of its welfare recipients.

        • loujudson

          Can you supply sources?

    • Paul

      Dangerous! Do you want the Army to occupy the state senate house?

      • Todd Stiers

        Nah, just start hammering it as a state’s right thing. Tax the federal tax going outbound, invest locally. A concerted organized effort would do it. As a state we are already disenfranchised/our votes are worth less than the hacked flyover startes that put this guy in. We have a just grievance.

    • Curious

      What money can California “hold from the feds”?

  • Another Mike

    There are already off-peak Caltrain discounts. Why doesn’t your guest know that?

    • Affen_Theater

      Citation needed; Caltrain off-peak discounts were tried and discontinued in April of 2002.

      Current Caltrain fare chart (note absence of off-peak discount): http://www.caltrain.com/Fares/farechart.html

      • Another Mike

        Seven years they had off-peak discounts. I bet they went away when conductors stopped checking tickets.

        But now, with the Clipper card, off-peak fares would be trivial to compute and collect.

        • Affen_Theater

          No, wrong. Nothing to do with “checking” tickets. They were an endless source of trouble & disputes between riders and crews. Also, a fare increase was needed, and so staff and the board felt eliminating the off-peak discount which wasn’t working well anyway made good sense since it would help ease the size of increase on regular fares.

          The TVM-issued paper tickets would run into the same problems (disputes & claimed “misunderstandings”) as before. While Clipper makes computation trivial, there are still issues to contend with. Say from 10 am to 3 pm is “off-peak” … someone arrives at the station and tags on at 9:55 for a train departing at 10 am … what then? You are allowed to tag off up to 4 hours later … so what happens when someone alights at 2:55 pm but doesn’t tag off until 3:01 pm? OK, so what if the train is a bit late, and so they tag off at 3:01 when they could have tagged off before 3 pm if the train had been on time. I’m just getting started here … off peak fares are more trouble than they’re worth.

          • Another Mike

            I must be the exception to every rule: I would get on the first train that stopped after 9 AM and ride with the lower fare ticket, without any of the drama you allude to. Was there fisticuffs? Bloodied noses? How often were trains stopped for the police to make arrests?
            And common sense can link tagging on and off to a particular train. Or put the tagging station in the vestibules — by definition of “off-peak” there won’t be a lot of people vying for access.
            SF’s garages give a 15 minute grace period between payment and exiting, in case a driver has to relieve himself, check a map, etc. I imagine the Clipper card system could be programmed to do as much.

          • Affen_Theater

            So you didn’t even know that off-peak discounts were eliminated in early 2002 — FIFTEEN years ago, when you were leisurely taking midday trains … and yet berates a talk show guest for not knowing about a long-non-existent discount? Fisticuffs? Out of touch much? Lots of free, easy advice from the comfort of your retirement armchair or bed? You “imagine” Clipper could be reprogrammed!? Suuuure. Anyone can “imagine” lots of stuff. You have no idea what trying to work with Clipper for such changes entails. Again: out of touch much? Go back to bed … or at least stick to stuff you actually know something about.

  • Jon Latimer

    The public transportation system in the Bay Area is a joke. We should be setting the standards for the rest of the world, and instead we’re a laughing stock, with primitive, slow, overcrowded and noisy trains, with horrible access and geographic reach, ridiculous hours of operation and excessive use fees. Time to stop listening to the auto/oil lobbyist and GET IT FIXED! It will not fix itself.

  • Robert Thomas

    When I went to work for Silicon Graphics in 1990, then-CEO Ed McCracken informed us employees that SGI was advocating along with other employers along the peninsula and down to Gilroy for the electrification of the Caltrain corridor; SGI operated a regular shuttle from the Castro Street station in Mountain View to B20 (now the Computer History Museum) and the main campus (now the “Googleplex”), that was well utilized. That was twenty-seven years ago. I used to regularly take Caltrain just a few stops, between Lawrence Station and Mountain View. The service was very good.

    Surely, the reason it hasn’t been improved is because powerful interest oppose it. Who are they? What are their reasons for doing so?

    • Another Mike

      Electrification will take a billion and a half dollars. $713 million from the Cal HSR bonds, and the $647 million from the federal government.

      • Robert Thomas

        That’s a lot of money. So are many other things a lot of money.

        • Another Mike

          Look at the annual ridership on the Caltrain Wikip page. It stagnated for years at roughly half the current ridership. Now Caltrain can justify more trains per hour, with the reduced headways that only electrification can provide.

  • Another Mike

    Sadly, with Measure B, the VTA plans to discontinue bus service in my part of San Jose. The resources will be redeployed to serve BART stations miles from my house.

    • Robert Thomas

      I noticed a flyer warning of a stop’s “possible elimination” on the 63 line along Camden Avenue west of Almaden Blvd. It serves Race St. & Alameda to Almaden & Camden, mostly along Meridian Ave. Did you also mention that the 27 line serving West Valley College to Eastridge was slated for change?

      • Another Mike

        The 65 (Branham and Kooser to SJSU via Camden, Leigh, and Diridon Station) is to be discontinued, as well as the 37 (West Valley College to Capitol at least as far east as Almaden/ Guadalupe Light Rail)

  • Greg Davis

    I take the train often from San Jose Tamian or Diridon to the last stop in S.F. Lately, however, I’ve been taking my car because the cost is a push or slightly cheaper if I drive and I get there faster. This is even more so with BART. I used to drive up to Milbrea and take BART in the rest of the way, but between driving up there, parking and the cost of the ticket I’ve given up and just drive.

    • Another Mike

      Relatively few BART trains stop south of Daly City. You may want to try driving there.
      If you’re figuring costs, look how much the IRS thinks it costs you per mile to operate a car.

      • Greg Davis

        What the IRS “thinks” it costs to operate my car is irrelevant to what it actually costs out of pocket when making these decisions. And, as Chris pointed out, there are all kinds of other complications (especially BART & Cal Train parking) that add to the difficulty and frustration. Forecasting out the wear and tear on the car, wear on the tires, oil, etc. is a non-issue when trying to get back and forth from the south bay to SF

        • Another Mike

          So how did you figure that driving was cheaper?

          • Greg Davis

            Caltrain:
            Leave my house at 7:15 am
            RT – gas = $2
            Parking = $5
            RT Ticket = $18.75
            Total = $25.75
            Get back to my house at 1:45

            Car:
            Leave my house at 8:30
            RT Gas = $18
            Parking = $4 (meter)
            Total = $22
            Get back to my house at 12:30

          • Another Mike

            As I suspected, this analysis assumes that the car itself is free, that maintenance and repairs are free, and disregards that each mile driven brings it closer to the scrapyard.

          • Greg Davis

            Not true, as I said in my previous post, it just that those are not strong enough factors to sway my decision. By the way I have to drive a car to get to BART or Caltrain. If I didn’t have a car Caltrain would be my ONLY option, then the time factor of catching a bus from south San Jose would be off the chart.

          • Fly Liz

            Greg, maybe you should acknowledge that you’re already paying whatever number of thousands of dollars per year to own a car, and you incur further significant costs whenever you use it, but since you don’t actually pay those charges at the moment you incur them, you don’t feel the emotional impact of them when commuting so you’d prefer to exclude them from your calculations here while you include train related costs. It’s not logical, but it’s what you seem to be doing here.

            And I suspect that many others have a similar view of the math, artificially jacking the numbers around to make mass transit usage appear — comparatively — more costly than it otherwise would.

    • Chris1030

      I had been working in downtown SF for about 2 years and had tried all kinds of drive/Caltrain /BART combinations, and the cheapest and fastest was car. It is a shame that this is the case. Sometimes I would arrive at Mountain View station a bit before 8 a.m. and there was no parking for my car. Then in addition to being stuck with the car, I was stuck with the only option of taking the 101 vs 280, too.

    • Brux

      What about the time? And the fact that you can do “something” on the train as opposed to nothing while you are driving?

      • Greg Davis

        The time factor is what got me on Caltrain and BART in the first place, so I definitely agree with that. But this really is undone if you don’t get a seat, which has happened to me before, and the spotty wifi going through tunnels, etc., loosing connections. Furthermore, I have a 2.5 mile walk to my final destination after getting off the train at 4th and King. In the car I can make hands free calls (without disturbing people), and listening to books (Audible is fantastic) is a huge plus too. The other thing about time is that very often from the time I leave my house to the time I return for a 1 hour meeting in SF I will have spent 6-7 hours taking the train or BART routes (for a 10:30 am meeting). In my car that same trip is 4 – 5 hrs. Still I wish BART came to San Jose – I’d take it every time!

        • Brux

          I’ve been on Audible for years, and before that used to digitize and convert regular audiobooks to play on my old MP3 player – audiobooks are great. Your story is disconcerting, I can’t imagine how or why you do it.

      • Hillary Clintub

        Self-driving cars are about to fix that. You won’t have to run your life on BART’s schedule, either.

  • menloman

    The Bay Area already has electrified trains that are synced to BART…it’s BART. Time to close CalTrain and extend BART. Then run trains every two minutes as is done in London.

    • Paul

      I just love the teradactyl like screech of the Bart rails! Woo hoo!

      • menloman

        YES! Awful design.

        • loujudson

          One reason my parents voted to not have BART come to Marin was because of its already obsolete design. Now that I work in Berkeley a few times a month, I would take it if I could. But living in Marin, I have never been on a train or BART. I used to take the ferry to work in SF long ago. Now car is only possible way. HATE the traffic, even as I am part of it…
          I understand there once were trains on the bridges… that could be done again if we had the will.

          • Another Mike

            There were street cars on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge. There never were trains on any other Bay Area bridges designed for motor vehicle traffic.

            There was never any plan to have BART go to Marin because engineering a connection through the Golden Gate seemed impossible.

          • loujudson

            Sorry, but see this:
            http://www.marinij.com/article/ZZ/20100807/NEWS/100809186

            Where did you get your information about the seeming impossibility?

          • Another Mike

            See, for example, your source

            They hired Clifford Paine, one of bridge designer Joseph Strauss’
            engineers, to assess the feasibility of BART on the span. He concluded
            it would not work, saying the added weight would stress cables and cause
            the span to sag enough to be in violation of Navy clearance
            regulations.

            Later, an engineering board of review was
            commissioned to review all the studies and it also announced rail was
            not feasible, but Dyble noted the bridge district paid for the panel’s
            expenses and fees.

            The IJ leaves out that most Marinites were happy to live in their bucolic paradise, and did not want to see the riffraff come in numbers.

    • Another Mike

      For BART to run on two-minute headways, the Market Street line — as well as the Transbay Tube — would have to be double-tracked. Another tube would cost $10 billion. London does not have a large bay splitting the city into rough thirds.

  • Fly Liz

    I was a little frustrated to hear the panelists’ insufficient responses to a caller who wondered why our local train/rail systems should take federal tax dollars, including funds paid in by far-away taxpayers (e.g. Virginians) who would not directly benefit from these investments, and why Caltrain seems to resist the strategy of funding its operations based solely on farebox collections. I agreed with the panelists’ comments addressing the caller’s challenges, but they left out the biggest factor: If Caltrain (or virtually any passenger rail or mass transit system in the USA) were to attempt to operate based on usage fees only, they’d be unable to compete for customers with the comparatively low costs of driving autos on the roads and parking them on the streets and in vast corporate parking lots. And these are autos that most Americans (esp. Californians) assume they have to own as a basic life necessity (seemingly sunk costs of tens of thousands of household dollars per vehicle) because our transit systems and development patterns are so lame that it’s hard to get by without them.

    And why do those car related costs seem so low compared to transit fares? It’s because our messed-up government, and our shortsighted culture/society who elects it, chooses to subsidize almost 100% of auto road and freeway costs with taxpayer money (federal, state, and local).

    When is the last time you heard anyone asking I-80, I-280, US-101, or even El Camino Real or Market Street to run itself based on its farebox? When is the last time you heard a loud scream of opposition to the federal highway bill? When is the last time someone attempted to calculate the P&L of I-680? But so many closed-minded Americans seem to think that trains and bus services should be expected to cover their own costs and operate in the black. Why shouldn’t auto roads and street parking be held to the same standard? Or, if they’re not, then why should mass transit systems be? I’m all for the free market if it’s an even playing field. Obviously transit and bikes would win any such competition if the game were fair.

    Oh, and don’t even get me started on the billions (trillions??) of dollars we’ve diverted to vast foreign wars whose main goal seems to be to keep oil prices low… ugh…

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Mina Kim

Mina Kim is KQED News’ evening anchor and the Friday host of Forum. She reports on a wide range of issues affecting the Bay Area and interviews newsmakers, local leaders and innovators.

Mina started her career in public radio at KQED as an intern with Pacific Time. When the station began expanding its local news coverage in 2010, she became a general assignment reporter, then health reporter for The California Report. Mina’s award-winning stories have included on-the-scene reporting of the 2014 Napa earthquake and a series on gun violence in Oakland.

Her work has been recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association.

Mina grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Oak Park, CA. She lives in Napa.

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