Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Miss a Train, Catch a Bus

It's a pretty simple idea, but it's surprising how little it occurs to CalTrain riders to do it, or to transit agencies to encourage it.

I got my schedules mixed up today, and was standing on the SB platform at Menlo Park this morning at 10:35, and it slowly dawned on me that there's an 8:35 and a 9:35, but no 10:35--the next train wasn't til 11:00.

So I set off by bike in the general direction of work, got to Palo Alto, and it occurred to me to try the VTA's 522 Rapid, which goes all the way down El Camino (then swings east across San Jose), the same route as the 22, but with fewer stops, and busses equipped to get traffic signal priority.

I have a two-zone CalTrain pass, which lets me ride VTA and SamTrans busses free.

My bus was actually a regular bus in the VTA's usual paint job.

My bus left at 10:54. I got to work at 11:30, and that 0:36 included a stop to pick up a Nicoise salad at the Mountain View Trader Joe's. So the overall trip time is pretty good compared with my estimated arrival of ~11:20 had I waited around for the train.

Now I admit that the bus alternative may not appeal much to hotshot dot-com commuters who ride CalTrain from Portrero Hill down to jobs in Mountain View, but I think there's a lot of other travel patterns where if people were more aware the busses that VTA and SamTrans run up and down El Camino, and thought of them as a complementary service to CalTrain, in more or less the same corridor--instead of just "welfare transit for people who don't have cars", they might actually give them a try. For weekend outings up and down the peninsula, for example, timing the start of a trip to hit one of CalTrain's hourly runs is not so bad, but having to check your watch and make sure to punctually leave whatever leisure activity you're pursing to get home is annoying. Why not take the train there and the bus back? Or if one of CalTrain's "unfortunate incidents" interrupts your evening commute, and your trip isn't too long, why not head over to a bus stop? It might be quicker than waiting three hours while the emergency response folks hold up the line writing reports and cleaning up.

Transit agencies could do a lot to encourage this sort of thinking just by actually letting riders know it's possible. Somewhere on their schedule, CalTrain should at least mention what busses complement their service, and mention the "two-zone pass = bus pass" perk a bit more prominently. It would also be nice to expand the priviledge to regular tickets, or even, to accept local agencies' passes within their jurisdiction.

All of these agencies do belong to us, after all--it shouldn't be too much to ask that they work together!


Michael J. said...

I ride caltrain all the time, follow BATN, and had no idea of the two-zone monthly pass = free VTA and SamTrans. amazing. Thanks for the heads up.

Fritz said...

I had no idea SamTrans is free with a 2 zone pass. I could've saved myself a little money over the past couple of years (I work in Menlo) when I've needed to use SamTrans for whatever reason.

I carry VTA EcoPass mostly as insurance in case of Caltrain "incident", though when trains are delayed significantly the 522 bus bike racks always fill up quickly.

Here's video of me on my bike "racing" the 522 and 22 buses up ECR from San Jose to Palo Alto. The 522 beat me by about 20 minutes; I beat the #22 by I don't know how long.

295bus said...

Well, you rock!

As a general rule of thumb, I feel like it's OK if transit isn't as fast as driving, but it ought to be faster than biking! Oh well.

Fritz said...

Tonight would have been a good time to ride the bus. I got home 90 minutes after I planned because of the fatality at San Antonio :-(

Becks said...

I often wonder why Bay Area transit agencies don't do a better job of cross promotion. In the past few weeks, I've found out that several of my friends commute by BART, even though they have to walk 5-10 blocks to reach the station. Instead, they could walk one or two blocks and ride an AC Transit bus. But to them, buses have become foreign - they don't even consider them as an option. This is a big problem that needs to be overcome if more people are going to abandon their cars for transit. It's rare that one transit agency in the Bay Area can meet all of one's needs.

Sprite said...

I doubt agencies have much of an incentive to cross-promote each other. e.g. I always hear people bemoan the fact that BART stops at midnight, demonstrating that they don't know the All-Nighter bus service exists.