Monday, August 30, 2010

Atrophy instead of Amputation for CalTrain

CalTrain appears headed towards a budget-balancing solution based on reducing off-peak weekday service, rather than killing weekend service or trains to Gilroy.

Here's their announcement, and here's a more detailed description, and here's the specific proposed schedule changes (PDF).

As someone who uses both the late morning train on the chopping block and weekend service, I guess I'm OK with this. I have enjoyed the "W@H, show up when you want to" dot-com lifestyle from time-to-time, but I can let that go to keep my weekend jaunts with Nathan!

As to Gilroy service: it's a long way to Gilroy and ridership has been low ever since the 101 was widened. This is not to say that it should be abandoned, but it's really a separate undertaking from CalTrain's core SF<->SJ service. CalTrain should ask Santa Clara county to kick down a little extra to keep it going.

(But it does seem like the part of CalTrain between Tamien and Blossom Hill, at the south edge of SJ, could be considered part of the core system, and should be kept, even though it currently only gets served by trains going to/from Gilroy, and gets no weekend/off-hours/countercommute service at all).

Dropping Gilroy would put a kibosh on Monterey Count's plans to extend CalTrain to Salinas, although I haven't heard anything about this for quite some time anyway. During the housing bubble, there were no doubt people leapfrogging past Gilroy to cheaper digs in Salinas, but these days probably not so much. From the perspective of Bay Area residents, it would be nice to see this come to fruition in conjunction with Monterey county's proposed coastal (diesel) light rail, since together they'd make it possible to get to Monterey by train.

Anyhoo--the other part of CalTrain's proposed budget solution is another increase in fares. Regular riders don't complain to much about fares; overall, it's still a pretty good deal for commuting. Casual ridership might dip a bit. At $5+ a pop buying tickets for a whole family starts to get pretty pricey, and I'm sure that's cutting into ridership of the weekend trains that CalTrain is fighting to keep running.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Is There a Quiet Pro-HSR Majority in the Peninsula?

I think there is. Anyway, I claimed to represent them in this letter printed in yesterday's Daily News:

Residents for High-speed Rail

I was disturbed to read in your newspaper that the Redwood City City Council is considering adopting a position opposing high-speed rail ("Cities get ready to battle over bullet train," Aug. 12).

I'd like to remind them that when us Redwood City voters were asked our opinion of the project at the polls, we gave it a thumbs up -- and point out that opponents of change are good at making noise far disproportionate to their numbers.

Nor do they let facts get in the way of their arguments when it comes to spreading their fear to others. Claims that high-speed trains will roar through the Peninsula as loud as jets and leave a wasteland in their wake are simply fantasies, not so different from the "death panels" and "socialism" alleged as the consequences of health care reform by its opponents.

In the real world, Redwood City residents -- even ones like me who will see elevated or grade-level tracks from our front doors -- still support high-speed rail because:

  • We have family in Southern California and are equally sick of airport security and "the 5."
  • We ride Caltrain to work and want to see it survive to run faster and more frequent electric trains. (And those who drive on the 101 to work should be concerned about what will happen to their commute if Caltrain fails and we are forced to join them.)
  • We cross the tracks daily by car or foot or bike, and are a little nervous every time -- and more so when our kids cross them.
  • And finally, a selfish point but one worth making: We're looking forward to proximity to good transit giving a boost to the value of our homes.

So remember that you are pledged to represent all of Redwood City, and keep in mind the quiet majority who expect you to rationally look out for the city's best interests.

We should stop being so quiet.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Clipper Cards at Mtn View

They (I presume the MTA) are handing out free clipper cards at Mtn View station this morning.

The Clipper Card (which was called TransLink up until about a week before its official debut) is a new cashless way to pay your fare on most Bay Area transit agencies. Think of it as FasTrak for public transit.

This should make life a little simpler for anyone making trips involving more than one transit system. I would certainly recommend picking up a Clipper Card if you ever transfer between CalTrain and BART at Millbrae, for example--you may actually make some close connections that you would otherwise miss while fumbling for change and buying another ticket.

<rant>IMHO this is a fairly small benefit for 10+ years development and $150 million (actual transit systems have been built for less $150 million, albeit not around here). With actual leadership we could have instituted a region-wide fare zone system and actually made riding transit more convenient. What we got is basically a high-tech duct-tape solution to a broken system.</rant>

Anyway, here's what you get in the free Clipper Card package:

There's a card with a code on it. You also get a sleeve to store it in, and a box of mints--the implication being, I guess, that if you're on a crowded train, your fellow passengers may appreciate you eating one!

The physical card was free but I presume I need to load some $$$ on it to use it. You can do that at various ticket machines, various stores, or online. Here's a map. If you do it online, you can set it up to automatically reload, like FasTrak. If you want to do it in person, there are only a few select locations that have add-value machines. I think you're really really supposed to do it online.

If you live in the Peninsula or Silicon Valley, note that SamTrans and VTA do not support Clipper (probably because they didn't want to spend millions of dollars on new ticket machines). It could be useful if you make irregular or random trips on CalTrain. Here's the instructions. If you are a regular rider, it strikes me as a little awkward, especially if want to use Clipper as a paperless monthly pass. My employer provides Go passes (thanks, Microsoft!) so it's moot for me.

If you want to pick up a Clipper Card generally, you can apply for one online or get one at local Wallgreens, who appear to be the main "real world" distributors.

One final note: one definite advantage of the Clipper Card is that if you get the "youth version", kids can use it and will automatically be charged only the youth fare. This is particularly useful for BART, which theoretically has discount youth fares, but does not sell youth tickets in stations (because a ticket machine has no idea if you're a kid or not; I have always ended up paying full fare for my daughter on BART).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stanford Campus Bike Shop

I noticed a few days ago that riding my bike seemed to have gotten a little harder. At first I attributed this having eaten cake the night before. On closer inspection of my bike I discovered that my rear wheel was rubbing on the brake pads, alternatively on the left side and on the right, indicating slight potato-chipping.

I have a spoke wrench, and set out to adjust my wheel myself, but discovered that I had a more serious problem, a missing spoke. This is more than I wanted to take on, so I started checking Yelp for places to get a bike fixed.

This area is full of excellent bike shops, but they have a tendency to cater to the Silicon Valley bike snob type, so I was a little wary of how much this simple, but potentially time consuming, repair job might run.

Based on comments in the Yelp review like "This is THE place to get a commuter bike serviced" I decided to give the Stanford Campus Bike Shop a try. They had it done that afternoon (new spoke and re-trued), and charged $26; I don't know what it would cost elsewhere, but not bad for a job that would probably be a full day's work for me, during which I would no doubt teach the kids some unintended new vocabulary.