Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - March 25, 2011

Guest Opinion: How Caltrain's GO Pass program will help Stanford Hospital

by Yoriko Kishimoto

My bedtime reading recently included the environmental analysis for the Stanford Medical Center expansion project. This is an important project that almost everyone supports — but the biggest challenge has been how the expansion can take place without adding horrendous traffic to the region. Caltrain and its GO Pass Program hold, simply put, the key to this expansion.

The Caltrain GO Pass program is an employer-sponsored program that offers employees unlimited rides on Caltrain. Participating employers pay $155 per eligible employee per year.

Stanford University (the university itself, not including Medical Center) employs 15,300 workers and purchases 10,100 GO Passes a year. The success of this has been amazing. It was first offered in 2002 to Stanford University employees when only 4 percent used Caltrain. This went up to 12 percent by 2004. In 2005, the Baby Bullet service began, which reduced travel time. By 2006, the percentage of university employees who used Caltrain rocketed to 16 percent, and by 2008 to 20 percent.

Stanford Medical Center currently has 10,000 employees and they have not offered GO Passes. In 2006, only 3.6 percent used Caltrain. Although the hospital is a 24-hour operation, 77 percent of day-shift employees arrive during morning commute hours and 65 percent of them live in cities serviced by Caltrain.

The GO Pass would cost the hospital $2.25 million per year, which includes $1.8 million for Caltrain plus $450,000 for additional shuttle operations. There would be a $2 million capital expenditure for the purchase of new shuttles as well.

Let's compare this to Google. According to the analysis, Google also has about 10,000 employees at its main campus. The company operates 50 buses, serving about 20 percent of their employees. Annual operating costs are estimated to be $8.1 million per year. Plus, at $500,000 per bus (non-hybrid), the amortized capital cost is estimated at $2.6 million per year. Compared to the $2.25 million for Caltrain plus Marguerite, the dedicated bus option is $10.7 million per year, or four times more expensive.

Caltrain's time-efficient Baby Bullet service is also cost-efficient for large employers near Caltrain. Stanford originally justified its alternative transportation investments by comparing them to the costs of providing parking spaces on campus, let alone impact on the surrounding communities and street network. In this age of fiscal and global climate crises, we need more Caltrain service, not less.

Thanks to the outpouring of concern about potential drastic cutbacks to Caltrain, which is threatening to stop all service to Gilroy and half a dozen stations between San Francisco and San Jose and all mid-day and early-morning/late-evening service, our elected officials are working hard behind the scenes. The hope today is that by the next Caltrain board meeting April 7, the outlines of a two-year package will come together between the three county transit agencies and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional transportation authority. The package will call for shared sacrifices from each agency and from Caltrain and its riders.

As Stanford's case study shows, Caltrain provides a cost-effective transportation solution that would cost many times more for any alternative solution, whether they are more buses or double-decker highways.

Although we are hopeful that a two-year rescue package might come together, the far more daunting challenge is to create momentum and develop a framework for a permanent funding source for Caltrain and also to work towards a more sustainable symbiosis with the communities and businesses it serves.

As the "orphan" transit agency that is top-performing in farebox recovery and rising ridership but with no dedicated funding, it has been the canary in the mine for the strains and crises facing all government agencies today: the twin fiscal and climate crises.

Here are a few forums to get that discussion going:

* There is a series of workshops coming up sponsored by MTC and the other regional agencies to get the public thinking about legacies, good and bad, that Bay Area leaders of the past have left us and our alternative futures. Go to OneBayArea.org to sign up: There is one at 5:30 p.m. at Microsoft in Mountain View.

* The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, with support from the Friends of Caltrain, will host a series of town hall meetings to get ideas for long-term solutions for Caltrain. The Mid-peninsula meeting will be held April 20 in Redwood City's City Hall at 6 p.m.

* The Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club is working with partners to put on a series of forums to invite community leaders to integrate economic, environmental and social factors towards an integrated Healthy Community vision.

There are also exciting initiatives taking place for wildlife corridors and watershed planning as well: the living "infrastructure" that supports our economies and makes it so attractive to live in the Bay Area.

Gary Snyder, our great California poet, wrote: What is "California?" It is, after all, a recent human intervention with many hasty straight-line boundaries that were drawn with a ruler on a map. ... A bioregional perspective gives us the imagination of a citizenship in something beyond politically designated space. It gives us the imagination of a citizenship in a place . . . which has valley oaks and migratory waterfowl as well as humans among its members. Watershed consciousness and bioregionalism are not just a form of environmentalism or just a political program, but a move toward resolving both nature and society with the practice of a profound citizenship in both worlds. If the ground can be our common ground, we can begin to talk to each other (human and nonhuman) again."

The crisis of Caltrain and the sum total of California's fiscal, environmental, and social challenges and opportunities forces us to literally step outside our boxes, re-find our footing as California and Bay Area citizens and fire up our imagination for alternative futures.

Let's check our preconceived prejudices and political boundaries at the door and learn from examples like Stanford's great experience with Caltrain in transforming its environmental footprint on an economically viable basis.

Yoriko Kishimoto is the former Mayor of Palo Alto and co-founder of the Friends of Caltrain (friendsofcaltrain.com) .She is also a director of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

Comments

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 25, 2011 at 7:58 am

Here we go again, Yoriko once again pontificating on her favorite topic--traffic. Yoriko has been at the forefront of keeping the myth alive that we have "horrendous" traffic problems in Palo Alto. Let us not forget that her goal when elected to the city council was to have Embarcadero road converted to one lane of traffic in each direction. Guess where Yoriko lives?
Instead of working for the good of Palo Alto, Yoriko spent her tenure whining about traffic and bashing Stanford, while filtering everything through her "green" prism. Forgetting, of course, that Stanford has been at the forefront of green technology and goes above and beyond in dealing with traffic.
Given her lack of accomplishments on the council, is it any wonder that more than 70% of the voters rejected her for a seat in the assembly. Bottom line, anything that Yoirko states needs to be taken with a grain of salt, while taking into account her past actions and statements.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2011 at 11:03 am

This is a ridiculous argument.

Doesn't the author read that Caltrain is having problems and is downscaling its service. Medical workers in particular do not have regular 9 - 5 jobs and would not be commuting during the high commute hours which is probably the only time Caltrain service is going to be running. Using Caltrain as a carrot or as a solution when the very existence of Caltrain is in question is not going to work.

We have a chicken and egg article. The hospital upgrades might help Caltrain but only if Caltrain is serving a reliable, efficient, regular and frequent schedule. Caltrain may help the hospital upgrades, but not if they don't improve the service.


Posted by make Caltrain reliable, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 25, 2011 at 12:13 pm

If Caltrain is not reliable enough for Silicon Valley, then work to make it reliable. Don't just whine like some of the people commenting here.


Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Mar 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm

It is just amazing to me how many articles on this site is about Caltrian. Must be some of the editors are good friends of Caltrian. I would like to see a statistics. This is "Palo Alto Online", right? It should not become a propaganda machine for a certain group.

The intention of manipulation of public opinion by politicians is mind bugling: "Caltrain's time-efficient Baby Bullet service is also cost-efficient for large employers near Caltrain." This is just totally ignoring all the facts that Caltrain has been proven a failure that cannot justify its value even with public subsidies. This is just like Summer Hill home use a statistic of: in Palo Alto, 5 homes will bring in 1 student to the school district, when they apply for city approval. Ask them how many kids they have brought to our schools with their recently built Redwood gate community…

Please, give us a break, give us some honesty.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 25, 2011 at 8:47 pm

> The Caltrain GO Pass program is an employer-sponsored program
> that offers employees unlimited rides on Caltrain. Participating
> employers pay $155 per eligible employee per year.

What does this mean in terms of the current financial malady of Caltrain, and the obligation of taxpayers to fund Stanford University through hard-to-trace subsidies?

The current cost-per-ride for Caltrain is $12.50 (one way for six zones), or $25.00/day for a round-trip ticket (end-to-end). This comes to $8,970/year for daily use of the train.

There is a monthly pass, which costs about $3,817/year for the same use of the train.

And then there is the Go-Pass. This is $155/year for the same 730 one-way trips.

The true-cost of a one-way ride (if all the costs were to be considered) is somewhere between $18-$21/trip. (This estimate is subject to some error, since Caltrain does not reveal the total cost of the system in its yearly annual financial report. Currently, it's believed that the total asset expenditure is somewhere between $1B and $2B. These asset recovery costs are added into the total-cost-per-ticket estimates.)

So, a one-day/two-way cost-to-provide Caltrain service is somewhere between $36 and $42. Currently, the taxpayers are funding the difference between the revenue collected at the farebox (claimed to be 43% of the operating budget. When the capital budget is considered, this recovery amount drops to about 25%). The difference is made up by local/state/federal taxpayers through grants, and other funds transfers.

According to the article, 10,100 passes are currently purchased by Stanford. This comes to $1.56M a year. However, if the true costs for this same service were computed, the low estimate would be $132M and the high estimate would be $154M.

Whatever the real cost to provide this service, clearly $155/year/pass is INSANELY low, and the difference between this $155 and the true cost is paid for by the taxpayer!!!

Kishimoto claims that the Go-Passes help Stanford Hospital. She is most assuredly wrong. The taxpayers are helping Stanford Hospital, by subsidizing the Go-Passes.

One final point--the daily Caltrain ridership is between 18K-20K/day. If Stanford has purchased over 10K passes, are they then using about 50% of the capacity of the Caltrain service for $1.5M/year? If not, why is Stanford giving Caltrain money for services it is not using?


Posted by Robbie, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Wayne's arguments would be much more convincing if he actually read the article and talked to the facts instead of his fantasies and made-up numbers. Example: Stanford purchased 10,100 passes and Wayne assumes that 10,100 Stanford employees ride the train every single day. The article clearly states that in 2008 20% of 15,300 workers rode the train. That is 3060, so not all workers eligible for the passes actually use them. Also, not all train riders use the train every day, so Stanford clearly does not use 50% of Caltrain capacity.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Stanford has made the claim that it was providing $92M in public benefits as "mitigation" for the approval of the Hospital, with this "benefit" being spread over 50-odd years. This comes to about $1.84M/year, or about 11,870 passes. Given that now we see that Stanford is already paying for about 10,100 passes, then it seems that they are trying to add about 1,700 passes, and claim the full cost of the $1.84M as a "public benefit" to Palo Alto, rather than a cost-of-operation for its facilities.

The Go-Pass cost are too low, given the yearly losses of the Caltrain system. This is a decision of the Caltrain Board. However, for Stanford to try to claim that the subsidy for the Go-Passes, which will be paid by new taxes, or higher fees, as a public benefit--this is what one would certainly call being "selfishness" and "miserly".

The estimates were stated to be presented with some error, because Caltrain does not document its costs directly. There are other ways to model the costs. The numbers presented are correct, under certain assumptions.

> 3060 rode the train ..

3,000/18,000 is about 16% of the service delivered by Caltrain. Not the 50% suggested perhaps, but still given the current $130M budget (operating and capital), this 16% use comes to about $21M. Stanford is paying about $1.5M, and the taxpayers are paying the rest.



Posted by peanut gallery, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 26, 2011 at 2:06 am

"not the 50% suggested perhaps". 16% doesn't really have the same ring though, does it...

to svatoid: i'm under no illusions that you're trying to offer constructive criticism, because i've seen your comments on these forums before and it seems like you have a vendetta against kishimoto that makes it hard for you to be objective. palo alto/stanford do have some traffic problems that would be alleviated if more people took caltrain - have you tried to find parking at stanford on a weekday? and there's an article by the weekly about street parking in professorville being used by downtown employees (probably a "myth" too). also, can you find me a link that says kishimoto made it a goal of her 2000 election to city council to turn embarcadero rd into a 1 lane st? i just reread your post, and you don't even mention go passes.

i'd like to echo robbie's comment to resident - if you read the article you will infer that the author is in fact aware caltrain is facing a crisis (unless that was sarcasm) and that she wrote "Although the hospital is a 24-hour operation, 77 percent of day-shift employees arrive during morning commute hours". the author isn't suggesting they use caltrain as a carrot either, it sounds more like she's pointing to possibility of the medical center expansion becoming a carrot for caltrain's recovery, which would be mutually beneficial to stanford too.

why do people on these forums express their opinions so negatively? do you feel like people won't listen to you unless you write with sufficient vitriol/hyperbole?
to svatoid in particular, if you have so much free time to comment on kishimoto's every move, why don't you run for city council or something?


Posted by Robbie, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 26, 2011 at 8:04 am

Wayne has a long history of being opposed to any spending that does not directly benefit him [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] He has no children in school so he opposes any school spending. He doesn't ride the train so he opposes supporting it, etc. He tries to overwhelm people with posts full of numbers, but his numbers are often based on faulty assumptions and his arguments fall apart if you look at them carefully. Unfortunately most people's eyes glaze over and they dont dig in far enough to see the truth, which I guess is what Wayne is counting on.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2011 at 8:37 am

Day Shift workers may arrive during morning commute hours, but when do they leave? If they are not leaving during afternoon commute hours then there won't be trains so they won't use Caltrain. Medical shifts are generally longer than regular work hours each day.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 26, 2011 at 8:42 am

"to svatoid: i'm under no illusions that you're trying to offer constructive criticism, because i've seen your comments on these forums before and it seems like you have a vendetta against kishimoto that makes it hard for you to be objective."
Not a vendetta, I am just tired of her playing the "too much traffic" card when it suits her purposes and perpetuating the myth that Palo Alto has serious traffic problems. Yet, while on the council she had no problem supporting the Senior Games, Destination Palo Alto, Tour of California Race--events that brought traffic into the city. This despite her claim that even one new car trip into Palo Alto was too many.
She supports public transit as written above. She was the leader in the push for HSR--yet a few weeks after the election she came out against HSR. What gives? Was she misinformed? Did she not do her homework? Did she make fools of the voters? Either way, any subsequent comments from her on any topic need to be examined to see if she knows what she is talking about.

"palo alto/stanford do have some traffic problems that would be alleviated if more people took caltrain - have you tried to find parking at stanford on a weekday?"
There really is no free parking at Stanford--which is private property. There is metered parking and permit parking. Stanford does plenty to address the traffic issue sin town. GO pass is just one small example. Unfortunately Kishimoto and other's in the city do not hold other employers to the same standard they demand of Stanford ( and we know why)


" and there's an article by the weekly about street parking in professorville being used by downtown employees (probably a "myth" too)."
We have to remember that these are public streets. Owning a home does not make the street in front of your home your property nor does it guarantee a parking spot on the street. The city needs to look at permit parking if it is a problem. And until a study is done to support claims then it is just a myth--we know how PA residents like to magnify issues into full blown "problems".

" also, can you find me a link that says kishimoto made it a goal of her 2000 election to city council to turn embarcadero rd into a 1 lane st? i just reread your post, and you don't even mention go passes. did you cut and paste from an old rant?""
Her is a link to city document from 2000, when Kishimoto was on the council. It calls for turning Embarcadero into 1 lane in each direction:
Web Link
I am sure she was not against that proposal.

Maybe I should have stated that Kishimoto's goal when first elected was to "calm" traffic on Embarcadero Road. Remember she wanted to have traffic circles on that road and that was shot down.

Stanford has made GO Passes a big part of the so-called benefits to the city. What is there to discuss?


Posted by sigh, a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

Wayne: "This comes to about $1.84M/year, or about 11,870 passes. Given that now we see that Stanford is already paying for about 10,100 passes, then it seems that they are trying to add about 1,700 passes, and claim the full cost of the $1.84M as a "public benefit" to Palo Alto, rather than a cost-of-operation for its facilities."

Incredible, Wayne. Not only is your analysis confused, you apparently didn't even read the article you're commenting on.

There are two employers: Stanford University and Stanford Hospital. These aren't the same. The university has a go-pass program for 10,100 of its 15,000 employees. The hospital does not have a go-pass program for any of its 10,000 employees.

The article is about the hospital and its expansion plans. Got it now?


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The Guest Opinion continues in a long "proud" tradition of specious and disingenuous reasoning that is found in the consideration of transportation issues (both sides). Kishimoto writes of 10,000 employees, but then immediately shifts to day-shift workers (no number) and then gives a _percentage_ of those that arrive during morning peak, despite it being well known that people don't just commute _to_ work, they also commute home, and that Caltrain is problematic if you aren't commuting both directions during peak hours. Nor does it take into account the much-noted fact (including in a earlier comment here) that many hospital workers have shifts longer than 8 hours and thus are hard to accommodate with the Caltrain schedule.

Kishimoto is further disingenuous when she writes of "cities serviced by Caltrain" : San Jose may have Caltrain stations within its borders, but that hardly means that Caltrain is a practical service for many of its residents. Similarly for most of the cities along the Peninsula.

Wayne Martin is similarly disingenuous. While he makes a good point asking how much of a public subsidy is built into the GO-pass, his calculations are absurd. First, comparing to a 6-zone pass: Caltrain is only 6 zones long and Palo Alto is in Zone 3--the longest trip from the north is 3 zones and unless you are among the tiny number coming from Morgan Hill or beyond, southward is also a 3-zone maximum trip.

Using a monthly pass, 2 zones is $1431/year; 3 zones is $2067/yr. If you use Kishimoto's figures of 20% usage of GO-Pass, the $155 per _eligible_ rider translates into $775 per actual rider, which translates into a 46% discount for 2 zones and a 63% discount for 3 zones.

In 2006, the number of Caltrain riders at Stanford U was roughly 4 times that at the Hospital (she omits Hospital numbers for 2008). Too many numbers are missing to push an analysis much beyond this point.

Nor does it take into account the effects of recent and pending station closings, schedule reductions and fare increases.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 27, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Please, Stanford, do not add more Stanford commute traffic on the 101/Embarcadero route up to the university. It is already really heavy. Therefore, I hope realistic traffic reduction is planned, that will make a real difference, otherwise Palo Alto residents along Embarcadero Rd region will be negatively impacted.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm

"Please, Stanford, do not add more Stanford commute traffic on the 101/Embarcadero route up to the university. It is already really heavy. Therefore, I hope realistic traffic reduction is planned, that will make a real difference, otherwise Palo Alto residents along Embarcadero Rd region will be negatively impacted."
Anonymous--are you making the same request of ALL employers in the city? Stanford has and will continue to go above and beyond when it comes to reducing traffic. Maybe if ALL employers in the city would be required to take the steps that Stanford does, then traffic would not be a problem.
That said, please remember that Embarcadero Road is one of the main gateways into the city and one of the major thoroughfares through town


Posted by Jackie , a resident of Stanford
on Aug 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I have been an employee with Stanford Hospital for over 15 years .. And my first 5 years I commuted from Gilroy Ca.. With traffic on campus so packed an no parking available with having to pay top dollar to get a closer parking area was nit worth it at .. If I was offered a free go pass to take Caltrain I would have started a long time ago.. I feel whether I'm a Hospital Empoyee or University we should all be treated equal. And most of the University Employes that do get this pass free don't even out them to use like they should.. I have quite a few colleges that also commute from my area and they were also interested I'n using Caltrain, if you want to make parking I'n Palo alto a stress free area, offer the Eco go pass free to Hospital employees and you will definately see a difference I'n traffic


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