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.