The next big mistake?

If you ride Muni Metro, you should notice that it is a system that has high platform stations (all underground stops and stops along the T Line) and low platform stations (street level stops west of downtown). The steps change when trains entering and exiting the subway. The dual platform height has been the standard since the Market Street subway was open in around 1980, when old streetcars that ran on the surface of Market Street was rerouted to use the subway. At that time, engineers wanted level boarding in downtown but low floor vehicle was not available. Vehicles with movable steps allows high platforms in downtown and street level boarding in the west side.

For more than 35 years, Muni Metro has had reliability issues. One of the factors contributing to poor reliability is the use of movable steps. Some advocated that Muni should change to low floor vehicles and convert high platforms to low levels. However, Muni is building more high platforms for the Central Subway extension as well as purchasing a 3rd generation of high floor vehicles with movable steps. This time the manufacturer claims that their doors would be more reliable. Let’s see what happens.

For many agencies that built light rail in the 1980s, they also had challenges in meeting accessibility and level boarding. Their first generation vehicles were high floor, but use low level platforms throughout the system for a better pedestrian accessibility and appearance. Many of them, including VTA, chose the path of low floor vehicles.

As Caltrain is pursuing electrification, Caltrain is considering various options for floor heights and door configurations for new electric vehicles. It is doing so because some advocates have expressed desire for level boarding as well as common platform height with high speed rail. It is a complex decision. There are no simple choices. A wrong decision would a ripple affect on train operation elsewhere and impacts to other cities. Continue reading The next big mistake?

Making transit more seamless

Recently SPUR, a regional planning think tank, issued a report in how to make the Bay Area Transit system more integrated and easier to use. The report identifies many deficiencies in the region’s transit in regards to fare and service coordinations. The report also makes numerous recommendations on removing the kinks and improve rider experience.

Does the Bay Area have too many transit agencies?

Many think that it is so, especially considering that in other transit rich regions there tends to be just one or a few transit agencies (Boston, Philadelphia, to name a few). On the other hand, the Bay Area is big and geographically diverse. The transit needs in suburban Livermore for instance are very different that in San Francisco. There are few if any advantages in cost or operational efficiencies for major agency consolidations. Furthermore, local politicians want local tax dollars to stay in the community, even though transit productivity may be far lower than if the same funding is used elsewhere. Continue reading Making transit more seamless

Vision Zero for Caltrain

A number of fatalities occurred on Caltrain tracks in the last two plus months is approaching to that of the entire 2014. The latest incident on Monday is the 8th of the year while there were only 10 fatalities last year. The trend is alarming.

As this incident is being investigated, preliminary report suggests it is a suicide of a high school student. Suicide is a particularly difficult issue for Caltrain since it cannot reliably be eliminated with standard safety measures such as fencing and grade crossing upgrades, which Caltrain has invested in over the last 15 years and has successfully reduced unintended deaths and injuries.

While some blame the existence of Caltrain as the cause of the suicides, and suggesting solutions such as eliminating the trains, the slow the trains down significantly. I disagree. The train tracks have existed for more than a century and Caltrain has essentially run on the same schedule and same speed for almost 10 years. According to a study done in 2010 on the issue, there is no definite pattern in terms of where and when these incidents occur over a long period of time. Suggesting shutting down Caltrain is as useful as suggesting banning automobiles to eliminate traffic collisions, or banning alcohol to eliminate DUIs. Our highways are congested, people still need to commute, and communities like Palo Alto continue to benefit from the trains. Continue reading Vision Zero for Caltrain

Offering more frequent midday Caltrain service

Caltrain ridership has reached an all time high and trains are more crowded than ever. With economic recovery ongoing, 101 continues to get congested beyond the traditional peak hours. On Caltrain, not only the peak hour trains are crowded, the ridership is also growing on the shoulder peak trains.

One of the things that irks some Caltrain riders is the fact that Caltrain runs hourly midday service. It wasn’t used to be that way. In year 2000, Caltrain first added hourly service to the midday schedule. It was reverted to hourly service in 2009 in response to the agency’s budget crisis.

1999 Schedule2000 Schedule2005 Schedule2009 Schedule

I do think that it is an appropriate time to restore more service during the midday hours. However, Caltrain is currently rebuilding rail bridges in San Mateo and requires single tracking through the area during the midday hours. This construction is supposed to last until next year.

Below is a schedule I proposed that would do a few things: provide 2 trains per hour midday, allow single tracking through San Mateo, provide faster service to most stops. Continue reading Offering more frequent midday Caltrain service