Despite several service cuts in the past year as Caltrain struggles to overcome a $2.3 million budget deficit, the rail agency rang in 2011 test-running a new weekend baby-bullet service on Jan. 1, part of an effort to revive its plummeting ridership.
The three-month pilot program stems from Caltrain’s commitment, approved in 2010, to service reductions, fare increases and revenue-generating strategies. Ticket prices went up 25 cents for each zone on New Year’s Day
“We’re in the business of providing customer service,” said Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn. “So we look for things that will attract riders.”
This new service, which already existed on weekdays, stops at seven stations instead of 22, bringing commuters from San Jose to San Francisco in a third of the time and arriving at the Caltrain station on King Street in San Francisco in little more than an hour.
Keeping with its goal for cost-efficiency, only one crew will run the program’s four trains. In fact, the seven stations where the baby bullet stops were strategically chosen based on their proximity to locations that attracted more foot traffic. Mountain View, for example, is just blocks away from the San Antonio Shopping Center and Millbrae is a principal point of transfer to other public transportation, such as BART.
“We’re relying on ridership…to have full trains [750 people] and a lot of people using the service to make this worthwhile,” Dunn said, noting that the future of the service depends heavily on its ability to bring in new riders.
According to Dunn, the total cost for the pilot project is estimated at $107,000; however, Caltrain expects ticket sales to offset this amount by $82,620, leaving a total net cost of $24,380, which it will shoulder using savings in fuel costs accrued in the first six months of the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
While Caltrain has not yet evaluated last weekend’s debut, Dunn says the general response in anticipation of the new service was nothing short of positive.
But the project still has its skeptics, including at Stanford.
Some, like Jujhaar Singh ’14, don’t think that 20 minutes “makes that much of a difference.”
“I take the weekday bullet train to San Mateo a lot and I’ve been planning on going to San Francisco this quarter so it will be super beneficial,” said Ana Rosa ’14, a Caltrain regular. “[But] it only stops a few times, so it is still a little limited.”
The weekend bullet service only makes two round-trips, offering a run in the morning and another in the afternoon for each direction—a drastic change from the regular service, which stops at its destinations every hour.
Although she maintained that conclusive evidence on the success of the weekend baby bullet is yet to be determined, Dunn is not worried.
“When we introduced [the baby bullet service] on the weekdays, our ridership increased by 40 percent,” she said. “We’re very hopeful and optimistic that the same thing will happen on the weekends.”