Caltrain ridership is up this year, bringing a mixed bag of increased fare box revenue as well as overcrowded train cars.
As of January, average weekly ridership increased 3.2 percent to 57,018 from January 2017, which saw 55,271. Total fare box revenue is up 13.7 percent over that period, from $6.9 million to $7.9 million, according to a staff report.
Last year saw a small dip in ridership, which Caltrain spokesman Dan Lieberman attributed to extreme weather and rain, but otherwise ridership has been growing steadily since 2010.
Lieberman said the hike in ridership is likely due to a strong economy as well as increasingly congested traffic on 101.
But the good news also brings challenges.
“Our trains continue to be crowded, which is a challenge, but a good challenge to have,” Lieberman said.
To provide relief for packed trains, Lieberman said the goal is to increase the frequency of service by running an extra train during peak hours once electrification occurs in 2022. He also said the transit agency hopes to convert its future electric fleet to eight-car trains, which could improve seated capacity by 21 percent. For that to happen, station platforms would have to be extended to accommodate the longer trains, and both improvements would depend on additional grant funding.
While Caltrain ridership is up, its shuttle ridership is down 9.4 percent this year from 8,848 to 8,018 average rides, despite increased demand.
“There’s been more requests for shuttles and new routes than ever before,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman said that while it’s hard to identify a single cause for the dip in shuttle ridership, staffing shortages appear to be one factor. He said the transit agency is competing with the private sector for drivers and it’s having a hard time keeping up, affecting frequency of service and by extension, ridership.
Lieberman added the Transportation Authority is currently crunching the numbers and will determine which shuttles to keep funding at a board meeting in May.
Lieberman also said the transit agency is currently conducting a study that could potentially result in a Caltrain fare increase going before the board by the end of the year. He said that study is also looking into possible discounted fares for low-income riders.
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