By Christine Dunn, @VtownCommuter
When The Nueva School opened the doors to its new Bay Meadows campus this year, it made a first of its kind commitment to public transit – it is the first high school to make Caltrain’s Go Pass available to all of its students, staff and faculty.
In fact, as part of an agreement with the city of San Mateo to reduce traffic to the new campus, students are not permitted to drive their own cars to school.
The Go Pass – a small sticker affixed to a company or school issued photo ID badge – is purchased by employers, educational institutions or residential units and can be used in any zone throughout the system, seven days a week.
Nueva, an independent school serving gifted and talented students, attracts students from throughout the Bay Area. About half of the school community, which includes students, faculty and staff, live south of the school, some as far away as San Jose. The remaining students come from the Mid-Peninsula, San Francisco and the North and East Bay.
Because of the regional makeup of its student body, the school has long understood the importance of safe, reliable transportation. “We don’t want transportation to be an issue for families who chose to come here,” said Terry Lee, associate head of school. Nueva uses16 buses on four bus routes from San Francisco and the Southern Peninsula to its Hillsborough campus.
Previously just a pre-school and elementary school, Nueva began serving ninth graders in 2013 and will eventually expand to a four-year high school at its Bay Meadows campus.
“When we started looking at expanding, we knew that we needed more space to do that. What we found (at Bay Meadows) could not be more perfect,” said Lee. “When we found this site, we hit the jackpot.” The gleaming new sustainable campus is within walking distance of the Hillsdale Caltrain Station and SamTrans and AC Transit service.
Bay Meadows, an 83-acre project on the site of the former Bay Meadows racetrack, is a showcase for transit-oriented development. The term is planner-speak for a mixed-use residential and commercial development designed to maximize access to public transportation. When finished, about five years from now, the mixed-use project next to the train station will include more than 1,100 housing units, 750,000 square feet of office space, 90,000 square feet of retail space and 18 acres of parks.
“The entire plan of Bay Meadows was designed to radiate out from the Caltrain location with the goal of encouraging a pedestrian-focused lifestyle,” said Janice Thacher, partner with Wilson Meany, which is developing Bay Meadows in partnership with Stockbridge Capital Group. “Details incorporated into the plan to support that commitment include an intimate street scale, limited curb cuts and mid-block passages along with ample bike racks and routes.”
What makes Nueva unique is that it is the first high school to provide Go passes to students. (Stanford University, Caltrain’s largest Go Pass participant, provides passes to faculty, staff and graduate students.)
Rachel Share-Sapolsky, a 15-year-old student at the school, is an enthusiastic Go Pass user. Her father drops her off at Caltrain’s 22nd Street station in the morning for the 30-minute ride to the school. Her walk to class is about 10 minutes, “depending on who I am walking with.”
Share-Sapolsky estimates that there are about 20 other students on her train. She uses the train ride to finish up on homework, although she admits that riding with friends can be a “little distracting.”
After school, Share-Sapolsky takes advantage of Caltrain’s robust commute-hour service, taking trains that accommodate her activities. On Fridays, for example, she transfers to BART at the Millbrae station to attend a theater program in downtown San Francisco.
The Go Pass also is a plus for her social life, connecting her to school friends who live outside The City.
Share-Sapolsky said Nueva students see the Go Pass as a sign of their independence. “They’re like, oh we have the Go Pass; we’re very mature, very independent.”
Math teacher and Assistant Director of Admissions Michael Peller rides his bike five miles from his San Francisco home to the train station. On the ride home he uses his time to catch up on emails. “Although I still have other work to do in the evening, it’s nice to be able to get that taken care of.”
Previously, Peller worked at a boarding school in New Hampshire, where he could roll out of bed and make it to class in minutes. The transition to an urban environment has been tough, but taking Caltrain has helped. After driving to the school’s temporary campus at the College of San Mateo for a year, Peller said, “I was showing up angry and returning home in a bad mood.” Now, Peller says his commute is a fun way to be productive and get some exercise. The free Go Pass is a “huge advantage.”
An informal survey conducted by the school indicates that the Go Pass is showing signs of early success – well over 50 percent of the school’s 163 students are regular Caltrain riders.
The Go Pass also has been a winner for Caltrain, which offers the program as a way to increase ridership. Since 2009, revenue from the Go Pass has increased from $2.3 million to nearly $8.6 million. The number of participants has nearly tripled, from 35 to 91, and the number of eligible users has gone from 20,407 to 62,944.
To participate in the program, participants pay an annual fee for all eligible users, regardless of how many use the transit pass. The total cost to participate in the program is the greater of $15,120 or $180 per user.
Participants interested in joining the Go Pass program can call Caltrain’s Market Research & Development Department at 650.508.6292 to inquire about the program or visit www.caltrain.com/gopass.