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ALEX EISENHART: Welcome to Wheel Talk, a show where we dive into the inner workings of Caltrain, SamTrans, and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. We’re your friendly neighborhood public servants and hosts, Alex Eisenhart —
DAN LIEBERMAN: — and
Join us as we take a
wonky ride through the world of transportation and the work we do to keep you
everybody. Welcome to episode three of Wheel Talk. We are in the middle of
November. Holiday season is approaching very quickly, and there’s a lot to
celebrate, including the fact that we made it to episode three.
LIEBERMAN: Absolutely. I started brining a turkey.
not even Thanksgiving yet. You’re already brining? It’s a little early.
brine like three turkeys a month. That’s just my standard go-to.
is that where the smell comes from?
a, you know, that and other things.
natural, briny man musk. So we’re going to start today off with the social
media tidbits of the month.
– “Two middle-aged ladies are about to fight on this Caltrain because one
doesn’t want to move over so the other can sit.
Why are people so weird here?”
they made sure to put a lot of O’s in that description.
of them by my count.
that that makes it any less credible, but I think that it makes it less
think it makes it more credible. The more O’s the better. As long as – at 15
you’ve gone too far.
is emphasized. I don’t know if it’s the situation, but something is definitely
emphasized in there. Now, when I think of the two middle-aged ladies, I, first
of all, I want to know what their relationship is. Do they actually know each
other? Cause I just assume they’re siblings. Like that’s the image I have. Like,
“Martha, move over!” “No, Greta, I don’t want to move over.”
“Come on, move over.”
LIEBERMAN: This could be a friendly fight. This doesn’t
have to be between the people who hate each other. So, you know, @teragr_am, if
you’re listening, we would love more details to figure out the truth behind little
old lady fight over seats.
you know, everyone, play nice. Let’s share.
EISENHART: @… I’m just going say, I think it’s @cetyal who says, “to the person that just farted on Caltrain, I called the police. They’re coming for you.”
think that’s reasonable. I think that’s a reasonable response. It’s, we should
let our listeners know it’s not yet a felony to fart onboard Caltrain, but I
think we have a few legislators that listen to this show. And if you’re
thinking about a bill idea for the next session, I think this is worth
for one thing, we do not speak on behalf of the San Mateo County Transit Police.
they were actually to call them for the situation, I don’t think that they
would be very happy to receive that call.
not. It doesn’t mean it’s any more acceptable. If you’ve got to fart, please save
that for the platform. It’s a shared space. Have some courtesy.
but I feel for their intestines and their digestive health, like if it’s got to
get out, I don’t, I mean, I don’t know. I know that probably sounds a little
bit gross, but maybe like if it’s got to happen, like try to put a jacket over
your lap or you know, contain it in some way.
I’m saying, if your neighbors are tweeting about it, then it’s probably
something you need to get checked.
— yes, yes, yes. That’s true.
become public in a way that you didn’t intend.
worth waiting for the local rather than hopping on the express if you can, you
know, release what no longer serves you, so.
classiest way I’ve heard that described.
the last one of today comes from @ManderCharles, who says, “when Caltrain is
standing room only, there’s always that one psycho that squeezes and pushes
through the entire length of the train trying to find a seat.”
LIEBERMAN: I don’t understand this. If it’s standing
room, what makes you think that behind 30 standing people is a seat that’s
waiting just for you?
I can’t get mad at the person for hoping that there’s a seat open. I mean, I’ve
been on those standing room only trains. It’s, it’s like if continuing to
search for it makes you at least feel better that there’s some light at the end
of the tunnel.
is America. I can be mad at anybody for any reason, and I choose this as my
think he’s sweet, but a psycho, personally. So, anyway, thanks so much everyone
for your contributions. Please feel free to continue to share them with us
using the hashtag #WheelTalk on Twitter.
people don’t know they shared it with us, but we thank you too.
that is true. That is true. We have had to sort of troll and, and, and, and,
and scour through the bowels of the internet to find something funny about
with that, let’s jump into this month’s topic.
decade ago, SamTrans had multiple intercounty express buses, but when the
recession came along and belts had to be tightened, those routes were cut.
then, SamTrans financial situation has improved dramatically, but in that same
time, traffic and congestion in the County have gotten a lot worse. So in 2017,
SamTrans started the US 101 express bus feasibility study to explore whether
such service could help to alleviate this congestion. Since then, we have
launched the first express bus route that was recommended from the study, route
FCX, to great success.
discussing the FCX and more with SamTrans Director of Planning, Christy Wegener.
Christy, thanks so much for being here.
CHRISTY WEGENER: Thank
you for having me.
you tell us a little bit about yourself?
most certainly can. My name is Christy Wegener. I am the Director of Planning
here at SamTrans. I have been in love with buses for about 16 years now. I’ve
been managing planning and operations for, I’ve managed planning and operations
for two different transit agencies before coming to SamTrans.
I started my career in Sacramento as
an intern working for the Regional Transit District, which was amazing, and a
great opportunity to learn how to put bus schedules together. And spent some time on the East Coast and
came back home to California in 2014 where I landed in Livermore managing the
operations and planning for the Wheels Bus system. And just felt the tug to the Peninsula a few
years ago and have made my home as Director of Planning for SamTrans. I’m really, really excited to be here.
awesome. I’m really excited to have you on the show.
We worked together a
lot, and so I think this is going to be really, really great discussion. Let’s
jump right in. Route FCX, this came about as the result of the US 101 express
bus feasibility study.
you talk about this study?
sure. So I believe our study was launched in 2017, and this was to look at how
to reintroduce express service along the US 101 Corridor and really looking
towards the future managed lanes facility that would really greatly improve the
speed and reliability of transit service. So the study launched, and really
this was a very data-driven and stakeholder driven effort. The study looked at
cell phone data to identify clusters of trip origins and destinations. And through about a 12- to 18-month long
process, the study identified originally about 15 route concepts and whittled
those down to six. And we did ridership projections for each of those routes, and
what has resulted is our board approved US 101 express bus feasibility study,
which identifies six routes to be implemented over three different phases. The
first route was launched a few weeks ago. I know we’re here to talk about that.
But we are very, very excited, and, yeah, we think that the market is really
ripe to reintroduce some of the service.
I was going to ask, so what, what did you learn about demand for transportation
services from the study?
So, um, I think the challenge that we had when we first started was how do you
identify a transit or a bus competitive trip? Right. So how do you, you don’t
want to find a trip where a Caltrain route or Caltrain trips already exist or a
private shuttle service already exists. So it was trying to find areas where we
felt SamTrans could compete well, where we saw the density, the clusters of
trip origins and trip destinations. Even better would be finding routes that
had bi-directional potentials, so routes where we could carry people into a
business district or San Francisco in the morning, and also carry that reverse
commute back out to an employment center on the Peninsula in the morning. So,
effectively making a better use of our resources. And the feasibility study
identified, I believe, four routes that have that bi-directional potential which
is definitely new for SamTrans. When we launched, when we operated express bus
service years and years ago, it was only one direction. And we know commuting
patterns have changed. We know employment centers are developing, and we’re
seeing different commuting patterns. So it was, it’s, it was a great effort, a
great study to really kind of start fresh to look at what opportunities exist
for SamTrans to be competitive in that long haul express bus trip market.
And what did, what came out of this study pertaining to transfers or the value
of a one-seat ride?
So that one-seat ride matters, right? That’s, I think, what we learned. Transferring
is a challenge out here. You have different fares, different ways to pay your fares.
You don’t always have great schedule coordination between different providers. It
can get tricky when you’re going from a bus to a train, whether that’s BART or
Caltrain. So that one-seat ride matters.
We also have learned that people
like options. It’s fascinating. I love psychology. My background is in
psychology. I never thought I would be a bus planner, but it really it is
about, it’s the psychology of modal choice. How do I design something that is
appealing to people who otherwise would be very content to stay in their car? Or
even how do I appeal to people who might be very happy in a train, but not wanting
to take that step to try a bus? So the one-seat ride matters. Finding, you know, making sure that you can
minimize that first and last mile. Ask if you will from people —
so that you’re finding locate like hubs where people can easily transfer if
that transferring is necessary or where you have good first, last mile walking
opportunities or even other local transferring opportunities.
right. What did we learn in the study and how did that inform the design of the
WEGENER: Well, we definitely learned that there were
a lot of people in Foster City that go to San Francisco in the morning. And we
also learned there are a lot of people from San Francisco that go to Foster City
in the morning, and so that was where we started.
You start with this sort of macro-level,
here’s where the trip clusters are, and then you take it down another layer and
you look at the land use information. You look at Census data. You look at where the clusters of residential
centers are in Foster City, and you look at where your bus stops are. You try to work within, you know, we can’t
plan five-minute bus service throughout the whole county. I mean, that would be
very costly. So we have to kind of contain what you’re planning for. And then I
think that kind of the easy thing is San Francisco in, right? We know we want
to go right down to, you know, to Transbay to make those very important
Salesforce Transit Center.
the Salesforce Transit Center, yep. And also I think while our intent was
certainly not to pull people off of other modes, other transit, you know,
Caltrain or BART, the truth of the matter is, you know, Caltrain is at
capacity. We’ve got a Hillsdale Station closure here that’s happening where train
service will be shifted to a different station.
Back to Belmont. Right. And so this is an opportunity for folks who
might have otherwise taken a shuttle to a Caltrain station to have a one-seat
ride and actually minimize that last mile in San Francisco. Because right now,
that Caltrain station is at Fourth and King and it’s not as conveniently
located, if you will, as to where the FCX lands in San Francisco. So it was a
great opportunity to find a ripe environment where we knew trips were
happening, where we knew the transit connection currently wasn’t perfectly
seamless, where we also had a really good opportunity given, you know, some of
the Caltrain activities to highlight this as an option for folks looking to
plan for the Hillsdale closure.
I think to give people choices, right? So take one mode in and take another
mode out. That, you know, we all have different demands of our day. Depending on the weather, we may do different
so I think that’s also what we’re learning is people like choices, and we
should be good at giving them choices.
And another thing that people are really concerned about is roadway and highway
congestion. I mean, Foster City is one of the most congested areas in our county.
It’s landlocked, it’s at the, it’s like the eye of the storm with two major
highways, including 92 that go right through it and just really slow things
down. So I know that that has been a really big priority.
to mention spilling over onto those local streets and really causing havoc for
definitely. And you know, the next layer of this for us is really to look at
how do we move those buses faster in these really congested arterials and
roadways? And the managed lanes will really provide us that opportunity on US
101, but we need to continue to be bold and work with our city partners at
getting transit signal priority wherever we can throughout our service area.
Getting back to the specific route, what are some of the new features or what’s
different about this? Right? You already mentioned that this is bi-directional.
What are some of the other amenities or aspects of the route that are unique?
So this is the first SamTrans service to run with Wi-Fi, which I think is
pretty darn cool. So the buses that we have assigned to the service have, have
Wi-Fi service available, which is great. We, when we first launched the
service, we used an existing fleet of buses that we retrofit with the Wi-Fi. And we had a very good, challenging situation
happen early on where we needed to increase the bus size. So we were able to
deploy some of our newest articulated buses out on the service, and those buses
also have, I believe they have chargers, USB chargers. So you’re guaranteed to
get Wi-Fi if you’re riding the FCX. And if you are on one of the more heavily used
runs, then you will also get a big 60-foot articulated bus that has really nice
any of our riders that are getting jealous, those same buses are also on the
ECR. So feel free to take a ride up and down El Camino in style.
And they’re gradually being worked into the rest of the fleet, as I understand
it, in terms of that Wi-Fi capability.
That’s becoming just more standard with new generations of buses. So we expect
to keep rolling that out throughout the system.
it’s really nice for the FCX in particular. So we know this is a long route.
Something that we’ve learned, that we’ve learned from just our regular riders
is people take short trips on SamTrans, and this is a different market. These
are people that are on the bus for an hour or more. So it’s really important
that we give them opportunities to make more productive use of their time.
we should also pass out pillows for people who want to catch up on their sleep
during their long ride.
Well, Dan has been talking about eye masks.
I wanted to give away, you know, branded eye masks.
told me that was not the — we wanted to give the workaholic vibe instead of
taking that play.
It’s not how I live my life, but…
baby, all the time.
EISENHART: So speaking
of this unique service, let’s talk about fares, ’cause what’s happening with
the fare on this route is unique to our other services.
EISENHART: What informed this?
you know, my group here is responsible for a lot of the policy and planning that
goes on. And while we were working on this really great express bus study, we
also were working on a somewhat of an unsexier project, a fare study, but nonetheless
quite important. So we really wanted to understand how our ridership reacted to
fare changes. Our fare structure was pretty complicated, and we wanted to
simplify that. And so the board adopted
their very first SamTrans fare policy in early 2019, which had, you know,
there’s like five or six tenets of our fare policy, and then in accordance with
our fare policy, we went through a public process to adopt new fares. And the
board approved those in August.
There is a new category for express
bus. Really SamTrans was almost unique in not having one, having worked for a few
transit agencies, I think every single one I’ve worked for has had an express
bus service and an associated fare. So it’s appropriate that SamTrans has
initiated a new express bus fare because things take some time and there’s lots
of really detailed work that has to go in behind the scenes to make a fair
won’t go live with our fare change until January. So currently our FCX riders
are riding for a round trip cost of, I believe —
you know, local fare in, and our soon to be eliminated out of San Francisco fare
Yeah, $2.25 in, $4 coming out of the city for Foster City residents. San
Francisco, it’s the other way around, but yeah.
WEGENER: Yeah, and so in January, if you’re paying on Clipper,
you will get a round trip on FCX for $8. So that’s $4 each way. If you’re cash
or a mobile app, then you are at $9, which is $4.50 each way.
is still a great deal, I would say.
I mean, even when you compare the new fares starting January 1st on the FCX to
local rail service, it’s still cheaper by the time you get to the station in
terms of fares.
And driving is only cheaper if you feel your time is absolutely without value.
for sure. No. And the FCX gives you an opportunity to be more productive with
your time. I would be sleeping.
took a nap.
and I would be snoozing with our FCX branded eye covers.
So we’ve taken that sort of high-level view. Let’s zoom down. We were out there
for the onboard launch event on day one, bright and early in Foster City. What
happened? What happened since then?
that was such a fun morning. That was so exciting. I was so proud to be part of
you can’t have fun at Foster City at 6:00 AM you’re just not trying very hard.
really aren’t. So that was really super cool. We had two weeks of free rides,
so we were really excited to see what the response would be. We had standing
room only loads. We had to scramble and get some bigger buses out there. We, tooting
SamTrans’ horn, that’s an, we did an amazing job getting those buses deployed.
So kudos to our ops folks. And so now we’re, you know, in full swing, we are
seeing steady ridership, like 400 to 500 trips a day, which is quite frankly
what we expected six months after the route launched. You never know what
you’re going to get, kind of like a box of chocolates. I really like Forrest
Gump. But no, honestly, you never do know what you get. I have been at the helm
leading several different service changes of many different levels over the
past 15 years, and I’ve never, ever seen a route have such high ridership day
one. It was such an amazing experience. And that ridership has sustained
So we’re really, really focused now
on how do we build that reverse commute ridership out or up? So these are the
folks that are commuting to Foster City who currently reside in San Francisco.
The commute direction was a little, it was easy for us, I think. It was a ripe
market. We did some really great marketing. We mailed a postcard to every
resident in Foster City, and so many people learned about the service from the
postcard. I think that was like super, pleasantly surprising.
Yeah, especially in 2019.
2019. Right. Who would’ve thought printed stuff actually works? So that was
cool. But we can’t mail a postcard to all of San Francisco, like that’s just
not going to work. So we have to be a bit more strategic and really work with
our employer partners within the city. We have to work with the city of Foster
City and the Chamber as well, and maybe get creative. I keep telling the
marketing people, we need taco trucks. Just because I’m very food motivated. But
I think taco trucks would be an excellent offering and some kind of fun lunchtime
event where you can actually bring a bus out and get people out there to talk
about it and to see how this could work for them.
So, yeah, so I think we’re really,
really pleased with the ridership, and we’re going to do our formal evaluation
about six months in. My team will, we’ll
go out and we’ll actually do a survey of the ridership to understand what
people like, what they don’t like, what they were doing before, and then we’ll
take that back through our board for approval sometime in the spring.
speaking of surveys, you did an onboard survey starting week two of the service.
did. We did a little pulse survey. We threw it together. It was very, very
cool, cool effort.
so, I should also mention for some context with the marketing effort around
this, the first two weeks of the service were free, as a way to try to
encourage people to give the route a try given that it wasn’t there before. So
with this survey, what kind of questions did we ask? And really what did we
learn, I think is the big piece?
So we wanted to know how people learned about the service. We wanted to know if
this was someone’s first time riding SamTrans or if they were switching from a
different mode. Were they taking a train?
Were they taking a different bus? Were they taking a shuttle? We wanted to know
how satisfied were they with very different components of the service, with the
travel time, with the stop placement, with the schedule, with the availability
of seats, with the onboard amenities. And I think we really wanted to
understand how people would ride once the free service, once the free rides
went away. We were trying to test that
Would they stay on?
WEGENER: So what
we learned was that 45% of riders have never been on a SamTrans bus, which blew
my mind as a Director of Planning because what you often hear is there’s a
stigma associated with the bus riders. Folks don’t identify with, higher-income
earning folks don’t identify.
“I am not a bus person.”
That’s for them. Right? So this really kind of shattered that mentality that I
sort of carried that I think that maybe we, maybe folks are more open to trying
different modes, if we can find the right fit, and we can provide the right
service. So that really surprised me how many people are brand new to SamTrans
and of those people, most, if not all of them, said they plan to continue to
ride. So it was a good experience for them, which is very important. We get one
bite at the apple. There’s a lot of choices out there, right? And the bus
needs, we need to do bus service as well as we can.
And the second someone tries
something, even if it’s free, and they have a bad experience, they probably
won’t try you again. So that’s really important for SamTrans. That’s a lesson
that we need to learn and apply as we roll out the five other express routes. We
also wanted to know, well, how did people commute before this route?
right. There’s a lot of mode shift.
yeah. We learned that there were a number of riders that were making that
commute in a car on their own. We also learned that there are a number of riders
that were making that commute in their car to a Caltrain station or a BART station.
So the combination of folks who were in their car for some or all of their trip
before the FCX was about 30, 36% to 37%. So that’s, that’s a, that’s a big
That’s a lot of cars off of local roadways and Highway 101 because you
have to get on 101 in order to get to Millbrae BART or Daly City BART.
you do. And then it frees up some capacity for those other two train modes,
Caltrain and BART. So we had some folks who said they carpooled, and quite
frankly, if you’re out of your car, I’m modal, modally agnostic. You can
scooter yourself there, if you share a Lyft to a train station, if you take a
train, if you take BART.
LIEBERMAN: I take a dog sled to work every
stands on a dog sled and that’s great, just get out of your car. We, SamTrans,
should be at the table ready to provide the right — to add to the network
transportation in the Peninsula because people do different things on different
days, and that’s actually what we’re learning. You’ll often see, hey, we have
more riders in the morning than in the afternoon, and no, people aren’t just
staying in Foster City forever. They’re coming home, but they do something
yeah, it’s important that SamTrans not just look at ourselves in a silo. We
have to look beyond us, like at the other complementing transportation modes
that are on the Peninsula.
ALEX EISENHART: So
as part of the survey, we also got a lot of feedback in addition to rider data.
What’s some of the initial feedback we’ve been getting on the route and some
potential changes that might be coming in the future as a result of the initial
survey, as well as the one you’re doing six months in?
sure. So we got a lot of very, very positive feedback. Folks saying this has
changed their commute. It’s their first time using the bus. They love it. Definitely
got a lot of feedback about making sure we had enough seats, you know, for
express bus service, that’s on a corridor like 101 where the bus can be
traveling 55 miles an hour. You want to make sure everyone’s in a seat. You’ll
see, you can tolerate standees on your local routes because they’re not going
very fast, but for a bus on the freeway, you need a seat. So definitely heard
comments about that. One comment we got really early on which I loved hearing
was that one of the stops that we had in San Francisco was not in the safest location.
And SamTrans heard that comment. I think it was on day one or day two and made
an adjustment to move that stop. And I actually spoke with one of the riders
who had complained about that stop, and she was so very grateful that we were
able to make that adjustment within the first three or four days of service
We have also, we’re going to monitor
the trip times. So currently the last bus leaves San Francisco, I think at 6:00
PM, and what we’ve heard is that folks might want a later departure. So we just
have to keep our eyes open to that. Folks also do want frequency. So right now,
the bus is every 30 minutes. To get to every 20 minutes, that’s actually what
our study recommends, so our ultimate goal is to provide that 20 minute service.
But right now I think we’re pretty solid with the 30 minute service with the
larger buses, and that’ll just be something we have to monitor.
So, yeah. And then the survey we do
in a few months, we’ll just — it will be a repeat of many of the questions
that we included in our survey a few weeks ago. A little bit more detail. And
our goal will be to try to survey every customer who’s riding the service at
so one thing that you brought up a little earlier, I’m curious more about your
thoughts. The relatively low ridership
in San Francisco or among San Francisco residents on this route? My observation
is that I think a huge piece of it is a brand recognition issue. That in San
Francisco, it’s Muni, Caltrain and BART, and quite possibly AC Transit,
especially with their high service at Salesforce, that people recognize much
more than they do SamTrans, even though we’ve been operating in and out of the
city for a very long time historically. What are your thoughts on why ridership
is low? And the reason why I’m so stuck on it is because the study projected
that, what was it, 53, more than half of the demand for this route was among
San Francisco residents, yet we’re seeing that they account for right now a
small fraction of the ridership. So I’m curious as to your thoughts on that.
Yeah. I think the study projected 60% going from Foster City to SF and
40% the reverse.
right now we’re seeing about 90/10 so to your point, yeah, we definitely have
room to grow. So I have a couple of thoughts on why that’s a challenge. I think
that, you know, again, psychology and modal choice. It is a reverse commute
direction. So if you have a car and you’re commuting to Foster City, the pain
of doing so, and I’m doing air quotes here for everyone who can’t see me, it’s
less painful. You’re not paying for parking in Foster City. There’s likely to
be parking available for you at your employer. The traffic coming on 101 isn’t
as bad. So, you know, it’s a different. you know, we’re, we’re truly, truly
trying to get people out of their cars who are, who are making that journey
Also, it’s just how to cast that net
to inform those employees that this is available. It was easy, relatively easy,
to draw a circle around Foster City and blanket the city with advertising and
postcard mailers and this and that. San Francisco’s a much larger area, and so
we couldn’t deploy the same marketing tactics.
So right now, and one other thing I think that’s a challenge is there
are some private shuttles that take people from parts, you know, on the Peninsula
and beyond the Peninsula to Foster City employers. And again, I’m modally
agnostic. That doesn’t bother me, but we’re
not really, one of the thoughts I think we had in the study early on was could
we come up with a really great robust service so that these private employers
might not need to run some of their shuttles? So I think those discussions
still need to be had. That’s relationship building. That’s us continuing to try
to get our foot in the door with the employers, try to do a good job
understanding where employees are coming from, and being open and willing to
make adjustments based on what we’re hearing. So right now, it’s just getting
our foot in the door.
We’ve got some great partnerships
blooming out in Foster City. So it’s just a matter of, I think, really getting
good information out there, tailoring information as best we can to the
different employers, being open to doing different things. I think also not
targeting the big employers because we think, ah, that’s the biggest bang for
our buck, but maybe there’s the smaller employers that don’t have access to
some of these bigger resources, like these shuttles, that might benefit from
the service. So, and then it’s also making sure we have good, strong
transportation demand management programs out there, that employers are
offering transit benefits to their employees, whether it’s pre-tax transit fare
or buying monthly passes or buying way-to-go passes for their employees. I
mean, there’s other things that we can push that we can help the employers help
us sell this. Elevator graphics. It’s, you know, putting schedules in lobbies. I
like the grassroots. I want taco trucks everywhere. That’s just, again, you
know, food thing for me.
think you just haven’t had lunch.
know. I’m a little hungry, but yeah, I think, and word of mouth is also
important. Some organic stuff on social media might be fun to do.
definitely more marketing and collaboration to be had.
going to take a brief break. We’ll see if we can get Christy a granola bar or
maybe even a taco if we’re lucky, and we’ll be back shortly.
I’d like to talk with you about the comprehensive operational analysis being
conducted by the San Mateo County Transit District.Phase one of the study
feel like you’re underselling this a little bit.
I mean, this product is a pretty big deal.
fine. Then you sell it.
okay. Introducing Reimagine SamTrans. An opportunity for San Mateo County
residents to tell SamTrans what you like about the service and how we can do
better. We’re diving deep into our bus network to reinvent the service from the
ground up. This project will create a stronger, more reliable transportation
system to better meet the public transit and mobility needs of those who live
and work on the Peninsula.
run, don’t walk, to the project website, ReimagineSanTrans.com to find out
are you still listening? Go to the website now.
we’re back with Christy Wegener talking about the new FCX route. So we’ve
talked a lot about where we are at the moment. What about what the future
holds? Particularly with the express bus study, what other routes are coming
down the pipe?
So that’s exciting. We’ve got, as I’ve said before, the express bus study
identified six routes. So we’ve got FCX up and running, and we have five more. The
first phase of express buses is FCX in a route we’re calling the PAX, P-A-X,
which is our Palo Alto Express. So this one is actually is a little unique. This
one does not run on the 101 Corridor. So when we were doing our express bus
data collection, we noticed a clustering of trips from what we’ve dubbed
Western San Francisco to Palo Alto and the Stanford area. So while we aren’t necessarily
facilitating a lot of people from San Mateo County going to either of those
locations, Western San Francisco or Palo Alto, it is an opportunity to remove
cars off of 280, which will improve congestion for the San Mateo County
residents. So this route is slated to launch sometime in late 2020. So we are
working internally to do the scheduling and service planning and doing all the
really nitty gritty turn by turn planning that is required for the second
Then we have four other routes, all
of which will be operating on the 101 Corridor. We have one route that we also
find with bi-directional purpose. So that meaning it goes northbound and
southbound in the morning, and that would be coming from East Palo Alto, going
to the San Bruno BART, but also making stops along 101. One at Redwood Shores and one in SFO at the
that route got some particular attention, didn’t it?
did. I am so excited to talk about this route. So we partnered with Eden Housing
and the City of East Palo Alto to pursue an AHSC grant, which is Affordable Housing
and Sustainable Communities. It’s California State money, and basically it
brings quite a chunk of change to advance the affordable housing development. And
so we have received a grant award of $2.25 million to purchase three electric
buses to support this route that will operate probably in the next three years.
So it’s a really beautiful marriage
of affordable housing and high quality transit. And the program also brings
transit passes for residents for three years, which is great. So not only are
we getting capital money to supply buses for the service, for the electric
buses, and this is in a community with, you know, it’s a disadvantaged
community. So we need to make sure, you know, we’re deploying the right
resources and the folks in this housing development will have transit passes
and will be able to have a high quality connection to BART, to the airport, to
other major employers along 101 in the very near future. So that’s very
of course, we’re talking about express buses. There’s always going to be
someone who says, well, what about the tech buses? Aren’t they doing that same
thing? So, it’s did we steal their idea
or did they steal ours?
chicken and the egg, egg and the chicken. You know, I don’t know. I don’t think
— I’m going to just not answer that question directly because I don’t know
what the answer is. But what I’ll say is, I think tech buses are — they have a
very unique advantage in the Bay Area in that they serve a regional market
where the local transit agencies are really not well equipped or well designed
to serve. And they also serve a very niche market. So they are able to pick
people up and drop them at their employers’ front door, you know, in some cases
on a mega campus.
So you know, I would love to learn
more about the private shuttle network. We’ve learned some of it. We’ve learned
some things about where these buses are coming from, where they’re going. I
think there’s room for all of us to help solve the transportation crisis in the
Bay Area. The tech buses are lovely in that they help us solve the housing and
jobs imbalance. They are able to cross jurisdictional lines and that can be a
very costly service for SamTrans to provide. If we took a bus into Marin County,
that would be very, very expensive for us. But the shuttle companies are able
to do that, and I think that’s great. I would love to, again, learn more about
the service they offer, so we can complement them, because it’s not a
competition from my perspective. Again, it’s getting people out of their cars
and improving congestion for everyone.
to that modal agnosticism.
Really, as long as you’re not driving alone, you’re part of the
as we roll out these future express bus routes, what are some lessons learned
that we know now from the FCX that will inform future express routes?
we are learning, we’re learning. I mean, how do I say this? We’re learning
about the amenities people like, right?
learning what people want a seat. We are learning people like WiFi, and they
want to be able to charge their phone. That’s great. What I think is something
we have to be willing to learn as we are service planning every route is what
is the right schedule for this trip, for these trips, because for the PAX
route, which is the second route, we’re looking at serving Stanford Research Park,
Stanford University, and Stanford Hospital. And each of those places has
different hours. The hospital workers want to get there at 6:00 AM. So that
means I need to get a bus out of San Francisco at 4:30 in the morning or 4:00
in the morning. That may not be the case for all of these routes. So I think
what we learned from FCX is that we need to pay attention to the commuting
patterns, to really the trip purpose we are trying to serve for each of these
routes. We can’t be standardized with
7:00, 7:30, 8:00 8:30. People do different things. They do different things at
different times of the day, different days of the week. We’re also learning
that for some employers, they let their employees have a, you know, folks can
check their email for an hour, and then really stay in the office for only six
hours. And then the hour of their commute is part of their workday.
your traditional scheduling doesn’t apply. So that’s what I would say we
learned, is that we have to be willing to continue to learn for all of these
right. So how do we collaborate with companies that are seeking mass transit
solutions for their employees?
always are having our ears open to listen to employers that want service. We
have a process in which we receive service requests, and we evaluate them, and three
times a year we modify our service. Can we do a better job? Yes. Should we do a
better job? Yes. I think we’re limited with our resources. We only have so many
buses, so many drivers. And you know, in many cases, employers have stepped up
to fill the need that they see. I mean, we have a very robust private, not only
the big, private shuttle buses, but small, first/last mile shuttles through Commute.org
or through Caltrain that exists throughout the San Mateo County.
So we need to continue to
collaborate, to work together. We need to just build those relationships and be
at the table. We need to make sure we’re going to outreach to the Chambers of Commerce.
We need to make sure we’re going to the right board meetings. And that we’re
listening, and that they get that feedback from us. If there’s an idea that we
can’t meet, there’s a reason why, and that’s communicated, so that people don’t
think they’re just talking and no one’s listening to them.
you had mentioned earlier the importance of taking a regional approach in
addressing the transportation problems of the Bay Area, and that a lot of that
has to do with the distance, the growing distance between job centers and
housing. Can you talk a little bit about how express routes can play a role in
improving transportation when looked at regionally?
So, yeah, we’ve got a kind of a housing crisis. It feels really painful out
here in San Mateo County and the housing that’s available is very expensive,
and you are seeing those most vulnerable populations kind of being kind of
resegregated throughout the Bay Area and San Mateo County. You are seeing folks
really gravitate towards that one-seat ride, people willing to drive a distance
to get on a train so that they don’t have to transfer. Something that express
bus can do, again, this is atypical for SamTrans. These are longer trips that
currently our riders are — the trip length is less than five miles. So these
are, you know, 10, 15, 20 mile long trips. They have a regional purpose. In
some cases, for the express bus study in particular, when we started it, one of
the routes originated in Santa Clara County because we saw that potential. And
it really speaks to, you know, how can buses, especially if there are, if the
infrastructure is there to move buses faster and more reliably, how can
regional buses come into play to better assist the Bay Area with addressing the
jobs and housing imbalance?
There’s a lot of talk about regional
express buses. People don’t care what jurisdiction they’re in. I don’t, some
people don’t even know what jurisdiction they’re in. So travel patterns don’t
lock, line up with jurisdictions. Unfortunately, transit funding does. And so
we, transit agencies, sometimes have our blinders on, and we kind of really
just think about our tax base and where we’re getting our funding from, but
that doesn’t really necessarily move the needle where it needs to be moved
because there’s regional travel issues.
we don’t — like in Toronto or Vancouver or even LA, you’ll see these mega transit
agencies that have their lines going, and Washington DC they’re going
everywhere, so you have this kind of regional layer of transit. And we have
regional transit here, but it’s different, different operators. So I think the
regional express bus conversation is just going to grow, especially as the
housing continues to get pinched. SamTrans has a role in that. Do people care
if a SamTrans bus takes them one direction and a VTA bus takes them the other?
I don’t know. If the fares are
integrated, if there’s some cohesive branding, and the scheduling is solid,
then I don’t know if it matters to passengers who’s actually driving that bus. So
this is my opinion. It may not be a popular one, but our express bus study is
giving us kind of, we’re dipping our toe back into the pool of this, kind of
looking at regional, how to can SamTrans help serve that regional market.
let’s look at the argument though around money. So I mean, if someone does
argue, well, you know, this is San Mateo County’s tax dollars going to move
people from Santa Clara County to San Francisco County or whatever, how does
that benefit me? There is a very logical answer to that question, right?
Oh, definitely. The more people that we can get on buses, and the more cars we
can get off of 101 or 280, then the better traffic congestion will be for
everyone. So even if as a San Mateo County resident, you are never going to
ride a bus, or there’s not a bus that takes you where you need to go, being
supportive of good bus service, being supportive of getting more people onto
buses will only improve your quality of life from a traffic perspective. So I
definitely think everybody, everywhere should support more bus service, for
with no bit of bias whatsoever. I think it’s also worth pointing out the SamTrans’
mission statement, while certainly it says that it’s supposed to help people
get around without the use of a car, it also states it’s supposed to reduce
congestion and get cars off the road. This is really fundamental to the SamTrans
You know, in particular to the one route in the express bus study that really
is seemingly, if you look at the line on the map, it looks like it doesn’t
serve San Mateo County, which is the PAX route going from Western San Francisco
to San Mateo, or to Stanford. We do actually have a stop in San Mateo County,
and we’re really going through the fine tuning of the service planning process
right now. We think there might be some opportunity for folks from Pacifica to
drive to a park and ride and take this route to Stanford. So it’s just about
finding the right market, but also making sure that the route integrity remains
intact. We’ve done this sort of data-driven exercise with coming up with route
concepts. We had great success with the Foster City route deployment. And so
the planning team here, we’re a bit, we’re perfectionists. We really believe in
our work, but we also understand that the reality is that there will be
adjustments that need to be made once we’re actually getting into the real,
getting into the weeds of the service planning. So I think all of the express
bus routes, all six of them, have strong potential to move people from San
Mateo County. They have strong potential to remove cars from both 280 and 101 to
improve congestion through San Mateo County.
let’s continue to play devil’s advocate for a minute. What do you say to
someone who argues that something like route FCX is cannibalizing from other
transit agencies? Is that, would that be
the right way to characterize it or is that even a bad thing?
my perspective, I mean to cannibalize means to take a bunch of stuff from, and
I don’t think that’s happening. I haven’t heard that Caltrain is empty or BART is
empty. So I think if we are seeing people make a shift, then that just means
that something, there’s something about the service we’re offering that works
better for them.
was on Caltrain this morning. I can say definitively, it is not empty.
So you know, again, we’re learning what people want and people don’t always
want the same thing twice a day, every day. Right? So it’s about a network.
It’s about a complement of services. It’s about choices. It’s about integration
and coordination. So, no, I don’t, I really don’t like to use the word
cannibalize. There is so much traffic that there’s room for all of us to have a
hand in solving and providing us solutions.
furthermore, if someone’s driving a half an hour from Foster City to Millbrae,
that’s not like, yes, they’re using transit once they get to BART. But that’s
not an ideal transit solution by any means. Not for them or for our larger
at all. Not at all. Pleasantly, we saw that there were quite a few people
making that, the first five or seven miles with their car and then getting onto
transit. So that one-seat ride matters. People are willing to try new things if
it works for them. So I think that’s really the lesson that we learned.
LIEBERMAN: And of course, we’ve got US 101 express
lanes coming up in 2022. how does that affect the future of these express bus
that is really, that was the impetus behind the whole study is how do we take
advantage of these lanes? So what that’s going to do is improve the travel time,
and the speed, and the reliability for all the express routes that are running
on that corridor.
no, I was just going to say, and just for some background, for folks who may
not know, the US 101 express lanes project currently under construction is
going to add express lanes, or FasTrak lanes, I should say, between the Santa
Clara, San Mateo County border and go all the way up about 20 some odd miles to
I380 in San Bruno and 101.
And those lanes are going to be key to keep people going at about 45 miles an
hour, which is going to be, I imagine, quite a bit faster.
Yeah. So you know, having the bus
that is making its journey, the majority of its journey on 101 to have a
guarantee of 45 miles an hour, I mean, that’s a bus planner’s dream right
there. So that what I think is interesting in learning from the FCX, it’s not
necessarily so much about the travel time. People are willing to take a trip
that might be as long as what they’re currently doing, or even a little longer.
But if it’s a reliable service, meaning it’s on time consistently.
don’t have to transfer.
You don’t have to transfer, and you can predictably, you know, you’re getting
into work when you think you will rather than what we have today is a lot of
variability on 101. One incident will
shut down that whole roadway. So now there’s still the incidents when we have
the express lanes for sure, but we’re not subject, you know, that lane will be
somewhat protected, if you will, and that travel time will be maintained. So
that’s just, you know, we’re talking about how people make decisions. Having a
bus that is flying by or driving very quickly by a line of cars can also have a
very, it can have a psychological impact on the ridership. And we should
definitely be looking to the express lanes for our marketing of our express
buses in the next few years. I mean, that reliability will be huge for the
service and for the customers.
express lanes are definitely happening. They’re very exciting. What are other
potential infrastructure improvements that would continue to make buses more
reliable or attractive to riders?
thank you for asking that question. I definitely have an opinion about that. I
will first say that the US 101 express bus study identified some infrastructure
improvements, so park and ride expansion opportunities. So giving people a
place to drive to where that bus can pick up, so really minimizing the time the
bus is sort of meandering in the neighborhood and giving people a nice collection
point to get on that bus. Making sure we have good bus stop amenities, that we
have the shelters in the right place, that we have good first/last mile
opportunities, whether those are bike share or something else. So those infrastructure
improvements were identified as a part of the study. A thing that I’m
particularly passionate about is transit signal priority. So anything we can do
to get buses just moving a little bit faster than cars is very important. So
looking for opportunities for Q-Jump lanes, which is where a bus would get a
little, its own signal to jump ahead of a queue of cars at a traffic
intersection. That would be awesome. Looking at how are the ramps onto 101? Are
there any opportunities for bus on shoulder movements? These are bold. These
are scary. People don’t always like these ideas, but I think if we’re going to
move the needle and deliver what we need to deliver to San Mateo County, we
have to be bold, and we have to think outside of just bus service.
really like a lot of people talk about the bus like it’s old fashioned, but
ultimately it doesn’t have to be, provided we embrace the innovation that’s
happened in the field and make the bus as successful as it could be. But if you
stick it on the same road that existed in the ’50s it’s just going to be
limited in terms of how much we can achieve.
definitely. And buses, to your point, are getting smarter. We need to make sure
we have quality, real-time information for our customers. This is something that
SamTrans is stepping into with our mobile app. We do have some real-time
information on our app. I think it could be better, for sure. And this is what riders,
commuting riders are expecting. If we’re
asking people to spend an hour of their day with us on our bus and actually be
productive with that time, we need to give them the tools to do so. So, yeah, I
think infrastructure matters. I think better bus service matters. And I think
that as we continue to listen to our riders, that’s what we’ll be learning.
just to wrap up here, we’ve talked about some of the next steps. The PAX is
launching, currently slated for sometime in 2020. We’re going to be launching
the remainder of those routes within the next five years. What else is coming
in the future that will have an impact on SamTrans service or regional
transportation in and around San Mateo County?
we have a very, very exciting project called Reimagine SamTrans that is an 18-month
long study, and it’s really taking a look holistically at the network of routes.
It’s getting as deep into the weeds as one could possibly get with a study. And
the end result will be a new SamTrans network that will be approved by our
board and implemented in 2021.
So what is that going to look like?
I don’t know. All I know is I’m really excited to be leading that project
because we are taking a data-driven, customer-centered approach to decision
making. We’re also looking regionally, we’re connecting with our regional
advocates and partners to understand what opportunities SamTrans will have for
growth and expansion over the next few years.
We’re looking at what Caltrain’s doing in their business plan. As that
corridor transforms, and as the railroad transforms, there will be opportunities
for SamTrans to provide new service. So there is so much on the table right
now. It’s very, very, it’s a very exciting time to be here.
We are also completing our
evaluation of our very first microtransit service. So that is something we
launched a few months ago. And I think that has a home in SamTrans’ family of
services as well. So we’ll be taking our on-demand pilot for an evaluation this
fall, and that’s great. So yeah, a lot coming and a lot of regional stuff
coming as well. So a lot of talk about regional express bus, looking at
regional fare integration and coordination opportunities. So I think our riders
have a lot to look forward to. And I think if anyone has an opinion about what
could be different at SamTrans, now is the time to talk because we are
where can people go to have their voice heard on this subject?
reimagineSamTrans.com is the project website. You can also just go to SamTrans.com
and contact us through customer service.
thanks so much for being here with us today.
you for having me. I adore working with the two of you.
EISENHART: We like
working with you too.
it for this month. Special thanks to Christy Wegener for talking to us today.
EISENHART: And if you’d like to learn more about ride
FCX, vishit SamTrans – “vishit?” Listen to me. Visit SamTrans.com/FCX.
LIEBERMAN: We’ll see you next month here at Wheel Talk.
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