The following letter by Richard Silver was published in the Almanac's April 11 print edition:
An ad hoc group of some city council members in the region, the Coalition to Expand Transit Service, is asking Caltrain to revisit its schedule in hopes of boosting service for certain cities.
But the system's steadily growing ridership suggests things may be just fine as they are.
The decision to add the express Baby Bullet runs in 2004 came at the expense of local service, which meant ending weekday stops in the Atherton and Burlingame Broadway stations -- among the least-used on the line -- and making fewer stops at other stations.
Even during the debate over service, however, riders have flocked to Caltrain. In January, average weekday ridership rose by 7.3 percent compared with that time a year ago. Year-to-year ridership is up about 31 percent since the pre-Baby Bullet ridership of 2003, Caltrain reported.
"Our goal is to have as many people riding as possible," said Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg.
The Caltrain board will review station-by-station ridership numbers in April, Mr. Weinberg said, and it will be up to the board to decide whether to have an outside firm review the schedule, as the coalition suggests.
Fine-tuning the schedule might bring improvements, but making drastic changes could be a zero-sum game. Adding a stop in one city may require nixing another city's stop. Adjustments that add time to the schedule will not appeal to the new commuters attracted by the express runs.
Caltrain works best as a regional service, shuttling more than 30,000 people up and down the line on weekdays. The Peninsula already has extensive bus service for multi-stop transit throughout its cities, so there is no need to replicate that. Many riders using Caltrain are driving to the stations anyway, Weinberg noted. It's just a matter of which station to drive to. The Atherton station is less than a mile from the Menlo Park station and Burlingame still has one station under the current schedule.
Having fewer train stops is a worthwhile trade-off for the improved regional service commuters enjoy. Any changes that the coalition wants should be balanced against the need to keep the new riders coming back.
Richard L. Silver, executive director
Rail Passenger Association of California