There are many reasons to support the CalTrain expansion plans from the environment to saving time and cost for commuters and the CalTrain contribution to grade separation costs. Expanding auto free commuting to planned job growth, much of which is near existing stations or served by shuttles, is another important reason. Residents who really do not like the recent and planned job growth need to face the reality of it. That means making the transportation and housing plans (including CalTrain expansion) that will deal with the increased commuting.
With the large job growth planned adjacent to the Diridon station in San Jose there will be residents here and in adjacent cities whose commute will be immensely improved with Caltrain expansion to walkable jobs at the other end.
More about the CalTrain expansion below but first let’s look at recent and planned job growth.
Over the past five years the Bay Area has averaged more than 100,000 added jobs each year. While the pace of growth has slowed a bit and will slow more, the region continues to outpace the state and nation in job gains. The growth has been concentrated on the peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose though all counties have added jobs. Most cities on the peninsula have more job growth planned with a strong surge expected in San Jose.
The recent job growth has not been fueled by large population growth. In fact the region added fewer than 32,000 residents in 2018 and just over 40% of residents do not work. The three peninsula counties added fewer than 12,000 residents.
So what fueled the job growth? Over the past five years there have been five major contributing factors. One, more people in the workforce found jobs lowering unemployment. Two, more existing residents came back into the workforce as jobs expanded and companies broadened their search for workers. These are both positive events and created jobs for existing residents.
Three, some workers added a second or third job.
Four, probably (current data is lacking) is an increase in in-commuting from adjacent counties. And five, part of the job growth was fueled by the population growth that did occur.
It is very likely that job growth will continue and equally likely that it will slow. Retirements are growing even as workers work longer. Birth rates are falling. Immigration continues but has stopped increasing. And remember that not all the projects you read about will be built and some of them will just replace older buildings.
Back to the CalTrain expansion.
Right now ridership has peaked and even slowed a bit and, as anyone who rides in the peak hours has experienced—many trains are over capacity with riders standing. But job growth around stations continues up and down the peninsula.
The win-win solution as I see it is to expand capacity to serve the new jobs that are close to existing CalTrain stations, Increase the number of trains at peak hour, expand mid–day and evening service and address grade separation challenges.
That means approving some version of a permanent CalTrain funding plan. Riders will continue to pay most of the operating costs but large funding is needed to make the infrastructure investments and allow CalTrain to fund part of the grade separation investments.
I will be writing a letter in support of the CalTrain planning vision and voicing my support for fully funding the plan so it actually happens,