Striving for Good Bus and Rail Connections

On February 9, 2018 the San Jose Mercury ran a story about the reasons people keep driving, even on traffic-clogged roadways, and why more travelers don’t use public transit. A survey sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Mercury provided an answer to this question.  It showed that for most of those taking the survey the Number One reason for not using public transit was that it “doesn’t get me to where I want to go”.

Public and private transit will never be able to take everyone where they want to go all of the time.  But things can get better. For one thing the many unnecessary gaps between transit services that routinely discourage use of the Region’s vast network of rail and bus lines can and should be eliminated.

Take the gap between San Francisco’s new Sales Force Transit Center and the nine subway lines under Market Street for instance. In the Fall of 2003 the Transbay Joint Powers Authority staff proposed that a moving-ramp pedestrian connection be constructed so as to make the transfer between the trains and buses accessing the Center and the Market Street subways with their excellent distribution capabilities as fast and convenient as possible. The idea quickly caught hold and the ped connection was eventually was tacked on to the Caltrain Extension Project (DTX). However, thanks to San Francisco City Hall’s penchant for tinkering with and otherwise obstructing the long-approved Caltrain extension, coupled with MTC’s reluctance to assert regional leadership over what is clearly a regional project, the DTX project and the long-awaited pedestrian connector have languished.

In the meantime, in part because of strong pressure from AC Transit, San Francisco’s new Center includes a humongous bus deck capable of accommodating at 300 buses an hour double that of today’s operation.  Or, to put the disconnect between capacity and demand in even starker terms, a bus deck that is capable of accommodating hundreds of thousands of AC transbay bus riders a day is currently serving a paltry fourteen thousand, five hundred riders a day.

SleepingManBetter distribution in San Francisco would add significantly to the usefulness and rider appeal of AC Transit’s transbay service. For this reason one might expect AC Transit to be among the groups demanding that the construction of the moving ramp pedestrian connector be accelerated.  However, so far the East Bay’s response to the gap between the Salesforce Transit Center and the Market Street subways has consisted of a large yawn.

Elsewhere in the region things are not so placid. In the South Bay, a large coalition of government and private institutions are moving ahead with the development of a greatly-expanded Diridon Station.  When completed this facility will accommodate Caltrain, at least two SCVTA light rail lines, the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) trains, the Capitol Corridor trains, the Coast Starlight, high speed rail and lots of bus lines.  The following is excerpted from the “Board Memorandum” presented at the January 31, 2019 Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (SCVTA) Board meeting:

“WHAT IS THE DIRIDON INTEGRATED STATION CONCEPT PLAN? When BART, commuter rail, high-speed rail, light rail, and supporting bus services converge, Diridon Station will support more high-capacity transit connections than any other place in the Bay Area….”

The South Bay is thinking big. With increasing traffic constriction and decreasing transit ridership, San Francisco and the rest of the Central Bay Area may eventually find themselves playing second fiddle to their dynamic neighbors to the South.

This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 10. Click here to go back to the newsletter.