More people than ever before are riding Caltrain, according to the annual ridership count released this week.
Initial findings from the annual ridership count show average weekday ridership at an all-time high, 42,354, an increase of 4,575 passengers per weekday, or 12.1 percent higher than 2011.
This marks the second year ridership has increased, despite service cuts and fare increases driven by Caltrain’s on-going fiscal challenges.
The findings, conducted in February when ridership is relatively low, was presented Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Caltrain Board of Directors.
The count shows many of Caltrain’s most popular trains have more riders than seats, particularly in the peak ridership months of August and September.
Caltrain’s ability to add capacity on the rail system is constrained by its current technology. and modernizing the rail system would allow substantial increases in the numbers of riders the railroad could carry.
Ridership on trains during peak commute hours increased from 18,262 in 2011 to 20,473 this year. Ridership on evening trains went from 2,162 to 2,658, up 23 percent over 2011.
Ridership increased at 27 out of 29 stations, with only Blossom Hill and San Martin seeing no increase.
San Francisco continued to be the most popular station, with 9,670 riders using the station on an average weekday. The highest increase in ridership was at the San Jose Diridon station, which increased nearly 19 percent, from 2,681 in 2011 to 3,187 in 2012. Ridership at the Palo Alto station, the second-most popular station, increased 15.7 percent, from 4,028 in 2011 to 4,661 in 2012.
In order, the top 10 stations for ridership are:
- San Francisco 9,670
- Palo Alto 4,661
- Mountain View 3,670
- San Jose Diridon 3,187
- Millbrae 2,880
- Redwood City 2,399
- Hillsdale 2,097
- Sunnyvale 1,965
- Menlo Park 1,477
- San Mateo 1,471
Ridership hit an initial peak of 35,609 in 2001, at the height of the dot.com
boom. The new high in this year’s count is 18.9 percent higher.
During economic downturn that followed the dot.com bust, ridership plunged below 25,000 in 2004 before beginning to rise again with the introduction of the Baby Bullet express trains. Since then ridership has increased nearly 66 percent.
The popular express service achieves travel times that are faster than driving for many commuters and today eight of the system’s Baby Bullet trains have more riders than seats.
Ridership rose on all three types of Caltrain service – express, limited and local – indicating that riders rely on a mix of train types of make effective use of the commuter railroad.
The average trip length of a Caltrain customer is 22.8 miles on weekdays and 28.3 miles on Baby Bullet trains. Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey said this indicates Caltrain is effectively removing significant car miles from the region’s highways.
Bike ridership, which makes up 10 percent of all Caltrain riders, also increased. Average weekday bike ridership went from 3,664 in 2011 to 4,243, an increase of nearly 16 percent. The increase can be attributed in part to a 31 percent increase in the number of available bike spaces on trains. Beginning in June 2011, every train is equipped with two bike cars.
For the first time, Caltrain counted the number of bikes that were not able to board because the bike car was full. The results, consistent with information reported by bike riders, showed that all the bike capacity issues occur on only three Baby Bullet trains and only at the peak commute hours: southbound trains 324 and 378 and northbound train 378.
A pilot project to introduce Baby Bullet express service on weekends is showing some success: ridership on these trains has increased while overall weekend ridership is down.