Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director — The detailed study report of the Caltrain extension (alternatives analysis) was printed out and brought to the meeting (although I did not take a copy). It was also posted on the TAMC website a few weeks ago.
One of the conclusions is that a Caltrain extension would be more cost effective for Monterey County than an express bus. This study only addresses the Salinas-Gilroy-San Jose-San Francisco service, not the Monterey Branch Line (Monterey-Marina-Castroville-Gilroy-San Jose-San Francisco) service which is being considered separately, and where express buses may turn out to be cost effective.
For serving Salinas, running buses would cost Monterey County quite a bit more because TAMC would have to buy a large number of buses, and buy land in order to have a place to store them. For train service, TAMC would just pay the incremental cost for running two existing trains between Gilroy and Salinas.
The FTA will be the lead agency (not TAMC) for performing the environmental impact analysis. The TAMC committee would like to wait about a month, so that people from the FTA (and the TAMC staff) can read the alternatives analysis and comment on it.
In the past, MTS ran buses numbered 25 and 26, which went between Monterey or Salinas and Gilroy. The buses had relatively low ridership, and they were not considered a success. One reason is that almost everyone who rode the bus wanted to travel to somewhere north of Gilroy. This required a transfer, which added 18 minutes of time, and was inconvenient.
Although trains are very expensive to buy and run, to start the Caltrain extension, TAMC would not have to buy any trains, because there is existing capacity on the trains running to Gilroy. Since the trains already run to Gilroy and are funded by Caltrain, TAMC would just pay the cost of running trains beyond Gilroy. For an express bus to work well, it would have to go all the way to San Jose, and TAMC would have to pay the entire cost to run the buses on that route.
Parsons conducted a study of train vs bus service, using state and federal guidelines, in order to estimate the total impact of each service on society. Many factors were analyzed, such as amount of pollution, number of deaths from collisions on the rails or on the highway, and change in the amount of traffic on the roads, then assigning a dollar amount to each result. The Caltrain extension was estimated to have a net positive impact on society, while the express bus service was estimated to have a net negative impact on society. The positive impact from Caltrain is very important, because many transit projects being proposed for federal funding have overall negative impacts.
One result of the study is that Caltrain would benefit society by reducing traffic on the roads and saving people money (the fare is less than the total cost of driving), among other results. However, it would not have a significant impact on air pollution.
The TAMC committee members asked for a summary that would define and explain some of the terms used in the above study, which would allow them to do a better job of communicating with the general public the study results.
The federal funding guidelines for new transit projects give the highest priority to how much the project would reduce congestion. This seems very positive for the Caltrain extension, because the average trip length is expected to be about 74 miles, while the average trip length on Bart is currently about 12 miles. Because of that, one Caltrain rider would have about the same impact on traffic as six Bart riders (the number of car miles driven per day reduced by the transit).