Officials urge boost in Caltrain service

Local officials are banding together to call for increased local Caltrain service to smaller stations, particularly as transit-oriented development centered around the commuter rail line kicks into gear.

A 14-member team of local officials announced Thursday the formation of the Coalition to Expand Train Service, which aims to work with Caltrain and other transportation agencies to increase ridership and expand local service, Burlingame Vice Mayor and group spokewoman Terry Nagel said.

While the Baby Bullet service, inaugurated in 2004, boosted ridership by 13 percent, cuts in the number of stops at non-express stations since then have resulted in fewer riders at stations such as San Bruno and Belmont, according to Caltrain statistics.

Furthermore, despite protests from local officials, Caltrain has completely cut weekday service to Broadway and Atherton stations due to low ridership and budget constraints.

The cuts came after some cities began planning for dense, mixed-use development around their train stations, Menlo Park Vice Mayor Kelly Fergusson said. CETS members fear that the decrease in service to certain stations will discourage businesses and homebuilders from setting up shop in their areas

“One example is Hayward Park [in San Mateo],” Nagel said. “It’s pretty much a ghost town because they reduced service. You can’t entice developers to do this type of building if you can’t have adequate train service.”

San Mateo last year approved major zoning changes that allow for transit-oriented development around the Hayward Park and Hillsdale Caltrain stations. Officials and environmental groups are already touting the planned Bay Meadows Racecourse redevelopment as a shining example of transit-oriented project with its 83 acres of housing, retail and office next to the Caltrain line.

Millbrae officials, using the Caltrain/BART hub as a centerpiece, similarly aim to turn the area around Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real into an easy-to-navigate commuter haven, with several mixed-use projects already under way to realize this goal.

Millbrae Councilwoman Gina Papan said Millbrae’s proximity to San Francisco International Airport will still bring riders to the intermodal station, which is aBaby Bullet stop, but said she still harbors concerns about neighboring cities’ transit-dependent projects.

Renewed service to Broadway or Atherton remains unlikely in the near future, officials said.

“We’re happy to work with them,” said Jonah Weinberg, a Caltrain spokesman. “But we’re not planning on changing our service model. We frankly don’t have enough room to add trains, and we have a limited amount of equipment.”

San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill agreed that transit-oriented development was essential to smart growth, and was amenable to improving shuttle service between stations and encouraging employers to provide their own shuttles to mass transit.

“Everyone’s goal is to provide efficient, economical and comfortable transit service so people will use Caltrain even more in the future,” Hill said.

Nagel said shuttles and business outreach would help improve connections with stations.

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