Think of it as a public version of a ‘Google Bus.’
SamTrans’ newly-launched intercity shuttle — route FCX — flies up to San Francisco from Foster City, and back, replete with creature comforts: all of the buses sport onboard wi-fi internet access, and some feature vinyl seats, luggage racks, and USB charging ports underneath their seats.
To top that all off, the ride is free for the first two weeks of service. After that, it’ll be $6.25 round trip, with a discount offered for Clipper card users.
Even though the route launched on August 19, the trip to San Francisco is already so popular with Foster City denizens that SamTrans added more service on Friday.
These new additions are 60-foot “articulated” buses (so-named for the accordion-like midsection that helps the 60-foot bus swing around tight turns), with more seating capacity than the 40-footers already on the route.
“I was in the bendy bus this evening (SF – Foster City). Lots of space and more spacious leg space,” tweeted one SamTrans rider, Vai Gupta.
So business is booming — but only in one direction.
As for San Franciscans heading down to Foster City? Well, ridership in that direction hasn’t been so hot, the agency admits.
Because the route is so new, they don’t have a finalized ridership count yet available. But counting the three new articulated buses added to the route, there’s a total of five buses leaving Foster City bound for San Francisco in the morning, with the shorter buses seating roughly 40 people each (not counting standing room).
They’re packed on the way up, said Alex Eisenhart, a SamTrans spokesperson, but not on the way down.
The problem is twofold, Eisenhart said. There aren’t a lot of folks who live in San Francisco and work in Foster City, firstly. But the next problem is perhaps a bit more foundational.
Few in SF have even heard of SamTrans.
“For many people in San Francisco, Muni, BART and Caltrain are what people have the most recognition of,” Eisenhart said.
Part of that brand recognition problem is simple proximity — this is the first commute-hour, intercity, express route along The Peninsula that SamTrans has launched from San Francisco, an effort resulting from the agency’s US-101 Express Bus study.
The study analyzed where San Mateo county residents were traveling — and how — as well as other Bay Area neighbors. It found an abundance of commuter shuttles, with 550 private express bus and employer shuttle trips per day on US-101.
Using data from that study, SamTrans is planning six new express bus routes, ones that mirror the concept of the so-nicknamed ‘Google Bus,’ known more technically as corporate commuter shuttles, as they serve many Peninsula companies.
The stakes are high — US-101 is one of the most congested traffic corridors in the Bay Area, the study noted.
The first of those new express Peninsula bus routes is Foster City to San Francisco, but the next to debut will be Palo Alto to western San Francisco, the PAX line, in early 2020, Eisenhart said. Other routes include San Bruno BART to and from East Palo Alto, San Mateo to and from western San Francisco, Burlingame to downtown San Francisco, and San Mateo to downtown San Francisco.
Eisenhart was quick to dismiss the idea that these intercity express buses are direct competition to corporate commuter shuttles. Instead, they’re complimentary.
“Competition may not be the way to say it,” he said. “The reason we partner with companies is it saves them money.”
That’s why SamTrans is reaching out to Foster City companies, hoping their employees may try hopping the FCX bus down from San Francisco for their commute.
But first, they’ll have to learn what SamTrans is.
“With any behavior change it takes time,” Eisenhart said. “We’re not discouraged by the low ridership out of San Francisco in the mornings. If anything, it encourages us to continue.”