Reduce Cuts - Add Capacity
Photos tell the tale. Caltrain has too many empty seats and not enough bike space.
January 26, 2011 – Train 324, 8:19am at 22nd Street
Caltrain could earn one million dollars more ticket revenue annually, if only it had sufficient bike capacity of two bike cars on gallery trains (80 bike spaces) and three bike cars on Bombardier trains (72 bike spaces).
Caltrain bike boardings were rising at the same rapid rate as citywide bike counts in San Francisco until 2006, when Caltrain started routinely denying service to commuters with
bicycles. After 2006, citywide bike counts continued on the same upward trajectory, but Caltrain bike boardings suddenly fell off, costing Caltrain ridership and ticket revenue.
For detailed analysis, please read on.
Bicycle ridership in San Francisco increased up to 84% from 2006 to 2009. Caltrain bicycle boardings increased only 18% during the same period due to insufficient bike capacity onboard trains. If Caltrain had kept up with demand for bike capacity, it could have collected over $1 million more farebox revenue in 2009. The increased revenue could have paid for all the trains Caltrain plans to cut in January 2011 due to budget shortfalls.
Caltrain bicycle boardings have been constrained by insufficient bike capacity since 2006, when routine bumping began. Bumping continues today, as shown by the graph at sfbike.org/bob.
True demand for bicycle space onboard Caltrain can be estimated by evaluating increases in cycling for which demand has not been constrained. We consider three such cases:
We use a linear model for each data set to determine the percentage increase in cyclists from 2006 to 2009, and then apply that same percentage to Caltrain bike boardings to estimate revenue lost due to insufficient bike capacity. A linear model is a good fit to the data, as shown by the correlation coefficient, R2, displayed on each graph.
SFMTA Citywide Bike Counts
The SFMTA conducts annual bike counts in August at 33 locations throughout San Francisco. The graph below shows that cycling increased 56.4% from 2006 to 2009.
Bike-to-Work-Day Bike Counts
The SFMTA counts bicycles at the intersection of Van Ness and Market Streets from 8am to 9am on Bike to Work Day, held in May each year. The graph below shows an increase of 84.2% in cyclists from 2006 to 2009.
SFBC membership is an indirect measurement of the popularity of cycling. The graph below shows an increase of 75.0% in SFBC membership from 2006 to 2009.
Caltrain Weekday Bike Boardings
In contrast to the above counts, Caltrain's annual passenger counts show that Caltrain bicycle boardings increased only 18.0% from 2006 to 2009, with bike boardings constrained by limited onboard bicycle capacity.
True Demand for Caltrain Bike Capacity
We estimate the true (expected) demand for onboard bicycle space on Caltrain by applying the percentage increases in cycling from unconstrained counts, as shown in the table below.
The city of San Francisco has made no significant improvements to its bicycle infrastructure since 2006 due to a legal issue with the city's bike plan, so SFMTA bike counts are a worst-case model for increased bicycle ridership. With advertising and promotion, bicycle ridership is much higher, as evidenced by Bike-to-Work-Day bike counts and SFBC membership. If Caltrain had promoted its onboard bicycle service (and had sufficient bike capacity), there would have been approximately 80% more bikes-on-board passengers in 2009 compared with 2006, corresponding to over $1 million in ticket revenue in 2009.
Caltrain Service Cuts Could Have Been Avoided
At the Caltrain board meeting in July 2010, Caltrain staff proposed the following service cuts to begin in January 2011. Savings were calculated as the difference between ticket revenue and operating expense.
The total projected savings is less than $1 million. If Caltrain had sufficient onboard bicycle capacity, however, cyclists would bring in more than $1 million in farebox revenue, and all planned service cuts could have been avoided. It is unfortunate that Caltrain did not plan ahead and add more bike capacity to keep up with demand. Without sufficient bike capacity, potential customers were forced to find other commute methods, and it will be hard to get them back.
If Caltrain adds more bike capacity immediately to bring in more passengers and ticket revenue as soon as possible, it may be able to roll back some of the planned service cuts. In any case, it is imperative that Caltrain plans for future years and adds bike capacity now to prevent further service cuts beyond those in January 2011.
Financial Benefit of Increased Bike Capacity
Past increases in bike capacity have resulted in rapid payback of the investment, because more cyclists were able to ride the train and bring in more ticket revenue.
Caltrain increased bike capacity to 24 bike spaces per train in late 1995 at a cost of $30,000 paid by San Francisco County and $30,000 paid by Caltrain. More than half of a ridership jump of 7 percent was attributable to bicyclists, and the cost to expand bike capacity was repaid in farebox revenue within six months. Caltrain increased bike capacity by 8 bike spaces per bike car and converted three Bombardier cars to 24-bike-space bike cars in 2009 at a cost of $350,000 paid by federal stimulus funds. Again, payback period was less than six months, an excellent financial outcome.
The payback period for a capital investment is determined from cash flow (incremental revenue less incremental expenses) resulting from that investment. Incremental farebox revenue from new bicycle passengers minus incremental operating expense (zero, in the case of an increase in bike capacity) means that 100% of ticket revenue from additional bicycle passengers can be applied toward paying back the capital investment.
After the capital investment of new bike racks is paid back through new bicycle passengers, then Caltrain receives an ongoing benefit of higher farebox recovery. The end result is that Caltrain becomes less dependent on outside funding sources. Note that Caltrain's current farebox recovery is 43%, i.e., 43% of operating expense is covered by ticket revenue with the remainder covered by other funding sources.
Caltrain needs to convert 12 trailer cars to bike cars to provide 72 or 80 bike spaces on every Bombardier or gallery train set, respectively, so that all 20 train sets in operation have consistent bike capacity. This will simplify Caltrain operations, because any train set can run at any time. Currently, Caltrain attempts to run 80 bike spaces (two gallery bike cars) on less than half of commute period trains, but frequent service disruptions result in last-minute train-set swaps, causing a train set with only 40 bike spaces (one gallery bike car) to be used on these runs. Train sets with only 40 bike spaces during commute periods commonly result in bumping many cyclists at multiple stops.
Caltrain staff estimates a cost of $30,000 to convert a trailer car to a bike car, for a total capital investment of less than $500,000 to upgrade all train sets to 72 to 80 bike spaces per train. The expected payback period would be less than six months.
Bikes-on-board Passengers Are Caltrain's Faster Growing Customer Segment
For comparison, Caltrain walk-on passenger boardings increased 13.0% from 2006 to 2009, compared with 18.0% for bikes-on-board passengers. Even with the bike capacity limitation, Caltrain's fastest growing customer segment is bikes-on-board passengers. Caltrain needs to take advantage of this growth opportunity to increase its revenue stream to help save the railroad.