'Baby bullets' wound citiesBy Laura Ernde
Caltrain's fast-running "baby bullet" service has been hailed for lifting the struggling commuter train service out of its dot-com bust doldrums.
But the express train's success in spurring double-digit increases in overall ridership hasn't touched all corners of the 77-mile rail line.
Smaller stations on the Peninsula that are being bypassed by the bullet trains have actually lost riders steadily since the baby bullets arrived two years ago, as those riders flock to the bullet stations, according to annual passenger counts.
Current and former elected officials from those Peninsula cities worry their stations are fading away, banding together to stop the decline.
Today they're announcing a coalition that will work with Caltrain to build ridership and restore the local service they see as crucial to the future of their cities.
"We understand Caltrain's difficult financial situation, and we want to work with transit officials to make the train more convenient and reliable so that more people get out of their cars," said Burlingame Vice Mayor Terry Nagel, spokeswoman for the effort.
Calling themselves the Coalition to Expand Train Service, the group is pledging to work with Caltrain to lobby for more funding from the three counties that provide the largest chunk of the train service's annual budget, along with more state and federal support.
Despite increasing ridership, Caltrain has been living on shaky finances, spending more money than it is taking in. Rising fuel prices compounded the problem, forcing the agency to raise fares by 8.3 percent next April, the third fare increase in a year and half.
Ridership has soared at the stations served by the "baby bullet" trains, which make fewer stops in order to get from San Francisco to San Jose in less than one hour, surveys show.
Bullet service began in July 2004 and was beefed up again in August 2005.
As a result, ridership spiked 21 percent at San Francisco's Fourth and King station, 20 percent at Millbrae and 31 percent at Redwood City between February 2005 to February 2006.
Overall ridership increased 13 percent in that time.
Meanwhile, the number of passengers using the San Bruno station dropped 15.5 percent and Belmont lost 16 percent.
Weekday service was cut entirely to Atherton and Burlingame's Broadway station.
Many cities have zoned for more transit-oriented housing to be built near the train stations, only to see the local service drop off.
"The future growth of our cities is tied to mass transit," Menlo Park Vice Mayor Kelly Fergusson said. "Council members do not feel comfortable approving developments around train stations when the level of train service is uncertain."
Belmont Councilman Bill Dickenson said he'd like to see some creative new ideas to lure more people, especially young people, to use public transportation.
"Those are the riders of the future," he said.
San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill, who sits on the Caltrain board formerly known as the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, said he welcomed the opportunity to work on improving local service, which he sees as key for the long-term.
"If we expect transit-oriented development to move forward and to rely on that development potential, we have to have a very successful vibrant local transit system," Hill said.
Members of the coalition include Dickenson, Fergusson, Atherton Councilmen Jim Janz and Jerry Carlson, former Atherton Mayor Malcolm Dudley, Belmont Mayor Phil Mathewson, Burlingame Councilman Russ Cohen, Daly City Councilwoman Judith Christensen, Menlo Park Councilman Andy Cohen, Millbrae Councilwoman Gina Papan, Pacifica Mayor Sue Digre, San Carlos Mayor Matt Grocott and former San Mateo Mayor Sue Lempert.
Copyright ©2006 Oroville Mercury-Register. Published 07/06/2006.