Thursday, March 31
Caltrain Baby Bullet: Premium Price for Premium Service
It is nice that Caltrain charges the same $5.50 fare for a 57-minute, very-limited-stop ride from SJ to SF that it does for the 90-minute, all-stops-made trip between the two cities. Better service at the same price for users of stations of higher importance and/or ridership.
But would I be willing pay a premium--for example, a dollar more--for the faster service? I believe I would say yes, and so would one Athertonian who has this to say (followed by a rebuttal from BATN):
To reduce the deficit, Caltrain asks [link added] for a general 17 percent fare increase, plus more Bullets for some stations and less local service for others. The majority of slow-train riders would pay the same fare as the minority of Bullet passengers who enjoy trips in newer trains that are 30 percent to 45 percent faster.
Consumers everywhere choose to pay premium prices for premium products and services. Throughout the world, travelers pay higher fares for faster, peak-hour and first-class service. The $125 million that initially funded the Bullets was paid by all California taxpayers. Wouldn't it be fair to all passengers and taxpayers for Bullet riders to pay a premium of $1 per trip or more, variable by distance? This could add $1 million to $2 million in revenue, probably more than Caltrain saves by closing four stations. Bullet passengers might not be thrilled, but few would opt out for such alternatives as a slower train or driving with freeway congestion, slower commutes, soaring gas prices and parking fees.
[BATN: So riders who use the service which is cheapest and most efficient to operate and which is most popular should pay EXTRA so millions of dollars can be spent continuing to serve a station with negligible ridership which serves the most affluent and lowest (non-horse) population density town along the corridor?]
Not to sound too libertarian, but would it be terribly inequitable for Caltrain to respond to the Baby Bullets' higher demand with higher prices as a private operator might? This arrangement would not be extortion by Caltrain; Baby Bullet riders are not a captive market and would still have the slower train as an option. The premium charge could lead to more (pardon the expression) sustainable finance because it would tie the system's finances more closely the Bullets' proven success and cost-effectiveness.
That doesn't mean the premium should be charged just to subsidize low-use stops such as Atherton's. But keeping those stations is a separate matter for Caltrain and the public to discuss.