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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis December 16, 2011
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SamTrans Moves Forward in Spite of Tough Times
BY MICHAEL J. SCANLON, General Manager/Chief Executive Officer, San Mateo County Transit District, and Executive Director, Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, San Carlos, CA, and APTA Immediate Past Chair

In a year when bad news seems to be unrelenting, the San Mateo County Transit District has been able to advance several important projects that will benefit its riders for years to come.

The transit district operates SamTrans bus and paratransit service and serves as the managing partner for Caltrain, the Peninsula’s commuter rail system. It also manages the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, which administers revenue from a half-cent sales tax for transit and transportation programs and funds shuttles that provide a vital link between major employment centers and Caltrain and San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District stations.

New Operating Contractor
In August, the Caltrain Board of Directors unanimously approved TransitAmerica Services Inc. to operate the commuter rail system. The approval followed an extensive competitive bidding process that took more than 15 months and included a team of more than 35 subject area experts who conducted detailed proposal evaluations.

The major components of Caltrain’s new five-year contract, with five one-year options, include the daily staffing and operations of trains; track inspection and maintenance; the passenger rail vehicle fleet; rights of way; structures; the signaling and communication network; stations; and other facilities.

As part of the contract, Caltrain has secured a new innovative clause that will require TransitAmerica to achieve certain performance standards around management, safety, on-time performance, and other critical tasks that are imperative to the operation of the railroad prior to receiving its full management fee.

Amtrak had been the operating contractor for Caltrain since 1992 and submitted a bid for the contract in partnership with Bombardier. Caltrain is now working with TransitAmerica to ensure a smooth transition for the new operator, which is expected to be completed early next year.

In October, Caltrain awarded a contract for a new, modernized signaling system known as the Communication Based Overlay Signal System (CBOSS). The $230 million project, scheduled to enter operation in 2015, will allow more efficient coordination of train movements and schedules; it will improve the safety and reliability of all passenger rail operations that use the corridor—Caltrain, Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, and Capitol Corridor.

CBOSS incorporates Positive Train Control (PTC), required by federal law to be installed by 2015 on all corridors where passenger and freight rail operations share tracks. PTC protects passengers and railroad workers by maintaining safe separations between trains, preventing train speeding and train collisions.

SamTrans Service Plan
SamTrans currently operates 48 routes that serve nearly 50,000 riders on an average weekday. The public transit system is taking a close look at how to best meet the community’s changing needs while making the most of its resources; it last took an in-depth look at its service about 10 years ago.

The SamTrans Service Plan will analyze existing fixed route bus service and identify areas for improvement and new markets for future growth.

At a recent series of community workshops, people were asked to consider three possible scenarios and weigh the tradeoff between increasing service on some routes and reducing service on others. These comments are being incorporated into a draft service plan to be presented in the spring.

Elimination of Paper Fare Media
At the end of the year, most SamTrans paper monthly passes will be a thing of the past. Earlier this year, the public transit agency began the transition to the Clipper, an all-in-one reloadable transit farecard.

To get the word out that the monthly pass program ends Dec. 31 for the majority of customers, SamTrans is running a “Goodbye Paper Pass. Hello Clipper” advertising campaign on the sides of buses, in bus shelters, and in newspapers—not to mention getting the word directly into the hands of the customers by printing the message on the December Monthly Pass.

Regionally, Clipper fares account for more than 600,000 weekday transit boardings, which in turn accounts for more than a third of all daily transit trips in the San Francisco Bay area.

All these projects are the result of years of thoughtful planning and diligent work.

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