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Winston

The shuttle systems are a testament to the poor quality of Bay Area transit and to the ability of tech companies to throw money around. If all the operators in the area (Caltrain, BART, Muni, SamTrans and VTA*) not models on inefficiency and incompetence then the tech companies wouldn't need to run fleets of their own buses. Instead of trying to serve the demand that exists, all of these agencies have engaged in insane, value subtracting projects that make transit worse for riders - so much so that software companies feel compelled to run their own bus fleets - think about that one for a second.
For examples of each agency's poor judgement, I give you a list of transit planning and operational failures:

Caltrain - There are too many to list here, but the most recent is their PTC system that they just received a bucket of money for. This system will be incompatible with every other PTC implementation on the planet, including the CAHSR one that will use the same corridor, and will cost much more than the equivalent system that Metrolink is currently deploying on a system that covers 10 times as much track.

BART - isn't incompetent per se, but is very willing to project ridership performance in their models that is about twice what they will actually achieve. This has led to very expensive projects like the extensions to SFO and OAK that provide very little transit benefit for the money.

Muni - Is an agency that has endemic problems with drivers not bothering to show up for work or to finish their runs and is spending billions of dollars on a light rail line that will increase operating costs and increase travel time vs. the bus it will replace.

SamTrans - Really mostly suffers from typical small bus operator idiocy, but did slash service to pay for BART's SFO extension.

VTA - is the champion of transit agencies out of control. They have spent billions building the light rail system with the second fewest boardings per mile of any system in the U.S. They also can boast of having parking lots along their extensive light rail system that are less than 30% full.

This isn't the future of transit it's the failure of transit.

Ned Carlson2

I suspect that this may in fact be the future. The long distance and duplication of existing public service seem to me largely a result of thing unique to the Bay Area, but employer shuttles are unquestionably a powerful tool. It's certainly wasteful in comparison to living locally or traditional transit service, but by the same token it is dramatically more efficient than these same people commuting by car. I'd be very interested in seeing an examination of the energy differential between someone living in the city and using shuttles vs living in the valley but being car dependent (of course a lot depends on how these people are living in the city, but I rather suspect if they were driving everywhere to begin with they wouldn't bother with the shuttles).

Employer directed services certainly seem the only realistic way to provide any service to the kind low density employment lands that traditional industry is tied to and everyone else still seems to like. It also seems like one of the most realistic way of getting significant private funds into transit operation if that is a goal.

Looking at the Peninsula and Bay Area more specifically I tend to think that employer shuttles are honestly a highly desirable service to have. It certainly goes a long way to shifting a clientele that would otherwise likely be auto dependent, goes a long way to encouraging urban living and does so largely at private expense. If improving efficiency or shifting some of the market to more conventional service becomes a goal I'd argue that the focus really should be on trunk portion of the route, trying to get the employers to connect their shuttles to rapid transit stations rather than direct to the city, but that really does require dramatic improvements to Caltrain and significant changes in SF and San Jose.

Jarrett's observations about the limits of the blended solutions, and the focus Caltrain has on longer trips has also left me wondering if maybe there should be a close look at the long derided BART Around the Bay. Such a system could deviate from the Caltrain corridor itself, eliminating the need for a quad track corridor and the sort of infrastructure that caused the fight over the HSR line. I could envision an end product that work very well, consisting of BART providing local service and all day frequency while Caltrain operates more similarly to a high frequency HSR service than traditional commuter rail or the sort of S-Bahn like operation contemplated under the original four track full grade seperation HSR plan.

Matthew

I found Alexis's response to be puzzling. What does he mean, one way for the elites, one way for the rest? The "elites" are traveling on a bus that uses highway 101 (and 280). Just like everyone else besides Caltrain riders. How the world has changed! Now, riding a bus is "elitist!"

Not all employers are in walled off fortresses like Apple. I noticed that AOL is located next to California Ave. I used to bike past them all the time. Mozilla is on Castro St in downtown Mountain View. Loopt is on El Camino Real where the 22/522 runs frequently. There's smaller companies that fill in many of the offices along the way. VMWare has an isolated campus but had to open San Francisco offices in order to be close to their startup partners.

As for BART... ring-around-the-bay is their fantasy, but it would be extraordinarily and unnecessarily expensive, as everything associated with BART is. An orgy of crummy, Brutalist, parking lot ocean stations descending on the Peninsula? With service doomed to run at 33 mph for now and eternity? No thanks. Fixing Caltrain (majorly) is fundamentally a better idea.

anonymouse

Jarrett, thanks for posting this! There are definitely a lot of interesting factors involved in all of this, and they're all interconnected in various ways. From the purely transit planning point of view, Caltrain has some obvious problems, including the inconvenient terminal in SF and the tension between speed, coverage, and frequency that is inevitable on a line that's still mostly double track. But there's also a land use component in there, because one of the things that makes Caltrain inconvenient is how dispersed the office parks are at the Silicon Valley end, which in turn adds another element to the transit planning tradeoff as more people choose to bring their bikes on the train to solve the last mile problem, forcing Caltrain to choose between more seats and more bikes.

I think one other thing that you pointed out is also important: the generational issues here. The people responsible for making big decisions like where to put the company headquarters are generally from a different generation than many of the employees, and thus have different ideas about what locations are desirable and what costs are worth paying in order to locate there. Of course, these decisions aren't being made in a vacuum: I imagine that office space really is noticeable cheaper in Silicon Valley, and new construction likely both cheaper and easier. Though of course part of the problem with SF is that, being an older city it is full of many people who don't want anything to ever change. Palo Alto has the same problem, which is why downtown Mountain View is becoming a new hub of "Silicon Valley", to the extent that such a thing can be said to exist at all.

Jon

Excellent post. The fact that these shuttles exist is a testament to the failure of land use planning in the Bay Area. There are huge areas of post-industrial land San Francisco that can and should be redeveloped to accommodate these tech companies- namely, everywhere east of US-101 with exception of the residential neighborhoods of Potrero Hill, Bayview and Silver Terrace. While Caltrain could be much better than it currently is, the very nature of suburban office parks means that it's very difficult to ever serve them effectively by public transportation.

Ultimately the only way to encourage businesses to locate in walkable areas is to increase the cost of driving to reflect its impact to society and the environment. Companies will start relocating to urban areas once the cost of driving to suburban office parks results in them losing employees to better located businesses, and/or the cost of providing employee shuttle buses becomes prohibitive.

I remember seeing a heat map of rental prices in San Francisco- one thing that jumped out at me was a cluster of high rents in Potrero Hill, around one of only two Caltrain stations in SF and the only one located near a residential neighborhood. I'm sure reverse commuting to silicon valley is a major factor in rental prices there.

Stephen Smith

People are making too much of the fact that Silicon Valley tech firms are located far away from Caltrain. That could easily change if Caltrain were run competently and given even one-tenth of the funding that all the other non-Caltrain rail boondoggles in Santa Clara and San Mateo get (i.e., the BART extensions + VTA light rail). Facebook just moved from Menlo Park to Palo Alto, tons of start-ups are popping up outside of the Valley (Twitter, Yelp!, all the NYC/LA stuff, etc.), Apple is obviously building a whole new complex, etc. Tech companies are not stuck where they are.

If Caltrain were extended to SF's CBD and had competent management, I think you'd start to see a lot more tech co's move to the old downtown/Caltrain-adjacent areas in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City…maybe even – *gasp!* – downtown San Jose!

Instead, we blame companies like Apple and Facebook for building their campuses out near 101 or wherever, when the people we should be blaming are the Bay Area transit power brokers for not giving them any alternative to busing their employees in, or leaving the area entirely. (I suppose the urban planners also get some blame for not allowing more development in the downtown Caltrain-adjacent areas in Silicon Valley, though it's hard not to sympathize with their conclusion that people won't take transit when you consider how horrible transit in the Silicon Valley is.)

Andre Lot

I think a key component of many tech HQs on Silicon Valley is not that they are "fortress-like" compounds because they need to cater to cars, but mostly because it is part of a culture of many of those companies that provide not only a job but a "life experience" with plenty of perks, ancillary free services touted as benefits and the like. This encompassing atmosphere can only be delivered in a dedicated campus.

This whole identity attributed and carefully managed (just think on Google vs. Facebook internal culture differences) depends on creating a somehow micromanaged environment that can't exist in a vertical building on a busy street where people from the competition just happen to work in a building similar to yours 300 yards away.

In this sense, the tech world is a completely different animal than Wall Street and the clustering of financial firms in Manhattan, for instance.

If Caltrain run an efficient and frequent operation, it would be fairly easy to offer shuttles connecting these campus to nearest Caltrain station

Another factor to be considered is how costly and rare are small residential unit rentals closer to these HQs. It is really not an option for somehow in the mid-level payroll to afford rental of big houses, and they don't have other options.

Ben Allen

I'm most familiar with the private shuttles Microsoft runs between Seattle and Redmond, and with their deeply disturbing class-based sorting. If you're a temp, you can't take the shuttle -- even if you're a "temp" who's worked there for years or sometimes decades.

I don't know if the silicon valley companies have established the same sort of caste system where perma-temps stand as untouchables, but even if they haven't there are a ton of people, in the tech industry and out of it, who would love to be using public transit to get to their jobs down in silicon valley, but can't, because it's so bad outside of these private services.

I almost -- I say "almost," because I think that being actually public is itself a virtue for transit systems -- I almost want to see these weird private services open themselves up to taking subscriptions (or just fares) from the general public. Anything to get cars off the 101! Of course, presumably the old-fashioned upper management in silicon valley sees privateness as a virtue, something along the lines of "oh, our special nerds shouldn't have to have their space sullied by all those *sniff* regulars" It's a terrible attitude, and I'm always surprised when someone in the 21st damn century espouses it, but it's pretty common.

Stephen Smith

This whole identity attributed and carefully managed (just think on Google vs. Facebook internal culture differences) depends on creating a somehow micromanaged environment that can't exist in a vertical building on a busy street where people from the competition just happen to work in a building similar to yours 300 yards away.

Um, so how do you explain Twitter's campus in San Francisco? Or Google's NYC and Chicago offices? The Chicago office, in fact (located at the Merchandise Mart – one of the most distinctive office buildings in Chicago), has basically turned the Merch Mart into a tech hub, with other tech firms (i.e., "people from the competition") flocking to it. Ditto with Google's building in Chelsea. (Although in that case they're flocking to buildings surrounding it, not the Chelsea building itself, which Google is trying to take total control of.)

Winston

It's worth noting that ACE a more competent rail operator than Caltrain in a much worse corridor contracts with VTA to operate a network of bus shuttles from its stations to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Cisco, Applied, Intel and so on. About 1/3 of ACE's (admittedly small) riders take one of these shuttles. http://www.vta.org/schedules/pdf/ace_shuttle_map.pdf

Morgan Wick

So how do we get Caltrain more competently managed, and more specifically, how do we get the various counties making up the Bay Area to join up to make it a priority?

Ted Re

On the urban planning side, why don't people recycle unused cities like Detroit? LA, SF and NY are overcrowded while there's so many cities in the US that are half empty. It'd take a bit of investment, but it would be cheaper than retrofitting and expanding SF all the time.

Frederick

@Ted Re
There is investment going into Detroit, and I guess its recovering, but people want to live in LA, SF and NY, and you can't really stem that, not without huge expense or directly stopping people (violation of personal freedom).

Joe Busman

"That means that you're used to being in close proximity to strangers, so I'd guess you'd be a willing passenger on a public transit system if that transit system were useful."

I think you nailed this one on the head and we often forget this obvious fact. Studies have shown that people in less dense areas simply stand further apart. We like our private space, and transit compromises this, however, for people in dense urban environments, it's not such an affront to stand so close to someone you can smell their hair or what they ate for breakfast. I even think that the bus lines most popular in rural areas are the ones that are half full. When we are at less than capacity and increase service, ridership increases and when we decrease service, ridership falls. How does this work when we're not at capacity? Could it be that a half full bus is the comfort threshold for rural transit riders?

John Murphy

I think this article misses some basic research.

A first very important point - a lot of employees do work on those shuttles. Work that could not be done on public transportation because the work is confidential. I have garnered a stock tip or two from imprudent cell phone calls on Caltrain.

The number one target of SF-> South Caltrain commuters is Stanford, which is across the street from the train station. There are plenty of employers near stations, there are many company funded shuttles running from trains to offices, and Caltrain carries multiple thousands of bikes per day that allow people to quickly bike from train to work.

At rush hour, Caltrain runs 5 trains per hour. This is higher than the frequency of the various BART spurs. The trains express and are reasonably fast - meanwhile the shuttle buses are stuck in traffic which is getting worse and worse. And that map looks pretty but the shuttles are not exactly door to door, I know plenty of people who must take MUNI to get to their shuttle stop.

Caltrain is currently running at very near capacity during rush hour. The best thing about the shuttles is that they have provided a safety valve for Caltrain's capacity - though some of the demand riding the shuttles is induced by their very existence. In order to get more capacity on Caltrain you need a time machine to start with more right of way.


Caltrain could use more investment but the service is quite good.

David Edmondson

California in general seems to proliferate government. The small county of Marin, about 252k people, has 77 governments: municipalities, health boards, sewer boards, fire districts, recreation districts, and three transit providers. We're in a little better shape on the transit front than Sonoma County, which has seven transit operators serving its 450,000 people.

In addition, the state grants transit operators monopolies within their spheres of influence. Golden Gate Transit runs from Marin to San Francisco but is not allowed to pick up and drop off passengers within the city. The same is true for its lines to Contra Costa County.

On the land-use side, it's hard for a tech company to decamp to the city, or even to someplace like Fruitvale, when residents of those areas are vehemently against any change to the urban landscape, San Francisco included. They won't find help from on high, either - MTC, the regional transit body, has transit-oriented development policies that push housing rather than office space nearest transit despite research showing the opposite to be better for ridership.

It's an absolute mess, and the shuttles are just the scab over that mess.

Jason Tinkey

@ Stephen Smith -

Google's Chicago office isn't in the Merchandise Mart, it's in the Dearborn Plaza building a few blocks east. Google is relocating its recently-acquired Motorola Mobility unit from the suburbs into the Mart next year.

But otherwise, you're spot on. Firms are moving into the Mart in order to be CLOSER to their competition, as well as to have the sort of "chance encounters" with folks at unrelated firms which may lead to new partnerships and innovations. Once you wall yourself off to the outside world, the inevitable atrophy begins.

Daniel Jacobson

San Francisco, not Silicon Valley, is now the preferred location for most social media and cloud computing-based tech firms and startups (Twitter, Zynga, Yelp, Saleforce, etc.). This phenomena is fueling a huge office boom in SoMa and Mid-Market, as well as a big housing boom. Silicon Valley office parks tend to attract the old-school big hardware and software companies, but it's no longer the case that all tech firms feel the need to be in barrack-like office parks.

david vartanoff

The shuttles derive from the convergence of several realities. I happened to experience Caltrain on a recent afternoon returning from visiting a friend convalescing across from Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. By the time the SF bound Baby Bullet pulled in, the platform was very crowded. Essentially fully loaded the train made 3 stops to 22nd St (backside of Potrero Hill) where perhaps half of us stepped off. This is where failure sets in. The bicylists and those who parked near the station left immediately, but those of us waiting for Muni's local bus connection were treated to a 25 minute wait at the peak of rush hour. For me on a single day trip, it was merely annoying; the likelihood that I would put up with this on a daily basis-zero.
SF Muni consistently fails to provide functional transit such that there are numerous intra city shuttles paralleling Muni routes but actually showing up and then going to destinations. At the Caltrain depot, one often detrains to watch the light rail "connection" depart before one can cross the street to the platform.
At the same time, as Richard Florida pointed out during the previous tech boom, SF is where the young techies want to live because that is where the action is--a real choice of films, music, food etc as well as rentable apartments.
Even if Caltrain were run by the smartest RR managers on earth, it is constantly underfunded while BART receives lavish grants for counterproductive routes.

Andre Lot

>>" I almost want to see these weird private services open themselves up to taking subscriptions (or just fares) from the general public. Anything to get cars off the 101! Of course, presumably the old-fashioned upper management in silicon valley sees privateness as a virtue, something along the lines of "oh, our special nerds shouldn't have to have their space sullied by all those *sniff* regulars""
<<

I think these shuttles have, in common, a seat guarantee for the whole trip. I don't know exactly how companies manage that, but it shouldn't be that difficult.

They also have, in common, the fact they operate as express services with all ridership coming or going to/from a single point (the company's campus).

How many open services could be operated that way with buses at a reasonable cost?

To make an absolute seat guarantee is to require subscriptions-only (or operate at vast overcapacity).

To operate express means having a single destination or origin on each trip. How many end-points on Silicon Valley could be conceived such that as open service could garnish enough ridership within walking distance?

My guess is that those shuttles cost a lot of money for companies to contract out these services. I don't know what use, if any, do these buses have outside peak time. It probably costs much more for these companies to provide the shuttles than it would cost to give them transit subscriptions, but that is a perk of the job, a benefit to attract employers.

Corporate gyms, massage and spas don't offer subscriptions to the public as well. And they probably cost, per user, much more than just subcontracting gym passes in the area - for instance.

23skidoo

Why is Caltrain limited to 5 trains per hour? Is it single-track? Shared track?

I seem to remember the trains are locomotive hauled - does it need electrification to allow for quicker acceleration?

23skidoo

GO (suburban Toronto) does 6 tph on double track on the lakeshore route, and is diesel loco hauled.

Marklister83

This sounds somewhat similar to a new private shuttle service we have in Vancouver called Pacific Commuter http://pacificcommuter.com . It's peak-hours only, and expensive ($400-500/month), but it's luxurious and allows commuters to work wirelessly enroute.

I expect that the shuttle came about as a private solution for mass transit that our public agency, Translink, does not currently provide. The peak hour commuter train, West Coast Express, runs north of the Fraser River and thus does not serve Langley or Surrey (suburbs of Metro Vancouver). Existing bus service in Langley and Surrey is comparatively poor, and rapid transit only covers a small portion of Surrey. Most commuters are forced to drive into Vancouver.

Of course, Jarrett, you raise the question of why such commuting distances are necessary in the first place. Similar to how you would like to see many of these companies located closer to SF, I would like to see more companies locate in a densified Surrey rather than only Vancouver, which would cut travel distances substantially.

Wai Yip Tung
Geeks whose brilliance lightens the weight of our lives have bodies that must be hauled 70 or more miles every day, at a colossal waste of energy and time. Is this really the future?

I was one of those body who travel more than 70 miles a day. I'm very happy that those days are over and my commute nowadays is by a bike to San Francisco downtown.

As of if this is the way of future? I'm afraid so. This is the geography of silicon valley. It run some 50 miles from one end to end. Moving the company headquarter, if it is an option at all, won't solve any problem. If Google were to move to San Francisco, it will alienate an even larger portion of its employee who live in the Peninsular and South Bay. The company will need to run an even bigger fleet of shuttle if they were to keep these employees. Since San Francisco is only about 10% of the Bay Area's population it is very unlikely to staff a San Francisco company solely by San Francisco residents. The good things is it used to be South Bay was dominant in tech employment but these days it is more balanced. Since there is no dominant tech center, you will always find people coming from San Francisco who choose to work in Google and south bay resident who choose to work in Twitter. So the commute will never cease. But hopefully having plenty of choices will allow people to take commute into consideration so that less portion of them will have to commute long distance.

And you have to give credit to these companies for running the shuttles. 10 years ago most of them would probably be driving to work.

Alexis

I'm glad to see you cover this, Jarrett. It's been on my mind for sometime as a former Caltrain user and Valley dweller. I frankly couldn't afford to rent in SF, nor could I afford the extra travel time or transit fare; only the well-paid at the bigger or newer tech companies can, I think. And the shuttles are related to that; they're a perk rather than a cost, and faster than a full transit commute. The lack of housing for the demand everywhere is a huge problem. And as others have said, the NIMBYs on the Peninsula are a huge obstacle to changing that.

The massive awfulness that is public transit agencies in the Bay Area was a significant factor in my move to Portland. Just after I moved there in 2006 someone did a study that said, in essence 'interagency transfers suck'. I'd lived there about two months, maybe less, and I could have told you that for free. Which normally I don't think means they shouldn't do the study but in this case, it's kind of emblematic of what a waste of time it was to try to improve transit there. When asked about it, BART and Caltrain (the most frequent offending connection for me) both said "We have our own timetables to make, so suck it." This was when there could be up to a 2 hour wait because you missed a train by three minutes.

The biggest disappointment for me is that these companies have so much money and so much talent, and instead of having any interest in putting that into improving public transit and governance in their home area, and possibly having a profound effect on the quality of life of not just their employees, but everyone in the area. Instead they are doing something quite easy and boring by running shuttles. It's not surprising if you think of it from a regular company perspective (companies are not in business just to make random things better), but this is Apple, Google, and other innovators. They do spend their extra capacity on random stuff, and they could spend it on this if they thought it was interesting or important.

Andre Lot

@Alexis: the operative word on your post is perk. As I wrote before, from a corporate standpoint these shuttles are perks that reinforce corporate culture, a sense of "my workplace is awesome" - to put it bluntly -. It is like their relaxation rooms or in-company gyms: they are not there because it is cheaper, but as part of a philosophy of retaining workers by making them perceive benefits that improve their job satisfaction more than just give them the equivalent $$ the company spends on these perks.

Peter S.

I keep wondering how much of a liability those suburban office parks will ultimately be. I meet lots of geeks in Seattle who cross Microsoft off their list of potential employers on the basis of not wanting to commute to Redmond--even if that commute is on the Connector shuttle or a Sound Transit express from Capitol Hill.

Services like the admittedly awesome Connector shuttles contribute to Microsoft killing it in terms of meeting their Commute Trip Reduction targets. But, in the end, I see this as a clear example of how land use trumps transportation systems.

The Googlers I meet all talk about rather working in Fremont than in Kirkland or Bothel. Amazon, for whatever you think of the changing character of SLU, seems to be doing everything right in terms of being where their employees want to live.

Wai Yip Tung

@Alexis

I won't jump to conclusion to blame the awfulness of public transit. This is in a fact a very specialized situation I think it is unlikely for public transit, even with any reasonable amount of investment, can compete with private shuttle.

First of off there is an affinity of company like Google to San Francisco residences. Let says a group of small and mid size companies on X Avenue in the suburb want to compete with Google by pooling together resources to run their private shuttle to San Francisco. I speculate it won't work because there is not enough demand for a point to point (or aveneue) services. People are too dispersed. That's why we need a transit network to serve them. My bet is in Google the proportion of San Francisco residents may be as high as 20%, whether as on Avenue X it is below 5% (the baseline is San Francisco population is about 10% overall). So Google is in fact a hotspot for San Francisco resident and as such justify high frequency service that cannot be done in general.

The other problem is the rail line in San Francisco is close to residential area as Jarrett has mentioned. Also the private shuttle is express service that span long distance with no stop in the middle. Adding all this together you get a specialized solution that works so well that is impossible for public transit to rival.

About why Google not innovate to improve transit. They did. They think outside of the box and created frequent private shuttle. And it works out extremely well. What does this mean for public transit? Perhaps they can learn some lesson from this. The MUNI's new commute hour NX express could be a good start because it improves the services for people on the far side of the line by passing all stops in the middle, easily beating the light rail the make plenty of stops.

http://www.sfata.com/cms/malerts/NXJudahExpress.htm

Maiwen

When geeks do traffic engineering:
http://highscalability.com/blog/2009/7/16/scaling-traffic-people-pod-pool-of-on-demand-self-driving-ro.html

That blog post doesn't address the fundamental space/capacity issue of SOVs and largely pins its hopes on automatic vehicles that will prevent 'shockwave traffic jams'. But there was one bit that sounded true enough for me:

"In Our Cars We Feel Good Because We Are in Control
"Solving the mystery of why we feel satisfied while stuck in traffic turns on an important psychological clue: the more we perceive ourselves in control of a situation the less stress we feel. Robert Sapolsky talks about this surprising insight into human nature in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.
...
"Our Mass Transit System Must Supply Perceived Control
"Given the warm inner glow we feel from being wrapped in the cold steel of our cars, if you want people to get out of their cars and onto mass transit you must provide the same level of perceived control. None of our mass transit options do that now. Buses are on fixed schedules that don't go where I want to go when I want to go. Neither do trains, BART, or light rail. So the car it is. Unless a system could be devised that provided the benefits of mass transit plus the pleasing characteristics of control our cars give us."

-----
Sounds like an argument for frequency.

anonymouse

The problem with Caltrain is that they really want to provide both some amount of local service along the Peninsula at the same time as having travel times that are competitive with driving between SF and Silicon Valley. The problem is that they can't just cut local service and leave that to the buses, because buses are slower (in this case, 3 times slower) than even the all-stops train. But the all-stops train also averages something like 28 mph, which is not remotely competitive with driving on the freeway, even with traffic. On the other hand, an express train averaging 50 mph does pretty well on competitiveness with driving. The problem is that, because of the nature of the operation (with diesel locomotives), the difference in speed between all-stops and express trains is considerable, and that reduces capacity when there aren't enough places for trains to pass.
It's a hard problem, but there are various things that can be done to alleviate it. Electrification, if it ever actually happens, will help, by speeding up the local trains, thus reducing the speed difference. Building more passing tracks will help, but it's expensive. Fortunately, most of the corridor is wide enough that it can be done without demolishing more stuff, but unfortunately, some parts of the corridor will be challenging, especially the parts near the NIMBYs of Palo Alto.

Nathanael

"Is this kind of network the future of transit?"

In third-world, underdeveloped countries with broken political systems, yes.

Yes, the US is one of those. The political system is the major problem. It's a very hard problem to fix because most 'reform' groups have been seduced by fake fixes which would actually make things worse.

Nathanael

"if you want people to get out of their cars and onto mass transit you must provide the same level of perceived control."

NYC, Boston, and London subways *always* gave me the same level of perceived control. You look at the map, figure out the route to your destination, and it works practically like an elevator, except you don't even need to push a button! Feels like control.

In contrast, waiting on an unmarked corner for a bus never ever feels like that.

Nathanael

"California in general seems to proliferate government."

Not by the standards of New York. Look up "local governments" and "special districts" in New York. There are so many of them that it's been identified as a major cause of excessive overhead costs in NYS government.

gerg

[Quote]I'm most familiar with the private shuttles Microsoft runs between Seattle and Redmond, and with their deeply disturbing class-based sorting. If you're a temp, you can't take the shuttle -- even if you're a "temp" who's worked there for years or sometimes decades.[/quote]

They're all like that because it would be illegal not to be. If they provided perks Luke that to contractors they would have to report it as a taxable benefit and it could threaten your contractor status.

The shuttles from Caltrain stations that are subsidized by companies but operated by the transit authorities aren't restricted like and some of the companies do bother with the bureaucratic hassle of selling passes for nonemployees to use their shuttles.

They're

Dan

In the 1990s, I commuted for several years from SF to Santa Clara, almost always carpooling (and always cursing Caltrans and San Mateo County for not extending the carpool lane on 101 north of Redwood City).

People always want to live somewhere else for whatever reason: many co-workers lived in Santa Cruz and commuted over the hill and would never give up their hour-long commute (remember 85 wasn't completed either!) Other co-workers used to live in SF, but moved to Cupertino or Sunnyvale for better schools for their kids. There were folks that lived in Milpitas and Berryessa. One guy and his wife moved to Tracy and commuted on the ACE every day--he said "yep, a house that's a third the price of the Bay Area and room for the dogs!"

And that's an advantage of Silicon Valley; people with a wide diversity of lifestyles can find work there, unlike SF, and the Vally hosts a wide variety of companies that could never locate in San Francisco (once you start talking special facilities for your business, from biotech labs to hardware prototyping facilities... well, you won't be able to build those in SF.)

So the shuttles will exist, and San Francisco will continue to be a boutiquey bedroom community to the Valley. Really, nothing's changed all that much in the past couple of decades, and none of us amateur transit planners will change that dynamic.

Sashok

As for BART... An orgy of crummy, Brutalist, parking lot ocean stations descending on the Peninsula? With service doomed to run at 33 mph for now and eternity?
- HUH? BART regular speed is 80 mph, and has been - computer-governed - since it was built. Where is 33mph coming from? Maybe the author confused BART with New York subway?

Ian

Given the prices in Silicon Valley clearly there's a high demand for housing there. It should always be made clear that this one time where government regulation truly is at fault for the sprawl. Even if the geeks want to live in a dense urban environment and are willing to pay for it, it doesn't matter, history and zoning have conspired to ensure that will never be a reality.

Moe Hong

A lot of them haven't "bailed out" of public transit. I'd bet that a third of those at least use public transit in conjunction with the shuttles on their daily commute.

This article is so incredibly condescending and insulting and one-sided that it's hard to believe it got past any self-respecting editor.

Sean Hermany

Hard to take an article seriously that blanket labels all of the workers involved as geeks (5 times no less). The first definition for geek that google gives me is: "An unfashionable or socially inept person."

Haven't we come a bit further than this?

Anton

A couple points:

1. BART's *effective* or *average* speed is 33 mph - when you count the time the train is stopped at a station ("dwell time") you get 33 mph effective. CalTrain's BabyBullets, as some people mentioned, manage to do an average of 50 mph (while top speed is 80-90 mph)... compare that to a P2P shuttle or driving where effective speed (not top speed) is much higher.

2. Now, on to the shuttles. The way our shuttle (Seattle-Redmond) guarantees seats is that you have to make a reservation for each trip you take - just like an airline reservation - you pick a time, you pick a route, you pick your pick-up and drop-off point and you get a reservation. The result - you certainly have a seat and you know you can work while commuting. Sounds tedious but it remembers your choices, also can do recurring reservations and they do take "stand-by" passengers who forgot to make a reservation. The whole thing is a bit of a joke, often the bus is booked out, but then comes half-empty and another half-bus-full of people with no reservation board it as stand-bys... It all works out in the end :)

2.1. Shuttle privacy - yes, I do feel safer knowing that everyone around me is FTE and I can open my mail without a reporter taking a picture of it from a back row.. but when people take the public bus they just put a privacy filter on their screen - it makes it impossible to see what's on the screen unless you are looking at it at a 90 degree angle.

3. Feeling of control -

3.1. when I am in a car, stuck in traffic on the road I feel about half as much in control than when I am on a bus in the same position, as I can always walk off the bus at the next stop or sometimes immediately (as the drivers often let people out mid-road in traffic if people desire so). The fact that some people feel more in control in a car show that it is purely psychological and completely wrong.

3.2. And on a subway I feel about 2x more in control than on the bus, which is about 4x more in control than on the car. Why you might wonder, given that I am stuck underground? Well, because I have 0 control over traffic lights, 0 control over accidents, pedestrians, 0 control over weather (snowpocalypse), while on the subway everything operates with surgical precision (especially the Vancouver SkyTrain which is fully computer-controlled with no operator on the train). So I am sorry for all the people who feel that their car gives the more control. It gives you less financial freedom due to all the fees you have to pay and less mobility due to the shared right-of-way system. It's a cheat - just like grease fast food feels good but is actually disastrous for your body. There are situations where the car is the right tool - like going on recreational trips in the wilderness, but in a metropolitan area cars are an inefficient way to move.

4. Opening up the system - actually these private shuttle systems do have an open version - not provided by the companies, but by the vendors who run the shuttles - Bauer's did that in the Valley - ticket price $8.20, comparable to driving:

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/High-end-buses-to-make-bid-for-Lexus-commuters-3170000.php

5. In the end, a little bit of feel good for all the Seattleites on this board - while I will always love San Francisco and the Bay Area, since moving to Seattle I must say that I see that transportation and land use is an order of magnitude better up here:

5.1. Land use - we just don't have as many NIMBYs... so we build skyscrapers with (relative) ease, we upzone neighborhoods and transform to walkable communities while SF just doesn't realize how big of an opportunity they are losing due to all the NIMBYism. Cities are organic things that always change - you suffocate that change and you risk killing them.

5.2. Transportation - while I do take the private shuttle, I actually do have an awesome public transit alternative that will make my commute from 25-30 minutes go up only to 35 minutes. Sound Transit, the local rapid transit agency runs all-day express bus service that has very high average speeds of 50+ mph that are as good or better than *BabyBullet CalTrain* (not to mention the ridiculously slow local-service CalTrain) but reach far more corners of the region than CalTrain ever will.

Having lived in Germany for 3 years and knowing where their system is I can tell you that non-SF Bay Area transit indeed does feel like 3rd world transit. SF transit is at least plentiful, but highly inefficient. Seattle is somewhere there as well but is expanding the subway and things are actually looking pretty good. In a 100 years I think that Seattle will have a system comparable to the good systems in Germany. SF/BA I am not so sure, only because of the ridiculous NIMBYism and funding situation. If it wants to, the Bay Area has the density and population to have a much better system than Seattle would ideally but the actual performance of the agencies is so bad that I actually doubt that region more than the one up here.

my 2c.

Anton

Oh and more thing. Somebody said:

"This whole identity attributed and carefully managed (just think on Google vs. Facebook internal culture differences) depends on creating a somehow micromanaged environment that can't exist in a vertical building on a busy street where people from the competition just happen to work in a building similar to yours 300 yards away."

One of the perks of your company certainly is free Kool-Aid. You sure drunk lots of it.

Google's campus is a crappy 80s office park... Never seen the Facebook one, but given they bought some other old-Valley company's campus I am sure it's the same shit. Microsoft's campus is another suburban-hell office park, but compared to the bay area campuses has amazing landscaping. It's much better than some of the surrounding parks, actually. Makes you feel better when you walk around the trees and flowers at least.

Notice how I made no comments about what's *inside* the buildings - you know why - because the buildings *everywhere* are standard office fare and what's inside simply does not depend on the location. Check out the Google Zurich office:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPz1Mou-Xxk

which is not in suburban hell but just as unique on the inside.

And Amazon which is actually in downtown Seattle is a testament to how you can employ 10,000 people in an urban downtown and be successful. Amazon just bought the land to build 3 40-floor skyscrapers with street-side retail and public space... This is on thing I don't see happening in SF - a big company like, say Google or Apple, moving 10,000 employees to downtown SF.

Martin Barry

I think you'll find large companies stepping in to fill voids left by public transport infrastructure in all kinds of places.

The Commonwealth Bank has multiple buildings in the Sydney basin and runs shuttle buses from the CBD and Darling Harbour out to Homebush and Parramatta.

cph

Similar services were popular in SoCal, especially in the aerospace industry during the peak of the Cold War.

There were many private buses going to El Segundo, which was poorly served by local transit. Most of them provided dedicated service to a single employer, supposedly because of fear of corporate espionage (and maybe the other kind as well--these were the Cold War years, remember...) Most of these services disappeared in the mid-90s, as retirements, layoffs and other changes took place.

Is this something public transit should be doing? I won't say yes or no, but just consider the following:
* long distance, freeway express services cost more to provide than all-stop local, due to less passenger turnover.
* do transit agencies have suitable equipment (coach buses with upgraded seating, etc.)
* allocation of equipment/drivers to longer distance service vs. local.
* Federal Government discourages (if not outright prohibits) transit agencies from operating routes that exclusively serve one employer, school, etc (in other words, public transit routes should be useful for the general public)

JJeffrey Clyde

I haven't read all the comments, but has anyone addressed the shuttle bus drivers? Do you know what kind of wage the operators of the buses make?
Are they working as private contractors for an independent bus company or are they direct employees of the different firms?

We tend to think of shuttle buses, transit buses, school buses, light rail systems, heavy rail systems as large vehicles capable of hauling various large groups of people distances, saving the environment etc.

We often over look the operator who manages this large vehicle minute by minute dealing with the stresses of the traffic, the schedule set for them, the lives of the people they are transporting and whether they are making a living wage etc. Health issues for bus drivers is high because we can't drink a lot of liquids do to the work environment, kidney issues, breaks and all the work conditions many of us take for granted aren't part of their work situations.

Yes, I am a school bus driver and also drive field trips and charters to make ends meet. I am considered a seasoned driver having done this now for more than 5 years. These are all issues I and my fellow operators deal with. I found this site while looking into possibly working as a shuttle bus driver for one of the High Tech Companies up here near Portland.

RogWilco

"'The elite's mass transit' versus 'underfunded Caltrain.'"

Serioiusly? This is the most bizarre and unexpected conclusion I could possibly imagine coming from this data. It looks to me like these private companies are (rightly) paying the price for locating in and contributing to suburban sprawl, rather than favoring the more economically and environmentally efficient notion of operating within a densely populated urban employment center.

If the entire public were paying for this instead, say through Caltrain funding as you seem to favor, the public would effectively be subsidizing and *encouraging* private companies to locate themselves in burdensome locations that encourage more highway congestion and require even more wasteful public spending on transit and highway infrastructure.

I don't think this is the future at all. In fact, I think we are quickly approaching the upper bound of what can be tolerated in terms of sprawl. Why should i, as a public citizen, be subsidizing the most inefficient model for how and where people live and work? Shouldn't we be subsidizing the more efficient option instead?

RogWilco

I would also point out that this isn't simply a problem of all these geeks choosing to live in SF rather than further south. This isn't the cause, this is the effect of San Francisco being the second most densely populated city in the country next to New York.

Its not that people chose to live in the city in spite of their job being in the valley. People were *already* living in the city, and the job is what chose to locate where the people aren't.

Jason

If anything, it shows that private companies are better than running things without a single cent of taxpayer money than government run taxpayer funded public transit.

I wouldn't be surprised within the next 10 years, all mass transit agencies in the US go broke and they get sold off to the tech companies who could figure out a way to make them run for profit and cheap.

Hey Google is developing a driverless car right? Add driverless buses and you solve the bus driver's union problem. That would be a significant savings in labor cost in itself!

Brian

@ Jason,

I wouldn't count on it. One thing history has demonstrated is that private companies are rarely better at runnings things unless they receive massive federal investment (examples: the internet / interstate highways / airports / defense contractors and Elon Musk's Space X company) or they receive massive tax exemptions and/or use creative methods to evade local tax obligations. The most relevant example is probably Apple. Hard core right wingers like Rand Paul will take every opportunity to defend Apple's practices saying they should of been sued if they did not exploit every possible tax exemption. So much for the concept of serving the greater good! As others in the media have said Apple is just a company that makes good products but it is not a transformative "change the world" type company it's media hype would lead you to believe. The status quo serves Apple just fine. I say that from the point of view of having Apple's headquarters pretty much in my backyard (15 minutes by bike or 5 minutes by VTA bus). I used to think of Microsoft as a villain but in recent times I have developed a much more positive impression of Microsoft and Bill Gates as Apple's power and influence has increased so much in comparison.

@Jarrett,
I don't quite buy into the idea that silicon valley tech companies can easily relocate to downtown San Francisco. I would say that is almost as difficult as asking your generic "Hollywood Studio" (probably actually from Culver City) to relocate to a downtown environment not otherwise suited to their needs. The stage set metaphor continues to the design of the office spaces and research and development facilities. Millions are commonly spent on facilities designed for project teams creating just one product and when that product goes to market the teams are disbanded, the interiors gutted and prepped for the creation of the next project and project team. It's more akin to a stage set than a conventional office. This could be happening every couple years. Work teams are constantly shuffled between facilities. This type of arrangement is much easier to achieve in your anonymous suburban tilt-up business parks than in signature downtown high-rises. Apple is a prime example of this. Different work teams within the same building are not supposed to communicate with each other. The spontaneous opportunities for collaboration that urban environments can provide are definitely not part of Apple's ethos. Maybe another company with a more lenient philosophy could take advantage of being in an urban environment but it's unlikely to be Apple (except for the deceptive corporate front of their Apple Stores).

Last year I read in the papers that Apple was building a new employee cafeteria due to concerns it's employees visiting adjacent Cupertino businesses during the lunch hour were inadvertently sharing confidential information during their casual discussions. I also read about Apple leasing space in office buildings directly across the street from the Caltrain station in Sunnyvale. My first impression was that it actually seemed incongruous for Apple to locate a facility in such a public location with major public transit access. Although these employees could enter their offices within 60 seconds after stepping off Caltrain I would have to assume Apple would forbid them from riding mass transit. I am pretty sure bus services would be provided from San Francisco specifically to keep these employees off public transit even if public transit was the quicker and more convenient option. As we all know the generic term for these buses in the SF bay area is "Google Busses" regardless of whether they are actually serving Google.

I got to say the one thing I appreciate the most about the new Apple campus 'flying saucer' design is it's pure honesty in reflecting Apple's notorious secrecy and "walled garden" approach to both it's campus design and product philosophy. I don't know that it is necessarily the "correct" approach or will achieve the best long term benefits but it interests me in terms of recent architectural history. Social media companies like Twitter may have no issues being in downtown environments but I expect Apple to be one of the last holdouts to stay in the suburbs. Sorry but I can't say the current bussing situation feels like "the future" in a positive sense. The sight of these "Google Busses" actually brings a pit to my stomach as I feel we are headed more towards a 3rd world future in the likeness of Guatemala (or Texas).

Clueless Tourist

As an out of town visitor travelling to/from Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Francisco this week my observations are:

(1) Every train car should have a map of its system; would be nice if it showed where to connect to other systems, too.

(2) Silicon Val area transit system providers don't appear to have Apps!? There are some quirky less-than-inspiring 3rd party apps that help somewhat. At least the companies of the Valley are improving their map services' representation of mass transit facilities and services but they don't tie to fares and other service information beyond the static and geographic.

(3) Calling the numbers of any of the transit companies for help results in (a) being directed how to use their system that (b) generally ignores the existence of other systems that could have otherwise been used to make travel much more efficient for the customer which results in (c) hours and money wasted

(4) When trying to get from one system to another, even if they are feet from each other, there often are no signs, kiosks, etc. to guide you - but I fortunately found very friendly valley folk before dark BUT some seriously scary looking folks after dark (and I was born in DC back in the era of riots and grew up commuting there when it was the murder capital of the U.S.)

(5) Because systems are not coordinated, you have more than inconveniencing timing concerns alluded to in the article, you also can end up stranded... buses/trains from one system running until 10-11 P.M. "connecting" to another system that tapers off service at 9 P.M. One such instance cost me $30 in cab fare. Another lady using the same service at the same time was left having to commute an extra two hours over a very circuitous route because of such inconsistencies in scheduling / routes.

Andrew Rivlin

Has anything changed since this was first posted?

Here is what baffles me, Silicon Valley is home to Google/Apple/Facebook (others) yet there are no slick apps or support in google maps for VTA Transit.

In the mid 00's Metro (Los Angeles Metro) tried to keep maps to themselves in order to generate advertising revenue, finally they gave in and their usability is better for it.

Also who builds a light rail "passing" the airport, why on earth was it not integrated when built.

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