Caltrain is cute but quite slow. It makes Amtrak look like a racehorse. You can quickly get a sense of how many stops Caltrain makes and the time between stops from clicking here. To provide a sense of its speed, the local weekday train takes 51 minutes to go from San Francisco's 22nd Street to Palo Alto. According to google maps these two locations are 25.5 miles apart; so this train moves at an average speed of 30 MPH.
Is that a high or low speed? The 280 Highway runs parallel to Caltrain and its speed limit must be 70 mph. I realize that it becomes congested at peak times. So, depending on your value of time and your distaste for a variable commute time; Caltrain might be a better deal at rush hour on weekdays but the highway is the way to travel on weekends and off peak. If this simple algebra is true, then is it a tragedy that Caltrain is considering;
My solution to this deficit problem would work as follows;
1. Institute road pricing on the 280 Highway and earmark 15% of the revenue collected to Caltrain.
2. The peak time road pricing on the 280 would allocate resources efficiently and would nudge some drivers to substitute to Caltrain.
3. With the peak time road pricing in place, demand for Caltrain would become more inelastic and it could raise its peak time fares.
Economists can improve your quality of life! Please consider our humble suggestions.