With the arrival of Caltrain’s new electric trains this year and the full electrification of Caltrain’s San Francisco Corridor on the horizon, our June 2022 Happy Hour focused on looking at the Bay Area’s public transit systems to see how they can be optimized for a more sustainable future. Three transit experts shared different approaches that public, private and nonprofit organizations have taken to make the region’s public transit more convenient, equitable and sustainable.

Casey Fromson, Chief Communications Officer for the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, Caltrain and SamTrans, highlighted Caltrain’s 2040 Service Vision and how it is incorporating sustainable practices, like a zero-emission future, into its growth model. CalTrain has been hard at work organizing and collaborating with multiple entities to expand service to the Salesforce Transit Center, help shape a proposed redesign of San Jose’s Diridon Station and incorporate high speed rail into its system.

She said work to electrify the train and bus fleets is progressing on the goal of reaching 75 percent electric train service in 2024, which would eliminate more than 2 million tons of carbon emissions. Although the trains will only serve the San Francisco Corridor, this project will have a far-reaching impact, creating more than 33,000 jobs in 36 states.

In addition, the SamTrans Board has voted to have a full electric conversion of its bus fleet by 2034, six years ahead of the state mandate.

Adina Levin, Advocacy Director for Seamless Bay Area and Executive Director of Friends of Caltrain, focused on efforts to improve the Bay Area’s transit systems function better with one another. After starting Friends of Caltrain, she cofounded Seamless Bay Area to help consolidate the currently fragmented regional networks. The organization has successfully raised awareness and provided data to support a more seamless approach to transit. As a result, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission developed a Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force to build broad consensus on necessary reforms, including integrated fares, branding, wayfinding and service. Adina, who has played a key role in bringing together the Bay Area’s transit authorities, also highlighted what still must be done to truly integrate public transit.

Antoine Belaieff, North America Lead for FAIRTIQ, Switzerland’s transit ticketing company, described projects aimed at improving customer experience and increasing ridership with a global lens. After spending 10 years in senior roles with Toronto’s regional transit authority, Metrolinx, he now works on making many transit systems easier to ride. FAIRTIQ makes paying for rides as simple as possible, leading to increased ridership.

Antoine said innovative pricing structures have proven successful in France, where frequent riders are rewarded with free trips. This approach has increased ridership for younger people by 35 percent. Coming from a tech company, Antione shared his company’s success with marketing that resembled that of online clothing retailers that share sales and incentives via email to engage riders. He emphasized the malleability of ridership when using the right campaigns, painting a positive outlook for the future of transit and sustainability as a whole. To see how one of the French National Railway Company’s incentives drove ridership, click here.

By Jacob Reed