For the first time in forever, Fresno Area Express (FAX) is seriously considering some pretty major changes to bus routes. This could include the much-needed Herndon route, and a bus line to the new Amazon and Ulta warehouses built in southwest Fresno. However, the new service comes at the expense of existing lines. In this post, I take a look at how FAX is getting the word out, and what those changes are.
FAX has started holding public events and workshops on the proposed changed. This looks to be an extensive outreach effort, with the following pop-up events at bus stops throughout the system: Click to read more!
The Amtrak San Joaquin line, running from Bakersfield to Sacramento and Oakland, is operated by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA). This local operation means we get a good amount of info on their upcoming plans. Recently, they released a draft of their new business plan. Additionally, they have a public meeting later this week. Here is a summary of what is coming up:
Early Morning Express Service
The early morning express, from Fresno to Sacramento launches on May 7. Trains will arrive in Sacramento at 7:41am. I talk about the schedule in this post.
As part of that project, which is aimed at attracting day-trippers and business travelers, parking is being expanded at various stations:
Stockton – 42 new spaces (open now)
Modesto – 108 new spaces (open now)
Turlock – 50 new spaces
Merced- 8 new spaces
Fresno- 60 new spaces
They’re planning on modifying the schedule again later this year to create a second early morning express, but one that runs from Fresno to Oakland. On one hand, this would allow people in Fresno, and north of Fresno, to get to the Bay Area early enough for work. Currently, the earliest train leaves Fresno at 6:18am, and arrives in Oakland at 10:26am. Add another 30 minutes to get into San Francisco.
On the other hand, that screws over people south of Fresno who lose another train. Like the Sacramento express, the train would start in Fresno, so no service to the south.
I think this is a mistake.
8th and 9th Daily Train coming in 2019
Since operations switched to the SJJPA, they have fulfilled long-standing plans to add service. A 6th train was added in 2002, and a 7th in 2016.
The new 8th train will go to Sacramento starting in 2019, providing 4 trains to the Bay, and 4 to Sacramento. Note that all trains offer a free connecting bus in Stockton, so if you’re going to Oakland on a Sacramento train, you are put on a bus to Oakland in Stockton.
The new 8th train, and one of the existing trains, will actually operate on a different train line north of Stockton, due to freight traffic. They will terminate somewhere else in Sacramento, and have different stops. More details on that later this year.
However, the 9th daily is a bit of an odd-ball. It doesn’t really deserve to be called a new train. Essentially, they’re going to replace one of those bus transfers with a shuttle train that only operates between Oakland and Stockton. Because people will still have to transfer, this new train really only makes sense if it’s scheduled at rush hour, where a bus can get stuck in traffic entering or leaving SF.
The long-term plan is to have hourly service between Sacramento and Fresno by 2035.
To keep adding service, the line needs more trains. Currently, the 7 trips are operated by 8 trains. As discussed previously, the state will be getting new trains from Siemens. They will start arriving in 2020 and end in 2023. I’m fairly confident in this timeline. The same factory just closed up production on trains for Florida, so they just have to keep moving, rather than starting from scratch.
However, these trains will be high-floor, and they still don’t how what they will be doing to address this problem.
“However, it is unclear if the current design of the Siemens car will provide a bridge plate long enough to span the distance to the mini -high platform”
For the current fleet, improved wifi is planned for 2019.
No more price buckets
Like airlines, Amtrak operates a system where tickets are priced in fare classes, or price buckets. Essentially, that works as follows:
50 tickets available at $10
Next 50 cost $13
Next 50 cost $16
Next 50 cost $20
That means, as the train fills up, you pay more.
On business-heavy routes, that makes sense. A tourist that can buy 6 months in advance gets to lock in a cheap fare. A businessperson who needs a ticket on the day of, can pay 10x as much, and expense it to their company. Not only does this system make Amtrak more money, but it ensures trains go out almost full.
This works well on the East Coast, where you can pay $49 to go between NYC and DC…or $250 the day of. Those trains are always busy.
But the San Joaquin doesn’t have business traffic. So the end result is that people who can least afford to pay – those who have to pay cash the day of – are hit with the highest fares. Additionally, San Joaquin trains very rarely sell out. Aside from Thanksgiving, there’s always room. Seats going out empty are COSTING Amtrak money. It makes more sense to sell discounted tickets the day of, to fill those seats.
Starting later this year, they will be removing “revenue management” from the San Joaquin. Instead, tickets will be priced like regular public transit: you can always know the cost to travel between two cities.
More Thurway Connections
SJJPA is looking to provide additional connections to buses that will take you to nearby cities from the train station. Existing buses offer service to Yosemite, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and dozens of smaller cities. They’re looking at a new express bus to Redding.
It currently takes the train a little more than 6 hours to go between Bakersfield and Oakland. However, there is a labor rule that means if trips exceed 6 hours, there has to be a crew change. That’s a huge waste of time and money. SJJPA is looking at different options to get under 6 hours.
One option is pretty scummy. It would be to terminate trains in Emeryville instead of Oakland.
Another option would be to skip a stop or two, likely Lodi. Also not good.
A better option would be to increase speeds to 90mph. They’re “measuring the option.”
About a year ago, I took a look at air service available from Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). In that post, the news wasn’t good. Fresno had lost service to Las Vegas by US Airways and United, leaving only Allegiant. Allegiant dropped Honolulu, but added Mesa (Pheonix), which they apparently are no longer selling tickets for (as of last week!). Frontier left, again. Bakersfield lost Houston, and Visalia lost all service. The switch away from propeller airplanes meant Fresno got larger planes – but less frequency.=&0=&
It was just last June that the Amtrak San Joaquin line received a 7th daily train, and now planning for an 8th daily is well underway. The current target, according to the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, is January, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that slip a month or two.
The plan is to offer a “morning express,” with service between Fresno and Sacramento. Currently, all trains originate in Bakersfield, with 5 going to Oakland, and 2 to Sacramento. Riders can reach either location the full 7 times thanks to bus transfers.
Currently, to reach Sacramento, Fresno customers can board a 6:18am train, and transfer to a bus in Stockton, arriving in Sacramento at 9:45am. OR, they can board a train at 7:53am, with direct service into Sacramento arriving at 11:20am.
By offering a train that originates in Fresno, the Authority can better accommodate those aiming to reach Sacramento for a morning meeting. While there wouldn’t be ridership south of Fresno, an optimized schedule could pump up ridership in the northern half of the valley. The plan is to eventually have trains arriving in both Oakland and Sacramento around 8am. The Oakland early train would be the next phase, a 9th daily train.
This is the current schedule between Bakersfield and Oakland (blue trains continue to Sacramento, passengers arrive in Oakland via bus connection). As you can see, an 8am arrival in Sacramento or Oakland simply doesn’t make sense for anyone coming from Bakersfield, as it would require a 2am departure. The full PDF is here.
To add a train from Fresno, they need to spend money to create a place where trains can be stored. The location has been identified as Annadale Avenue, between Chestnut and Willow (Google Maps). This would store two trains, and cost $1.5m.
Additionally, they plan on generating ridership (or accommodating ridership), by expanding the parking areas at various stations.
For Fresno, this would mean leasing 50 existing spaces from the city, across from the train station.
In Merced, a bus loop would be moved, adding 20 spaces.
Turlock would see the existing parking lot expanded into a dirt lot, for 50 new spaces.
Modesto would get 77 new spaces in a lot expansion, with the possibility of 124 new spaces to the south.
Stockton would get 42 new spaces, followed by 229 new spaces.
It makes sense that Modesto and Stockton would get the most parking additions. They are closest to Sacramento, so they could see the most commuter use. This model has been successful for the Capitol Corridor line, which runs from Sacramento to San Jose, offering 15 daily trains from Sacramento to Oakland, and 7 from Sacramento to San Jose.
New parking also makes sense because many of the stations are far from residential areas. For example, here is where the new parking would go in Modesto:
Additionally, the stations are budgeted for minor enhancements, like new landscaping, way-findings, and lighting. Combined, this would be a little under $2.5m in new expenditures.
One thing that hasn’t been discussed is where the return trip will be slotted. Current trains leave Sacramento at 6:15am and 5:10pm. I could see the 5:10pm train moved slightly earlier (4:45pm?) with a new departure at 6:15pm to best serve commuters. The alternative would be a late train, around 9pm, to best serve tourists making the most of their day. A later train would also benefit those in the bay area. Right now, the last train out of Oakland is at 5:55pm. A 9pm Sacramento departure would allow an Oakland bus departure at 6:30pm, so they can meet in Stockton. Of course, a complete overhaul of the schedule would be an option as well.
For reference, I looked into the history of this train line in this post. Here is how service has slowly grown:
Before 1971 – Two daily trains (one by each freight railroad)
1971-1974 – No service
1974 – One daily Amtrak train
1979 – Amtrak proposes elimination, state steps in to fund a single train
1980 – Second daily train
1989 – Third daily train
1992 – Fourth daily train
1999 – Fifth train, first to serve Sacramento
2002 – Sixth train, second to serve Sacramento
2016 – Seventh train, fifth to Oakland
2018 (predicted) – Eight train, third to Sacramento
I last looked at ridership a year ago. I’ll do a post soon seeing if the 7th daily train has resulted in more riders. I’ll also take a look at improvements made in Stockton.
This weekend, public transit service begins for the first time connecting Fresno to Yosemite. Aside from serving a tourist purpose, the system also will operate as an important commuter and community connection. Thanks to the anonymous comment letting me know the schedule was up! =&0=&
It’s been a badly kept secret, but Megabus is returning to California later this year. Megabus originally entered the California market in 2007, but left in mid 2008 due to poor ridership. Believe it or not, but Megabus served California before they began operations in the northeast corridor, which is now their strongest market.
Back in 2007, service was focused on LA, with routes to Vegas, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego. The Central Valley was not served, as the buses used I-5 to express between LA and the Bay Area. Megabus was unhappy with ridership, and took all their buses east.
After pulling out of California, Megabus focused on the northeast (based in NYC), where they’ve constantly expanded. They then set up a hub in DC, Atlanta and most recently began operations in Texas.
If Texas can support Megabus, California sure as hell can. The bus network here is extremely underdeveloped, but that means a huge opportunity. Megabus was not patient last time, but hopefully they come in wiser.
Earlier this year, the WSJ reported
Megabus plans to expand its network of U.S. intercity coach services by 50%, purchasing assets from a rival to push into Texas and California.
Dale Moser, president of the U.K. company’s Coach USA Inc. unit, said the proposed deal would provide facilities and extra buses to expand from its existing network serving 80 cities, mainly in the Midwest and the northeast, though it has more recently moved into the southeast and Canada.
At the time no date was given for service, but now Cyclelicio.us has reported seeing the giant buses in San Jose, making training runs. (Pictures at link). They’re the same buses you now constantly see on the east coast.
Here’s one of them in Boston (they now load inside South Station, not Back Bay)
And the easily identifiable logo
So what is Megabus? If you’re reading from Fresno, you probably haven’t noticed the enormous expansion in US intercity bus travel over the past 5 years.
Basically what happened is that a few different express services launched, which have successfully re-branded bus travel. Actually, let me restate that….there was a whole bunch of express service already available, but it was entirely based around Chinatown. Cheap, but with a side of risk. Then Megabus and Boltbus came in, giving the market a little bit more visibility.
If you think of Greyhound, you’re probably thinking of 11 hour bus rides, cramped seats and not the best clientele. Indeed, that’s the kind of service you’ll get if you venture to the Greyhound station in downtown Fresno, although the company recently began to introduce newer buses and more direct service in the state (branded as Greyhound Express).
Besides Greyhound, Fresno is also served by three or four Mexican bus lines, which begin their routes as far north as Seattle and terminate at the Tijuana airport (but you’re more than welcome to simply ride between Fresno and LA). As you can imagine, 95% of this customer base are Mexican nationals heading home.
The SF-LA market is somewhat similar, with a large market-share going to Vietnamese and other Asian bus lines, in the same way NYC was dominated by the likes of Fung Wah.
Unlike these traditional bus lines, Megabus (and their competitors like BoltBus) attempt to spruce up travel in a few significant way. I recently took BoltBus on a trip to DC, and while the travel time was longer than advertised, the trip was comfortable.
1. More comfortable than yesterdays Greyhound bus. More leg room and better seats. Megabus uses double-decker buses, which allows for a more comfortable bathroom and also higher odds you get to sit alone. TVs with headphone audio are inside the bus, but sadly never used.
2. Amenities like power outlets and free wifi
3. Guaranteed seating (Greyhound isn’t)
4. Low fares. Megabus starts their pricing at $1.50. Every run has a single seat (or two) at this price. Prices then rise to $3, $6 etc until the bus fills, at which point the last seat is something like $25-$60 (depending on route length)
Here is what the interior looks like
What’s also important is that the buses run with very few stops. LA-SF for example, might see a single stop in San Jose.
There’s also one last thing that makes these buses more desirable.
The clientele. Again, this isn’t your average Greyhound crowd.
While it started targeting young professionals and seniors, Moser
said female passengers between 30 and 55 have emerged as its
second-largest demographic, sandwiched by the two other groups. Click to read more!