Sunday, December 14, 2008

Caltrain commuting.

So, I've been doing this Mountain View thing for a couple of weeks now, and I'm starting to get the hang of it. I feel like public transportation is an intimidating system for people who have never done it before, so hopefully my grand two weeks of experience can be helpful to someone else.

The first three times I took Caltrain, I was convinced it was cursed and that I was never going to get to work on time. 

Trip #1: Truck stopped on tracks, gets hit by train, fatality. Trains run 2+ hours late and the system completely shuts down.
Trip #2: Wandering pedestrian gets hit by train, system shuts down.
Trip #3 (very next day after trip #2): Computer that controls train signals goes on the fritz; trains run 75+ minutes late.

These, however, appear to have been pure coincidences, as I haven't run into a single problem since then. (If everyone could knock on wood a little bit, that would be great.)

Here's the deal with Caltrain. Buy a ticket before you get on. It may or may not actually be checked - there's nowhere to swipe, no one looks at your ticket before you get on the train, but it is required that you have one. I've never had someone check my ticket in the morning yet, but the regular conductor on my nighttime trip always checks between Millbrae and 22nd. You can buy one way tickets, day passes, books of 10 tickets (that have to be validated when you use them), or monthly passes. The fares work by "zone". So, San Francisco is in zone 1, the very first stop. Mountain View is in zone 3. So I have to buy a monthly pass that allows me unlimited travel between those three zones. It costs me $152.50 a month, a number that sent me reeling at first until I compared it to the cost of owning and driving a car 80 miles round trip every day.

And, to my major joy, Caltrain is doing what it can to be bike-friendly. Every train has at least one bike car. Now, to be honest, there is not enough room to accommodate all the cyclists. Caltrain appears to know this and I haven't seen anyone get particularly lippy when too many bikes get put on there. Technically, it's four bikes to one rack. The new cars have four racks; old cars have eight. This really, truly is not enough space. Sometimes the train ends up with two bike cars, which makes life much easier. The racks are metal and have bungee cords attached to them. Wrap them around your bike and you're set. Every bike is required to be marked with its destination so bikes going the same place can be grouped together, and if I'm going to Mountain View in the morning, I don't end up having to dig my bike out from five others on top of it going to San Jose. 

Oh, Caltrain. I had hoped to be productive on you. So far, I've done a whole lot of crossword puzzles. I had hoped that I'd finally start reading the newspapers I buy every day instead of just turning to my puzzle, but alas. I'm tired when I get on the train to come to work. I'm tired when I get on the train to come home. I get halfway through a puzzle and then I just want to stare blindly out the window for a little while. Still - enables me to ride a bike eight miles a day, and it keeps me from driving a car. You are my best $152.50 investment of the month.

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