Thursday, December 5, 2019
[Marin County] SMART pitches new train schedules, announces Larkspur opening
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
As SMART approaches the milestone opening of its Larkspur extension next month, the agency announced a new train schedule that managers say will improve the entire rail system.
“All this hard work has paid off,” Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit General Manager Farhad Mansourian told the agency’s board of directors on Wednesday.
The 2.2-mile, $55.4 million Larkspur extension from downtown San Rafael is set to open during the second or third week of December, Mansourian said. The downtown Novato station is set to open simultaneously with Larkspur.
“This is big for SMART, probably one of the biggest things we’ve been able to announce really since we started service,” said SMART board member and Novato mayor Eric Lucan at the board’s meeting in Petaluma. “I think this schedule is a game changer.”
SMART began passenger service in August 2017.
Under the new schedule, which is set take effect Jan. 2, SMART trains will depart every 32 minutes from all stations during the peak morning and evening commute hours. This would close a 90-minute gap for northbound evening commuters, Mansourian said.
The weekday schedule includes 38 trips compared to the current 34 trips. SMART will also use six two-car trains instead of the current four two-car trains, Mansourian said. SMART is planning more frequent and earlier weekend and holiday schedules.
The schedule also accounts for the planned opening of the Windsor station, scheduled to open in 2021, and a second Petaluma station.
As the Larkspur station is set to open one to two weeks before the new schedule takes effect, SMART plans to announce an interim schedule in early December to cover that period.
The Larkspur extension was forecast in a 2014 environmental assessment to increase ridership by about 231 riders, from 5,218 to 5,449, by 2035. SMART board member Shirlee Zane suggested that the board consider an introductory fare rate for passengers to attract new commuters.
“There are a lot of people who do work in San Francisco and having that Larkspur connection and those additional routes during the rush hour is going to be very critical for them using the train,” she said.
Rail to ferry
SMART coordinated with seven other transit agencies so that their schedules would sync up, Mansourian said. One of the important connections that was made is with Golden Gate Ferry in Larkspur for commuters heading to San Francisco for work.
Southbound trains during the peak morning commute would arrive at Larkspur between 7:25 a.m. and 9:33 a.m. This gives passengers heading for the ferry terminal between 19 and 37 minutes to catch a ferry, depending on their train.
Northbound trains during the afternoon commute hours will depart from Larkspur from between 3:25 p.m. to 8:29 p.m., giving passengers between 27 minutes to one hour and 25 minutes to transfer from the ferry to the train.
Golden Gate Ferry is not changing its weekday ferry schedule, according to spokeswoman Priya Clemens. Golden Gate Transit will be ending its Route 31 bus service from the San Rafael Transit Center to Larkspur.
For those taking the opposite commute from San Francisco to the North Bay in the morning, the train-ferry schedule doesn’t sync as well, giving ferry passengers either as long as a 52-minute wait or a 13-minute scramble when transferring to the SMART train.
The SMART station and ferry terminal in Larkspur is about an eight-minute walk depending on the person’s abilities. Earlier this year, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury recommended that transit agencies consider ways to shuttle passengers between the station and ferry terminal.
As of now, both SMART and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District are not considering creating a shuttle service between the two stations.
“We’re not looking at it right now,” Clemens said. “It seems like it’s a walkable distance.”
Mansourian suggested that these transferring passengers who require assistance could use paratransit services such as those provided by Whistlestop and Marin Transit to get them to and from the ferry terminal.
In addition to the ferry, the SMART schedule was timed with Golden Gate Transit’s Route 40 and 40X bus service from San Rafael to the El Cerrito del Norte BART station. Marin Transit plans to extend its Route 49 bus service to the San Marin SMART station effective Dec. 8 as well as adjust its on-demand Connect service hours at the SMART Civic Center station.
In response to rider demand, SMART plans to begin earlier weekend and holiday trips starting as early as 7:30 a.m. for southbound trains compared to 10:13 a.m. currently.
Golden Gate Ferry is also adding earlier ferry trips to accommodate these passengers. While currently the first ferry to Larkspur lands around 1:30 p.m., the ferry will now arrive as early as 9:10 a.m.
The weekend and holiday schedules were also modified to depart earlier in the day, with the first trip departing the Sonoma County Airport at 7:35 a.m. and arriving at Larkspur just before 9 a.m.
November 20, 2019
Marin Independent Journal
By Will Houston