If you take Caltrain on a regular basis, it is inevitable that you will encounter a transit delay. The delay will either be via a pedestrian death/suicide on the train tracks or an equipment failure preventing the trains from moving forward. (Did you know that one person’s suicide during rush hour can impact the workday to such an extent that it can cause up to 6,000 hours of lost work productivity time in the morning?)
Though any delay seems insurmountable to the person or persons stuck in the train when it stops, there are a few options for the folks waiting at the platforms that are not stuck in one of the lumbering beasts of transit. If you’re quick on your feet and don’t wait around to see what happens to you.
Twitter, CaltrainDroid & VTA
For me, I have two invaluable tools that help with almost any situation I am in when it comes to using Caltrain. One is Twitter and the other is a phone app called CaltrainDroid (Or its equivalent for iPhones) by Valencia Labs.
I know… you have absolutely no use for Twitter. I get that. Don’t worry, most don’t. But if you do sign up for Twitter, it can be useful if you follow a few local news feeds, if nothing else. And Caltrain has a few Twitter accounts that they attempt to update with information when “events” take place.
But I’m not saying to follow Caltrain’s Twitter feeds.
But what I am saying is that if you have a Twitter app on your phone with an account, you can pull up Twitter and do a search just for “caltrain,” and suddenly you have a world of information at your fingertips. Where Caltrain needs to be accurate in their information tweets, riders do not. They can vent or inform the Twitter-sphere on the fly.
I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been able to see a Caltrain delay and long before any official word is put out, Twitter users have informed me of what is going on. That’s because usually there’s at least one or two great Twitter users on each train that will say just what the conductor has told them, and they in turn, tell you.
The other day before getting out of my car at the Morgan Hill station I saw on Twitter that there was a delay, and that helped me and a few fellow passengers act accordingly and hop on a bus to San Jose!
That act alone saved some riders an additional 60 minutes of wait time on top of the rest of the delay that came about due to the rumored equipment vandalization. Ah… Now do I have your attention?
But taking the bus is one part of the equation. And Twitter can be funny or sad as you read the irrational tweets about Caltrain. It depends what you encounter in your searches.
CaltrainDroid by Valencia Labs
One of the best and simplest apps in the world for smart phones, is CaltrainDroid (or what ever its iPhone version name is). It is a life saver on so many fronts it is stupid fun, easy and informative. And not to mention, it needs very few permissions like some of those other apps that need to read your text messages, for what ever intrusive reason.
The old-school method of figuring out what train to take from point A to point B is to go look at a printed or web page schedule. The schedule matrix has all trains, all stations. And it is up to you to figure out which train gets from your start to finish points. We’ve all done it, the finger drag across the schedule, trying to make sure that the train you are thinking of taking stops at your stop. Or that the train connects where you need it to.
For the seasoned commuter they know what they need to do since they’ve been doing it on a regular basis. But the part timer or newbie rider, not so much.
With the CaltrainDroid app, all you need to do is select your start and stop points and it will show you only the trains that you need to worry about that will get you from point A to point B. All the other clutter is filtered out for you.
It even shows connector trains where you need it.
My second most frequent use of this app is when I get out of the movies. As I am walking out of the theater I check to see if I have time to run for the train station, walk to the train station or have time for a bite to eat.
Extra Ones But Not Clipper?
The other day I also experienced the need to have some one dollar bills in my pocket for the VTA bus. Now the bus accepts Clipper cards and I was toying with the idea of getting a Clipper card and putting funds in it for a “rainy day,” so to speak.
But enough folks that I share my commute with have said that sometimes their money tends to disappear in their accounts without them using the account. As if they’re getting charged fees or something like that.
Now whether that is an accurate perception or not, I do not know. But what I do know is that enough people have said this to warrant my not getting a Clipper Card account at this time.
Instead, I have taken to keeping ten crisp one dollar bills in a safe pocket in my travel pack so if I need to ride the VTA, I have the funds to feed into the bill eater inside the bus door.
VTA honors most Caltrain passes but does NOT accept “GO” passes. Kind of sucks for those with GO passes, but so be it.
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Pulling It All Together
On that last fateful or lucky day before I got out of my car I knew there were problems with the train not leaving Gilroy. That’s because a few folk were on that train, waiting. Reporting what the conductor was telling them.
So a few of us sprung the four bucks for the VTA ride from Morgan Hill to the San Jose station. While we were in transit I pulled up my app to check what options we had for trains to Menlo Park.
By the time we arrived we knew what two options were best for me. The next train going to MP or an express that went one stop farther (Redwood City) and a subsequent return train to MP.
Believe it or not because of the app, I knew that the express train went one stop too far and the return train cut 35 minutes off my mutant commute, versus if I took the straight-in ride.
In the end these two tools (and the stashed cash) alone have kept me more informed than any other resource out there. Between my fellow commuters on Twitter and the app, I can do the schedule dance like a pro. And of course, this entire scenario is totally dependent on good timing and the ability to take advantage of that timing. Otherwise, you can just hang on for the ride and the usual two to three hour delay.
These three-hour delays can be a huge productivity killer during the work day. Each morning train holds up to 500 passengers. When one train is stopped, it delays upwards of five or six other trains, minimum. Doing the math, six trains by 500 per train, That is up to 3,000 folks… and let’s average out those three hour delays to two hours. That’s a quick 6,000 hours of lost time. Just because of one person’s act or singular mechanical failure!
To all past, present and future Twitter users who report their situations live, thank you. And I in turn try to return the favor or “pay it forward.” It is the least I can do.