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[whitespace] Running Greedy People

Wheels of Injustice

Patience, tolerance and attitude separate the wise Caltrain commuter from the fool

By Genevieve Roja

WHAT WAS WORSE than spoiler-to-spoiler traffic? Sky-high gas prices. The temporary solution was trainin' it. Caltrainin' it. Sure, it got noisy--the cell phones ringing to the tune of "Fur Elise," the cell phone conversations ("Whut's up, duuuude? Yeaaaah, I'm on Caltrain. Bummer, huh?"), the winos, old ladies and the Bellarmine swarm at the College Park station--but that's the price we paid. For every trip to San Francisco or San Jose, there was at least one temporary breakdown, whether it was the air conditioner or the engine. Getting to and fro was a lesson in patience, since on a good day it took about an hour and a half from San Jose to San Francisco. But it was relatively cheap--the thrifty commuter could pay one-way, round trip, or opt for a monthly pass--and then could drink while others drove. Remember, though: no shoes are allowed on the seats, although socked footsies are OK.

Sometimes it was standing room only, especially during the peak morning period (6-8:30am) and evening (4-6:30pm). It was a wonder people weren't sitting in each other's laps, especially considering the crowd on hand: alcohol-drenched Giants fans trekking to Pac Bell Park. In fact, so in demand is Caltrain that it has been adding more cars to the general commutes and extending service to as far south as Gilroy.

"The train is at historic ridership levels," says Caltrain spokesperson Janet McGovern, who adds that Caltrain has provided service from San Francisco to San Jose since 1864. "The peak was in the 1940s and early '50s."

Since then, it's been growing steadily and last year hit an all-time high: There were 10.3 million people riding the train and the average weekday boarding was 35,609, compared to 31,219 in 1999. Is the economy's demise fueling the demand? It remains to be seen.

"We need more lead time in order to make that determination meaningful," McGovern says.

Spoken like a true Caltrain rider.

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From the July 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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