In early 2020, Caltrain experienced a precipitous 94% drop in ridership due to the pandemic. While federal subsidies allowed Caltrain to keep operating, the transit agency has struggled to rebuild ridership in the years since then. Many tech workers who lived in San Francisco and used to take the train down to Silicon Valley now work from home most or all of the week. This is part of the reason Caltrain’s ridership has not rebounded as much as other transit agencies.
In support of Caltrain, in 2022 a large tech company in Silicon Valley bought GoPasses for their employees even though most of them were still working from home. The tech firm donated their unused GoPasses back to Caltrain to distribute to non-profits with close ties to the community.
GoPasses are dramatically discounted train passes that are good at all 30 Caltrain stations from San Francisco to Gilroy. They can be used any time, any day throughout the calendar year. The deal with Caltrain GoPasses is that organizations must purchase them for all their employees, even if most employees don’t use them.
The non-profit Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (PATMA) received an allocation of 49 GoPasses from Caltrain in 2022 and 216 GoPasses in 2023. PATMA distributed these passes to low wage service sector workers in the community, primarily in hotels, restaurants, cafes, and shops.
These are workers who for the past three years of the pandemic have had to be physically present at their job sites and could not work from home. They stock grocery shelves, tidy hotel rooms, serve coffee, and cook meals.
PATMA is pleased to help Caltrain rebuild its ridership while supporting essential workers to lower their transportation costs. At the same time, PATMA is helping to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce demand for parking downtown, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The pandemic stressed many systems in our society close to the breaking point, including mass transit. Working together, we hope to help build these systems back even stronger than before.