SMART revises passenger rail service after facing criticism
Facing public backlash over its announced schedule for passenger rail service, Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit scrambled to release a revised version Tuesday - one that officials say shortens wait times during peak commute hours, though gaps of an hour or more still exist during some of those periods.
The updated schedule - ?released less than a week after SMART unveiled the earlier version - still includes 34 trips on weekdays, with the same number of trains. It shortened some 90-minute waits to hourlong gaps and retained 30-minute ?intervals across most of the peak hours of operation.
The additional arrival and departure times are geared to appeal to more commuters, planned to be the rail line’s key group of users. The new timetable, for example, includes a new 7:30 a.m. southbound departure from downtown Santa Rosa and a new 5:29 p.m. departure northbound from San Rafael.
The adjusted timetable resulted from work over the weekend by SMART officials and representatives of regional transportation agencies following a deluge of complaints since last week on the rail agency’s ?social media sites. Debora Fudge, SMART’s board chairwoman and the mayor of Windsor, said it became clear that what the rail agency put out originally was not going to work.
“Within six days we’ve changed it (the schedule) and I’m getting a lot of thumbs up from people who want to travel to Larkspur and San Rafael, and the other way,” Fudge said of the newly revised schedule.
It also includes an earlier start time for the first southbound train, which is now scheduled to depart the north Santa Rosa station at Airport Boulevard at 4:19 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than previously announced.
SMART is planning to launch passenger service by next month - a timeline officials said included operating trains on the schedule for two weeks. The revised timetable released Tuesday does not alter the start date plans, according to Fudge.
Will Mast, a Petaluma environmental engineer who commutes to Novato, said Tuesday he is pleased with the changes. Mast’s discontent with the earlier version was highlighted Sunday in a Press Democrat story.
“I feel that the updated schedule greatly increases the likelihood of ridership for me and my co-workers,” said Mast, whose Novato office is across the street from the San Marin station. “While SMART can’t hope to please everyone, this update has a much better shot at pleasing a far greater number and improving the odds of reasonable starting ridership.”
John Oblad, a software engineer for Autodesk who commutes from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, also praised the update, saying the addition of a 7:30 a.m. departure from downtown Santa Rosa and a 5:35 p.m. departure from San Rafael better suits his schedule.
But Oblad voiced a new concern that if he misses the 5:35 p.m. train, he will be stuck in San Rafael until he can catch the next northbound train, at ?7:05 p.m.
“I hope there will be room,” he said.
That particular 90-minute gap is one of several that still exist during peak commute hours on the revised timetable. Some have been reduced to 60-minute windows, which did not exist in the previous schedule. Most trains will operate on a 30-minute interval during peak commute periods.
Under the new schedule, for example, there will now be trains arriving in San Rafael at 7:26 a.m., ?8:26 a.m. and 8:56 a.m.
The previous version had trains arriving at that station at only 7:26 a.m. and 8:56 a.m.
Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, has not responded to requests for comment on the schedule since last week. A spokeswoman Tuesday said Mansourian was out of town.
Mansourian apparently did not brief SMART’s board prior to unveiling the train schedule at the directors’ meeting last week in Petaluma. After that meeting, the rail agency was engulfed by a wave of criticism over its final timetable, which, along with fares, will determine for many whether they use the trains.
Fudge on Tuesday offered mixed reviews for how the schedule was rolled out.
“Sometimes things are done very quickly because we have to because of all the complications of getting rail service started,” she said. “Do I wish we’d had a month to look at the schedule? Yes, I do. Did we fix it in less that a week? Yes, we did.”
Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who also sits on the SMART board, said he would have preferred knowing in advance the schedule included 90-minute gaps.
“I always appreciate a heads-up,” Rabbitt said.
The revised schedule still does not appear to meet the mandate for SMART’s service as outlined in the 2008 ballot measure North Bay voters approved to support the rail initiative. It stated passenger service would be delivered at 30-minute intervals during “rush hours.”