San Rafael is top destination for new SMART train riders, survey shows

Passengers board a SMART train at the Airport Boulevard station in Santa Rosa on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. (KENT PORTER / Press Democrat)


Downtown San Rafael, the southern terminus for the North Bay’s new commuter train, was the top destination for riders and also a popular starting point for northbound travelers during the new railroad’s first 13 days of service.

A survey conducted over the WiFi system on Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s diesel- powered trains showed nearly half the system’s riders — 47 percent — got off in San Rafael, SMART reported Wednesday.

Only one of the other nine stations on the 43-mile line was a destination for more than 10 percent of the 363 people who voluntarily participated in the survey. The top destinations were clustered toward the south end, with Downtown Petaluma attracting 10.7 percent of riders, followed by Novato-San Marin with 9.9 percent and Marin Civic Center with 9.6 percent.

Those are four of the SMART line’s southernmost stops.

Officials said they were a bit surprised that 13.3 percent of riders boarded trains at San Rafael, even though it was the fourth most popular starting point.

“That shows there is a northbound commute,” Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager said at Wednesday’s meeting of the agency’s board of directors, the first since SMART began service on Aug. 25.

Debora Fudge, the board chairwoman and Windsor’s mayor, said that “might come as a surprise to people from Marin,” which was the center of opposition to the two-county railroad.

Sonoma County voters gave the SMART tax measure 74 percent support in 2008, while Marin voters were 63 percent supportive, falling short of the required two-thirds vote.

San Rafael’s popularity as a destination was enhanced by visitors as well as commuters, Fudge said, noting that the lines seem to be growing longer outside El Sol, a Puerto Rican restaurant in downtown San Rafael.

“People from the north are discovering it,” Fudge said.

The Downtown Santa Rosa station was the system’s most popular starting point, with 18.5 percent of riders citing it in the survey. Close behind was Downtown Petaluma with 17.7 percent and the Sonoma County Airport station with 16.3 percent.

Fudge and Mansourian both said the airport station was gaining riders coming from throughout the north end of SMART’s system, which is planned to run 70 miles from Cloverdale to Larkspur.

People from Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale, which are still not served, are catching the sleek green and gray SMART cars at the airport station, they said.

An updated ridership report, based on passenger counts by SMART conductors, showed an average of 2,651 riders on weekdays from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1, close to the system’s forecast of 3,000 weekday riders.

On Tuesday, the first day of full-price fares, SMART had 1,853 riders, which Mansourian said was “not bad” for the day. One-third of the riders boarding with Clipper cards had purchased 31-day passes, he said.

For its first 11 days of paid ridership — all but one at half-price fares and not counting Wednesday — SMART carried a total of 26,124 riders, averaging 2,375 a day, the report said. All rides were free on SMART’s inaugural day Aug. 25.

Revenue from fares and sales of SMART apps totaled $125,076, or $11,370 a day. The agency had targeted $11,000 a day.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or