Sonoma-Marin-Area Rail Transit launched its commuter train service between Sonoma County and Marin County at the beginning of September after months of delays caused by technical problems, including engine replacement on all 14 of the train’s cars. In the first weekend of paid operations, about 2,000 daily passengers rode the train, surpassing SMART’s initial projections of 300 daily riders on weekends.

“I see a great beginning,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager. “People tell us how much this is cutting down their commute. You have a choice of sitting in your car and being stressed out or sitting here using the free Wi-Fi.”

Base fare is $3.50 plus $2 for each zone crossed, equating to an average overall fare of $7.50, or $5.25 with discounts. Clipper cards, used for public transit throughout the Bay Area, also work on SMART, as well as SMART’s mobile app.

A free shuttle connects the system’s current southern terminus in San Rafael to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

Even in its early days of operation the train showed that commuters planned to combine SMART with bicycles. Mansourian said trains have carried thousands of bicycles on board, with the greatest concentration falling on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Each of three most popular days saw more than 700 or 800 bicycles total, while Saturday and Sunday bike usage ranged from 100 to 200.

“I would have expected a lot higher number of bikes” on weekends, said Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park’s mayor and a SMART board member.

While noting that SMART will need to monitor data over a longer period of time, Mansourian said the popularity of bicycles may prompt operational changes. SMART has several options to make commuting more comfortable for bicyclists and pedestrians, such as adding a third car during the highest-traffic runs, according to Mansourian.

“We need to accommodate bicycles and passengers competing for the same space,” Mansourian told board members in a meeting. “They’re looking at the bike as a first- and last-mile solution.”

SMART’s board supported a 2.2-mile extension from San Rafael to Larkspur by approving an $8.7 million contract amendment to cover signaling and communication systems for the track that will connect the system to the ferry serving San Francisco. The extension project is slated to cost about $52 million.

Santa Rosa City Council approved a shuttle to run between downtown and the SMART station. The council allocated up to $141,000 for the shuttles through June 30, according to Rachel Ede, acting deputy director for the city’s transit division. The contract with Dallas-based MV Transportation, which operates Santa Rosa Paratransit, allows for two one-year extensions.

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