Sonoma-Marin commuter rail sees 26% ridership rise in January after new ferry link, more frequent trains
Train ridership between Sonoma and Marin counties appears to have received a sizable January boost, which the transit agency attributed to a number of service upgrades in the past two months such as a new San Francisco ferry link and shorter times between trains.
And the initial figures may point to SMART as not just a north-south commute option.
SMART trains last month had 26% more riders than a year before, according to spokeswoman Julia Gonzalez. The report of preliminary numbers was presented at the Wednesday board meeting for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit. Final January numbers will be released at the end of this month, after reconciling figures for physical counts and usage of Clipper cards and app ticket sales.
“It’s hard to know what it’s attributable to at this point,” Gonzalez said Thursday. In mid-December, the Larkspur station opened, realizing one of the promises before SMART trains first started rolling in 2017 that there would be a link to the terminal for ferry travel to and from San Francisco. The agency also launched a $12 “sail and rail” pass that includes a midday and weekend ride on the train and the ferry.
Last month, SMART also cut the time between trains to 32 minutes, filling in gaps in services of an hour and a half during parts of the midday and evening. Another service addition was the opening of the downtown Novato station.
SMART has faced criticism in recent months over release and interpretation of ridership figures. Voters in the two counties will be deciding next month on whether to renew a sales tax that supports SMART. Campaigns for and against the tax renewal have topped $1 million each so far.
Among the preliminary January numbers SMART will be analyzing more closely is a possible sign that more Marin commuters have started riding SMART to Sonoma County, Gonzalez said. Last month, the 6:38 a.m. northbound train was 87% full, with San Rafael and Petaluma being key embarkation stations.
“People think it’s a southbound commute into the city, but people are coming north too,” Gonzalez said.
Also on Wednesday, the SMART board approved a plan to request that the transit line join the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Clipper START program for half-price fares. A pilot for the program is set to launch this spring.