Electronic billboards to push mass transit 

Although the "green" energy-saving benefits of trains and buses are often touted, Caltrain and Caltrans are hoping that the red glow of brake lights may inspire Bay Area residents to get out of their cars for their daily commutes.

On Monday, the two organizations began a joint operation to display train travel times along the Peninsula along with driving times on large electronic billboards.

Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said that although he hopes some drivers will be immediately inspired to turn off and hop on a BART or Caltrain, the real goal is to get people thinking while they’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.

"It’s a great way to catch people when they’re in the thick of the morning commute, annoyed with the pace of traffic and wishing they weren’t in it," he said.

Before this week, the billboards displayed travel times to various Peninsula destinations by reading passing FasTrak transponders. The same information is used on 511.org to forecast travel times.

The signs now display that data and the current train schedules to locations north or south of Millbrae.

Although they won’t be updated in real time, they can be modified to reflect any significant delays along the line. The travel times will apply to departures and arrivals at the Millbrae station.

Weinberg said a sign in Millbrae is the first of two in the pilot program. By the end of the month, a sign at Whipple Avenue will begin displaying the same information for the Redwood City train station.

Sandy Wong, of the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County’s Congestion Management Program, said she often debates between the train and her own car when deciding how to get to work in Redwood City from her home in Daly City.

"There are days that the traffic is horrendous and I’m happy to be on the train reading a book or the newspaper, but the downside is that if I want to take a detour after work, I’m more restricted," she said.

She does not expect to see immediate results from the change in displays, but hopes that after repeatedly reading the travel times while stuck in traffic, drivers will move off the road.

jgoldman@examiner.com


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