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A Modest Proposal: Beer Train

March 8, 2011
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Caltrain has problems.  With counties not paying their share, a projected $30 million deficit, and no sign of a gas tax, some creative financing is in order. While all sorts of crazy-ass cost reductions are being proposed, I’m of the opinion that you need to make the train more attractive to ride (especially since the walking / Muni / VTA connections at either end are latency- and pain-inducing).

However, I have a suggestion that will both increase ridership and increase revenue from existing passengers:  I propose that Caltrain sell beer ON THE TRAINS to raise revenue (and passenger morale).

(Beer machine image via pokoroto, Caltrain image via digitalczech)

Anyone who has been to Japan knows the absolute magic of beer machines.  They are omnipresent (and quite likely omniscient) and one can buy up to a 2 litre “Big Boy” if necessary. (@SelfEdge reminds us there are also advanced models, but there probably isn’t enough commute time to justify a Caltrain bar car.)

But do not fret — the Caltrain beer machines shall be stocked with local and regional beer — Speakeasy, Anchor, Lagunitas, etc.

Let’s say a regular beer would go for $5, a large for $7, and Caltrain-exclusive beers (like Pliny The Commuter and Anchor Steam Engine) for $9. If everyone who rides the afternoon/evening commuter trains buys a beer, Caltrain will be saved! My math is as follows:

Let’s say there are 50 working weeks a year.  This gives us 250 days of high traffic Caltrain secondary revenue opportunities. So we have $120,000 a day that Caltrain needs to make up.

  • Each afternoon, there are 5 “bullet” and 9 limited stop trains during afternoon commute hours. (I am assuming people will not drink on the way to work, but boy are there ever days…  And the local trains could easily drive you to drink.  But I digress.)
  • Considering only at the afternoon fast(er) trains, $120k/14 is just about $9K per train.
  • I believe 80% of Caltrain’s revenue comes from commuters, so I’m estimating around 15,000 folks on the afternoon/evening commute.  That’s close enough to 1000 people per train.
  • If everyone buys two regular beers, Caltrain’s deficit will vanish!
  • You could even use your Clipper card to buy a beer! (Though if you forgot to tag off you’d probably get charged for a 6-pack.)

OK, so probably not everyone will buy two beers. But this would be a sizeable chunk of revenue. And beer on the car could potentially increase ridership. Then there’s food vendors at each station — why not eat dinner on the train? Also: Japanese coffee machines for the morning commute.

Come on Caltrain, figure this one out, OK?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2011 5:40 pm

    I would ride Caltrain JUST so I could drink a “Pliny the Commuter”. And Anchor Steam Engine nearly made me spit out my coffee.

  2. March 8, 2011 5:41 pm

    Why even have a machine? The guy who comes around to check your ticket could take your order.

    • March 11, 2011 3:13 pm

      In fact, I think they use almost the same handheld POS devices that Southwest uses…

  3. Samir permalink
    March 8, 2011 5:49 pm

    the capital corridor has beer/wine/ and liquor!

  4. Concerned Guajolote permalink
    March 8, 2011 6:12 pm

    re bullet point 2: include free splash of Clamato with purchase and everyone will want breakfast beer as well, you can safely multiply your figures by 2.

  5. Postrideburrito permalink
    March 8, 2011 6:48 pm

    Add a coffee machine in the morning, and you’ve got TWO new revenue streams!

  6. Steve permalink
    March 9, 2011 10:37 am

    You sir are a visionary.

  7. March 9, 2011 3:24 pm

    Let us not forget that said machines can also dispense delicious canned sake!

    Beer and Sake

  8. Jacob Eiting permalink
    March 10, 2011 5:02 pm

    As if there aren’t enough large scary drunk gentleman going to the Giants game on the train already.

    • March 10, 2011 5:52 pm

      Higher prices during Giants games then.

  9. Reca permalink
    March 14, 2011 12:58 pm

    My understanding is that Caltrain is somehow constrained by Amtrak and is not allowed to sell food and drink on board.

  10. RichardN permalink
    March 23, 2011 8:50 am

    The last time I checked, they do sell beer at the Caltrain station in SF, AND you can drink it on the train. Did something change or are you people not paying attention? Sure it would be nice to have someone take your order, but it’s also nice for people to just let me alone with my thoughts, the industrial backstage of the Peninsula, and a nice Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

    • March 23, 2011 11:11 am

      I think you miss my point. I don’t want humans to take my order. I want a glorious beer-dispensing robot ON the train, and that revenue to help fund Caltrain.

  11. RichardN permalink
    March 24, 2011 2:58 pm

    In the case of a robot, I’m down with that. In the case of my drinking helping Caltrain, down with that too.

  12. May 29, 2011 5:59 pm

    Joe Sherlock Writes: “Recently, I watched ‘Daylight: The Most Beautiful Train in the World’, a 2005 railroad documentary hosted by Michael Gross. The film tells the story of the famous Southern Pacific Daylight trains which traveled the Pacific Coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1937 to 1971.

    The trains had tavern lounge cars built by Pullman-Standard. Railroad historian Richard K. Wright said that revenues from the tavern car paid for the entire operating cost of the of the Daylight on every trip in the 1930s and ’40s. All other revenues – tickets, dining costs, etc. were pure profit.

    All hail the power of alcohol!”


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