Amtrak CA had a pretty bad October

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Paulus

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Amtrak needs to hurry the heck up on their reporting. LOSSAN

Ridership

Surfliner down 3.3%, impacted by weekend work windows in San Clemente.

Starlight down 4.5%

Capitol Corridor down 3.5%

San Joaquin down 3.3%

Amtrak nationally was up 3.8%

Metrolink is shedding ridership, partly its economic (issues with Los Angeles) but there are increasing complaints about on time performance since all the locomotives seem to be failing lately.

This is the first month where Amtrak is reporting ridership for Amtrak issued multi-ride passes based on eTicketing rather than the previous methodology using estimates. As such, some routes will see a decline in reported ridership, especially those with a large proportion of riders using monthly passes. In order to ensure accurate comparisons between FY 2014 and FY 2013, Amtrak provided the FY 2013 eTicketing data as a base to compare the FY 2014 eTicketing data. This change in reporting has no impact on ticket revenues.
Revenue

Surfliner down 5.6%, second straight month (as was the case with ridership)

Capitol Corridor down 10.5%

San Joaquin down 4.7%

Starlight down 1.6%

Amtrak nationally up 6.9%.
 

Texan Eagle

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When Megabus and BoltBus entered the California market, I had started a topic wondering if this will impact Amtrak, and the usual band of die-hard Amtrak loyalists on this forum had shot down my prediction.. and I am sure the fans-in-denial-of-reality will soon come out in full force on this thread too to suggest how these numbers don't mean anything.

Now I shall duck and retreat :ph34r:
 

Anderson

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The Capitol Corridor is nothing new, but I'm surprised by the San Joaquins. Is there anything to indicate what's causing that, other than the bus situation? One idea that does come to mind is that last fall, the ridership might have just gotten "ahead of itself".

Nationally, those numbers are broadly in like with a trend of 2%/year in ridership (Amtrak was up 0.4% last October), though the combined revenue figures do impress (last October, Amtrak's revenue was up 3.4%, so revenue for October 2013 is up about 10.5% on revenue for October 2011). If I had to guess, this indicates that, shutdown be damned, the NEC probably had a hard rebound from last October.
 

Swadian Hardcore

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Please excuse this bus fan here a second, I would like offer my opinion. I can understand why the SJ and CS lost ridership, I think it's a combination fo ultra-low Virgin America fares, Megabus, and the massive delivery of new Greyhounds to Los Angeles Garage, which are even running on Locals. I'm not sure why the CC and PS lost ridership, it probably just got ahead of itself.

When I was in Oakland in October, I was in Jack London Square and spotted a CC coming out of the station, it was quite empty indeed. Does anyone have an idea why the CC is plummeting so hard, expecially the revenue? Or is this a blip?
 

SubwayNut

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Would the revenue on the Capital Corridor be because of the "Take 5" promotion, the take up to 5 friends for only $5 each?
 

afigg

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When Megabus and BoltBus entered the California market, I had started a topic wondering if this will impact Amtrak, and the usual band of die-hard Amtrak loyalists on this forum had shot down my prediction.. and I am sure the fans-in-denial-of-reality will soon come out in full force on this thread too to suggest how these numbers don't mean anything.

Now I shall duck and retreat :ph34r:
Megabus and BoltBus may indeed be contributing to the dropoff in ridership. The ticket price increases for the trains leave some of the corridor services vulnerable to being undercut by the curb side buses.

But this is a rather large shift for the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor from September when the CC had no change in ridership and San Joaquin was off -0.9% compared to Sept 2012. The change in how they count monthly passes might be the major reason. Since this is from the report for the LOSSAN corridor, it does not provide info on whether there were service interruptions for track work or problems on the other 2 CA corridors.

There is a large backlog of HSIPR funded track projects that will be underway over the next 2-3 years on a number of corridor routes across the US. We are going to see some large swings in monthly ridership and revenue reports due to disruptions or long delays caused by the track work. However, the Amtrak monthly reports may only mention the track work in passing in the comments while the ridership and revenue table does not provide data on how many trains ran or were annulled. So there will be guesswork on our part as to whether the ridership decline is real or a temporary thing.

The nationwide ridership increase of +3.8% while the CA corridors were down has to be partly due to comparing the NEC and eastern corridors to 2012 when Sandy hit, but Sandy hit at the end of October limiting its damage to the October 2012 numbers. Systemwide ridership was up +0.4% in the October 2012 monthly report.
 
G

Guest

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Please excuse this bus fan here a second, I would like offer my opinion. I can understand why the SJ and CS lost ridership, I think it's a combination fo ultra-low Virgin America fares, Megabus, and the massive delivery of new Greyhounds to Los Angeles Garage, which are even running on Locals. I'm not sure why the CC and PS lost ridership, it probably just got ahead of itself.
If you read the LOSSAN report which Paulus linked, Pacific Surfliner had significant drops in on-time performance; and that ALWAYS hurts ridership. On the Pacific Surfliner, it's probably just that and nothing more. They'd better get the trains running on time again, though...

It may also be suffering from the same LA-specific economic issues which Paulus alluded to which are reducing Metrolink ridership. (I'm not really sure what those are. What are they?)

When I was in Oakland in October, I was in Jack London Square and spotted a CC coming out of the station, it was quite empty indeed. Does anyone have an idea why the CC is plummeting so hard, expecially the revenue? Or is this a blip?
I also don't know what's wrong with the Capitol Corridor, but it's *not* just a blip; it's been doing unusually poorly on ridership (by comparison to other Amtrak routes) for at least a year now. And apparently it isn't even due to price increases, from what others are saying. Maybe it's the Sacramento station fiasco.
 

Texan Eagle

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I also don't know what's wrong with the Capitol Corridor, but it's *not* just a blip; it's been doing unusually poorly on ridership (by comparison to other Amtrak routes) for at least a year now. And apparently it isn't even due to price increases, from what others are saying. Maybe it's the Sacramento station fiasco.
In the last one year, I have seen the Capitol Corridor about a dozen times in person, and every time except one Sunday night run from Sacramento, there has always been less than 50% seats occupied, in fact I have had two instances of me being the sole passenger in an entire car. I am no economist but my small brain says, a train that runs as empty as this surely can't be making money.
 

Anderson

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The situation with the Capitol Corridor is a bit of a mess. On the one hand, the trains are being run more as mass transit than anything, which tends to result in a "run lots of trains" approach to things (the corridor's frequencies are on par with what you get on Metrolink, for example...both Antelope Valley and the Capitols run 15x daily on weekdays).

With that said, one thing that would probably massively improve the route's performance would be extending 2-3 trains to Reno with or without Nevada's support. Given that Reno does nearly 80,000 passengers per year on the Zephyr alone (and given that LD trains tend to be a bit...er...temperamental on the back ends of their runs), and based on Amtrak's comments about demand in the Zephyr PIP, there's almost assuredly a large amount of demand for such a service...and let's also be honest, the bus transfer costs you riders.

With that said, between this and all the issues surrounding Metrolink (I really have yet to hear ANYTHING positive about how Metrolink is run), I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that CA just does a lousy job of running commuter rail operations in general.
 

rickycourtney

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When Megabus and BoltBus entered the California market, I had started a topic wondering if this will impact Amtrak, and the usual band of die-hard Amtrak loyalists on this forum had shot down my prediction.. and I am sure the fans-in-denial-of-reality will soon come out in full force on this thread too to suggest how these numbers don't mean anything.

Now I shall duck and retreat :ph34r:
Well let me throw this bucket of cold water onto that argument... BoltBus started service between LA and San Jose/Oakland on October 31. Service between LA and San Diego starts today (Nov. 14). So I HIGHLY doubt BoltBus had anything to do with this dip. I also doubt Megabus is to blame considering that the service started in December 2012... and in that time the San Joaquin broke the ridership record almost every month... and shattered the annual ridership record.

I've always argued that most passengers on the San Joaquin aren't traveling from LA to SF... they are going from a city in California's central valley (like my home of Fresno!) to either LA or SF.

It will be interesting to see if this decline continues into next month... or if it was just a blip in the radar.

Please excuse this bus fan here a second, I would like offer my opinion. I can understand why the SJ and CS lost ridership, I think it's a combination fo ultra-low Virgin America fares, Megabus, and the massive delivery of new Greyhounds to Los Angeles Garage, which are even running on Locals. I'm not sure why the CC and PS lost ridership, it probably just got ahead of itself.
As I mentioned above, I think that most passengers on the San Joaquin aren't traveling from LA to the Bay Area. The trip from LA to Oakland takes 9 hr, 15 min on the San Joaquin at a cost of $59. Compare that to a 7 hr, 45 min trip on BoltBus at a cost of $9 or a 6 hr, 20 min trip on Megabus at a cost of $9. I prefer trains... but I would choose the bus in a heartbeat.

I think the competition on the route is between the low-cost air carriers (Virgin America & Southwest) and the low-cost bus lines (Megabus, BoltBus, Greyhound Express).
 

Paulus

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It may also be suffering from the same LA-specific economic issues which Paulus alluded to which are reducing Metrolink ridership. (I'm not really sure what those are. What are they?)
According to LOSSAN a few months ago:

Average weekday ridership on Metrolink trains in June 2013 recorded a 4.1 percent decrease from a year earlier. This decline is part of a trend that started last year when ridership growth began to decelerate in November 2012, and turned negative beginning in January 2013 (Figure 1). Since January, Metrolink has been experiencing a decline in average weekday ridership every month. Losses reached 4.1 percent in June, but could be limited to less than 1 percent in July 2013.

Ridership losses are systemic and are impacting all lines, with the exception only of the Inland Empire Orange County (IEOC) Line (Figure 2.). Weekend ridership continues to be strong. Although weekend ridership has been growing by 30 percent annually, it has not translated into new weekday commuters.

These ridership losses can be traced to economic conditions, an increasing churn rate, and a decline in Metrolink’s core ridership segment: commuters traveling to Los Angeles Union Station. As these commuters defect, they are not being replaced by new commuters. Several findings support this hypothesis:

1. All lines serving Los Angeles County experience ridership losses. The only line exhibiting strong ridership growth is the IEOC Line, which does not serve Los Angeles.

2. During the fourth quarter, Monthly Pass sales declined 4.7 percent over the same quarter a year earlier.

3. The largest ridership losses were recorded for trips to and from LA Union Station, down 3.5 percent year over year.

4. Large ridership increases were recorded for trips to Orange County, but not by enough to compensate for other losses (Union Station accounts for 63% of all weekday trips).

5. Downtown Los Angeles lags the region in job growth, in part, because of the high concentration of the government sector, which has been shedding jobs.

6. Downtown Los Angeles also experiences increasing office vacancy rates. “Negative absorption rates will likely continue, meaning the vacancy rate is not likely to drop any time soon.” (Los Angeles Business Journal, July 22, 2013).
Part of the problem is that Metrolink is set up basically solely to funnel workers into downtown Los Angeles for work Monday through Friday, 9-5. The OC Line, the second most heavily trafficked line, has no service away from Los Angeles after 6:30pm (and the last OC Line into Los Angeles leaves Irvine at 5:10 and arrives at 6:20pm). Metrolink really needs to introduce off peak, reverse commute, and and 12-hour and second shift service (a couple stops are right near major hospitals which makes this all the worse).

It doesn't help that Metrolink is also fairly expensive. 45 miles from Irvine to LA Union is $11 one way, 24¢ a mile (Surfliner is $18, 40¢ per mile). It's well above the marginal cost of driving. Metrolink also has issues with brand recognition and lack of consumer awareness and this may actually impact the Surfliner; people don't see much of a difference between the two and issues with Metrolink (like the trains breaking down all the time lately) may easily result in backlash against the Surfliners.
 

Blackwolf

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In regard to the SJ's, time will improve in the future. The route is going to be getting its own high-speed dedicated track in portions of the Central Valley as CAHSR is built. The unknown factor is if the improvements in running time will be quick enough politically and realistically before decisions are made which would hurt the train.

As stated in another thread, the Capitol Corridor is too expensive. Further up in this thread is an example: Los Angeles to Oakland on the SJ for an Adult one-way trip is $59. One Adult one-way trip on the CC between Sacramento and San Jose is $40! :help:

Another thing on the horizon which may impact the Capitol Corridor is the extension of ACE (Altamont Commuter Express) up to service Sacramento. This has been planned for several years now, but I have no timeline on if/when it it would be implemented. If it were, however, ACE would likely be half the price for those traveling to points in the South Bay (and still access the same stations in Santa Clara and San Jose,) as well as be cheaper than Amtrak California between Sacramento and Stockton. Amtrak California is looking to have some competition indeed.

Do I think any writing is on the wall which has dire consequences on the CA routes? Sure, but unless all the board members of LOSSAN and CCJPA are complete idiots, the routes can and likely will be "massaged" and be flexible enough to react to the changing environment.
 
N

Nathanael

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5. Downtown Los Angeles lags the region in job growth, in part, because of the high concentration of the government sector, which has been shedding jobs.

6. Downtown Los Angeles also experiences increasing office vacancy rates. Negative absorption rates will likely continue, meaning the vacancy rate is not likely to drop any time soon. (Los Angeles Business Journal, July 22, 2013).
I see. Poor office market and government "austerity" policies. Makes sense. Thanks.
 

roadman3313

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The situation with the Capitol Corridor is a bit of a mess. On the one hand, the trains are being run more as mass transit than anything, which tends to result in a "run lots of trains" approach to things (the corridor's frequencies are on par with what you get on Metrolink, for example...both Antelope Valley and the Capitols run 15x daily on weekdays).

With that said, one thing that would probably massively improve the route's performance would be extending 2-3 trains to Reno with or without Nevada's support. Given that Reno does nearly 80,000 passengers per year on the Zephyr alone (and given that LD trains tend to be a bit...er...temperamental on the back ends of their runs), and based on Amtrak's comments about demand in the Zephyr PIP, there's almost assuredly a large amount of demand for such a service...and let's also be honest, the bus transfer costs you riders.

With that said, between this and all the issues surrounding Metrolink (I really have yet to hear ANYTHING positive about how Metrolink is run), I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that CA just does a lousy job of running commuter rail operations in general.
Reno used to be in the Business Plans of the CCJPA as well as expanded service to Auburn beyond the one round trip per day, however UPRR objected and refused to fund the improvements to Donner without significant investment from the state. Without those improvements they will not allow any additional passenger service. I agree that extending to Reno would be a nice idea and I wish that it would return into the Business Plan.
 

Anderson

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The situation with the Capitol Corridor is a bit of a mess. On the one hand, the trains are being run more as mass transit than anything, which tends to result in a "run lots of trains" approach to things (the corridor's frequencies are on par with what you get on Metrolink, for example...both Antelope Valley and the Capitols run 15x daily on weekdays).

With that said, one thing that would probably massively improve the route's performance would be extending 2-3 trains to Reno with or without Nevada's support. Given that Reno does nearly 80,000 passengers per year on the Zephyr alone (and given that LD trains tend to be a bit...er...temperamental on the back ends of their runs), and based on Amtrak's comments about demand in the Zephyr PIP, there's almost assuredly a large amount of demand for such a service...and let's also be honest, the bus transfer costs you riders.

With that said, between this and all the issues surrounding Metrolink (I really have yet to hear ANYTHING positive about how Metrolink is run), I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that CA just does a lousy job of running commuter rail operations in general.
Reno used to be in the Business Plans of the CCJPA as well as expanded service to Auburn beyond the one round trip per day, however UPRR objected and refused to fund the improvements to Donner without significant investment from the state. Without those improvements they will not allow any additional passenger service. I agree that extending to Reno would be a nice idea and I wish that it would return into the Business Plan.
I know it's probably one of those dizzying figures, but I have to wonder what they'd require.

As to Metrolink: That's a good point. You have some limited reverse-peak service on a few lines (mainly where it's being done to cycle equipment), but even though they can be successful in some regards, overly peak-oriented commuter rail lines have some real limits on what they can actually accomplish in terms of ridership.
 

Swadian Hardcore

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I can easily comment about Reno considering that Praven dosen't exist.... :) . Again, please excuse me for talking about buses, I'm sure you will understand. Amtrak service to Reno is slow and expensive. Even if they added more trains to the route, it would still be too slow to be much use to travellers. For example, Amtrak's CZ takes 8 hours to get to the Bay Area and costs $50 and the bus-train combo is a terrible deal at $60. Meanwhile, Greyhound takes 5 hours and cost only $10, Megabus is even cheaper. Even better, theese fares are available even on the same day of departure. So Amtrak really can't do much without major upgrades to the Donner Pass line.

I think a lot of the Amtrak ridership has got to do with snow closures on the roads, not that they're actually competitive. Greyhound Reno sees about 90,000 passengers boarding per year. Do note that Greyhound has no through service in Reno, all buses that come will terminate. I don't know Megabus ridership numbers. That 90,000 pax is pretty good considering the average bus has only 50 seats.

Come on, it's one of those things, are you really going to take a train to Reno from California when there's no snow on the highway? :help:
 

Paulus

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I know it's probably one of those dizzying figures, but I have to wonder what they'd require.

As to Metrolink: That's a good point. You have some limited reverse-peak service on a few lines (mainly where it's being done to cycle equipment), but even though they can be successful in some regards, overly peak-oriented commuter rail lines have some real limits on what they can actually accomplish in terms of ridership.
Estimates ranged up to about $200 million, which is about right for two daily round trips. Currently has 68,000 annual riders via Amtrak Thruway buses. Personally I'd rather see any such money spent extending the San Joaquins to Redding, 140,210 bus riders in FY11.
 

The Journalist

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I'd guess that 68,000 to Reno is mostly the Zephyr, even at the prices they charge. Adding a Capital train would probably add a bunch of ridership since it wouldn't need a transfer anymore. It's slower, sure, but based on those Zephyr numbers I suspect the travel market to here isn't all that time-sensitive. Look at the Fun Train/Snow Train, which get a 16 car train, granted on a two-a-week seasonal schedule. Getting some short-haul travelers off the Zephyr might help Amtrak too. I don't see Nevada helping with that at all, though, and I wonder what the CA casinos say if Caltrans was subsidizing travel to Nevada. Greyhound has some major image problems here (the new buses are helping probably) and Megabus only does two runs a day, so it's not like the ground transport market is saturated.
 

Anderson

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IIRC, the numbers in those annual state summaries are 100% train. For example, VA's never included NFK/VAB, and when the state was issuing monthly reports of their own, NPN's numbers in the state reports was equal to NPN in the Amtrak annual summary plus the NFK/VAB bus numbers.

While I will agree that a good deal of that ridership is dubious road conditions in the winter, there are two responses to that:
(1) Nothing says Amtrak would need to run all trains year-round (one or both trains could operate primarily/exclusively in the colder months, with equipment cycled in from trains that run far less full in the winter);

(2) They could set things up so the incremental cost of running those trains was close to zero (i.e. one or both frequencies would have no impact on an equipment turn, so you'd pretty much just have fuel, crew time, and track access fees); and

(3) It's entirely possible that in spite of the numbers, there's more benefit to be had to Amtrak's bottom line in the form of clearing out some through space on the Zephyr. This showed up with the Lynchburger, IIRC: The Crescent lost some ridership to/from LYH and CVS, but it was replaced with ridership to other city pairs.
 

The Journalist

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Is there a place where that's broken out? The Amtrak FY 2012 fact sheet just shows 68,000 for the entire station, and that has to include a bunch of train riders.

Edit: this is in response to Paulus
 
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Paulus

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Is there a place where that's broken out? The Amtrak FY 2012 fact sheet just shows 68,000 for the entire station, and that has to include a bunch of train riders.

Edit: this is in response to Paulus
Draft 2013 California State Rail Plan, page 242.

In addition, Amtrak Thruway bus service (Route 20A) provides three daily roundtrips for passengers traveling between Sacramento and Reno, with stops at Colfax, Truckee, and Reno, terminating in Sparks. The Amtrak Thruway service is heavily used with the FY 2011 numbers showing 67,900 annual passengers.
Figure someone might like this: Analysis: Train 715 rail and bus passengers on Friday, April 20, 2012 and Saturday, April 21, 2012. It honestly amazes me that Amtrak does not do more Thruway service.
 

The Journalist

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That's impressive ridership for a bus service. So the corridor overall has probably 100k ridership-some of the trains' ridership is going/coming from east, and some of those bus riders aren't going the whole distance. Definitely needs more frequencies so...

From the State Rail Plan: [SIZE=10pt]Increased passenger rail service would require UPRR[/SIZE][SIZE=10pt]’[/SIZE][SIZE=10pt]s cooperation, which has not been provided in previous study efforts. ...[/SIZE]
Securing the cooperation of the UPRR is the key challenge.

[SIZE=10pt][/SIZE]
How very…diplomatic…of them.
 

Texan Eagle

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I'd guess that 68,000 to Reno is mostly the Zephyr, even at the prices they charge. Adding a Capital train would probably add a bunch of ridership since it wouldn't need a transfer anymore. It's slower, sure, but based on those Zephyr numbers I suspect the travel market to here isn't all that time-sensitive. Look at the Fun Train/Snow Train, which get a 16 car train, granted on a two-a-week seasonal schedule. Getting some short-haul travelers off the Zephyr might help Amtrak too. I don't see Nevada helping with that at all, though, and I wonder what the CA casinos say if Caltrans was subsidizing travel to Nevada. Greyhound has some major image problems here (the new buses are helping probably) and Megabus only does two runs a day, so it's not like the ground transport market is saturated.
If pigs can fly and we can dream, I have a couple of suggestions for Amtrak to improve ridership on Capitol Corridor-

1) Tap into the huge Bay Area to Lake Tahoe market- run a very early morning train starting from San Jose 4.00am, Emeryville 5.00am, Sacramento 7.00am, Truckee 10.30am. Run Thruway Bus connection to North lake Tahoe or sign up with some of the big ski resorts there to send shuttle buses to Truckee. Currently lots of tourist buses run from Bay Area to Tahoe where buses depart at 4am or so, people go to sleep during the journey and wake up on reaching Tahoe in good time to get a full day of snow fun. Continue the train to Reno reaching at 12.00pm. Start return journey from Reno at 4.00pm, reach Truckee at 5.30pm to collect tired tourists after a day at Tahoe, Sacramento 8.30pm, Emeryville 10.30pm, San Jose 11.30pm. Run this train on Saturdays and Sundays.

2) Tap into the Reno gambling/tourist market: run a late evening service departing San Jose 4pm, Emeryville 5pm, Sacramento 7pm, Reno 11.30pm. Run this on Friday and Saturday evenings. For return, Reno 4am, Sacramento 8.30am, Emeryville 10.30am, San Jose 11.30am on Sunday and Monday mornings.
 
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