Published Friday, May 7, 2010, by the San Mateo Daily Journal
Caltrain's deficit growing
By Bill Silverfarb
Daily Journal staff
Caltrain's deficit is projected to grow to $40 million in two years, a result of its three member agencies lowering its annual contribution, declining sales tax revenue and the state's budget crisis.
A public hearing has been called for June when Caltrain is expected to declare a fiscal emergency, allowing it to bypass state law to raise fares or reduce service, for instance.
The train service does not have a dedicated funding stream and relies on SamTrans, Santa Clara County's Valley Transportation Agency and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to survive. San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties formed a joint-powers agreement to operate Caltrain, which provides service from Gilroy to San Francisco.
Caltrain's revenue has dropped more than $18.3 million from this year to last based primarily on its three-member agencies contributing $14 million less to its operating budget.
Revenue for fiscal year 2011 are projected to be $78.9 million with $43.4 million of that coming directly from the fare box. The three transit agencies will contribute $25.4 million to Caltrain for 2011, down nearly 37 percent from 2010.
While ridership is slightly down for Caltrain, fare box revenue has been relatively steady.
Expenses for fiscal year 2011 are projected to be $102.4 million.
The transit agency faced a nearly $25 million shortfall before finding one-time funds to shrink the deficit down to $12.5 million.
"These one-time fixes won't last forever," said Mike Scanlon, Caltrain's executive director.
SamTrans initiated lowering its contribution to Caltrain because it faces a $28.5 million deficit on its roughly $135 million budget.
"Half of the sales tax at SamTrans goes straight to debt service -- most related to BART," Scanlon said.
In three budget cycles, from 2010, 2011 and 2012, revenue is expected to drop nearly $30 million while expenses climb. Caltrain's revenue in fiscal year 2010 was $97.2 million. For fiscal year 2011, revenue will be $78.9 million. The number plummets further in 2012 to $63.8 million.
Without an ability to expand capacity and attract new riders with improved service, the system's structural deficit will continue to increase and will eventually threaten the entire system, according to Caltrain.
The goal is to one day electrify and separate the rails from the road on the entire system which will allow for increased capacity.
Caltrain operated 98 trains last year and only 90 this year, accounting for part of its ridership drop.
Daily ridership is down by about 6 percent from 39,122 riders a day in 2009 to 36,778 in 2010, as counted in February.
Only two of Caltrain's 29 station stops saw an increase in ridership -- downtown San Francisco and San Martin, south of San Jose. The rest of the system has seen a drop in ridership.
Ridership is down 19.1 percent at the San Bruno station, 15.4 percent at the Belmont station and 6.9 percent at the Redwood station, for instance.
In San Mateo County, Millbrae has the highest average weekly ridership with 2,485 passengers a day. San Francisco has the system's highest ridership, followed by Palo Alto and Mountain View.
Caltrain will consider reducing weekend and service to Gilroy again as it attempts to find millions in cost savings. The system's baby bullet trains are by far its most popular, accounting for the least percentage of lost riders throughout the system.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: silverfarb@...
or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.
[BATN: See also:
Caltrain faces struggle to survive as member agencies pull funding
Caltrain survival in doubt after 50% service cut next year
SMCo. tax losses to further cut BART, Caltrain & SamTrans funding
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MTC did what politicians, not riders, wanted on BART SFO/Millbrae
More madness: huge opportunity cost of Millbrae BART extension
Madness of MTC & SamTrans-backed BART SFO/Millbrae extension
BART SFO/Millbrae cost SamTrans over half a billion dollars
Divorce from BART over SFO disaster still costing SamTrans dearly
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