Huge Caltrain cuts may include elimination of service south of SJ
- Published Monday, May 24, 2010, by the Gilroy Dispatch
Caltrain mulls brake on service
By Jonathan Partridge
Caltrain might cancel service to South County because of budget cuts and decreased ridership, according to budget projections shared at an citizen advisory board meeting last week.
The news follows a study that indicates ridership along the "Gilroy extension" -- which runs from Gilroy to the Capitol station in San Jose with a stop in Morgan Hill -- has dropped 27.6 percent since 2006. Gilroy Councilwoman Cat Tucker, who attended the advisory board meeting Wednesday, is encouraging fellow council members to do what they can to keep service alive.
"To completely eliminate a (region) I think is absolutely the wrong thing to do," Tucker said.
If approved by the Caltrain board of directors, service would be eliminated at the Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill stations as well as the Blossom Hill and Capitol stations in San Jose, spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.
Discussion of eliminating service to South County comes as Caltrain faces a $12.5 million deficit for next fiscal year.
Although Caltrain obtained $18.7 million from state, federal and other miscellaneous sources to reduce its deficit, operating contributions from transportation agencies in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are still expected to drop by nearly $14 million.
Declining ridership also poses a problem for Caltrain. Overall ridership dropped for the first time this past year, plummeting from 39,122 riders in 2009 to 36,778 in 2010. Total ridership along the Gilroy extension declined by 81 riders during that time period.
The Gilroy station's ridership alone dropped by 23.7 percent during that time period from 156 to 119 daily riders, and Morgan Hill's ridership dropped by 14.5 percent from 123 to 105 daily riders, according a Caltrain count in February. San Martin's ridership remained steady at 45 riders per day.
Morgan Hill resident Mercedes Perez accounts for one of the 105 passengers who take Caltrain daily; she's been commuting to San Jose for more than a year.
"Well of course they're losing money, people are riding for free," Perez said. She said just last month she was asked just once to show her monthly pass to a conductor and Perez said the train is full during her 7:40 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. commute.
She said Caltrain could save a bundle if they simply checked tickets or used a turnstile similar to BART or subway systems.
"I thought they were trying to be green and this means people will be driving and polluting," Perez said. "I don't know who is coming up with these ideas, because it's crazy."
Some stations saw a far larger decline than those in South County. For instance, College Park station in north San Jose lost almost half of its ridership this past year.
Caltrain also is looking to save money by eliminating midday, weekend and holiday service as well as late-night and early morning services, Dunn said. Those proposed reductions would impact 5,700 midday riders, 2,000 night riders, and 18,000 weekend riders, Caltrain officials estimated last month.
In addition, Caltrain is considering doing away with staffed ticket offices in San Francisco and San Jose.
"Pretty much everything is on the table," Dunn said.
Caltrain will discuss cost-saving measures during its June 3 board meeting, she said.
In an e-mail, Tucker called on her colleagues to "pressure" Caltrain to not cancel service to South County, where service was extended in 1992 thanks to a concerted effort by local residents.
"As you can imagine once the trains stop coming they won't be easily started again," Tucker wrote.
Gilroy Councilman Peter Arellano shared Tucker's concerns Monday.
"I think it's short-sighted on their part and it's going to be hard to get the ridership back," he said.
However, at least one local resident indicated he has no interest in continuing rail service in Gilroy. Local attorney Joe Thompson sent a letter to the City Council Monday that opposed subsidies for Caltrain service.
Thompson, who generally opposes public transportation projects, stated in the letter that he often noticed fewer than five passengers aboard Caltrain on winter evenings.
"When our brilliant leaders in South County lobbied for 'Caltrain extension' to Gilroy, I got together with a local (accountant) and found that you could hire limousines, transport six passengers per limo, and give free drinks and a $10 tip to the limo driver, for travel between Gilroy and San Jose, for less than we pay for Caltrain service," Thompson wrote.
However, Councilman Perry Woodward, who sits on the board of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, expected ridership to pick up once the economy improves. He expressed doubt that the Caltrain board would actually do away with service, proposing that individual cities that benefit from Caltrain pitch in to help keep the services alive if needed.
"The reality is the that studies all show that Highway 101 is going to be gridlocked in 20 years," Woodward said. "We ought to be boosting the availability of transit, whether it's public transit or private transit."
Jonathan Partridge covers City Hall for The Dispatch. Reach him at 408-847-7109 or e-mail him at jpartridge@...
[BATN: See also:
Caltrain eyes further spending cuts to balance $12.5m budget gap
Letter: Counties must help Caltrain obtain dedicated funding
Letter: Eliminating or cutting Caltrain will hurt Bay Area economy
Editorial: Cities must help avoid Caltrain cuts
Caltrain riders hope devastating service cuts don't materialize
Caltrain riders try to avert huge service cuts as new blog launches
Column: Why Caltrain is an orphan & 5 myths about Caltrain
Letter: Keep Caltrain rolling with a state tax on oil
Caltrain crisis has officials eying new sources for operating cash
Caltrain goes broke; will likely cut weekend, night, midday trains