Caltrain plans service cuts, fare hike; 2012 shutdown possible
- Published Thursday, June 3, 2010, by the San Mateo County Times
Caltrain will cut service in October, raise fares in January
By Mike Rosenberg
San Mateo County Times
Caltrain intends to cut service in October and raise fares in January and may create a "wind down plan" to prepare for a possible shuttering of the railroad in 2012, officials said Thursday.
The Caltrain board unanimously declared a fiscal emergency for the fiscal year that begins in July, which will allow the agency to raise fares and cut service more easily. Immediately after, the board heard for the first time proposals to close some of the $36 million gap -- out of a $100 million annual budget -- the agency faces starting in July 2011.
The directors later this summer will vote on two fare increase proposals, and the one they choose will go into effect in January -- exactly two years after the last jump in ticket prices.
The board could either raise base fares by 25 cents to generate $2 million annually or hike each zone fare by 25 cents to generate $2.8 million. Caltrain fares are based on the number of zones a rider travels through, with a trip between San Francisco and San Jose spanning four zones.
The idea is an about-face for an agency that said earlier this year it would not raise fares because it would drive away too many riders.
Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey acknowledged that "fares are a sensitive subject, particularly in this economy," but officials said they were left with few options.
"We've kind of got our backs against the wall here," said spokeswoman Christine Dunn. "And it has been two years."
As for service cuts, officials said there would be some reductions in October, but the bulk would come in mid-to-late 2011, when larger budget problems are projected. That is when SamTrans, San Francisco Muni and Santa Clara VTA are expected to further slash their annual Caltrain subsidies, from a peak of $39 million currently to $11 million.
Among the options are to eliminate weekend service, which would save $420,000 annually, and halt trains on the Gilroy extension, which would free up the most cash, $770,000.
Also, the agency could erase from its schedule four midday trains, two in each direction, and save $200,000. Finally, it could stop the first two trains of the day, plus two more after 8 p.m., and save $170,000.
The numbers factor in the revenue lost from misplaced riders. Only 82 people ride the Gilroy extension each weekday. Other cuts would impact 18,400 weekend trips, 1,100 midday passengers, 200 early morning riders and an undetermined number of late night travelers.
"When we start cutting service, we start losing revenue in a big way," Harvey said. "So you have to cut a lot."
Board member Omar Ahmad, the San Carlos vice mayor, suggested Thursday that Caltrain create a "wind down plan" to prepare for the worst and ensure the agency was not "playing poker" with its riders.
"Unless you can find a very different way of doing business, let's start talking about the obvious, which is how would you wind the thing down. and what would it mean," Ahmad said in an interview. "I think folks need to have a very clear picture of (their) choices."
Caltrain officials said they will consider the motion but, having just heard the idea Thursday, would not commit to creating the plan. Although they are optimistic, they acknowledge that without major changes, the railroad is endangered.
"We have not been able to find a service model that will keep this railroad open" in 2012, Harvey said.
In other budget news, officials said Thursday they will fill the $4.9 million capital budget gap -- a separate funding plan bankrolled mostly by money earmarked for infrastructure -- by deferring cosmetic projects on trains. There will be no seat cushions replaced or windows cleaned this year, for instance.
"We're not going to have things look quite as nice," Harvey said.
Also, the agency plans to save $500,000 by closing its two ticket offices at the San Jose and San Francisco stations.
Another proposal would raise $150,000 by increasing the employer-sponsored GO Pass from $140 to $155.
The fiscal emergency is the second in as many years for the agency. Last year, it paved the way for Caltrain to trim service from 98 to 90 trains.
How will Caltrain balance its budget?
Proposal / Annual Caltrain savings
25-cent per zone fare hike = $2.8 million
25-cent base fare hike = $2 million
Eliminate Gilroy service = $770,000
Close both ticket offices = $500,000
Eliminate weekend service = $420,000
Cut four midday trains = $200,000
Cut four morning, night trains = $170,000
GO Pass hike from $140 to $155 = $150,000
Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation. Contact him at 650-348-4324.
[BATN: See also:
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Councilwoman urges pressure on Caltrain to save Gilroy service
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Letter: Counties must help Caltrain obtain dedicated funding
Caltrain to again declare fiscal emergency to speed service cuts
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Editorial: Cities must help avoid Caltrain cuts
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