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End of the line for Caltrain?

Original post made on Feb 14, 2011

Draconian cuts are planned for the 147-year-old Caltrain passenger-rail line, which is facing a $30 million deficit on a $100 million operating budget due to multi-million-dollar subsidy cuts from San Mateo's, Santa Clara's and San Francisco's transit agencies, which supplied 43 percent of Caltrain's revenues in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years. ==B Video by Veronica Weber/Embarcadero Media.==


Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, February 14, 2011, 11:10 AM

Comments (16)

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Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Losing CalTrain altogether would be tragic. Cutting CalTrain down to a commute-time only system would be very bad for the area and local businesses. I don't buy the argument by people who say "let it die"--CalTrain is a vital link in our infrastructure. And, it actually operates more efficiently than BART, VTA, Muni, etc. by collecting significantly more of its budget from the fare box.

Since Santa Clara and San Mateo counties decided not to join BART when it was conceived, CalTrain is all we have to travel up and down the peninsula. Buses couldn't make up the volume or efficiency of the trains. It seems strangely unfair that CalTrain has no dedicated funding, that the operating agencies can just pull their funding when they want.


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Posted by Seer
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Well, it has finally come to pass: the same people who beat the drum about not externalizing the benefits of public transportation by demanding that it either pay for itself or be shut down, are now whining about how they can't bear the externalized costs of shutting it down. In other words, they are having to eat their words.

The simple fact is that farebox recovery is no way to judge the utility of a public transit system. Using farebox recovery is in fact, "creative accounting" designed to make public transit look bad, when in fact the true benefits that offset the costs go far beyond the cost of a ride in a car. As we saw in this article, the car isn't really an alternative, since if it's stuck in gridlock, you won't get to your destination.

It's time for us to be honest with ourselves and fund public transit based on the benefits it provides our economy and communities - as well as based on the alternative costs like widening freeways which it prevents us from having to spend. Clearly, the money to pay for it IS there, if it is there to pay for the costs of the alternatives. Presuming that you can just "let it die" AND also not pay the alternate costs of gridlock and highway widening is head-in-the-sand fantasy that I certainly hope we're all smart enough not to have to actually make real just to prove to ourselves how much of an illusion it is.

Imagine how much of the potentially lost benefits listed by this article would be increased if CalTrain - or better yet, BART - served the corridor with trains running 18h a day on 10 minute headings so that people could rely on it to get where they needed to go.


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Posted by Old Man
a resident of Whisman Station
on Feb 14, 2011 at 2:37 pm

So why is the federal government so sure we need to dump billions into a high speed rail system. It could be a billion dollar saddle on a dead horse if nobody rides.

The cuts seem reasonable, considering the ridership and jobs downturn. I love reality.




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Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:07 pm

USA is a registered user.

Yet another content-free article with the standard-issue tax-and-spend whining along with the now ubiquitous greenhouse gas alarmism. Yawn.

Wake me up when someone at the Voice can start asking about where that $100 million is spent.

BTW, the ridership graph should be labeled as to what the data is. Is that where the riders live, where they board, or where they arrive?


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:48 pm

40,000 riders a day. Seriously: whoop dee doo.

I'm confident most of those riders are concentrated around the commute hours. Empirically, I have ridden the train at off-peak hours and there were in every case very few riders on board.

Frankly, it makes perfect sense to cut weekend/non-peak service. It's called being efficient.

Tangentially, If they ran a friday/saturday 2:00am train from SF to San Jose, had a couple off duty police officers onboard and charged $30-$40 per rider they would have a packed train, and we would have a lot less drunk driving on the freeways at 2:00am


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:50 pm

re: "Well, it has finally come to pass: the same people who beat the drum about not externalizing the benefits of public transportation by demanding that it either pay for itself or be shut down, are now whining about how they can't bear the externalized costs of shutting it down."

You're constructing a strawman. People who have based all kinds of transit-oriented community planning on the assumption that Caltrain would be around are generally not the crowd saying, "Let it be shut down."

I've been critical of Caltrain's financial management here, but I've never said that it should be shut down. My takeaway from the article is that, if we're going to plan so much around Caltrain, we should be scrutinizing its financial management, not just assuming they know what they're doing.


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Posted by Tom Lustig
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 14, 2011 at 4:03 pm

There should be a short term fix for Caltrain, but in the long run BART should be considered. Currently, BART comes down to Millbrae from the north, and plans are for it to end at Santa Clara from the south. A BART link between the two would allow us to go to most parts of the Bay Area on one system, and would in turn allow visitors/workers to come to our city in a more direct way than is the case now.


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Posted by KD
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm

"She estimated that there would be 20,000 more vehicles on the road, and U.S. Highway 101 between the South Bay and San Francisco would need 2.5 more lanes to keep the commute flowing at current levels, she said."

1) assumes all 20,000 commuters drive their own cars (no sharing)
2) assumes none of these commuters take US Highway 280

The real question to be asked is whether or not there is sufficient population density along on the Peninsula to warrant railway service between SJ and SF


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Posted by jupiterk
a resident of Gemello
on Feb 14, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Calrain needed a head who put services and passengers as #1 priority. Unfortunately, we had unethical and overpaid people running caltrain to the ground, no pun intended. Even after all these problems, the same old overpaid people are running. what will they do next year. Cut it down from 48 to 30? And they will pay themselves a hefty salary and perks for doing nothing.


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Posted by Max
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Maybe it is time for the state to start colleting the sales tax on mail order and internet sales shipped from other states.
I know California requires the sales tax to be paid but cannot enforce the seller to collect the tax. The purchaser is supposed to pay this sales tax but only a very few do. I met one person who does this. He is the California tax auditor who visits our company.
I wouldn't mind paying the California sales tax. Most of my purchases are online out of convenience, better selection, and hopefully better deals. I don't shop online to avoid paying the sales tax.
Regarding the High Speed Rail, I see no need for it to go through the densely populated peninsula. Route it through the east bay and then over or under or at grade with the bay...which ever the HSR authority thinks will win the most votes.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:11 am

Max,

I don't think collecting more taxes will help. Caltrain seems to have a perverse financial structure where they lose more money the more riders they have. Until their managers figure out how to benefit from having more riders instead of always trying to cut back ridership levels when times are hard, nothing can help.

Also, the high-speed rail project is constrained, by the language of the ballot initiative, to the route that goes through our neighborhoods. So, to re-route it would require another initiative.


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Posted by Seer
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Old Man - if you love reality, you'll love the reality of the traffic jams that happen when they shut CalTrain down. You can't just cut "a little" out of a commuter rail schedule since people won't be able to trust that they can get home after work, or handle emergencies. Ridership will plummet - as it has each time they cut the schedule. Oh and by the HSR has nothing to do with CalTrain: it's not intended to carry short-range commuters. In fact, CalTrain is necessary to feed people to HSR.

USA - you're sounding a little tired there, man. The verifiable science and observations of world ecosystem in freefall due to global warming is all around you, and you simply look ridiculous calling it a hoax. The hoax is the one you believe in, carefully orchestrated by Big Money. Try thinking for yourself for a change - which includes turning off Big Money's mouthpiece, Fox News. Remember, it is us at the top of the world ecosystem - when it fails, we will go extinct. However, Caltrain isn't going to save us from Global Warming, but your bringing it into the discussion shows how far people are willing to go to ignore it.

Mike - you seize on the wrong points. Those eager to er, throw Caltrain under the bus, always claim they can drive, and claim that public transit should pay for itself. Yet neither alternative pays for itself from per-use fees. The "strawman" is the belief system that somehow costs can always be borne by the users of a service when the society as a whole uses the service in ways that are not obvious to those who find thinking carefully about issues to be a challenge. This article was the first intimation of how those people will suffer when such short-sighed decisionmaking takes place. It's the same irrational process that leads people like USA to think that they can gain from ignoring global warming while letting someone else pay the costs.


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Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm

The "global warming" cap & trade scam fell apart years ago.


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Posted by Margaret near the train tracks
a resident of Willowgate
on Feb 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Maybe this is a silly question, but, if we can't operate a short line like Caltrain, then why do we think we can operate the high speed rail?


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 16, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Definitely not a silly question, Margaret.


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Posted by Seer
a resident of Castro City
on Feb 17, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Margaret: Who is "we"? Caltrain is not operated well because it's an afterthought that has no direct responsibility to any particular governmental entity. It's not public, it's not private. That's why its funding - essentially gifts from public agencies - has been cut off. Also, there is the very weird prospect that their CEO is on the board of directors of one of the agencies that sends CalTrain money, which is a conflict of interest if I ever saw one. CalTrain should be run by something like ABAG but ABAG has never been allowed to accumulate enough power to do anything due to NIMBY local governments. The one thing we can learn from this is that a bunch of city and country governments simply can't collaborate well enough to solve regional problems. The HSR authority is different but I think you do ask a good question, which is where their political mandate comes from. Unless it's strong enough to override local governments, you'll just have CalTrain problems on a bigger scale.

Old Ben, Old Man: "cap and trade" was the dysfunctional result of letting nonscientific deniers control the agenda. The next steps to control anthropogenic global warming will be a lot more draconian, say, when the antarctic ice shelf falls into the ocean (which has begun.) Then you'll be sorry that cap and trade wasn't allowed to work. The downside of cap and trade is that it's been rife with corruption because it was created by the same corrupt corporatocracy that wants you to believe that AGW is a chimera. However, using that corruption to justify ignoring the problem is circular reasoning: "AGW isn't a problem because the cures that the AGW-deniers came up with don't work"... riiight!


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