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Caltrain faces big service cuts

Original post made on Apr 2, 2010

Faced with a staggering deficit, Caltrain will consider cutting its service significantly in the next 15 months, spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew said Wednesday

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 2, 2010, 11:52 AM

Comments (42)

Posted by Doug Pearson, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 2, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I want good Caltrain service (though I'm not a commuter) but Caltrain cannot operate without subsidies--its fares pay for only 40% of its operating costs, according to the article. Multiplying fares by 2.5 will not get to 100% of operating costs because fewer people would ride. Cutting costs by reducing service will not solve the problem because there will be fewer riders. Making Caltrain more efficient, e.g., by electrifying the trains, takes even more money though it might eventually pay for itself in reduced energy costs. Caltrain needs to have its subsidies restored. That may happen in a few years, but doesn't help today.

Caltrain will do what it has to do. I'm sure I will not like it any more than they do.

Posted by Mickey, a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 2, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Let Caltrain go out of business and sell their right of way to Bart. Extend Bart from Milbrae down to San Jose. Now that makes sense.

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 3, 2010 at 7:26 am

I want good Caltrain service (though I'm not a commuter) but Caltrain cannot operate without subsidies"

Doug, where do you draw the line on government agencies receiving subsidies (taxpayer money)? How many such agencies and programs do you envision supported by taxpayer money unable to balance a budget?

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 3, 2010 at 7:33 am

There's no money to extend BART, just like there isn't enough money to build high-speed rail.

Meanwhile, we have an real live existing commuter train line that appears to have neglectful management. On a CalTrain ride a few weeks ago, I started thinking about how CalTrain rarely seems to try innovating to increase profits or ridership.

There are things they could try. A no-brainer for increasing ridership in this area is to have wi-fi on the train (and the stations). What about running some mini-buses to help bring more people to the stations? Or running smaller trains during slower hours?

Posted by Celso Aguiar, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 3, 2010 at 9:17 am

Agree w/ Mike, wi-fi would be a good reason for many to ride caltrain. Enforcing rules caltrain itself proposes would also be a good thing. Bike rules for example are rarely followed because conductors don't enforce them. In the summer it's a mess of bikes and many have no conditions to be riding on the train. This is a turn-off for passengers as all it does is cause delays.

Posted by Jeff Patheal, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Wifi would be a draw for riders as well as more feeder bus service. As for Celso Aguiar's comment about enforcing bike rules? Do you ride a bike to caltrain? I ride Caltrain with my bike daily and have not experienced the problems he refers to in the bike car in the summer or any other time of the year. Why would other passengers care, there are four other cars available to them.

Posted by Max, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 3, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Caltrain night service is huge waste of money as it is only used by a handful of people.
Let's save taxpayer's money and eliminate Caltrain services after 9 pm

Posted by Paul, a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 3, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I agree with Max, I hardly see more that a few people riding Caltrain in the night hours
Let's eliminate late night service and save some money

Posted by ken, a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

This is only the beginning...prepare if you can for the much tougher times that are coming.

Posted by prm, a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 3, 2010 at 11:09 pm

FYI Caltrain HAS wireless service. Speaking for myself, I'd take Caltrain with more frequent service and better reliability. I used to take it during the day for errands and appointments when it ran every half hour but it's not worth it to wait an hour if I miss a train. Caltrain benefits drivers (and breathers) by taking cars off the roads. Public transit helps the economy and helps families because people who can't drive for whatever reason can get to work, school, etc. Funny how nobody complains about taxes going to maintain roads as though driving is a right and riding a train is a privilege. One last note - I've taken trains from San Francisco on weekend nights when it's been full.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 4, 2010 at 7:30 am

Are you sure, prm? This FAQ on their website, says they still don't have it:

Web Link

Could it be that you just happened to catch the pilot program?

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 4, 2010 at 7:38 am

Agree with you, prm, about their need to increase frequency and reliability. That's fundamental to getting people to ride.

Also, they need to think carefully about how potential riders get to and from the stations, and the experience at the stations. For example, it was a little thing, but adding the electronic signs to give train schedule updates makes the whole experience of riding a lot better.

It would be ever more rider-friendly if major stations like San Jose Diridon had a live person on the platform answering questions. I can't count how many times newbie riders have come up to me to ask basic questions like, "Am I on the right platform?", "When is the train coming?", "Does the express stop at San Antonio?"

Posted by John the Man, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2010 at 10:04 am

Doug, before you rail (no pun intended) on Caltrain only getting 40% of its budget from fares, please look at other transportation agencies and see how they compare.

Did you know that VTA only gets about 10-20% of its operating budget from the farebox? A whopping 45% of their funds come from a single 1976 tax law. They get only about 10% of their income NOT from a tax or grant source.

The idea that Caltrain can operate without a subsidy is not looking at all other transportation agencies: they ALL operate with huge subsidies, in the forms of tax law revenues or grants.

Posted by John the Man, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2010 at 10:11 am

It seems a bit crazy that Caltrain has evolved over the years without a dedicated and permanent source of subsidy. It looks like now that the tax revenue musical chairs has stopped, they are simply going to have to figure out what to do.

If Caltrain reverted to commuter-only hours, that's better than nothing.... and it is really the reason Caltrain exists: to move commuters. No, that wouldn't be nice to weekend and night workers. But it wouldn't be 'unfair'; it would just a business decision to serve as many people as it can with now very very limited resources.

What gets me is that Caltrain people had to know this day was coming, the day when their obviously precarious funding situation would implode. They had to know the good times and largesse of other regional transit agencies would eventually end. If they didn't know and didn't somehow plan for it, then they weren't doing their jobs and should be asked to leave those jobs.

Was their plan simply wring their hands in public and wonder what to do? And beg and plead other agencies to continue to give them money they now so clearly do not have? So far, they have given no indication that they actually did have a back up plan but that the plan is no good. They have indicated they have NO back up plan.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 4, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Hard to get around the fact that we are not Europe and not well designed for public transportation...perhaps higher gas prices will drive people to take the would better health...if you were fit enough to bike or walk to the train and walk more, in general, you may opt for it over your car.

Posted by Dave, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 4, 2010 at 9:10 pm

>They had to know the good times and largesse of other regional transit agencies would eventually end.

Everything eventually ends. But voters are not generally known for rewarding government bureaucrats who attempt to solve problems too far in advance.

That we're hearing about these June, 2011 changes in April, 2010 rather than April, 2011, suggests that we can assume some level of general competence on the part of CalTrain employees.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 4, 2010 at 9:26 pm

re: "Hard to get around the fact that we are not Europe and not well designed for public transportation..."

I dunno. Seems odd to me they can't make enough money to be self-sustaining. They have a right-of-way to kill for, and a large pool of potential riders, many well-paid professionals who want to live a green lifestyle.

Posted by phm, a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 4, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Mike, you're right, I caught the pilot program for wireless.

I don't think Caltrain employees are dumber than the rest of us - who really thought the economy in general and California state finances in particular would crash the way it did, although looking back it's clear it was headed in this direction for a long time.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 5, 2010 at 2:44 am

It's a fine point, but I'm not speculating that Caltrain management is dumb; I'm speculating that they lack incentives that would drive them to innovate.

Posted by Alex, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2010 at 7:31 am

The current Caltrain service is OK. Definitely better than BART. I would be OK to pay up to 25% more for the service.
They easily could charge something those month pass holders that use free Weekend travels

Posted by David Craig, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 5, 2010 at 9:12 am

Let the whole stupid train system fall. Here is a classic example of government waste. We spend Jillions on public transportation that very few people use. We are not Europe! Spend on things that Americans need. Forget the train system and put the money in the schools math and science programs.

Posted by Julie Carr, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 9:16 am

I never take the train and I don't know anybody that does. It's dangerous. Just look around those train stations and the weirdos that hang around the stations and the weirdos that actually ride on the train. I would never take the train. Period.

Posted by John, a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 5, 2010 at 11:41 am

Caltrain is good public transportation, but expensive. I used to take the train a couple of times per week, and ride my bike to work, but over the years the fares have gone up. It's now cheaper (and more convenient) drive my truck. I'm not suprised with Caltrain's financial crisis.

Posted by Bruno, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2010 at 2:12 pm

@ David Craig,

"We spend Jillions on public transportation that very few people use."

Jillions? And what do you classify as "very few"? Ever been to the train station on a weekday or before a Giants or Sharks game? Few isn't a word I'd use to describe ridership, and certainly not "very few". By the way, those train lines have been functional since the mid 1800's.

@ Julie Carr,

Your post is almost funny. So you don't take the train and don't know anyone that does. So what? I do take the train and I know plenty of people that do too. Maybe I'm one of those dangerous weirdos that you worry about while I'm talking with my friends, laughing and waiting for the train. Your post screams of prejudice and self righteousness.

Posted by JR, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Cal Train is very efficient for going to Giants games and Shark games. The cost (if you go a lot) is a little steep, $12.00 r/t from San Antonio to Sf. Also, at commute times, the Train is packed. The best time to go for quick sevice is at those commute times, known as the bullet trains. They, from castro street station, make 5 stops and you get to sf in 50 minutes.
I agree with the night service, which could be cut back to save money, especially during the week.
Just my 2 cents.

Posted by James Thurber, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Caltrain, like all public transportation, is never going to be 100 percent full or perfect. However, every person on Caltrain takes a car off the road. It increases our green footprint. It cuts down on overcrowding. It is a practical method of public transportation.

It should be (nearly) 100 percent funded by gas taxes. People should be encouraged, by all means possible, to take the train.

Our gas tax situation is abysmal. We have some of the lowest gas taxes in the world yet use the most gasoline. Our infrastructure is in poor shape and a small increase in gas taxes could begin paying for repair. How about $2 a gallon (State Tax) as a good beginning?

Posted by rdm, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Peninsula residents, one of the wealthiest and most ostentatiously "green" populations in the country and the quickest to demand sacrifices from the less enlightened for the sake of the environment, should be packing the trains throughout the day. Fare revenues would then be helping to mitigate Caltrain's deficit.

But let the price of riding the train become uncompetitive with driving, and the cry goes up for more taxation to keep fares low.

By design, I've lived within 5 miles of my work for the past 20 years. It required trade-offs, the cost of which I absorbed. I make relatively little money by mid-Peninsula standards, but I pay plenty in taxes. Why should I pay even more in taxes so that someone making $150,000 a year can work in SF and live in Mountain View, but not have to pay the cost of the living and working choices they made?

Posted by Bill McFarland, a resident of Willowgate
on Apr 5, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Just some reflections ...

I rode Caltrain to Adobe in downtown San Jose for 8 years, every single day, even in pouring rain. They innovated with the baby bullet trains and I loved every minute riding them. The trip from Mtn. View station to Diridon in San Jose is 11 minutes. It's exciting! I still have my baby bullet commemorative cards from the first running day.

I got 45 minutes of useful walking exercise every day to and from the stations at both ends. The Bombardier cars they bought from the Seattle Sounder system are very luxurious.

The passing tracks they installed along the system enable the bullet trains to pass the regular trains at crucial points. That's something BART hasn't done and likely won't do because of the enormous cost. Ditto for VTA light rail. The bullet trains go from San Jose to San Francisco in 57 minutes.

When you travel alone, the cost isn't so great. But if you are taking a group of 3 or 4 on the train, then the cost does mount and I often opt to drive to San Francisco with a group. I rode BART years ago and the incremental cost per rider was similar. You can also use a carpool lane with multiple riders.

I hope Caltrain gets to electrify the system. That would be so good, clean air locally, faster starts.


Posted by Mr. J carr, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 10:46 pm


Posted by Richard Tan, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Apr 6, 2010 at 7:57 am

I would like pay Tax (or Gas Tax) for Caltrain operation. However, I want to repalce Caltrain management at the same time. They are not innovative to increase the ridership or to reduce their cost structure. There are several inefficiency. Long turnaround time - idles train at the terminal without revenue. Many train ilding at maintenance facility. Excess crews on the train - 2~3 conductors. Same length of train thought out the day - excess train capacity and waste of gas.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 6, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I took a quick look through Caltrain's 2009 financial report last night. By the far, the biggest line item under the Operations category is for contracted services. If you read on, it says that the day-to-day operation of Caltrain is contracted out to Amtrak. I had no idea that Amtrak has this role in operating Caltrain. Frustratingly, the financial report has no breakdown of how Amtrak's big slice of the operating budget was spent.

Posted by Albert Ming, a resident of Castro City
on Apr 6, 2010 at 3:00 pm

During the week, Caltrain runs trains through Mountain View until about 1am in the morning. Are these late night trains really needed?.
When I am up late and watching the trains pass by, they look nearly empty.
Cutting off late nigh trains looks like an easy and relatively painless way to save on operating expenses.

Posted by Caltrain Rider, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I read a few months ago, Caltrain was going to be getting funding to install GPS on trains and at each station so riders could see when the next train was coming. What a joke now. After the last service cut & hike, caltrain service due to mysterious malfuntioning trains and equipment has really increased. Several times I have been on a train and it had just STOPED. I don't know how it could even be an option to totally CUT weekend service ?? Although I hate to see anyone lose a job, how come I never read about Caltrain LAYOFFS or management taking a paycut ? If there will be fewer trains and no weekend service why would you need all your employees ?
Management would also be doing less work.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm

@James Thurber:
$2/gal gas tax would really be unfair to the many people that cannot use our poorly designed public transit system, and many of whom are just scraping by as it is. Not everyone that drives out of necessity has a high paying Silicon Valley job.

Perhaps we should look at the oil companies to pony up some money for public transit, since their products are a significant contributor to the environmental problem. Forbes reported that Exxon paid $0 in federal taxes last year, while reporting $45.2 billion in profit.

And that is only one oil company. If they are profiting by selling the products that are polluting our environment, perhaps they should be contributing something to the solution. Seems sort of logical, doesn't it?

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Not on board at all for your idea of singling out Exxon to pay for the train system.

If they're taking advantage of tax loopholes, close 'em up. Make 'em pay the same tax rates as everybody else. But I have to speak out against the growing tendency in our society to single out this or that group to be vilified and shaken down for cash.

Exxon isn't pushing gasoline to little children behind the schoolyard. Almost all of us drive cars. Any pollution created by that is all of our problem. Not something to be blamed on the evil corporation du jour.

Posted by Bruno, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2010 at 11:00 am

Yeah, but if I'm giving thousands in taxes per year I don't see why Exxon shouldn't pay their share. I realize that this is how the system currently works, but I'm calling bs.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2010 at 11:16 am

@Mike Laursen,

Mike -- I wouldn't single out Exxon, just a little worked up that so many corporations take advantage of us in SO MANY WAYS. They may not be pushing gasoline to little kids behind the school (not sure what the inference is there) but the school kids could sure use some of the tax money they should be spending.

Closing the loopholes isn't going to happen. Since 1998 the oil companies have spent over $400 Million on campaign contributions and lobbying, so I'm not holding my breath.

My point is that adding $2/gal to gas prices to pay for Caltrain in not really fair to those that don't have the option to use public transit.

Posted by Seer, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm

The real issue here is that a commute-time-only rail service is nearly useless to everyone, even commuters. I used to take CalTrain to work up the Peninsula, but I knew I could count on getting home if the boss asked me to stay late. Imagine working in SF and having the choice between losing your job because you can't stay late due to CalTrain hours, or having to spend the night in SF because you can't get home. The reason people use public transit in Europe is that it *works*: you can trust it to get you where you want when you want. Cutting service doesn't foster that trust.

Posted by Seer, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Julie Carr, how can you know there are all those "weirdos" on CalTrain if you never ride the train? You haven't even gone onto the platform to see if they ARE "weirdos." The only thing "weird" about them is that they aren't driving a car and polluting the world with it. Clearly, your opinion is worthless.

Posted by coming out the woodwoork for caltrain? wow, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 10:30 pm

WOW who really cares this much..i take it when it makes sense, expensive but still considered a convienience in my opinion. who pays attention to schuedules? just show up and if you have to wait 20 min so be it....they run frequent enough. sad to see cuts with summer andf baseball season starting

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 8, 2010 at 9:48 am

woodwork, I'm just going to guess you are young and relatively carefree. I would have thought about it the same way before I started getting more family and work responsibilities. Now, I pretty much gotta be at this place or that place at a very specific time throughout my day. Makes it hard for people like me to use public transportation unless it is frequent and reliable.

Posted by John the Man, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 11, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Caltrain itself has a LOT of responsibility for all this. Again, they just seem to have no plan for the day when their precarious funding went to pot to even discuss. There is no excuse for that.

Had they had one, maybe there would have been some sort of different funding or rainy-day fund in place for reckoning day (today). At least people would have had some input not under such dire circumstances and maybe some good ideas would have been generated. Instead, we have nothing.

I could have come up with a plan/reaction to cut service by 40% in about 30 seconds and I'm not even employed by Caltrain.

If that is the VERY best Caltrain executives and managers can come up with, then we probably should end Caltrain. It won't get any better with such 'talented' people running that circus.

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