Caltrain riders sound off on budget cuts

About 860 people have weighed in on potential service cuts at Caltrain, including 245 who attended the company's Bay Area public opinion meetings on Aug. 19, a spokeswoman said.

"The concern seemed to be the same at all meetings," spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

Train riders are concerned about Caltrain suspending its weekend service and its service to Gilroy. Others want fare increases: 190 people said they favor a 25-cent increase in base or zone fares in order to avoid service cuts.

The increase to base fares would generate $900,000 additional revenue for Caltrain, and a zone fare increase would generate a potential $1.4 million in revenue.

Officials at Caltrain announced on Aug. 13 their need to solve a $2.3 million gap in budget. They are letting the public weigh in their comments until Sept. 2, when there will be a formal public hearing at the Caltrain headquarters in San Carlos.

Other proposals offered include a suspension of service and redefinition of youth to ages 17 years and younger. Currently, high school students who are 18 years old still qualify for youth-related discounts.

Caltrain has been facing ongoing budget problems. Last year, the company eliminated eight midday trains and increased parking fees in order to handle a $2.6 million budget gap.

"We don't see a light at the end of this tunnel," Dunn said.

"We're dangerously close to that tipping point when you begin to lose ridership, and then it becomes a vicious cycle with dire consequences."


Like this comment
Posted by Anna S.
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:50 am

Let's eliminate Caltrain completely. Then HSR can use their tracks and we won't lose any lanes of Central/Alma.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom B
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Every day I watch empty trains go back and forth to Gilroy and at night they run empty trains that are not even on the schedule so they are there in the morning. CAltrain says there are 800 riders each month from Gilroy: 800/20work days=40 riders a day, 3 trains a day/40= about 13 r1ders on a six car train. Rent a van and drive them to work and save thousands of dollars and hundreds of gallons of fuel. Please stop the waste!!!

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Posted by Fred
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2010 at 2:09 pm

If only Bart could give some of its surplus money to Caltrain. Waste not, want not.

Like this comment
Posted by Trainee
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Aug 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm

"We don't see a light at the end of this tunnel," Dunn said.

Isn't there a joke about the light being a train?

Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Shut down weekend service, consolidate all construction contractors to work uninterrupted during this time, and save both ways: 1) save money on construction, by reduced interruption and down time, and 2) save by not running half-empty trains.

Let's get real here, the large old diesel locomotives, with five cars behind them, are not what should be running during off peak hours.

Allow Caltrain the time and space to upgrade, and run a few EMU/DMUs during off hours.

Like this comment
Posted by koa
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Was the $28 million spent on renovating the Cal Ave station Caltrain's money? That was a colossus waste of money.

Like this comment
Posted by Koa
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Further research shows that the Cal Ave renovation actually cost $35 million, not 27. Their budget gap is $2.3

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 26, 2010 at 9:27 pm

The article shows us that saving $900,000 with a $0.25 base fare and saving $1,400,000 with a $0.25 zone fare increase would raise the needed $2.3M if--a big if--the increased fares do not cause the number of rides and zones to go down.

As a very occasional rider I would not like to see fares go up or the number of trains go down, especially on weekends, but reducing the number of trains would also cut the deficit. Maybe some combination of increased fares and reduced operations is the best choice.

Most of the comments focus on cutting Reagan's famous "waste, fraud and abuse". Reagan found there wasn't as much to cut as he thought--and some of what he cut was what I thought was not waste, fraud and abuse at all. I suspect the same is true of Caltrain. The $35M to renovate the California Ave station, for example, was clearly a waste of money to Koa, but I suspect there are others who think it was money well spent. Caltrain has spent big bucks on capital improvements and maintenance for several years and I'm glad they did it. I hope there was no waste, fraud and abuse in it.

Caltrain's problem today, however, is not capital improvements or maintenance, but operations: the cost of running the trains exceeds the expected revenue by $2.3M. This raises the classic deficit problem shared by all government entities from small towns to the Federal government. You have to reduce cost (in Caltrain's case, run fewer trains) or increase revenue (in Caltrain's case, increase fares) or both. I think Caltrain is well enough managed that it will do a bit of both and minimize the loss of customers. Cutting waste, fraud and abuse will help, but only help; it's not a significant part of the solution.

Like this comment
Posted by Jarrett
a resident of Castro City
on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:44 pm

@ Koa

That money comes from capital budgets. Caltrain has a deficit in their operating budget. Two different pools of money, unfortunately. While the new station design at Cal Ave is lousy, the two platforms were necessary to eliminate the "hold out rule" that prevented trains from passing one another when one train was stopped at the station.

Eventually, Caltrain will need to become a special district so it can raise its own stable source of revenue independent from the 3 transit agencies that currently support it. When they electrify, it would be nice to see BART-like headways of every 20 minutes off-peak but I'm not holding my breath.

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