News

Caltrain board: 'The crisis is at hand'

Board could declare fiscal emergency at or following March 3 public meeting

The board that oversees Caltrain is calling for a public hearing on March 3 to declare a fiscal emergency and to consider cutting service and closing stations, a move that would turn the West's second-oldest passenger line into a daytime commuter train that would operate only during peak business hours.

Rail proponents and commuters urged the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board on Thursday (Feb. 3) to stay the hearings and consider a variety of possible interim funding options, including taking $5.5 million earmarked for the Dumbarton Rail project and getting two other transit agencies in Santa Clara and San Francisco counties to help make up the $30 million shortfall. But board members decided to move ahead with plans to reduce service, citing the need for a wider public discourse on the future of the rail line.

Thursday's unanimous vote pushes forward a key component of the draconian cuts: a board vote on or shortly after the March 3 meeting to declare the fiscal emergency. An emergency declaration would allow officials to make the cuts without need for longer-term analysis through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regarding impacts, board members said.

Caltrain proposes to cut weekday trains from 86 to 48 to run during commute hours only, along with any necessary adjustments to shuttle-bus services. All weekend, night, holiday and special-event service would be eliminated. Up to seven of 10 stations could be closed between San Francisco and San Jose: Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio in Mountain View, Lawrence, Santa Clara and College Park. All service south of Diridon station in San Jose would end. Base fares would rise 25 cents.

"We all know that the crisis is at hand," board member and Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager said.

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Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, new to the board, said she hoped detailed studies of the impacts on roads and communities around the stations to be closed could be done.

In terms that were often pained and impassioned, board President Michael Scanlon spoke about the costs of losing Caltrain service.

People look at the costs but don't understand the greater impacts. With more people driving instead of taking the train, more car accidents will occur, Scanlon said.

"The fact is that more people will die," he said.

Scanlon said public perceptions of where funding comes from make it hard to make the case for saving public transit.

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"Our society quite frankly is unenlightened. There is a widespread belief that highways are free," he said, pointing instead to gas and other levies that support roadways.

But subsidies Caltrain receives are criticized.

Kniss said the human costs could resonate with the public.

"We've got a terrific case to make. It's enormously important," she said.

Scanlon blamed SamTrans, which has announced it must reduce its share of subsidies to Caltrain by $10 million, for causing much of Caltrain's current problem. SamTrans is facing a crisis of its own and could halve its service in three years, he said.

More than half of SamTrans' long-term debt is for the BART extension into San Mateo County, he said. The agency is trying to amortize the $13 million over 25-30 years, he said.

Four public meetings are planned in San Jose, San Francisco, Gilroy and San Carlos prior to the March 3 meeting. The March 3 hearing will take place at 10 a.m. at the Caltrain Administrative Office, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos. Comments can be sent prior to the hearings to [email protected], or mailed to Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, JPB Secretary, P.O. Box 3006, San Carlos, CA 94070. Phone 800-660-4287.

Related stories:

Group seeks to stem Caltrain 'death spiral'

Uncertainties mount for struggling Caltrain

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Sue Dremann
 
Sue Dremann is a veteran journalist who joined the Palo Alto Weekly in 2001. She is a breaking news and general assignment reporter who also covers the regional environmental, health and crime beats. Read more >>

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Caltrain board: 'The crisis is at hand'

Board could declare fiscal emergency at or following March 3 public meeting

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Mon, Feb 7, 2011, 12:39 pm

The board that oversees Caltrain is calling for a public hearing on March 3 to declare a fiscal emergency and to consider cutting service and closing stations, a move that would turn the West's second-oldest passenger line into a daytime commuter train that would operate only during peak business hours.

Rail proponents and commuters urged the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board on Thursday (Feb. 3) to stay the hearings and consider a variety of possible interim funding options, including taking $5.5 million earmarked for the Dumbarton Rail project and getting two other transit agencies in Santa Clara and San Francisco counties to help make up the $30 million shortfall. But board members decided to move ahead with plans to reduce service, citing the need for a wider public discourse on the future of the rail line.

Thursday's unanimous vote pushes forward a key component of the draconian cuts: a board vote on or shortly after the March 3 meeting to declare the fiscal emergency. An emergency declaration would allow officials to make the cuts without need for longer-term analysis through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regarding impacts, board members said.

Caltrain proposes to cut weekday trains from 86 to 48 to run during commute hours only, along with any necessary adjustments to shuttle-bus services. All weekend, night, holiday and special-event service would be eliminated. Up to seven of 10 stations could be closed between San Francisco and San Jose: Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio in Mountain View, Lawrence, Santa Clara and College Park. All service south of Diridon station in San Jose would end. Base fares would rise 25 cents.

"We all know that the crisis is at hand," board member and Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager said.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, new to the board, said she hoped detailed studies of the impacts on roads and communities around the stations to be closed could be done.

In terms that were often pained and impassioned, board President Michael Scanlon spoke about the costs of losing Caltrain service.

People look at the costs but don't understand the greater impacts. With more people driving instead of taking the train, more car accidents will occur, Scanlon said.

"The fact is that more people will die," he said.

Scanlon said public perceptions of where funding comes from make it hard to make the case for saving public transit.

"Our society quite frankly is unenlightened. There is a widespread belief that highways are free," he said, pointing instead to gas and other levies that support roadways.

But subsidies Caltrain receives are criticized.

Kniss said the human costs could resonate with the public.

"We've got a terrific case to make. It's enormously important," she said.

Scanlon blamed SamTrans, which has announced it must reduce its share of subsidies to Caltrain by $10 million, for causing much of Caltrain's current problem. SamTrans is facing a crisis of its own and could halve its service in three years, he said.

More than half of SamTrans' long-term debt is for the BART extension into San Mateo County, he said. The agency is trying to amortize the $13 million over 25-30 years, he said.

Four public meetings are planned in San Jose, San Francisco, Gilroy and San Carlos prior to the March 3 meeting. The March 3 hearing will take place at 10 a.m. at the Caltrain Administrative Office, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos. Comments can be sent prior to the hearings to [email protected], or mailed to Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, JPB Secretary, P.O. Box 3006, San Carlos, CA 94070. Phone 800-660-4287.

Related stories:

Group seeks to stem Caltrain 'death spiral'

Uncertainties mount for struggling Caltrain

Comments

Sean
Monta Loma
on Feb 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm
Sean, Monta Loma
on Feb 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Maybe threatening the general public with death and then mentioning how unelightened we all are is not the best path to convincing voters to find a way to keep Caltrain around.


Antonio Napolero
Castro City
on Feb 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm
Antonio Napolero, Castro City
on Feb 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Rightsizing Caltrain to 48 trains per day looks like a perfect plan to me. It would enable Caltrain to retain the majority of its ridership at peak time, while eliminating the underutilized early morning/late night and middle of the day trains.

Once again, it shows that, when facing financial pressure, government organizations like Caltrain are able to eliminate wasteful spendings and renegotiate compensations to provide services at a lower cost.

Congrats Caltrain!


Martin
another community
on Feb 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm
Martin, another community
on Feb 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm

This is a real opportunity for Caltrain to "reinvent" itself. If they are successful in maintaining operation with this abbreviated schedule, they can expand to cover off-peak passenger traffic with two small DMUs, running north-south routes on an hourly interval. This will give Caltrain a new "more efficient" image, and perhaps something that can be supported at the ballot-box.

Let's go for it!!


Ben
Shoreline West
on Feb 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm
Ben, Shoreline West
on Feb 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Perhaps they should fix the problem that causes riders to avoid taking the train in off peak hours, rather than just giving up. This isn't cost-cutting; it's a white flag. They could have a very successful off-peak system if they could reduce commute time and make it more convenient, but instead they have elected to take the off-peak pub trans option away altogether.


Karl
Old Mountain View
on Feb 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm
Karl, Old Mountain View
on Feb 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm

If a reduction in money from San Mateo County is a big part of the problem, close all the
stations in San Mateo County except Millbrae (so SC County riders can transfer to BART)
and run the current schedule with all trains express through San Mateo County. Add a big
surcharge to any ticket bought at the Millbrae station. People from other counties can always
buy round trip tickets in their county.


J
Whisman Station
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm
J, Whisman Station
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Relevant item in today's SF Chron:

-- SamTrans and Caltrain head Michael Scanlon got a $407,642 pay package last year, including a no-interest home loan that is partially paid down by the district, a $24,000 annual housing allowance and $24,765 for unused time off.

Web Link


Doug Pearson
Blossom Valley
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm
Doug Pearson, Blossom Valley
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I am not a Caltrain commuter. On the few occasions I use Caltrain, I use it during non-commute hours, so -- of course -- I would like to see trains continue during those hours on at least an hourly basis. I understand Caltrain must cut service to keep its costs in line with its income, but I have no magic wand to offer.

The cost of running short trains dedicated to non-commute hours (two small DMUs?) is less than running a 5-7 car train but I doubt it is enough less to solve Caltrain's financial problem. Greater efficiency in other ways, e.g., electrification, no at-grade crossings, "pods", cost big bucks up front that Caltrain does not have.

What they need--what governments at all levels need--is more (tax) income. I realize those complaining about waste don't believe that but it just seems to me that there is not enough waste to bring costs in line with the taxes we already pay. And unlike those complaining about waste, I believe our taxes are too low.


Greg Perry
Cuesta Park
on Feb 7, 2011 at 9:40 pm
Greg Perry, Cuesta Park
on Feb 7, 2011 at 9:40 pm


It's all the same people. Yeager sits on the MTC board and VTA board, where he votes to cut Caltrain funds. Scanlon is the head of SamTrans, where he recommended cutting support for Caltrain.

Then, the two of them complain about the lack of funding, as though someone else had done it.


Econ/Acctg
Cuesta Park
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:39 pm
Econ/Acctg, Cuesta Park
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:39 pm

It's been a long time since my Econ and Cost Accounting courses. But, my recollection is that an endeavor such as this has both fixed and variable costs. Most of the fixed costs are in place regardless of the number of trains (Mgmt salaries, insurance, track maintenance, etc). Many of those items won't change in going from 88 to 48.

One would hope that the net profit from each incremental train (ticket revenue less variable cost to run THAT train) would be positive, and would help to cover fixed costs. But if each incremental train is a "loser" (in terms of variable costs for a train exceeding train revenues), then why are we even in the train business? Just shut the whole thing down.

As a related aside, how much direct expense is there in each route? Fuel? A conductor? Does it really cost much more to make an extra stop?


Observer
Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 7:55 am
Observer, Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 7:55 am

From the MERC

Caltrain's CEO, who has proposed shutting half the rail line's stations and halting much of its service to survive financially, earns more than $400,000 in salary -- more than any transit boss in California.

Last year, Caltrain chief Mike Scanlon took home 59 percent more than the median salary for a CEO of one of the state's 23 largest transit operators, according to a Bay Area News Group review of salaries released by the State Controller's Office this month.


Marcus
Whisman Station
on Feb 8, 2011 at 8:19 am
Marcus, Whisman Station
on Feb 8, 2011 at 8:19 am

What happens to all the money when someone gets a DUI. California gives more DUI's than any other state where does this money go? Why don't they use some of this money to pay for public transportation instead of overtime to police officers to set up road blocks and give DUI's and impound cars. If giving DUI has become a priority in CA then providing public transportation should be also.


Antonio
Castro City
on Feb 8, 2011 at 8:33 am
Antonio, Castro City
on Feb 8, 2011 at 8:33 am

This might help explain some of Caltrain's problems
"Despite historic financial woes, Caltrain CEO's $400,000 paycheck is state's highest"
Web Link


Ellen
another community
on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:53 am
Ellen, another community
on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:53 am

I live in Menlo Park and take the train occasionally when visiting SF, so I don't have as large a stake in the game as those who use the trains to commute daily. I would simply like to point out to those griping about the CEO's salary - he could work for free and it would not make even a tiny dent in the budget shortfall. What he is paid is not the problem, although one could legitimately wish for greater creativity for that level of pay. Envy and resentment does not get us closer to a solution.


Observer
Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:26 am
Observer, Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:26 am

Envy? My goodness. Do you pay taxes? We are doomed Ellen if that's what you think this is about. All these high salaries and sense of entitlement from public servants is bankrupting us. He's free to go work in the private sector. You did point out that one could wish for greater creativity for that level of pay.


John the Man
Old Mountain View
on Feb 9, 2011 at 4:52 am
John the Man, Old Mountain View
on Feb 9, 2011 at 4:52 am

If it's a matter of life-or-death to Scanlon (and since we, the public, are so unenlightened), I'm sure he would be willing to give up some of his almost half-million a year to change that.

What a jerk.


Norma
Castro City
on Feb 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm
Norma, Castro City
on Feb 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Caltrain officials only pay Scanlon $85,000 a year for his CEO services. The rest of his salary comes from the two other agencies he heads. Lowering his salary is clearly not going to solve Caltrain's budget problem.


Name hidden
North Bayshore

on Sep 26, 2017 at 5:47 am
Name hidden, North Bayshore

on Sep 26, 2017 at 5:47 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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