January 20, 2011

Caltrain faces $30M budget shortfall, drastic service cuts


Photo courtesy of Caltrain.


As California commuter rail service, Caltrain begins its budget process, it faces a $30 million deficit and the prospect of drastic cuts to its service. 

Under the current budget scenario, cuts could be as severe as a reduction in service to 48 trains that would operate only during the weekday commute.  All other service would be eliminated including: weekday service outside the commute peak, weekend service and service south of the San Jose Diridon station. The schedule also would require the suspension of service at up to seven stations.

Caltrain is the only Bay Area transit system without a permanent, dedicated funding source such as a sales tax.

Instead, the railroad has relied on contributions from its three partner agencies — the City and County of San Francisco, the San Mateo County Transit District and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority — to balance its budget.  

In Fiscal Year 2011, passenger fares make up around 44 percent of the operating budget and contributions from the partner agencies make up 34 percent. 

“We are not saying that this is what we are going to do, or where we are going to end up,” said Executive Officer for Public Affairs Mark Simon. “But this is where we are starting.”

Caltrain currently operates 86 weekday trains, including 22 express trains, with an average ridership of 40,000. Saturday service includes 36 local trains and four express trains; Sunday service includes 32 local trains and four express trains. 

Over the last few years, Caltrain has made aggressive efforts to reduce costs and maintain service. 

For the last three fiscal years, salaries have been frozen.  Employees will have taken a total of 17 furlough days from FY09 through FY11. Jan. 1, four weekday trains during the midday were eliminated and fares were increased 25 cents for each zone. In an effort to generate additional revenue, a pilot program for weekend Baby Bullet service was introduced. 




In FY11, Caltrain administrative staff costs make up only 6.4 percent of its operating budget, below the rate at Bay Area and other comparable commuter rail agencies.

SamTrans (San Mateo County Transit District) is expected to reduce its annual contribution to Caltrain to approximately $4.7 million, a reduction of approximately $10 million. If the other partners follow suit, the budget shortfall is expected to be $30 million. 

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which owns and operates Caltrain, will be asked to call for two public hearings, one on the proposed service changes and one to declare a fiscal emergency, at its Feb. 3 meeting. Four community meetings will be held throughout the Caltrain service area on Feb. 17, followed by a formal public hearing on March 3. A start date for any service changes has yet to be determined. 

There is growing attention among community stakeholders to the need for a permanent, dedicated source of funding for Caltrain.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group will hold a summit on Jan. 21 at Stanford University and the Friends of Caltrain, a grassroots group of Caltrain supporters, will hold a public meeting on Jan. 29 at the SamTrans offices in San Carlos.

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