Budget, Caltrain

Caltrain Readies for Fiscal Emergency and Service Cuts

Caltrain has joined the list of Bay Area transit operators planning fare increases, service cuts, and the declaration of fiscal emergency to exempt service cuts from CEQA review. Caltrain was ostensibly in a good position among Bay Area transit operators; its ridership soared in the first half of 2008 with the help of high gas prices — reaching a peak of about 45,000 daily riders in the summer, although high fuel prices also led to a 25 cent increase in base fare on January 1. Ridership has retreated since that summertime high, and ridership in March 2009 decreased 0.3% from the March 2008 level. In addition, the annual contribution from the Joint Powers Board member agencies will not inflate 3%, but will instead be maintained at just under $39.5 million through FY2010. While revenue will decline, operating expenses, including fuel costs, will increase. As a result, this year’s $1 million deficit will widen to to $10.1 million by next fiscal year. To close the gap, fare hikes and service cuts are, as usual, on the table: an additional 25-cent increase in the base fare, or a 25-cent fare increase per zone of travel. A $1 bicycle surcharge has also been proposed, justified on the premise that a bicycle occupies space that would otherwise be filled by an additional rider. Finally, the proposals to close the deficit suggest that service be cut deeply on this major regional rail corridor. Weekday commute service would probably be maintained, but midday headways during the week could degrade from 30 minutes to one hour, and weekend service might be eliminated altogether. The Joint Powers Board will hold a hearing on Thursday, June 4 to receive comment on the proposed fare increases, service cuts, and fiscal emergency.



10 thoughts on “Caltrain Readies for Fiscal Emergency and Service Cuts

  1. These cuts would be terrible. Hourly weekday service would severely limit mobility, cutting weekend service would be disastrous, and penalizing bicyclists is just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

    Posted by Daniel | 7 May 2009, 7:34 pm
  2. Hello Daniel, yes, I agree wholeheartedly. The bicycle surcharge might grow one pot of money, but then how much money will be lost from discouraged riders? A ticket adds more dollars than a bicycle surcharge. It’s also not clear to me how they plan on collecting the surcharge, and then, how much will it cost to collect?

    The service cut proposals are particularly disturbing. Caltrain is beginning to emerge as true lifeline for the Peninsula, serving more than just peak hour commuters. But these service cuts, if instituted, would really reduce it to just that.

    Posted by Eric | 7 May 2009, 7:51 pm
  3. I hate to say it, but all these transit cuts/fare hikes + lower gas prices will lure people back into their cars.

    Posted by Mark | 8 May 2009, 10:23 am
  4. About 60% of Caltrain’s budget goes to the 350 Amtrak employees who run the operation, including dispatchers, engineers, conductors, maintenance technicians, etc. This year the Amtrak contract is costing $58M. Why does Caltrain still operate trains with a minimum of three crew members?

    My suggestion for closing the 10% budget gap:

    (1) cut the second conductor.

    (2) hire a small number of dedicated fare inspectors to enforce the proof-of-payment policy. Conductors are too busy to write citations and dislike the confrontations that arise from fare enforcement actions. They are far more likely to kick someone off the train than to cite them, which leads to a loss of revenue and poor farebox recovery. A well-run POP system must have effective enforcement measures.

    THEN we can talk about service cuts and fare increases.

    Posted by Clem | 8 May 2009, 10:26 am
  5. Charging $1 for a bike is ludicrous if your justification is that bikes are taking up valuable space that a sitting customer could use. There are very very few trains without empty seats. The majority of trains have plenty of space for sitting passengers and limited space for bikes. It’s common to see bike cars crammed to near capacity while every other car on the train is a veritable ghost town. Even IF there was no room to sit down people are still able to stand and lounge throughout the cars. I’ve never seen any non cyclist turned away because there wasn’t any room on the train. Non bike capacity is hardly a problem, and Caltrain needs to come to grips with it. You’ve never lost a single dollar bikes taking up space you could have used on a passenger. If you want to bleed some money from the cyclists then come clean about it and avoid these paper thin justifications you are coming up with.

    Posted by bradley | 8 May 2009, 11:02 am
  6. The logic caltrain employs is, as usual, backward. Ridership is low because there are more convenient and cheaper alternatives. Yes, I guess so. Their solution is to raise their rates, reduce the service and the icing, to alienate riders who, having largely invested in bikes over cars, are the least likely to actually abandon caltrain for long distance commuting. But I guess they were afraid they might limb along with just the bike riders still using them so it would be no good not to through in a little extra poison, right?

    There are many solutions, I’m sure, to caltrain’s problems. But what I’ve never heard from them is any suggestion that would encourage ridership. They think in terms of rate increases and cut backs, having consistently band-aided their fiscal problems in that mindset. The key to ridership is consistency and usefulness and the key to a profitable caltrain is obviously ridership, not lower overhead. When caltrain was a 22 hour service it was, in my mind, a gimme that I would just take the train. This is in fact how I first became a rider and began to become an ex-driver. Once they cut those runs out I had to think about the schedule and all of a sudden I was thinking of alternatives. This should be something they fear greatly as it inevitably causes riders to become ex-riders, monthly or yearly pass holders to become 10, and now 8 ride ticket holders and generally creates an atmosphere where people think of caltrain in terms of an alternative instead of a primary form of transportation for long distance commutes.

    The only “effective” form of rider attraction caltrain seems to have are the giants games and the odd special events in SF. While this attracts riders it does so during the worst possible times. When the trains are filled to or beyond capacity and with drunk and unruly passengers to boot. They’ve attracted some riders though these promotions but they seem to have no idea of how to retain them.

    The fact that they never put wifi on the trains is a great example of the perfect storm of poor judgment, no marketing savvy and bad long term fiscal planing caltrain continues to suffer from. After spending, I’ve heard, millions, on successfully testing wifi on the trains they never actually did it. So put wifi on the trains, advertise it as the dot com commute or something, run deals on monthly passes and get people accustomed to riding. Get other companies in the south bay to invest in passes for their employees, be more aggressive about it. Create a website that works across mobile platforms from phones to laptops where riders connected to this wifi service can give you feedback. Then act on the feedback. Create a free mobile application and run some ads on it or don’t make it free, whatever. Not all revenue streams need to be vertical.

    Give people who hold 8 ride passes, monthly or yearly passes an extra ticket for their friends at each purchase. Just get people on the train, especially new riders, focus on rider retention and you will make some progress, clear your deficit and soon enough your issues can be rider instead of funding focused. That’s a good place to be in for you and us.

    Don’t charge bikes an extra dollar, charge them a dollar less. Call it green stimulus, use the parlance of our times, and get your PR person to play that in the local press as much as possible. “We reward people for biking to the train, etc.” Again, attract ridership. Retain ridership. This is how you make money, it’s already your business model, you just need to start doing it.

    I don’t bike but I also don’t car. I ride muni and I use caltrain as my primary methods of transportation. For some reason all transit systems, at least in the bay area where I am most familiar with them, can not get their stuff together. They have a great product in spirit, an infrastructure, and customers. Why they can’t make that work is beyond me and despite my personal dependence on mass transit and caltrain in particular I still can’t help but hope they fail out of shear principle. And I’m a pretty loyal rider. What should that tell them?

    Posted by Martin | 8 May 2009, 10:28 pm
  7. The elimination of the STA funds has “Detroit” written all over it.

    Posted by Matt | 12 May 2009, 12:48 pm
  8. Sorry to post of the subject folks, but please take a minute to sign the petition to keep the A’s at home.

    Thanks and go A’s!!!


    Posted by Kyu | 14 May 2009, 4:37 pm


  1. Pingback: Offer Comments on Caltrain Service Cuts « Transbay Blog - 27 May 2009

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