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.