UPDATE (3 June 2009): Caltrain has announced that it will not eliminate weekend service to close the budget deficit, nor will it increase fares on individual passes. Instead, it will pursue other measures to close the gap: raising the Go Pass fee, raising parking fees, and reducing midday service to 60 minute headways.
Tonight, May 27, Caltrain will hold meetings to receive public comment on its proposals to increase fares and cut service, in order to close a budget shortfall that is projected to expand to $10.1 million by next fiscal year. Caltrain, along with the SFMTA and AC Transit, may declare a fiscal emergency, both to reflect the shortfall and to exempt service cuts from environmental review under CEQA.
We discussed Caltrain’s proposed service cuts briefly here before. Since that time, the proposed $1 bicycle surcharge has not been moved forward as a potential avenue to increase revenue. But different configurations of fare increases and service cuts are still up for discussion. This table (PDF) charts the possible schemes for fare and fee increases:
- For individual fares: (i) an across-the-board 25-cent increase in base fare, (ii) a 25-cent increase in fare for each successive zone of travel, or (iii) both.
- Increase Eligible Discounts and other fares by a similar proportion as above.
- Increase fees for the Go Pass. (Companies with at least 70 employees currently pay an annual fee to give their employees a Go Pass, which provides the employee with unlimited rides on Caltrain. That annual fee is the same price as a monthly pass within two travel zones. A proposed increase would raise the Go Pass fee to the price of a three-zone monthly pass.)
- Increase parking fees.
And then, the proposed service cuts (to see which exact runs would be cut, check out this table):
- Instituting 60-minute midday headways during the week (a reduction in service from the current 30 minute headways).
- Eliminating service south of Tamien Station.
- Eliminating all weekend service.
Among these cuts, the weekend cut would be especially devastating. Although it is technically possible to travel approximately parallel to most of the Caltrain corridor by bus, this is a slow, unattractive option for riders. Given that the tracks mostly run through suburban territory, where car ownership rates are high and many transit trips are discretionary, it is unlikely that this bus alternative will capture many riders — except, of course, those who have no other choice but to endure long travel times. Eliminating weekend service would be a blow to car-free mobility within these three counties, and it would damage Caltrain’s ability to serve as a vital regional link, as it has done increasingly in recent years. The JPB is thus strongly advised to pursue other methods of closing the budget shortfall — increasing parking fees, raising fares, or cutting staff on board the train — before resorting to service cuts. And if service must be cut, the first cuts should be made to the more lightly used midday weekday runs. Caltrain has already suggested that reducing midday service would save more money and result in fewer lost riders as compared to eliminating weekend service.
There will be three meetings on the budget proposals, and all will take place this evening, May 27, at 6:00 pm. Riders are encouraged to attend and speak at the most convenient meeting:
- San Francisco: 25 Van Ness Avenue (Lower Level Conference Room)
- San Carlos: 1250 San Carlos Avenue (Caltrain Headquarters Auditorium)
- San Jose: 3331 North 1st Street (VTA Administrative Offices Auditorium)
Alternatively, you can phone or write in. Send emails to changes [at] caltrain [dot] com, send regular mail to District Secretary, Caltrain, P.O. Box 3006, San Carlos, CA 94070, or call 800.660.4287 (TDD for hearing impaired only 650.508.6448). Finally, on Thursday, June 4 at 10:00 am, there will be two additional public hearings on the fiscal emergency and the proposed fare/service changes, at Caltrain headquarters.