Budget, Caltrain

Offer Comments on Caltrain Service Cuts

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.

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Discussion

17 thoughts on “Offer Comments on Caltrain Service Cuts

  1. I was actually hoping they would introduce a weekend bullet train in both directions (one in the morning and one at night). Now we are looking at losing weekend service all together.

    As a car-free individual, my only option for getting to San Jose from the city will be BART to the 180 bus in Fremont. I guess I could look at samTrans busing option, but from what I know about samTrans all their money is going to the BART extension so their service/price is horrible.

    Posted by Mike | 27 May 2009, 9:48 am
  2. One-way Gilroy to San Jose takes 50 minutes — nearly as long as express run SF-SJ — and the three trains (and $$$$$$ train crews) that make the trips there do so at peak hour, which is just when one can least afford the extra burden.

    In effect Caltrain is operating three extra trains and three extra crews (15% of the total) just to run to and from Gilroy.

    Take out Gilroy (and take out nearly all service to Tamien, for that matter) and Caltrain suddenly has less equipment that needs maintaining and fewer warm bodies (three or more per train, due to insane FRA rules) that need paying. It loses a few passengers, but them’s the breaks.

    The other obvious problem with Caltrain is the grotesque level of over-staffing. In your run of the mill advanced industrialized first world democracy it only takes one person to run a train, no an “engineer” and a conductor (what a hold over from the 19th century) and bunch of assistant conductors. Yes, one need ticket insspectors also, but not 2 or three on every train.

    None of this will be fixed, of course. Politics always trumps effective transportation.

    Posted by Richard Mlynarik | 27 May 2009, 10:21 pm
  3. Caltrain’s own numbers suggest that eliminating Gilroy service would net far less savings than cutting the handful of midday runs, yet would displace over double the riders. Eliminating weekend service impacts the most riders by far, in part from high ridership tp special events.

    The Amtrak contract, which is the target for the bulk of Caltrain’s funds, doesn’t run out for a couple years IIRC. Substantive changes, like cutting extraneous ACs, won’t be factored in as a means of closing the deficit, even if that is the most obvious solution.

    Posted by Eric | 27 May 2009, 11:45 pm
  4. I took Caltrain yesterday morning from 4th/King to SJ to meet up with a friend. By luck the 45-minute commute from the Sunset to the station worked in my favor and I caught the last baby bullet that got me to my destination in just under an hour.

    One of my gripes with Caltrain is that the stations are too close together. By the time the train reaches a decent speed it has to slow down again. Many of the stations should be consolidated into hubs and coordinated with local public transit and corporate shuttles to reduce the overall time it takes to complete the run.

    I’m not in favor of eliminating weekend service. Cutting out some runs, maybe, in additon to cutting out some during midday on weekdays. In fact, the 9am bullet yesterday only had a handful of people on it. I think Caltrain needs to revisit its rider stats and do some more tweaking before making a final decision.

    Posted by Mark | 28 May 2009, 9:18 am
  5. One of my gripes with Caltrain is that the stations are too close together. By the time the train reaches a decent speed it has to slow down again. Many of the stations should be consolidated into hubs…

    While some low ridership stations like Atherton could be safely closed, I think that in most cases, there’s not a need to consolidate stops. First of all, closing stations, even underutilized ones, can become very controversial. More generally, though, the stations are well-sited because Peninsula downtowns developed around the depot. That means that many destinations are within walking distance of a station. This is a feature that ought to be preserved and enhanced, not reduced. The acceleration issue you mention would be addressed by electrification, which would allow trains to serve more stations within the same time frame. Ultimately, a combination of diversified service and electrification will be the right solution.

    With regard to weekend service, and your last comment generally: Caltrain is aware of how severe it would be to eliminate weekend service, and it knows that cutting midday runs would result in significantly more savings, while impacting far fewer people. The problem is that is there is a $10.1 million budget gap, and most of the proposals to close that gap, when taken individually, result in only about $0.5-$2 million in savings. That means that no single measure will be enough to close the budget, and that is why a range of alternatives is being considered.

    Posted by Eric | 28 May 2009, 9:48 am
  6. Re Caltrain’s own numbers suggest that eliminating Gilroy service would net far less savings than cutting the handful of midday runs, yet would displace over double the riders …:

    My, these tasty apples certainly do have an orangey note to them!

    Of course co-dependent Caltrain’s going to say what antagonizes serially abusive VTA least, even if it costs more and makes the least sense.

    Decreasing peak crew and equipment needs is just about guaranteed to always be the cheapest course for any transportation undertaking. Leaving equipment and staff idle between peaks (split shifts are not free) saves a lot less money than the naive — or politically directed — may believe or say.

    Anyway, as I said above, “None of this will be fixed, of course. Politics always trumps effective transportation.” And the solution to all Caltrain’s budgetary problems is obviously to fill the narrow BART gap from Millbrae to Santa Clara.

    Posted by Richard Mlynarik | 28 May 2009, 4:25 pm
  7. The Gilroy number is probably the foggiest here, and if true, surprising. I’m more inclined to believe figures whose underlying calculations I have seen (which I haven’t here) or can reproduce. But my or your opinion aside, it’s important that readers of this thread know Caltrain’s official position, because the official position is what we’re running up against at the upcoming hearings.

    Oh and the narrow BART gap is, for the time being, between Millbrae and Flea Market, lest you get ahead of yourself.

    Posted by Eric | 28 May 2009, 4:36 pm
  8. Richard, I wouldn’t be quite so quick to rant about “insane” FRA rules, especially since you don’t seem to actually know what the rules are. Metrolink (aka SCRRA) operates with just one conductor per train with no problems. You need at least one, though, because you need someone to operate the wheelchair lift or deploy the bridge plate, and yes, I know even that is a pretty silly arrangement, but it’s not something that can physically be fixed in a month no matter how you look at it.

    Anyhow, for solutions, I’d propose increasing the fare, cutting Gilroy service (VTA 168/121 offer a comparable service), and cutting midday service (it’s never anywhere near full). Weekend service has many more riders per train, and I bet many more of those riders are paying full fare rather than using a pass.

    Posted by arcady | 29 May 2009, 9:05 am
  9. They’re not changing the crew configuration, so let’s focus on changes they will actually make. My best guess is that midday service will end up getting cut in half, since it’s nowhere near double what you’d get on 60 minute headways. They’re also looking at raising parking fees (to $3/$30 pass).

    Posted by Eric | 29 May 2009, 9:16 am
  10. Oh, and I forgot to mention- 55 SJ Express also is a bit of extra service between Gilroy and SJ downtown/Diridon. That segment of the corridor definitely has alternatives.

    Posted by Eric | 29 May 2009, 9:23 am
  11. Most railways see off-peak services as money makers. The trains, the track, the staff are all there for the peak so why not use them and sell some tickets? Hence why not run the baby bullets all day? Weekend and night services are more problematic, but Caltrain is well positioned for these markets only its poor frequency (more not less needed) is an issue. Isn’t this the whole premise of electrification- run it like BART/Metro? What about fares? Rediculously cheap! We still have the attitude that we have to bribe people to use transit- put them up. Example: Sunnyvale to SF is 40 miles and costs $6.00. Lubeck to Hamburg (Northern Germany) is 41 miles and costs $16 (12 Euros). Both are simple one-way peak fares.

    Posted by Mike Jones | 30 May 2009, 10:26 pm
  12. Caltrain need to cut (or consolidate) some trains from commute hours which have under utilization. Then, they can sell (or scrap) 5~10 older gallery cars to reduce maintenance cost.
    These train are mostly express-local train which stop all station between SF-RWC. Re-write whole time table and run SF-RWC only local train with shorter (2~3 cars)consist. From Milbrae to RWC, station spacing are very close, which require faster accerelation. Short train can accerelate faster and more easily escape from the express train.
    Baby bullet should operate each 30 min. No Bullet-A or Bullet-B kind. Frequency is more important than travel time. 65 min travel time is acceptable if Baby Bullet is more frequent. Current 60 min headway have less flexibility for traveller.
    Express-Local(RWC-SJ) train need to operate each 30 min to attract potential rider from Santa clara county and from Menlo park. No limited train which skip Milbrae and complicate stop pattern.

    Posted by Yass | 1 June 2009, 4:03 am
  13. Mike: fares are ridiculously subsidized to compete with the ridiculously subsidized roads and gasoline infrastructure in a death spiral of transportation socialism. If taxes on driving were high enough to fully internalize the externalities imposed by driving (and burning oil), then Caltrain would be able to raise fares much more, and you’d see significantly fewer Sunnyvale-SF commutes and probably a smaller Sunnyvale too as companies find that the cheaper land in Sunnyvale is a false economy since their workers would have a much higher cost of living in an area that requires a lot of driving just to get the basic needs of life.

    Yass: there’s actually a good reason for the A/B baby bullet stop pattern, and that is to relieve the parking lots at Hillsdale and Mountain View, by providing express service at Sunnyvale, Redwood City, and San Mateo and getting more use out of the parking there.

    Posted by anonymouse | 1 June 2009, 7:25 am
  14. Anoumouse,

    I know the reason why caltrain operate two different Baby bullet. I can easily imagine if traditional peak baby bullet stops both Sunnyvale and Mountain view, there will be standing room only between Mountain view and Palo Alto.
    However,Caltrain need more passenger (=revenue) regardless parking lot capacity or seating capacity. If parking lot are full, they can still come to station by bus, by bicycle or by walk. Under 60 min frequency, bus delay require you to up to 60 min waiting at station. Since VTA and Samtrans are free for monthly pass holder (greater than 2 zone), frequent train will attract more rider not to use parking lot.

    Posted by Yass | 1 June 2009, 6:16 pm
  15. Yass, what you say certainly makes sense, but assumes a decent bus network that is centered on the Baby Bullet stations, rather than the somewhat haphazard coordination between VTA and Caltrain that we currently have. What bus runs from Sunnyvale to the Mountain View station? None that I can think of, and the 22 is much too far from the station for a quick transfer. So eliminating the Baby Bullet stop in Sunnyvale would mean that more people would drive to the Mountain View parking lot until it reaches capacity, at which point people from the Sunnyvale station will just stop taking the train. Caltrain does need more revenue, but that means getting more people on trains, and those people don’t want to stand for a hour so they need seats, and given the realities of VTA bus service, it also means making the best possible use of parking lot capacity. At the peak of ridership, parking lot capacity and seat capacity were in fact the two main factors limiting Caltrain ridership. Right now the ridership is declining slightly due to the bad economy and decrease in employment, and the only way Caltrain can increase ridership is by providing a better service, which will require both more operating subsidy and probably more capital funds for capacity improvements too.

    Posted by anonymouse | 2 June 2009, 1:21 am
  16. Anonymouse,
    I am proposing all Baby bullet should stop both Sunnyvale and Mountain view and make 30 min frequency. (Reverse commute, all Baby Bullet should stop at Palo Alto).

    I think large number of rider from Sunnyvale, Mountain view are Asian or European, who is familar with crowded train travel in the peak hours.
    No one want to travel from Sunnyvale to San Francisco (50 min)without seat. However, standing from Sunnyvale to Palo Alto (10~15min) is acceptable and it is much better than waiting at the station.
    Caltrain already have long distance rider who is going to San Frnacisco. Remained opportunities to adding more rider can be short distance. Palo alto will be good destination because of shuttle service and narrow downtown.

    Posted by Yass | 2 June 2009, 6:05 pm
  17. Yass, I just don’t see such a huge market for MV-PA ridership. Most of the population is south of the Caltrain corridor, and in PA, most of the employment is in office parks south of downtown, which requires a transfer to a shuttle at Cal Ave. So people would be driving to Mountain View or Sunnyvale station, taking a train a couple stops to Cal Ave and transferring again to a shuttle. At least with commuting to SF or reverse-commuting to Santa Clara County, there’s a fairly long haul on the train between the two transfers. In this case, you’ve got what, 11 minutes on the train? Driving is both faster and more convenient, and Caltrain just isn’t going to capture a huge part of this market thanks to the rather poor arrangement of land uses. Besides, in terms of revenue, one SF-bound rider is worth about two or three short-distance riders. Oh and the relevant stations for your short distance service do sort of have two trains per hour: there’s the semi-local and the limited.

    Of course, in the long run, electrification and level boarding will greatly reduce the stop penalty, and adding more tracks will gradually increase capacity, as will the capacity to run longer MU trains. Ultimately once the railroad has a full four tracks, I think the final service level will be 4 tph express (basically double the current service), and at least 2 tph local, possibly 4 tph. The local tracks would also be used by 2 diesel trains for Gilroy/Dumbarton service and the express tracks would have 2 HSR trains per hour, which is all hardly a major burden for a four-track line.

    Posted by anonymouse | 3 June 2009, 6:39 pm

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