Caltrain officials reject call for independent study 

The gloves came off Thursday as Caltrain board members panned a call for the agency to hire an outside consultant to study train schedules and return service to stations that have experienced cuts.

More than a dozen residents as well as current and former elected officials — most of them allied with the group Coalition to Expand Transit Service — called for the train agency to hire an independent third party to evaluate the schedule, but board members rejected the idea, saying that the cost of such a study would not be in the best interest of the agency.

The call for a consultant came at Caltain's board meeting Thursday and was part of a growing effort by officials in Burlingame and Atherton to see service returned to stations such as Broadway Burlingame and Atherton, which have experienced cuts since Caltrain began Baby Bullet service in June 2004.

Not only have weekday stops been eliminated at Broadway, Burlingame and Atherton and reduced at others, but service cuts to these stations have created a financial hardship for businesses located near the stations as a result in the drop in passengers, said Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel, who is also a Coalition to Expand Transit Service member.

City councils for Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, Menlo Park and South San Francisco have all voted in recent weeks to endorse a coalition resolution calling for Caltrain to hire a consultant to develop alternative train schedules.

"The current schedule has damaged Menlo Park businesses and forced riders back into their cars," Menlo Park Mayor Kelly Fergusson said.

With the agency facing a $5.3 million structural deficit in the coming fiscal year, however, board members said hiring a consultant wasn’t in the best interests of Caltrain.

What’s "real" is that Caltrain ridership is up by more than 40 percent in the peak rush hours over 2004 and revenue is at its highest point since 1995, said board member Forrest Williams, who represents the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

While acknowledging cuts had to be made, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and San Francisco experienced roughly equal service reductions; returning service to San Mateo County station alone wouldn’t be fair, according to Caltrain Chief Operating Officer Chuck Harvey.

Longtime rider and Belmont resident Paul Wendt agreed. When Belmont experienced cuts, he just walked to the San Carlos station, Wendt said. "To me, this is just a tempest in a teapot and I think these people are trying to kill Caltrain."

The reality of the situation is that with such a large structural deficit and recently raised fares, more cuts may be ahead for more stations, Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon said.

ecarpenter@examiner

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