Caltrain planning train gains 

click to enlarge Commute benefit: Caltrain expects a balanced budget for the next fiscal year, and it may add six trains to its schedule. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Commute benefit: Caltrain expects a balanced budget for the next fiscal year, and it may add six trains to its schedule.

A year ago, Caltrain was considering draconian service cuts to address a $30 million shortfall. But now it plans to add more trains.

With a balanced budget projected for the upcoming fiscal year, the agency is recommending introducing six more trains to its schedule, increasing the daily total from 86 to 92.

Caltrain’s ridership has reached record levels and it needs to address overcrowding, said spokeswoman Christine Dunn. The agency would likely split the added service between the morning and evening commutes, she said.
It is expected to cost $375,000, which is part of the $111 million operating budget for fiscal year 2012-13 that the Caltrain board of directors will discuss at a meeting today.

Caltrain still faces a troubling longer-term future. For the past two years, it has used one-time funds from regional and state sources to balance its operating budget.

With no more quick fixes left, Caltrain is projecting another major budget shortfall for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2013. Dunn said the dollar amount has yet to be determined, but the shortfall’s size could again have the agency considering drastic service reductions.

Caltrain is the only transit agency in the Bay Area without a dedicated funding source, and it relies heavily on contributions from its three partners — Muni, SamTrans and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Yet with those agencies facing their own budget problems, Caltrain is often at their mercy.

State Assemblyman Jerry Hill, who represents the Peninsula, said he plans to introduce legislation that would enable Caltrain to seek an eighth-of-a-cent sales tax for the three counties served by Caltrain — San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara. He originally wanted the measure to go before voters this year, but said he will wait until 2013 because of the recent focus on Caltrain’s $1.5 billion electrification project.

If passed, the tax could generate $70 million annually. It would need two-thirds approval from the aggregate total of the three counties.

However, it’s unlikely to be voted on before 2014, making the 2014-15 fiscal year the earliest it could take effect. That means Caltrain again would have to scramble to find funds for its operating budget.

“The 2014 fiscal year is going to be a major challenge,” said Jessica Zenk of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which has been pushing the dedicated funding source measure. “It would be a shame if Caltrain had to reduce service with ridership growing and electrification on board.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Assemblyman Jerry Hill intended to introduce a 1/8-cent sales tax measure to fund Caltrain’s operating budget, rather than a measure enabling Caltrain to do so.

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