Caltrain riders will pay more starting in April 

Caltrain riders will have to pony up an additional 25 cents to $1.50 on all rail trips starting in April.

At a time when Caltrain ridership hit a record high of 35,000 passengers in December, the railway continues to struggle with an ongoing budget deficit and must find ways to boost revenues, according to Jerry Hill, chairman of the Caltrain board.

The agency spent down its scant reserves last year to balance its budget, which included $77.7 million in expenditures.

"The high ridership is making a huge difference in our revenues, but it’s necessary for us to raise fares in order to not have a deficit," Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

Although Caltrain is keeping a close eye on fares to make sure that increasing ticket costs doesn’t lead to a drop-off in ridership, most passengers are taking Caltrain by choice — to avoid traffic jams and make the most of their commute, according to Weinberg.

For riders like Robert Spence, who rides Caltrain daily from San Francisco to his information technology job in Palo Alto, paying an additional $1.50 for a roundtrip won’t be a major hardship.

"I could probably pay double the increase before it began to really gain my attention," said Spence, who saves money by getting a monthly pass through his employer. "However, I’d be concerned for people with less money to spare."

The fare increase, approved by Caltrain’s board of directors in July, was initially slated to take effect in October but was postponed so it wouldn’t coincide with an increase in parking rates.

The board then moved it from April 1 to April 2 so passengers wouldn’t get a nasty surprise on April Fool’s Day, according to Hill.

"We wanted to be a little more sensitive to the riding public," Hill said.

Ticket prices will rise 25 cents per zone, so passengers traveling within a single zone will pay an additional quarter, while those making a daily trip from San Francisco to San Jose will pay an additional $1 each way. Fares last rose in July of 2005, boosting rider costs an average of 17.5 percent, to help close the transit agency’s $13.6 deficit, according to Weinberg.

In addition, the railway is changing departure times for seven southbound routes, a schedule adjustment aimed at streamlining travel times and preventing delays, according to Weinberg.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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