Looming Caltrain emergency declaration could raise fares, cut service 

Facing a $30 million budget deficit, Caltrain is poised to declare a fiscal emergency Thursday in a procedural move that could portend more fare increases and service reductions for the troubled transit agency.

By declaring a fiscal emergency, Caltrain’s board of directors could authorize plans for service reductions or fare increases without conducting a full environmental review.

Also, the board today could schedule a hearing date to discuss details about possible service reductions, station closures and fare increases. If authorized, that public hearing would take place March 3 at the board’s next scheduled meeting.

In January, Caltrain reduced its midday train service and raised fares by 25 cents per zone, boosting the price of a trip from San Francisco to San Jose from $7.75 to $8.50. Those measures were aimed at reducing a $2.5 million budget deficit for this fiscal year.

With the upcoming year’s budget projected to be 12 times worse, Caltrain officials have already said they may have to eliminate all trains except their weekday peak lines.

Caltrain spokesman Christine Dunn said the agency’s biggest fiscal problem is the lack of a dedicated funding stream. Caltrain’s budget is made up nearly entirely of fare revenue and funding contributions from its three transit partners — Muni, SamTrans and the Valley Transportation Authority. Those agencies are struggling with their own budget deficits, resulting in lower-than-normal contributions to Caltrain.

In the 2009-10 fiscal year, contributions from those three agencies amounted to 43 percent of Caltrain’s budget. This fiscal year, they dropped to 34 percent and are expected to decrease again for the following fiscal year, which begins July 1.

With its $30 million projected shortfall, Caltrain’s deficit is expected to be nearly 30 percent of its $102 million budget.

By comparison, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, is facing a $21.2 million deficit, a relatively small 2.7 percent of its $775 million budget.

Providing service between Gilroy and San Francisco, Caltrain carries an average of 40,000 passengers each weekday.


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Will Reisman

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