Service cuts, fare increases likely as Caltrain assesses budget plan 

Caltrain passengers could see reduced service and fare increases in January, although the specifics of those measures aren’t likely to be finalized until later this year.

The transit agency, faced with a $12.5 million budget deficit, has proposed a number of austerity measures, including eliminating weekend and midday weekday trains and increasing base fares by 25 cents as a way to make up its shortfall.

Caltrain’s Board of Directors will vote on a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year today that includes $2.3 million in assumed savings and revenue generation from the aforementioned measures. The fiscal year also begins on Thursday for Caltrain, which has a total operating budget of $100 million.

While the agency can approve its budget today, it will not decide the specific details of its fare increase and service reduction proposals until it holds several planned meetings with the public. Three open house forums (one each in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties) are scheduled for August, and a formal public hearing is slated for Sept. 2.

Following feedback gathered from those meetings, Caltrain will determine how much, and where, service will be reduced, and how a fare increase will be implemented. (The agency is considering either a 25-cent increase to its base fares or a 25-cent increase to its zone prices, resulting in higher costs for longer trips.) Caltrain last implemented a fare increase in January 2009.

Once Caltrain settles the specifics regarding the fare increases and service reduction proposals, the agency is scheduled to implement the new changes by January at the earliest, spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

Caltrain is using a combination of one-time savings and state funding sources to balance the rest of its deficit for this fiscal year.

Although the agency is contemplating cutting service and increasing fares to balance this year’s deficit, the outlook for the following fiscal year is even bleaker, with Caltrain projecting a $35 million shortfall, leaving some officials to question whether the service can survive without major institutional changes.

Caltrain has been hurt by dwindling ridership, the state’s budget problems and reduced allocations from its three partner agencies: Muni, SamTrans and the Valley Transportation Authority.

Caltrain by the numbers

$12.5 million Projected Caltrain budget deficit for upcoming fiscal year

$99.9 million Projected operating budget for upcoming fiscal year

$2.3 million Assumed savings from combination of service reductions and fare increases

$35.6 million Projected budget deficit for 2012 fiscal year, which begins July 2011

Source: Caltrain

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