Ending Caltrain service to South County no longer an option

Little new in analysis of high-speed rail routes

As one board member predicted last month, Caltrain officials are
no longer considering ending train service to South County as a way
to close a $10 million budget gap.
Morgan Hill

As one board member predicted last month, Caltrain officials are no longer considering ending train service to South County as a way to close a $10 million budget gap.

At the transportation agency’s regular monthly board meeting Thursday, staff will propose other options to raise falling revenue, according to Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn.

Those options would reduce the deficit enough to allow the train to continue serving Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy.

Instead, Caltrain staff will recommend reducing the current mid-day service schedule from a train every 30 minutes to one every hour, which would save $1.9 million for the upcoming year. Also, they will suggest raising parking fees at Caltrain station lots from two to three dollars per day to raise an additional $420,000 of revenue, and increase pricing for the bulk-ticket “GO” passes to generate $450,000 in revenue, Dunn said.

None of the other proposals presented last month, including reducing weekend service and increasing fares, are under consideration anymore.

At three community meetings held in May to gather public input on the possibility of ending service to South County and other cost-reducing proposals, Dunn said about 570 comments were submitted to Caltrain staff. 289 of those were opposed to suspending South County service.

“Our first priority was to close the budget gap, and we wanted to pick the alternatives that had the least impact on people,” Dunn said.

Last month Supervisor Don Gage, who serves on the Caltrain board of directors, was certain that South County service would not be suspended, but the staff had to consider all the options to reduce the deficit.

“It would have cost them more money to shut it down, but you have to lay everything on the table,” Gage said.

Other ways Caltrain officials have found to close the gap going into the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which starts July 1, include acquiring a $2 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission which can be used for track maintenance, and entering a “fuel hedging” program in which the agency can agree to a contract that protects it against the fluctuating fuel prices for the entire year, Dunn said. Such a contract could save up to $2.5 million.

Furthermore, staff identified $410,000 in savings in administrative costs, and Caltrain will be able to reduce bank fees related to credit card transactions for ticket sales. Because ticket sales are down, Dunn said fewer of these fees will pile up.

Also, about $3.7 million in fuel savings from last year’s budget will be rolled over into next year’s operating costs.

If these savings and revenue-raising options are enacted into next year’s budget, Caltrain could end up ahead by $150,000, which the board could use to increase bicycle capacity on trains, Dunn said.

A one-way ticket on the Caltrain from South County to Santa Clara is $6. A day pass is $12, and a monthly pass is $159.

The $10.1 million budget gap is attributable to revenue losses coupled with increased expenses. The City and County of San Francisco, San Mateo County Transit District and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority all typically make annual 3 percent increases to their Caltrain contributions by routing state money to them – but that money won’t be coming in for several years, Dunn said.

And, for the first time in many years, ridership was down in April, which Dunn attributed to the general recession and job loss. Fares cover 45 percent of Caltrain’s expenses, she said.

Caltrain has an average weekday ridership of 39,122 for February 2009, according to the Caltrain Web site. That includes an average 324 South County riders, down from 349 from February 2008.

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