Keep Caltrain service to South County

It’s a story that has repeated itself ad nauseam since the
economy collapsed two years ago. Cities, counties, school districts
and public transportation agencies see declining revenue and look
at various ways to balance their ever-fragile budgets.
It’s a story that has repeated itself ad nauseam since the economy collapsed two years ago. Cities, counties, school districts and public transportation agencies see declining revenue and look at various ways to balance their ever-fragile budgets.

Now, Caltrain, the commuter train that runs from Gilroy to San Francisco must close a $2.3 million budget deficit and is examining ways to cut costs and increase revenue.

The current deficit, the result of reduced contributions from Caltrain’s partners – the City and County of San Francisco, the San Mateo County Transit District and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority – and a decline in ridership, could mean the elimination of midday, night and weekend service. Another idea on the table is eliminating all service to South County, which would save the agency $385,000 this year. Throwing all ideas on the table for review is the right thing to do, but eliminating the meager service to South County is the wrong thing to do. Once eliminated, the chances of getting South County service back without a fierce political battle would be slim.

Yes, daily ridership in Morgan Hill has declined from 437 in 2001 to 123 last year. In Gilroy, ridership decreased from 569 people in 2001 to 156 last year. And while those numbers are sobering, there are other ways to balance the budget without completely eliminating service to South County.

The board could suspend some weekday trains during nonpeak hours, cut back on staffing in ticket office. Both those options could save about $1.3 million.

Increasing base fares by $.25 could bring in $900,000 and increasing zone fares by $.25 could bring in $4 million, and many riders say they’d be willing to pay more. No, it’s not efficient and more trains are needed in South County so riders have more options, but as Hollister resident Kevin Henderson, who commutes to his work at Qualcomm in Santa Clara via Caltrain, told reporter Michael Moore, he is “hooked” on it. Imagine adding midday, late night and weekend service to South County. Bet that would increase ridership.

“It’s not faster, but it’s more relaxing,” Henderson said.

A public hearing on the Caltrain budget is scheduled at the Sept. 2 board meeting, 10 a.m. at the Caltrain office, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos.

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