Posted by Donald, a resident of another community, on Aug 6, 2008 at 9:23 pm
Joanna, are you considering all costs or just gas costs? The real cost of driving, including maintenance and insurance, is much higher than the cost of the fuel. Employee mileage reimbursement rates reflect this total cost of driving and are $0.56 - $0.58 per mile right now. At $2.25 for one zone and $4.00 for two zones, Caltrain is a good deal.
Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of the Menlo Park: Park Forest neighborhood, on Aug 9, 2008 at 4:57 pm
Like all urban mass transit everywhere, costs are split between subsidies from various government sources (all of them our tax dollars, of course) and ticket sales. In some cases, the ticket sales are merely a small percentage of total operating costs, the government bearing most of the expenses. In a few cases, ticket sales may be as much as 40% or even 50%, but never more.
Needless to say, for the operators, itís a constant struggle to get more revenues from ticket sales by appealing to more riders (Caltrain does that) and therefore incurring more costs with more trains, pulling more cars, etc. Therefore, Caltrain lives with a structural deficit, since government sources are never sufficient.
So, hereís the problem in oversimplified terms. At one extreme, the government could pay for all of it. Itís a public utility, like public schools, and getting around on mass transit would be free. Some of us would call that Socialism.
At the other extreme, private profit-making vendors without any government subsidies would operate it. That would be called free-market economics or pure Capitalism.
Most of us seem to be happiest with something in between. And, thatís the issue.
And, hereís where I stand on all this: If the transit operators recognized themselves to be in the urban mass transit business (not the train business, or the bus business, etc.), were coordinated, linked, networked, integrated and whatever it takes to make them efficient and convenient for the largest number of people at the lowest cost, without waste, fraud and abuse, and were accountable to the public, I would have no trouble having my tax dollars fully support such a system. I would want ticket sales only for accounting purposes. Or, something pretty close to that.
Caltrain does not yet understand what business it is in. They still believe themselves to be in the train business. They believe that repackaging themselves (with new whizzy trains, electrification, etc.) will make them more attractive to riders, they will get more riders, they will have more revenue and they will get out of debt. Unfortunately that is an incorrect assumption. ďWe lose on every customer, but we make it up in volume,Ē as the old joke goes.
Finally, I would ask, like some of the air carriers, why didnít Caltrain lock in its Diesel fuel costs in contract form well in advance, as prices have been climbing for some time?