News

Caltrain deficit could force major service cuts

Midday, late night and weekend service all at risk due to potential $30 million deficit

Faced with a staggering deficit, Caltrain will consider cutting its service significantly in the next 15 months, spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew said Wednesday.

Bartholomew said the agency is losing money due to a combination of factors, including the loss of $10 million in state funding for each of the past three years and declining ridership, which accounts for 40 percent of the agency's revenue.

"Caltrain never had a dedicated funding source," Bartholomew said. "We've been running on a deficit for quite some time, and now everything is coming to a head."

She said changes, which could include cutting midday, late night and weekend service, would take effect by June 2011. The service cuts could be handled in a number of ways and could be implemented in one sweep or gradually, Bartholomew said.

At a Caltrain board meeting Wednesday, members said they wanted to discuss the issue further before making any decisions. One member recommended creating a three-member subcommittee to explore options.

Caltrain has a $97 million annual budget and faces a $2.7 million deficit for the current fiscal year. The deficit could balloon to about $30 million, Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew said Caltrain receives $40 million in annual funding from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and the San Mateo County Transit District, or SamTrans, which serves as the managing agency for Caltrain.

She said funding from all three entities may be drastically reduced in the near future.

"We all have the same problem," she said. "We're all losing money, and we're all just trying to figure out how to function."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Frank Thorne
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I know a bunch of people who are living in and near Menlo Park that choose to go without cars and use public transportation, walking, and biking for everything. I fear that if you cut Caltrain service in the evenings and weekends, you will push all of these people into buying cars -- which will then make ridership that much worse.

I say increase the gas tax and use the money to fund public transit. With better public transit, fewer people would drive, so there would be less traffic, so motorists would have ample reason to support such a plan.


Like this comment
Posted by menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Caltrain is already subsidized. We don't need to subsidize it further by raising taxes.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 2, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I would be curious to know the salaries and benefits of the Caltrain workers and whether they have successfully used a union and union-friendly politicians to price themselves out of a job.


Like this comment
Posted by Malcolm Dudley
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Perhaps it is time to rexamine the philosophy driving the direction of Caltrain. Several years back the decision was made to focus entirely on speed, getting passengers from San Jose to San Francisco in less than an hour. This brought about a decrease of twenty percent of local stops, eliminating all week day service to Atherton and Broadway Burlingame, and reducing local service to most Caltrain stations. Studies have shown that many factors influence the level of ridership, including reliability, destinations, frequency of service, etc. We were told that this reduction in local service would generate increasing ridership. While there has been some increase in ridership, it has not matched the increase in ridership for many transit systems. Lets get back to a focus of serving the people who fund the system. San Mateo County residents alone have provided $500 million for Caltrain capital improvements during the past twenty years. Lets get back to serving these people with service and I believe we will solve our current financial problem.


Like this comment
Posted by peace and quiet
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 2, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Ah, finally, peace and quiet on the weekends!


Like this comment
Posted by train economics
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Caltrain's pricing decisions are backwards. As economic theory goes, the way to increase demand (revenue) is to lower prices. Caltrain wants to do the opposite by decreasing service and increasing prices, possibly with the assumption that those left have no other option and will ride at any price and any time (inelastic demand). Caltrain needs to think again.


Like this comment
Posted by David Barca
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Apr 2, 2010 at 5:22 pm

I think all the comments to date on this situation have merit and show value from a lot of different perspectives. I particularly like Malcolm Dudley's insight to the fact the ridership has decreased as the focus on speed became a priority. Resuming service to stations like Atherton and Broadway Burlingame will indeed slow things down, but it will also increase my interest in taking the train again. At one point in time my children and I all commuted on Caltrain, to school for them, to work for me.

In addition, the fact we are not producing the ridership to support our existing train service makes me wonder how prudent it is to continue down the track of high speed rail?


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Mr. Barca writes: In addition, the fact we are not producing the ridership to support our existing train service makes me wonder how prudent it is to continue down the track of high speed rail?

exactly my objection to HSR. The ridership numbers are bogus and the system will not be self suporting. Meaning we will end up subsidizing it in higher taxes.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 2, 2010 at 9:38 pm

What's truly laughable is the clowns in our government are about to spend eight hundred million dollars to electrify Caltrain, while at the same time service is about to be slashed due to a yearly deficit around ten million dollars.

Pro tip: kill the electrification project and save eight hundred million dollars.


Like this comment
Posted by Fresh Air
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 2, 2010 at 10:53 pm

The only advantages I see to electrification are
1) a decrease in local diesel pollution and thus better health for residents and their children
2) a decrease in train engine noise as long as the new engines are quiet
As much as I hate letting CalTrain having its way the physical and mental health advantages are appealing.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 3, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Fresh Air, I agree that those are appealing benefits. Are they worth eight hundred million dollars? Would they be worth eight hundred million dollars if the train ran half as often, and the consequent noise and pollution was half as much?


Like this comment
Posted by Fresh Air
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Mr. Davis -
What are the private and public costs of the physical and mental health lproblems caused by the non-electrified trains over one year, ten years, 50 years? Medical costs, lost working hours, cost of the shorter life spans, cost of care givers, lost funding to local schools due to added sick days for students, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 3, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Fresh Air, I don't know. To answer my questions above, I'll wager the correct responses would be "No" and "Hell No".


Like this comment
Posted by Fresh Air
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 3, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Hey Joe,
Unfortunately you seem to lack the compassion and care for the health of those around you, that your namesake Palo Alto pediatrician Joe Davis thought so important.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 4, 2010 at 8:41 am

Your assertion is wrong. I simply believe that it is likely that the enormous resources about to be poured into electrifying these fast-disappearing trains would be better used elsewhere.

This money and wealth has to come from somewhere - that means eight hundred million dollars of useful and productive activity, some of it certainly health and happiness improving, which will no longer occur, in favor of this marginal infrastructure improvement.


Like this comment
Posted by Source?
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Malcolm Dudley, David Barca-

What are your sources for the claims that ridership has "decreased" (Barca) or "not matched the increase in ridership for many transit systems" since the schedule was changed? Although this year will be off, no doubt, the post-2004 (when Baby Bullet service was introduced) figures show significant increases in ridership:

Web Link

I understand it may be frustrating for former users of the Atherton and Broadway stations, but the system as a whole is clearly better off under the current system.


Like this comment
Posted by Willy
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Noise? When I visit folks in San Carlos or Belmont, I'm almost stunned by the lack of bells and whistles, from the trains, that is.

Elevate the tracks. After a couple years of hell (during construction) it's far quieter, and traffic becomes SO much smoother.

They did a GREAT job up there. The intersections at Ralston, at Holly and others are so much better. And you never hear the bells and whistles.


Like this comment
Posted by Willy
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Source:

Great link, but the deniers often rather just make claims without facts. Try pasting a bit, too ;-)

"The total AWR (average weekday ridership) per day has increased 5.8 percent as compared to February 2008, with a total of
39,122 boardings. Since 1992, Caltrain AWR has increased by more than 85 percent, as
shown in Figure 1. The 2009 AWR also has surpassed the previous highest AWR, which was
seen in 2008. Starting in 2001, ridership was in a steady decline until the implementation of
Baby Bullet service in 2004 and the re-invention of the service in 2005. Since the summer of
2004, ridership has been steadily increasing. Ridership has grown 53.1 percent since the
implementation of Baby Bullet service."


Like this comment
Posted by Local
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 5, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Willy
So nice that you LIVE IN WOODSIDE and visit the natives in Belmont. I guess you won't have to put up with the few years of hell and the forever years of a massive wall, trains etc towering over your home.


Like this comment
Posted by Willy
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 5, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Local:

Family in Belmont during the construction, so yes, I remember.

The few folks THAT close, as in "on", the tracks (that they chose to live on/near) in Menlo should talk to those in Belmont and San Carlos about the reduced noise and other quality of life improvements before they decide about your "wall".

I'll ignore your trite attempt at spite (or whatever you meant) with "visiting natives" and instead point to the improved maneuverability for Menlo during both rush hours, that it would bring. Ask any MP parent picking up a kid at the library around 5pm how they like that corner.

Do I think it will ever happen? Never. Not a chance. Your, and all of ours, loss.

As well as for the locals businesses, etc...

But there is a solution. Look at the smoothness of traffic in Belmont and San Carlos versus downtown San Mateo, RC and MP.


Like this comment
Posted by Number, numbers
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Willy
Feb 2009 avg weekday ridership equals 20,000 commuters. 2009 annual operating budget $95 million or about $5,000 per commuter. Of that about half is CalTrain income and the other half is from taxes paid by the 3 million plus SF, SM and SC county non riders. So we're subsidizing these commuters about $2400 a year. Oh yeah - operating budget does not include capital budget -CalTrain's 2009 capital budget was $150 million so add another $7500 per commuter for 2009, paid by our taxes. $200 million a year in tax money so 20,000 can play with their computers on the way to and from work.
Yep, what a bargain.


Like this comment
Posted by Willy
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Number:

Assuming your numbers are correct (I'll let others with more time or familiarity address the veracity of your numbers,) I'm guessing that this falls in line, to some degree, with all public mass transit.

What's your solution? Reduce service, then reduce some more, until it's gone? Let SP (or whomever has the rights) sell the land or develop it? Force riders back onto the streets "where they belong"?

Am curious. Like the other poster earlier, is your solution to complain about those darn working folk at CalTrain?

California and Silicon Vally led the way the last few decades, in large part because of a great education system and good infrastructure. Seems we're doing a pretty good job starving both.


Like this comment
Posted by Number, numbers
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Willy
You're right about one thing, we are starving our once great education system. Let's take that CalTrain money and put it to better use educating our youth, thus helping many more than a few commuters.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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