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Riders voice concerns as Caltrain faces ongoing budget cuts

 

Caltrain's current proposals to fix a $2.3 million budget deficit will only temporarily put off a larger number of service cuts and potential fare hikes in 2012, a spokesman said Thursday (Sept. 2).

"We're only putting off for a matter of months the day of reckoning," Caltrain Executive Director Michael Scanlon said to a crowd of concerned train riders.

About 100 people, including several Caltrain staff, raised their concerns about ticket prices and train services at a public hearing Thursday at the Caltrain headquarters in San Carlos.

Officials said they have received more than 1,500 comments since beginning outreach efforts about the budget deficit in August.

Concerns included Caltrain's proposals to increase base and zone fares by 25 cents, suspension of weekend and midday services, and increasing capacity on trains to hold bicycles.

Caltrain managers decided to keep Gilroy and weekend services off the chopping block until 2011 because more than 250 customers spoke out against losing them.

"Based on estimates of the potential cost savings and input from our customers, we would like to preserve these two important services," Scanlon said.

Many customers who previously sent in comments reiterated their concerns for keeping Gilroy service at the hearing.

"On any given weekday, 75 to 100 students from points south of Tamien station ride the train," said Brian Adams, a spokesman for Bellarmine College Preparatory, which is an all-boys school in San Jose.

Tamien is a Caltrain station in San Jose and is part of the service to Gilroy, so it will likely remain until 2011.

Several attendees lobbed complaints about being refused service because of bringing bicycles on the train.

Shirley Johnson, chair of the Caltrain Bicycling Committee, which met for its first time last week, said Caltrain has potentially lost more than $1 million in revenue since 2009 because of inadequate service for bicyclists.

Officials received about 215 comments through e-mail and phone calls about increasing bike capacity on trains.

More than 50 e-mails between Caltrain officials and customers were available in a packet at the meeting. Many messages were from bicyclists who were bumped from trains because of their bicycles.

One disgruntled cyclist, David Pagen, was denied service at Caltrain's Sunnyvale station "allegedly due to lack of space on board. However, on this occasion it was apparent from looking through the window that several bike spots were open," he said in an e-mail.

Johnson said that her committee and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit with more than 11,000 members, encourage customers to write Caltrain because officials have no other way of knowing cyclists have been bumped.

Many attendees voiced worries that services they used would be cut.

"I'm going to lose my job if I don't have that train. You guys want to be responsible for me losing my job?" said Jeff Carter, a customer who was concerned about the suspension of early morning train service.

Others were concerned about a proposed price hike in GO Passes, which employers can buy to allow employees to take unlimited train rides for a week, from $140 to $155.

"If this increase should be implemented, Stanford will have experienced a 130 percent increase in the GO Pass price over the last eight years," said Jean McCown, who spoke on behalf of Stanford University.

McCown said this "considerable" rise in price would force Stanford, which buys GO Passes for 10,000 employees, to look for alternative modes of transportation.

Caltrain has been facing ongoing budget problems. In 2009, the company eliminated eight midday trains and increased parking fees in order to handle a $2.6 million budget gap.

The company also froze administrative staff salaries and non-essential hiring over the past two years.

Effective 2011, all staff will take 17 mandatory furlough days, which is up from 10 furlough days in 2010 and four days in 2009.

The company is likely to reconsider all service cuts and fare hikes for 2011 and 2012 in the coming months, including "truly Draconian cuts," Executive Director Michael Scanlon said.

Managers face a potential deficit of $29.5 million for the 2012 fiscal year, according to officials at the hearing.

Caltrain staff will present their final proposal to close the current deficit at an Oct. 7 meeting.

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