By Chris Cooney
By Bay City News Service
Caltrain directors on Thursday voted to hold a public hearing in March on whether to impose drastic service cuts and schedule changes to close a $30 million budget gap.
The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which governs Caltrain, will use its March 3 meeting to decide on declaring a fiscal emergency that would enable the board to enact a combination of fare increases, station closures and service reductions.
Some of the changes could include eliminating all weekend train service; stopping service south of San Jose; closing stations in South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Belmont and Santa Clara; and cutting weekday service in half -- to just 48 trains.
The proposed changes would go into effect July 2.
Caltrain executive director Mike Scanlon said the changes would be necessary to chip away at a short-term budget shortfall that could reach $30 million in the face of expected cuts in funding from the San Mateo County Transit District, the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority.
"It's going to take some time and some real creativity in the short term," to keep Caltrain running, Scanlon said. "But to quote Rep. Jackie Speier, 'We owe it to future generations of Californians.'"
The board would need to declare a fiscal emergency at its next meeting in order to enact the changes without going through an extensive environmental quality review process, Mr. Scanlon said.
Public opinion so far has been overwhelmingly in favor of finding a solution to stave off any significant service cuts or closures.
Yoriko Kishimoto, a former Palo Alto mayor and chairwoman of the newly formed Friends of Caltrain, said that citizens in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have sent more than 800 e-mails in support of Caltrain over the past two weeks.
"We've all been galvanized by the need to save Caltrain," Ms. Kishimoto said.
Caltrain staff will hold meetings this month throughout the transit system's service area to garner public input on the proposed changes.
The first public meeting will be held Feb. 14 at San Jose City Hall at 7 p.m.
The second is scheduled to take place Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. in San Francisco at SFMTA headquarters.
Two meetings will be held Feb. 17, at the Gilroy Senior Center and at the SamTrans offices in San Carlos. Both are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.