Tentative Caltrain plan avoids 'radical' cuts

Proposal would reduce service, raise fares

By Patricia Decker

Bay City News Service

In coming months, Caltrain riders could be paying more to ride fewer trains operating out of fewer stations if the agency's board on Thursday approves a tentative agreement reached Monday night that outlined the changes.

The agreement, reached by executive staff from Caltrain's three member agencies and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, would, if approved, eliminate 10 trains from the current weekday schedule, close three stations and increase fares and parking fees, according to a statement released by Caltrain Tuesday.

Weekend and special event service, including baseball service, in the agreement would provide "continued, but modified" service, according to the statement.

Caltrain currently operates 86 weekday trains and 64 weekend trains.

Last month, Caltrain's board of directors voted to declare a fiscal emergency to allow the board to consider "radical" solutions in light of a $30 million budget deficit the agency will face in the coming fiscal year.

An earlier proposal released in February recommended slashing weekday service in half -- to just 48 trains. Some of the other radical changes the board was also then considering included eliminating all weekend train service and stopping service south of San Jose.

That proposal would have suspended service at up to 16 stations.

The current 76-train weekday schedule proposal would terminate service at three stations -- San Francisco's Bayshore Station, San Mateo's Hayward Park Station and San Jose's Capitol Station, which would effectively be closed because it currently has only weekday service.

Weekend service would be suspended at 11 stations, including the Bayshore and Hayward Park stations.

Last month, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said that the board of directors had been evaluating which stations to close based on several factors, including how frequently a station was used.

Caltrain's executive director, Michael Scanlon, said in the statement that the current proposal "is a significant improvement over the worst-case scenario, and there is a lot to like in the new schedule."

Unlike the earlier proposal, the 76-train weekday schedule would preserve the current span of early morning, midday and late-evening weekday service hours; continue service between Gilroy and San Francisco; and allow for weekend and special event service.

"It actually provides more service to some stations than they have now and it preserves the competitive travel times our customers have come to expect from Caltrain," Scanlon said.

Scanlon emphasized that the proposal is temporary and only covers the coming fiscal year, which starts in July.

The short-term fix "does not address the core financial issues that continue to threaten Caltrain service," Scanlon said, referring to the agency's lack of a permanent, dedicated source of revenue.

"Without that, the fiscal crisis we faced this year will only get worse and the future of the rail system will continue to be in doubt."

The new schedules would reduce net operating costs by approximately $3.3 million and include a staff recommendation to generate more than $2 million through fare and parking rate increases.

Monday's tentative agreement was reached among the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the San Mateo County Transit District, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the MTC.

According to Caltrain, the agency partners and the MTC would continue to negotiate through the summer in hopes of reaching an agreement by the fall on how to address shortfalls expected for the following fiscal year.

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