Caltrain commuters, prepare your wallets to take a hit. Caltrain plans to hike fares by 50 cents each way, effective Feb. 28, the commuter rail line announced Monday, Dec. 7.
All fares, including the day pass, 8-ride tickets and monthly passes, will go up. Clipper Card users will get a 15 percent discount off the increased fare, and discount fares for children, seniors and the disabled will be 50 percent of the increased adult price fare.
Beginning July 1, 2016, daily parking fees will also be increased at station parking lots to $5.50 from $5 and monthly parking permit fees will rise to $55 from $50.
Caltrain said it last adjusted fares on Oct. 5, 2014, when one-way cash fares were increased by 25 cents.
According to a 2015 Caltrain report, between 2009 and 2014, total operating costs rose 26 percent, while fare revenues increased 64 percent.
That increase in revenue parallels the train system's increase in ridership. "The railroad now carries nearly 60 percent more passengers on a typical weekday than it did five years ago," the report states.
So why increase the fare if revenues are up 64 percent? Increasing operating costs, along with a decrease in its on-time performance, are due partly to its old and increasingly heavily used equipment, Caltrain says. To allow for increased and more reliable daily trips, and lowered maintenance costs, Caltrain aims to transition to an electrified system by 2019, the report says.
Adina Levin, executive director of Friends of Caltrain and a member of the Caltrain citizen advisory committee, said the committee did not recommend increasing the fare, though it didn't oppose the hike either. She said the committee hadn't seen sufficient justification for this specific fare increase and wanted to first see the results of a study currently underway to analyze Caltrain's fare system.
Her biggest concerns are that the changes do little to promote equity and fairness in the system's pricing structure. She said that according to Caltrain's 2013 report, the average Caltrain rider makes $117,000 per year. An extra 50 cents each way is less likely to hurt those people than than lower-income people who are already priced out of riding Caltrain.
That effect is further compounded when top-earning corporations, desiring to offer competitive benefits, opt to offer their employees a "Go Pass." The Go Pass, which employers can purchase for $15,960 or at the price of $190 per employee in 2016 so long as all employees who work at least 20 hours a week are included allows the employees unlimited, year-round Caltrain use.
By comparison, a one-month adult pass for three zones, or the distance between Menlo Park and San Francisco, under the new fare, will cost $190.80.
However, Ms. Levin pointed out, the price of those passes makes it difficult for any but the largest and most affluent companies to purchase, and are distributed to workers who probably don't need the subsidized transit fare.
"It is a very good thing that Caltrain is now going to do their study to address ... corporate pricing, equity, fair structure and the cost of parking," she said.
● See new fares (PDF).