Resolving the Caltrain budget crisis

Today, the JPB, which is facing a $12.5 million budget deficit, declared fiscal emergency. Caltrain can now plan service reductions and fare increases without having to complete environmental review.

See San Francisco Streetsblog’s coverage of the meeting today

Caltrain is currently considering a fare increase (25 cent on base fare and/or 25 cent on each fare zone). As for service reduction, there’s not much to cut since most Caltrain trips are quite productive. Weekend service, for instance, brings in  occasional riders who buy one way tickets and day passes.

The Gilroy service, however, is considered the prime candidate for service elimination. Ridership on the Gilroy segment has declined steadily over the years after the freeway widening on 101 and the introduction of express buses. Cutting that segment can also generate higher savings by consolidating crew bases from three to two. However, cutting the Gilroy service would save less than $1 million.

With the use of an additional one time federal funding approved by MTC, it is possible to prevent the worst case scenario for the next 12 months, but next year Caltrain is expecting a larger deficit with the loss of a one time fund along with an additional cut in subsidy from SamTrans.

Looking a year ahead, Caltrain and SamTrans need to pursue these strategies now to prevent major service cuts:

First, SamTrans needs to get tough on its unions. Unlike many agencies who have successfully froze their wages or are in the process of doing so, SamTrans will increase its wages and benefits according to labor contracts. These contracts will expire next year. SamTrans should aggressively negotiate an agreement that reflects the current economic condition.

Caltrain also needs to aggressively pursue downsizing train crews, especially during off-peak hours. This year, Caltrain is putting its train operation to bid.

City/County Association of Government (C/CAG) in San Mateo County is currently conducting polls to see whether county voters support an increase in the vehicle license fee. The state has given the power to local congestion management agencies to raise VLF with simple majority voter approval. That funding can be used for transportation purposes (including transit). A plan to increase the VLF can go to voters as soon as this November. Other counties can also follow suit.