Caltrain balances 2016 budget with rider revenues

Caltrain is using extra funding from fast-growing rider revenues to balance its operating budget in 2016.    Ridership for FY 2015 is up 10%, farebox revenue is up 13%,  and Caltrain’s “farebox recovery” remains over 60%, which is excellent for US transit agencies.

For FY 2016, Caltrain is expecting $88 million out of a $139 million operating budget to come from riders (including fares and parking).  The three county partners (San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties) are contributing about $20million.  And an additional $18 Million comes from savings and extra revenue from the last year’s very strong performance.

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While the budget is balanced this year, the structural budget risk remains. The county partner contributions are voluntary  – every year, counties decide whether – yes, whether – to pay their Caltrain bill.   In a down year, when county partners face their own budget crunch, partners can choose not to pay their bill.  If any of the partners stiffs the check, they all do,  cutting up to a 30% hole in Caltrain’s budget.

In FY2021, with the start of electric service, Caltrain’s budget is expected to improve.  Electric service is cheaper to run (electricity is cheaper than diesel), and more frequent service is expected to generate more riders.  Caltrain is expected to disclose a draft budget for electric service this Spring, showing how much public contribution will need to be nailed down.

Caltrain’s draft capital budget for 2016 is not in the packet of materials published in advance for Thursday’s board meeting.  Watch for news about how and whether Caltrain will keep its trains maintained and running, while the project to electrify moves forward.