Caltrain proposes to phase in fare increases thanks to customer feedback

In response to vocal customer feedback, Caltrain staff is recommending phasing in fare increases over about two years, instead of hiking fares all at once. The less precipitous fare increase was helped by Caltrain scrutinizing its expenses and finding $2.5 million in cost reductions.

The decisions are scheduled for the board meeting this coming Thursday, August 3, at the meeting starting at 10am.

The increases to GoPass and Monthly Pass are proposed to be phased in, with the GoPass changes targeted to the calendar year, following feedback from employers about matching changes to their budget years.

But three of the changes – increasing the zone fare, increasing parking prices, and eliminating the 8-ride ticket are proposed to happen all at once, starting in October.

Risk to ridership and revenue

The slower fare increase at least reduces the risk to ridership, which has dropped slightly since the last fare increase. However, it’s not clear what the Caltrain board might do if ridership dips further following the upcoming fare increase.

The most recent June ridership numbers show average weekday ridership down 1.1 percent to 62,057 from June 2016 AWR of 62,748. Repeatedly in raising fares in response to ridership decline becomes a classic “death spiral”.

Perhaps instead of approving both fare increases at once, the board could reserve the right to hold off on the second change, watching for impact on ridership.

Potential broader changes

Meanwhile, several broader changes to the fare structure are still being considered for the future, pending the results of the Caltrain’s fare study out later this year, while one promising change is on hold

  • More equitable GoPass. Multiple board members spoke favorably about the suggestion to expand the GoPass program to be allowed to cover Transportation Management Associations who provide centralized service for a collection of smaller companies; and contractors who work at the same location as full-time employees of major corporations.
  • Moving from a zone fare to a distance-based fare. When Caltrain goes electric, might it make sense to adjust fares and schedules to match BART?
  • Off-Peak fares. The proposal for off-peak fares was postponed, because the program would also need to cover mid-day service, in addition to evenings and weekends, and because it might be costly to implement with the current Clipper system.  The next-generation Clipper system is about to be put out to bid, with a goal of greater flexibility for changes, but the new system would not be available until at least 2019.

This week’s fare proposal for the board

According to the staff report, the specific proposals are to:

  • Increase Go Pass from $190 to $237.50, raising the minimum cost to employers from $15,960 to $19,950 effective January 1, 2018 and from $237.50 to $285, raising the minimum cost to employers from $19,950 to $23,940 effective January 1, 2019
  • Increase the Monthly Pass multiplier from 13 to 14 days effective October 1, 2017 and increase the Monthly Pass multiplier from 14 to 15 days effective July 1, 2018
  • Increases monthly parking prices from $55 to $82.50 effective October 1, 2017
  • Eliminates the discounted 8-ride Ticket effective October 1, 2017
  • Increases the Zone fare by 25 cents effective October 1, 2017

Caltrain-Ticket-Vending-Machine (1)