News

Caltrain unveils less-drastic-than-projected cuts

Tentative financial agreement could minimize service reductions

Caltrain has released a tentative financial plan that would preserve much of the commuter rail's train service while cutting 12 trains and three stations, according to a Tuesday press release. Mountain View's San Antonio station is spared the chopping block under the plan.

Executive staff from Caltrain's three member agencies -- Santa Clara County's Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), San Mateo County's SamTrans and San Francisco's Metropolitan Transit Agency -- and the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission reached an agreement Monday night (April 4) on a tentative financial plan.

If approved, it would significantly reduce the agency's projected fiscal-year 2012 operating deficit.

The new proposal would allow considerably more service than an earlier proposal that would have gutted the rail line.

Caltrain staff is recommending that the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which oversees Caltrain, authorize a 76-train weekday schedule beginning in July 2011. Currently, there are 86 trains running during the week.

The proposed schedule is a 60-percent increase in weekday train frequency over a worst-case scenario that would have cut trains from 96 to 48. The agency faces a $30 million operating deficit on a $100 million budget.

The 76-train schedule would maintain the current early-morning, midday and late-evening weekday service hours and would continue service between Gilroy and San Francisco. The weekend schedule would continue but would modify weekend and special-event service, including to baseball games.

The original service-reduction proposal would have shuttered up to 16 stations. But the 76-train schedule would require suspension of weekday service at only three: Bayshore, Hayward Park and Capitol, according to the press release.

"The 76-train proposal is a significant improvement over the worst-case scenario, and there is a lot to like in the new schedule. 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," Caltrain Executive Director Michael J. Scanlon said.

He also emphasized that any solution to the Caltrain fiscal crisis is temporary.

"This is an emergency, short-term fix and it does not address the core financial issues that continue to threaten Caltrain service," Scanlon said.

"Caltrain needs 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 tentative funding agreement involves augmenting Caltrain's operating budget through swapping state and regional capital funds and through funds that VTA will pay to SamTrans for the initial purchase of the Caltrain right of way in 1991.

The new schedule reduces net operating costs by approximately $3.3 million and includes a staff recommendation to generate more than $2 million through a fare increase and an increase in parking fees.

Scanlon cautioned that the agreement would only cover the coming fiscal year but added that the parties will continue to negotiate through the summer in hopes of reaching agreement this fall on how to address Caltrain budget shortfalls in fiscal year 2013.

"In addition, the service plan should be revisited as circumstances change. For instance, there are a number of transit-oriented development projects that if implemented could create higher demand and warrant service restoration," Scanlon said.

The Caltrain partners and MTC also are working closely with community coalitions to address the long-term funding of the rail system, which does not have a permanent, dedicated source of revenue.

These efforts have been supported by the Friends of Caltrain, a grassroots organization, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which has made Caltrain's fiscal crisis its primary focus.

The new weekend schedule would provide faster trip times for customers and also preserves the full span of the service day, but will require suspension of service at some stations to reflect necessary savings in operating costs, according to Caltrain. Previously, all service except for peak commuter times would have been cut.

Under the new proposal, weekend service would be suspended at 11 stations: 22nd Street, Bayshore, South San Francisco, Broadway, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Carlos, Atherton, California Avenue, San Antonio and Lawrence. The weekend shuttle between the Tamien station and Diridon station would also be suspended.

The proposed train schedule can be viewed here.

The Joint Powers Board will discuss the new proposal at its monthly meeting on Thursday (April 7) at 10 a.m. at SamTrans headquarters, 250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos.

Comments

Posted by OMV Resident, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:19 am

To the author -
This article contains a factual error that should be corrected. The article states that "Currently, there are 96 trains running during the week" and later states that the worst-case scenario would have cut service from 96 trains to 48. This is not true. There are currently 86 trains per day running on weekdays - the current schedule (effective January 1, 2011) can be found here:

Web Link


Posted by OMV Resident, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:21 am

It's also interesting to note that the proposed 76-train schedule would actually lead to a slight increase in the number of trains serving downtown Mountain View station compared to the current 86-train schedule. Currently, only 74 of the 86 trains stop at Mountain View, while under the proposed schedule, all 76 daily trains would stop here.


Posted by Andrea Gemmet, Mountain View Voice Editor
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:30 am

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

@OMV Resident: Thanks for the catch. It's fixed now.


Posted by k, a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:35 am

I kind of like this new schedule! Hope Caltrain makes a more serious job of finding permanent funding, though.


Posted by member, a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

It is peculiar that a service like this needs to struggle to close its budget deficit through taxes. Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, I wonder why selling Caltrain/privatizing it is not on the table. Smart entrepreneurs can figure out how to run it efficiently and focus on value addition. If we are worried about jobs in Caltrain being lost, then how about letting the current employees who have given so much to it become the shareholders of Caltrain, and the org is set loose with an operating budget for a year, in which it has to get its act together and start running as a private company. The tired thinking that looks for "permanent sources of revenue" needs to disappear in favor of "how can we serve people?" Once the second question is answered, money should not be a problem.


Posted by x, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I think we should privatize all streets and highways. Smart entrepreneurs can figure out how to run themefficiently and focus on value addition. Why should my tax dollars be used to subsidize automobile travel.


Posted by Jan Wilson, a resident of Castro City
on Apr 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm

You gotta be kidding. After all that crying wolf, they only cut 10 trains and they keep the empty late night trains and early morning trains running!
They still have way too much money!
Let's start gathering momentum and public support for a NO vote on the Caltrain tax in 2012.


Posted by Jan Wilson, a resident of Castro City
on Apr 6, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Caltrain, the ugly beast that doesn't want to die!


Posted by Jes' Sayin', a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Do you like the train service in continental Europe? Part of the reason it works so well is that it's subsidized by taxing air travel. Here, considering the way the US government keep bailing out failed airlines, it's pretty much the opposite.

I very much doubt that a privatized version would help profitability at all; meanwhile service would degrade considerably, much as folks have seen by the private version that has been operating in the UK.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm

@Jes Sayin: no I don't particularly like the train service in continental Europe - Or non-continental Europe. The rampant gassing and theft is not appealing to me. Also the US is not Europe.

In fact I prefer flying to travelling by train; unfortunately our brilliant govt has managed to put a security system into place that is short on security and long on inconveniencing the public

As far as bailouts go... Ummm Amtrak?


Posted by Train Fan, a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm

For the last few years, Caltrain's board of directors claimed a fiscal emergency, predicted draconian service reductions and fare hikes, then finally they propose a schedule that's not as terrible but still reduces service. Then the proposal is compared to the prediction, not to what could be achieved. A cover story in the Mercury News last week investigated what a do-nothing board Caltrain has. At the Friends of Caltrain Summit, all kinds of revenue-generating and cost-saving ideas were presented. Were any of these seriously considered?

By the way, regarding San Antonio being spared, no weekend service and no southbound morning commute and northbound afternoon commute service.


Posted by John, a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Apr 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm

And we are spending billions to build high speed rail why?


Posted by LarryR, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2011 at 3:08 am

Before I read this excellent article, I had posted the following to OMVNAnet:

This morning, Caltrain's staff released a new proposal for service cuts for implementation in July. The revised weekday schedule cuts 10 trains off the current schedules and preserves off peak and Gilroy service, however the popular Baby Bullet service would be eliminated and replaced by slower limited stop trains.

More details at
Web Link

My comments to Caltrain follows:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This proposal from Caltrain staff is much better than the draconian cuts that were previously proposed. I'm pleased that non-rush hour trains and weekend service would NOT be totally ELIMINATED. And that service at "popular" Caltrain Stations, such as Mountain View would NOT be cut at all.

Had non-rush hour trains and weekend service been eliminated, I would have been forced to use my car a lot more. I much prefer to take transit (Caltrain and/or buses) whenever I can, as it is so much more pleasant (I can read or watch the scenery go by or safely even day dream) and yet this improved experience is typically less costly. Such a deal! :-)

I do feel empathy for riders who are at less "popular" stations. So comments from the public will be invaluable to seriously consider.

Finally, it is clear that we require a LONG TERM SOLUTION to this on-going, increasing severe problem.

IMHO, the best solution is a dedicated gasoline tax whose proceeds are mandated to go to transit (such as Caltrain, VTA, etc.); with the provision that if the funds were diverted in any way, the tax would be rescinded!

And the impact on automobile users would NOT be as significant as the full tax itself. Why?

Because history has shown that auto mileage drops significantly as gasoline prices go up, especially above the $4/gallon with $5 perhaps being a real barrier to discretionary use. Lower demand reduces prices which mitigates the impact of the tax increase.

And prices WILL go up as supply is reduced due to the instability in the Middle East. It is likely that the popular uprisings will spread beyond Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to places such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and hopefully, to Iran.

So the question for voters is, do we want our gasoline dollars to go to Saudi Arabia or to transit?

I'd appreciate rational responses to this proposal.


Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:26 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

"I wonder why selling Caltrain/privatizing it is not on the table." First it _was_ private until the Peninsula (JPB) acquired it from the former owner, shifting to more a passenger-, less freight-oriented line. Most of the commuter service Caltrain is now known for came after JPB took over. (I've ridden the line since long before JPB.) Second, its commute service has always needed subsidy -- like most commute rail lines worldwide. The conspicuous exceptions are long-distance high-speed rail services, which have a different business model. (A sharp irony here is that some folks, who seem not to have gotten the word, even cite Caltrain in criticizing High-Speed Rail, though HSR has a record of paying its own way. A California HSR priority had been to rebuild and electrify Caltrain's infrastsucture as one of its first engineering efforts, until obstructionists made such a fuss that HSRA shifted its priorities to the Central Valley instead.)

"A cover story in the Mercury News last week investigated what a do-nothing board Caltrain has." A more revealing phrasing would have been that the Mercury story sensationalized the well-known reality that Caltrain (just like several local cities) has a highly competent staff that does its homework, so the oversight board can make efficient decisions. And, unlike some local cities, the board generally does make efficient decisions, rather than protracting its meetings with political grandstanding and playing to media.

It's easy to get the impression that most -- usually anonymous -- critics not only have never attended a JPB meeting, or learned about how the agency operates, but haven't even done basic easy homework about Caltrain or HSR before expressing strong opinions about them. The view is so simple and clear, from the armchair.


Posted by Jan Wilson, a resident of Castro City
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

LarryR your proposal on a gas tax is rational but it has about zero chance to fly and be approved by the voters in 2012
With gas prices going through the roof folks are going to be very sensitive about paying even more at the pump.
A Caltrain gas tax will be facing an uphill battle at the poll:
- Negative public perception of Caltrain management (CEO salary, inept board, out of control employee compensation ..)
- Caltrain serves less than 1% of the voters targeted by the proposed tax. The riders will be voting for it but the rest are either fiscal conservatives hell bent against money wasting public services like Caltrain (many of them posting on this board) or moms and pops who don't think much about Caltrain and don't want to pay more at the pump


Posted by Steve, a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm

As a long time rider, and even longer time nearby resident, Max is the first poster to make sense in a very long time. Various placing you can read about letting BART take over, well:

Politically that ship sailed in the 60's the BART extension to Millbrae is Samtrans' biggest loser, even more subsidy than Caltrain.

Technically, BART uses different rail and propulsion systems, and would require grade separation, so we could actually build HSR for less than BART.

The sales taxes that fund the Caltrain contribution of Muni, Samtrans, and VTA would be back to pre-recession levels overnight if we could all agree that it is time for Internet businesses to be required to collect and pay sales taxes like brick and mortar businesses do.

Caltrain riders who do their shopping on-line shoot their own commute in the foot!


Posted by Doug Pearson, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm

"Structural Deficit" is a euphemism for income (taxes, fines, fares and fees) is not enough to pay for services (CalTrain, in this case).

Yes, thank you Steve, "it is time for Internet businesses to be required to collect and pay sales taxes" and yes, thank you LarryR, "the best solution is a dedicated gasoline tax whose proceeds are mandated to go to transit (such as Caltrain, VTA, etc.); with the provision that if the funds were diverted in any way, the tax would be rescinded!" (I'm not a fan of dedicated taxes, but I'd rather that than the tiny fuel taxes we pay today.)

There are other choices, and it's not just CalTrain that needs more income. The Federal Government, the State Government, Santa Clara County, local school districts and even the City of Mountain View--all need more income. I despair of it ever happening but that's what we need.

Do we also need to cut waste, fraud and abuse? Yes, certainly, but there isn't enough left after cutting it and cutting it for many years, to eliminate the need for more income.

The City of Mountain View is well managed in my opinion and has managed to keep expenses below income through some very bad times. But the cost has been cutting many good things along with waste, fraud and abuse. For example, the library has too few employees, is open too few hours, and has too small a book-buying budget.


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