Capital Meto: Increasing costs to address budget shortfalls?

COST Commentary: The story below is of the Caltrain commuter; San Mateo county in the south to San Francisco which is about 50 miles. In response to decreasing ridership and increasing budget shortfalls, Caltrain is considering the exact opposite actions as those proposed by Capital Metro for its commuter train financial problems. Caltrain is decreasing/eliminating weekend and other service to reduce costs while Cap Metro is proposing to increase service which will increase costs. Caltrain riders are subsidized by taxpayers a little more than 50% of its operating costs while Cap Metro riders are subsidized about 98% of the commuters’ operating costs. Capital costs are not considered in either case.

Extensive experience would indicate Capital Meto is proposing irresponsible actions to increase midday and weekend commuter train runs to improve embarrasingly low ridership on the current schedule. This will dig a much deeper financial hole and further degrade overall transit service resulting in even higher taxpayer subsidies.

Less Riders May Lead To More Caltrain Cuts

Aug 13, 2010 8:45 pm US/Pacific

Lucius Kwok

Falling ridership and a $2.3 million budget gap could force fare hikes and a dramatically reduced number of trains in the Bay Area, Caltrain officials said Friday.

Managers are considering increasing Caltrain fare by 25 cents, reducing the number of trains running on weekdays, and completely suspending weekend service.

“Our pockets are empty,” Caltrain Executive Director Michael Scanlon said.

Ridership has gone down almost 6 percent in the last year, spokeswoman Christine Dunn said. In addition, Caltrain has received $10 million less in state funding each year from 2009 through the 2011 fiscal year.

“We don’t see a light at the end of this tunnel,” Dunn said. “We’re dangerously close to that tipping point when you begin to lose ridership, and then it becomes a vicious cycle with dire consequences.”

The proposed increases in base and zone fares could generate up to $2.4 million annually, which would cover the $2.3 million budget gap Caltrain faces.

Other proposals include a suspension of service to Gilroy and a redefinition of youth to ages 17 years and younger. Currently, high school students who are 18 years old still qualify for youth-related discounts.

The weekend and weekday service cuts could save $544,000 annually, but Caltrain officials understand the risk of this proposal, Dunn said.

“As we cut service to feed our budget, we begin to lose riders,” she said. “We understand the consequences to making these kinds of changes, but we’re being forced to make them.”

Changes could take effect as early as this October, when Caltrain might shut down ticket offices in San Francisco and San Jose. Train schedules and fare hikes would be adjusted in the beginning of January 2011.

Caltrain has been facing ongoing budget problems, according to officials. Last year, the company eliminated eight midday trains and increased parking fees in order to handle a $2.6 million budget gap.

The company also froze administrative staff salaries and non-essential hiring over the past two years.

Effective 2011, all staff will take 17 mandatory furlough days, which is up from 10 furlough days in 2010 and four days in 2009.

Train riders will be able to voice their opinions on the current proposals in meetings at four different locations on August 19.

The meetings will start at 6 p.m. at the San Francisco Caltrain station, the San Carlos Caltrain Headquarters, and the San Jose Diridon station.

The Gilroy Caltrain station will hold meetings at 5:30 p.m., 7:07 p.m. and 7:47 p.m, which are all immediately after southbound train arrivals.

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