This week, the Caltrain Joint Powers Board will meet and vote whether to declare fiscal emergency. If the board approves as expected, the Caltrain staff will propose train cuts and fare hikes to close the budget gap.
Transit agencies in the three counties that contribute operating funds to Caltrain (San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara have their contribution frozen for the last few years. It is hard to demand an increase in contribution in light of the current economic climate, esepcially in San Francisco where Muni is facing a $50 million plus budget gap. It is time to look at the system where the greatest savings can be achieve with the fewest riders impacted.
One of the area where the ridership and revenue continues to be sagging is the Gilroy-San Jose segment. Due to the VTA sponsored freeway widening, along with the dot-come bust, the ridership declined. Back in 2000, these trains used to be nearly full.
Falling ridership means falling revenue for Caltrain, which partly contributed to the current budget gap of about $11 million.
While that portion is solely funded by VTA, it would be a wise for VTA to reduce service on that segment and shift funds to protect the service and the ridership between Palo Alto and San Jose. Meanwhile the Gilroy-San Jose corridor could be serviced by express buses using the new VTA sponsored lanes on the freeway.