Monday, May 04, 2009

Caltrain service is on the chopping block too

Caltrain is planning to declare fiscal emergency in June as the agency considers various measures to address the $10 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. Measures include service reductions and fare increases.

Unlike VTA, Caltrain does not have dedicated funding. As a joint powers authority, Caltrain does not have the power to collect taxes. Its operating fund largely depends on the contributions from its three local transit agencies: Muni, SamTrans, and VTA. Since 2000, the 3 agencies have either kept its funding level frozen, or just increased it by 3% a year (at the time when the economy was better). Because of the state funding cut and drop in local taxes, the three agencies have agreed again to freeze the local funding level for next year. On the other hand, the contractual operating cost keeps rising.

In the previous years, Caltrain was able to use various one-time fundings to address the shortfalls. In 2004 and 2005, Caltrain increased its Baby Bullet service to enhance fare revenue. For the last few years, Caltrain was achieving double digit riderhip and fare revenue increases. This year the situation is not that fortunate. In March, Caltrain ridership essentially stayed flat compared to last year (fall by 0.3%). Caltrain staff believes the increasing unemployment in the region is beginning to impact ridership.

It seems that while High Speed Rail, Prop 1A, and the Stimulus Plan give Caltrain a bright future, the current state and local funding situation would hurt more riders in the short run. In the long run, Caltrain needs to have a different governance and funding structure so it can achieve funding stability and become more accountable to its riders. Unlike AC Transit and BART, for many Caltrain boardmembers, its role on Caltrain is actually their third job (first is the city council or county board they've been elected to serve, second is the local transit agency, and the third is Caltrain). And for some of the Caltrain members (like Ken Yeager), you have to wonder whether they want Caltrain to succeed, or that they are there to block Caltrain improvements.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't see how Caltrain's poor service
record justifies any additional funding.
I for one am boycotting Caltrain as it
has proven itself completely unreliable
as a means to get me anywhere remotely
close to on time.