There is no reason for Caltrain to vote to reduce service next month and the rail operator may not need to cut any trains from its schedule, the executive director of the Bay Area’s lead transportation agency said Thursday.
Faced with a budget shortfall that could reach $60 million over the next two years, Caltrain has recommended eliminating service on the weekends and reducing its number of weekday trains by 45 percent. The agency’s Board of Directors could approve the plan next month, with the service changes taking place in July.
However, Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees long-term planning in the Bay Area and allocates federal and state funding to transit operators, said his organization is working on a plan that will deal with Caltrain’s budget shortfall.
“It’s very, very doubtful that Caltrain will have to take the kind of action that they’ve been having public hearings on, which would be a wholesale rearrangement of services,” said Heminger. “I think we’ll be able to avoid that.”
Heminger said the MTC has been meeting with Caltrain and its three partner agencies — Muni, SamTrans, and the Valley Transportation Agency — to find a funding plan that will finance the rail operator until the 2012 election. By that time, there should be plans in place to ask voters to support a dedicated funding source such as a tax measure for Caltrain, a necessity for the agency to survive.
There is no need to rush into a plan that would slash Caltrain service to “draconian” levels while there are funding options being pursued, Heminger said.
The VTA and Muni still owe SamTrans a collective $8.9 million for purchasing the Caltrain right-of-way from Amtrak in 1991. Since SamTrans is run by the same management as Caltrain, that funding could go toward plugging the $60 million gap. Other possibilities include diverting to Caltrain the $5.5 million set aside for operating the uncompleted Dumbarton rail project. The MTC could also reallocate regional money for capital projects into operating funds for Caltrain, an accounting trick used in the past to save AC Transit, said Heminger.
“We’ve seen this kind of situation before,” said Heminger.
Caltrain should be able to generate $10 million annually through plans to increase fares and lower employee expenses, Heminger said. Caltrain outsources its operator work to Amtrak, and that contract is up, so a new pact could lead to efficiency savings. Also, Caltrain passengers earn more on average than other public transit users in the region, and they have said they are willing to pay more to keep service intact.