This month, Caltrain Executive Director Michael Scanlon painted a sobering picture of the future of his transit agency.
Huge budget deficits, a struggling economy and dwindling ridership were forcing the agency to reduce service by 50 percent — and contemplate whether Caltrain could survive in the future under its current financial model.
Founded in 1987, Caltrain depends on sales tax receipts, fares and subsidies from local transit agencies — a formula that has been battered during the latest economic downturn.
“The agency’s operations are simply not viable based on our current funding mechanisms,” Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.
A three-county service that carried 38,000 riders at its peak, the elimination of Caltrain could result in repercussions for commuters.
Assuming Caltrain folded and half its 38,000 passengers drove to work during the three hours of peak commute time, the additional cars on U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 280 would require an extra 2½ lanes just for traffic to remain at its current level, according to Elizabeth Deakin, a professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley. Deakin said many former Caltrain commuters would likely seek out options on other transit agencies.
However, other systems are struggling to maintain current service standards, making it unlikely they would be able to expand scheduling and routes to accommodate thousands of extra passengers.
Avoiding these scenarios will not be simple. Caltrain needs a dedicated funding source to manage its operations or else it will constantly battle budget deficits, Dunn said.
Bay Area commuting
Traveling in the Bay Area can be costly and time-consumming for drivers.
55 Hours lost each year in traffic, per commuter
40 Gallons of fuel wasted each year in traffic, per commuter
5th San Francisco’s rank among worst-congested large urban areas
Source: Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Study