Caltrain considers fare increases

The price to ride Caltrain and park at stations could increase for the third time in two years as the commuter train agency moves to close a half-million-dollar budget gap.

The increase, if approved at a hearing Friday, would come on the heels of two increases, totaling 52 cents, in 2005 and could push tickets for the longest rides above $10. A 25-cent increase per zone could bring in up to $1.4 million were it to go into effect October 1 as planned, according to Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg.

Skyrocketing fuel prices and labor costs are blamed for the rising fares. For the past six months, Caltrain has paid an average of $2.50 a gallon for diesel, far above it’s budgeted $1.70. The board will vote on whether to increase fares for traveling into each of six zones by 25 cents, the approach being recommended. Also on the table, but not recommended, is a 25-cent base-fee increase, Weinberg said.

“Sadly, it’s needed and it’s only needed because of the tremendous increase in diesel fuel costs,” said President of the Board of Supervisors and Caltrain board member Jerry Hill of the fare increase. Fuel costs have climbed nearly 20 percent, or $1.7 million, to $10.1 million over a year ago, officials said.

In addition, Caltrain wants to raise $185,000 for fiscal 2006-07, beginning in October, by raising daily parking fees from $1.50 to $2. Monthly fees would increase from $15 to $20, Weinberg said. Even that increase isn’t a cap, however. Ultimately, daily parking fees could increase to as much as $5 at the most popular stations — such as Palo Alto and San Jose — as Caltrain moves toward a market-rate parking system, Weinberg said.

Off the table, for now, are weekend services cuts, which several board members adamantly opposed.

“Even though they are going to increase prices, I’m still going to take it,” said rider Keewon Haller, who commutes to City College of San Francisco from Menlo Park five days a week. She said Caltrain is cheaper than driving for her, and the government should subsidize the train at a higher level, much as it does for highways.

“I think if someone were driving an automobile daily they would feel a greater impact than what we’re applying with this minimal fee increase,” Hill said, describing the increase as a fuel surcharge.

Board members voted earlier this month to pass a balanced budget before the July 1 start of the fiscal year by tapping reserves for the $550,000. Raising fares and parking fees would allow them to keep those funds. Caltrain’s reserve currently stands at only $1.6 million, officials said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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