Caltrain riders may face fare hikes, fees

Higher fares, hikes in parking permit fees and a passenger fuel surcharge could all be on the table next month, as Caltrain looks to close a $4 million budget gap, officials said Thursday.

A 12.8 percent growth in average weekday ridership that drove revenues up $5 million helped to narrow the projected 2006-07 gap from $13 million a year earlier. But having raised rates twice — by a total of about 52 cents a ticket — in 2005, board members said they feared driving riders away with another increase.

A one-way ticket now ranges from $2 to $9.50, based on the length of the journey, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said

“We’re very reluctant to increase fares because we think it would be counterproductive,” Caltrain Executive Director Mike Scanlon told board members. Nonetheless, a 25-cent fare bump is among the options being weighed as Caltrain staff prepares to bring a balanced budget proposal to board members in June.

An added fuel surcharge, while fuel prices are exorbitant, might be a preferred alternative to an across-the-board fare increase, board member and San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill said. “I think the public would be able to understand that,” he told other board members.

Skyrocketing diesel prices in recent months have pushed Caltrain’s fuel budget 22 percent over estimates, Weinberg said.

Board member and Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage, along with others, said Caltrain should also consider raising parking rates at some of the most popular stations. “We have a real problem [with this budget],” he said. “We can beat around the bush, but we’ve got to deal with it.”

Transit agencies from the three counties that operate Caltrain — San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara — might also considered purchasing fuel collectively to drive down costs, board member and San Francisco Muni Director Nathaniel Ford said.

Overall, the commuter train agency’s budget will increase to $86.4 million from $77.7 million, officials said.

ecarpenter@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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