Caltrain supporters aim for more stable funding

Caltrain needs a new stream of revenue such as a tax or toll in order to survive, according to business leaders and transit advocates planning a new push for funding.

Caltrain is the only transit agency in the Bay Area without a permanent, dedicated source of funds, and officials say that makes budgeting an annual challenge. As the agency faces a projected $30 million deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1, it needs the money now more than ever before in the agency’s 18-year history.  

 “The fact is if we don’t do it, there’s some question about whether or not Caltrain can survive,” said Mark Simon, Caltrain’s public affairs chief. “I think maybe it’s the first time it’s been clear to people that Caltrain’s future is clearly at risk.”

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, whose CEO led the campaign to extend BART to San Jose, is spearheading an invitation-only summit on the future of Caltrain on Jan. 21. A grass-roots group called Friends of Caltrain is holding its own public summit a week later on Jan. 29 at the SamTrans headquarters in San Carlos.  

The groups plan to discuss the challenges facing Caltrain and brainstorm ways of establishing a new revenue source. Potential ideas include hikes in the sales tax, gas tax, property tax or an auto toll, though no voter polls on those ideas have been conducted yet. Some have suggested the 2012 ballot for a potential measure, Simon said.

About 40 percent of Caltrain’s $100 million operating budget comes from its three partner agencies — SamTrans, Muni and the Valley Transportation Authority — which are each facing their own budget troubles.

In 2011, SamTrans is expected to slash its contribution by half, and if the others follow suit, it would lead to an estimated $30 million deficit and potential major cuts, like eliminating weekend and midday trains, Simon said.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said a recession is not the best time to seek more money from voters, though he hopes the summits cast a spotlight on Caltrain’s problems.

“If you’re honest with the public, if you’re honest (about) your financial situation, the public will take a second look at it,” Hill said.

To make a revenue hike politically feasible, proponents will need to show clear benefits, such as more frequent service, said Andy Chow, president of the Bay Rail Alliance.

“So when we ask people for dedicated funding, they know they’re not just paying more for the same thing,” Chow said. “They’re paying more to get better things.”

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

Tracking the money

A breakdown of Caltrain’s funding for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2011:

$43.3 million: Farebox revenue

$7.9 million: Parking, shuttles, rental income and other revenues

$1 million: Contribution from Assembly Bill 434

$6.3 million: Operating grants

$35.1 million: Partner agency contributions (SamTrans, Muni, VTA)

$6.2 million: Other sources

$99.9 million: Total revenue

Closing the doors


Caltrain is raising fares and reducing service effective Jan. 1, 2011, to close a $2.3 million deficit in the current fiscal year’s budget.

  • Fare increase: 25 cents per zone
  • New cost of one-way San Jose to San Francisco ticket: $8.50 (up from $7.75)

THE FOLLOWING TRAINS WILL BE ELIMINATED:

  • Northbound trains: 237 and 257
  • Southbound trains: 236 and 256

Source: Caltrain

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