Caltrain had planned to use fare increases to help pay for a regional means-based fare program. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Caltrain had planned to use fare increases to help pay for a regional means-based fare program. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Caltrain won’t increase fares before end of fiscal year

Planned price hikes suspended to help essential workers who rely on transit

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board voted unanimously last Thursday to suspend planned fare increases for Caltrain through the end of this fiscal year, at least.

Though the agency faces a $18.5 million shortfall, foregoing the increase will help ensure the rail remains accessible to the 3,500 daily riders who continue to rely on Caltrain, staff told board members. Most are essential workers and transit-dependent individuals who have no other way to make the Peninsula trek.

Fare changes, approved by the Joint Powers Board in September, were to come in two waves: first a reduction in Clipper Card discounts, then an increase to base fares.

Starting April 1, discounts for one-way fares and monthly passes on the Clipper Card would have dropped by 30 cents. In July, the base fare was going to increase by 50 cents followed by planned price hikes over the subsequent four years.

The fare increases were expected to generate $25 million over the next three years, a significant amount for an agency that has no dedicated funding source of its own.

Caltrain currently relies on the farebox and annual contributions from the three counties it serves to make its budget. Measure RR, a controversial 1/8-cent sales tax that will be on the ballot for voters in November, would create an additional independent revenue stream.

Staff planned to use the $25 million to fund Caltrain’s participation in the Clipper START program, a regional means-based fare pilot, as well as support operating expenses, according to a press release from March.

Executive Director Jim Hartnett decided to temporarily suspend the price hikes after shelter-in-place in order to reduce the impact of widespread job loss and economic hurt on riders, but he needed the board’s authorization to extend it through the fiscal year.

Board members also opted to defer approving a budget for the entire fiscal year. Staff will instead propose a second quarter budget for board approval at the Oct. 1 meeting.

Any plans to balance the looming budget deficit will prioritize providing reliable, high-quality service to Caltrain’s most vulnerable riders, staff said, as well as creative ways to generate additional funding.

The agency has already moved to provide low-income riders with a 50 percent discounted fare.

Thursday, the Joint Powers Board adopted the system’s first Framework for Equity, Connectivity, Recovery and Growth, which formalizes its commitment to a future for Caltrain that “expands access to low-income individuals and communities of color that have historically been underrepresented in the system’s ridership.”

It includes plans to support off-peak service that assists shift workers, the option to move toward regionally coordinated fare and transfer policies and improve timetables and connections with other regional transit systems.

However, staff also cautioned the Joint Powers Board that without additional revenue, not only will these equity polices be rendered impossible, all rail service will at risk of shutting down to riders.

The cost of a 12-month shutdown is estimated to be at over $60 million, staff said, and it would take more than one year to restart service after the fact, costing an additional $93 million in remobilization and retraining of staff.

“Any shutdown of the service would be the most inequitable consequence possible for all riders who depend on this critical service,” Caltrain Board Chair Dave Pine said in a statement.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area Newssan francisco newsTransittransportation

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A health care worker receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020. (Courtesy SFgov)
SF to open three large sites for COVID-19 vaccinations

Breed: ‘We need more doses. We are asking for more doses’

Tongo Eisen-Martin, a Bernal Heights resident, named San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Tongo Eisen-Martin becomes San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate

Bernal Heights resident Tongo Eisen-Martin has become San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.… Continue reading

Homeless people's tents can be seen on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/S.F. Examiner)
Statewide business tax could bring new funds to combat homelessness

San Francisco could get more than $100 million a year for housing, rental assistance, shelter beds

The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco (a mural by artist Jamie Treacy is pictued) has a lineup of free online programming including activities for youngsters scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18. (Courtesy Demetri Broxton/Museum of the African Diaspora)
Stanford, Museum of the African Diaspora host MLK Day activities

Online offerings include films, music, discussion

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides the US House of Representatives vote on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol, January 13, 2021, in Washington, DC. - The Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives on January 13 opened debate on a historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump over his supporters' attack of the Capitol that left five dead. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
House votes 232-197 to impeach Trump a second time

Focus shifts to Senate, where McConnell has signaled he may not stand by president

Most Read