SamTrans looking to transit partners to help fund Caltrain

Debt-ridden SamTrans, which is facing bankruptcy by 2015, is pushing for officials in Santa Clara and San Francisco to step up their contributions to Caltrain, another transit operator on the Peninsula that is struggling to stay afloat.

Both agencies are run by the San Mateo County Transit District, and since Caltrain does not have a dedicated funding source, SamTrans sets aside a certain amount of money each year for its regional partner.

While Caltrain’s struggles — it recently closed a $30 million deficit — have been well-documented, SamTrans’ budget problems are just as acute. On Wednesday, SamTrans’ board of directors agreed to options that could more equitably share the pain of paying for Caltrain’s operations.

The first proposal is to change the formula that provides funding to Caltrain from its three regional partners — SamTrans, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The three agencies contributed $35 million to Caltrain this fiscal year, with SamTrans chipping in 42 percent of that total. The VTA and the SFMTA pay 41 percent and 17 percent respectively. SamTrans is proposing a realignment of that formula that reduces its contribution.

The agency is also proposing to collect money from the VTA for two major Caltrain investments made years ago. SamTrans currently helps fund Caltrain’s operations from San Jose to Gilroy, and paid for the rail’s right-of-way in the Peninsula back in 1991. Lastly, the district has suggested seeking some sort of management fee from its partners for overseeing the operations of Caltrain and SamTrans. Funding from that fee could be funneled into SamTrans operations.

“We’re concerned that SamTrans is bearing the greater costs of running Caltrain,” said Mark Simon, a spokesman for both agencies. “We’re hoping to come up with a solution that would help SamTrans avoid significant service cuts on its system.”

If agreed upon with the other agencies, the new funding measures would be in place for the 2013 fiscal year. Because SamTrans is still determining the components of each funding initiative, no financial projections from the plans have been calculated yet, according to agency documents.

SamTrans has already reduced its annual payment to Caltrain from $14.7 million to $4.9 million.

Even with that cost-cutting move, SamTrans is still projected to be completely out of money by August 2015, according to agency documents.

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