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Transportation agencies' funds put Caltrain budget on solid ground

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Caltrain is already exploring ways to balance its next budget. (Examiner file photo)
Caltrain is already exploring ways to balance its next budget. (Examiner file photo)
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After facing the specter of drastic service reductions and fare increases in recent years, Caltrain passengers will apparently get a break from such talk until at least 2013.

Caltrain is not projecting any operating deficits for its 2012-13 fiscal year, unlike in years past in which the agency faced daunting budget shortfalls.

One of the only Bay Area transit agencies without a dedicated funding source, Caltrain is supported by farebox receipts and contributions from its three partners agencies — the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, SamTrans and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

After years of diminishing contributions from those partners, Caltrain has managed to secure $33.5 million from the three agencies for its 2013 budget, a 32 percent increase from this year’s $25.3 million contribution. That agreement was hammered out earlier this summer as a way to keep Caltrain moving until a permanent funding solution is found for the regional rail operator.

Caltrain officials have long said that a dedicated funding source is the only way to cure the agency’s chronic budget problems. Spokesman Mark Simon said there is an effort under way to put a 1/8-cent sales tax measure on the 2012 ballot that would go before voters in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. He said that initiative may be stalled, however, by requirements that it receive two-thirds support from the state Legislature before it can go to voters.

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In the meantime, Caltrain is already exploring ways to balance its 2013-14 budget. Simon said a key to that process could be changing the allocation formulas for Caltrain’s three partner agencies.

Currently, the SFMTA kicks in just 18 percent of the funding partners’ total contribution, despite San Francisco being home to 27 percent of the train service’s 41,000 daily passengers. Rearranging the formula so that San Francisco pays a more equitable burden would take pressure off SamTrans, which currently covers 42 percent of the members’ totals — the highest among the three partners.

SamTrans and Caltrain both operate under the San Mateo County Transit District. When SamTrans struggles financially, as is the case now, it has the biggest impact on Caltrain’s budget, since its contributions set the standard for what the two other agencies allocate.

Today, Caltrain’s board of directors will discuss the agency’s budget outlooks for the next two fiscal years.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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