Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 4, 2011

Caltrain board: 'The crisis is at hand'

Board could declare fiscal emergency at or following March 3 public meeting

by Sue Dremann

The board that oversees Caltrain is calling for a public hearing on March 3 to declare a fiscal emergency and to consider cutting service and closing stations, a move that would turn the West's second-oldest passenger line into a daytime commuter train that would operate only during peak business hours.

Rail proponents and commuters urged the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board on Thursday to stay the hearings and consider a variety of possible interim funding options, including taking $5.5 million earmarked for the Dumbarton Rail project and getting two other transit agencies in Santa Clara and San Francisco counties to help make up the $30 million shortfall. But board members decided to move ahead with plans to reduce service, citing the need for a wider public discourse on the future of the rail line.

Thursday's unanimous vote pushes forward a key component of the draconian cuts: a board vote on or shortly after the March 3 meeting to declare the fiscal emergency. An emergency declaration would allow officials to make the cuts without need for longer-term analysis through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regarding impacts, board members said.

Caltrain proposes to cut weekday trains from 86 to 48 to run during commute hours only, along with any necessary adjustments to shuttle-bus services. All weekend, night, holiday and special-event service would be eliminated. Up to seven of 10 stations could be closed between San Francisco and San Jose: Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio in Mountain View, Lawrence, Santa Clara and College Park. All service south of Diridon station in San Jose would end. Base fares would rise 25 cents.

"We all know that the crisis is at hand," board member and Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager said.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, new to the board, said she hoped detailed studies of the impacts on roads and communities around the stations to be closed could be done.

In terms that were often pained and impassioned, board President Michael Scanlon spoke about the costs of losing Caltrain service.

People look at the costs but don't understand the greater impacts. With more people driving instead of taking the train, more car accidents will occur, Scanlon said.

"The fact is that more people will die," he said.

Scanlon said public perceptions of where funding comes from make it hard to make the case for saving public transit.

"Our society quite frankly is unenlightened. There is a widespread belief that highways are free," he said, pointing instead to gas and other levies that support roadways.

But subsidies Caltrain receives are criticized.

Kniss said the human costs could resonate with the public.

"We've got a terrific case to make. It's enormously important," she said.

Scanlon blamed SamTrans, which has announced it must reduce its share of subsidies to Caltrain by $10 million, for causing much of Caltrain's current problem. SamTrans is facing a crisis of its own and could halve its service in three years, he said.

More than half of SamTrans' long-term debt is for the BART extension into San Mateo County, he said. The agency is trying to amortize the $13 million over 25-30 years, he said.

Four public meetings are planned prior to the March 3 meeting in San Jose, San Francisco, Gilroy and San Carlos. The March 3 hearing will take place at 10 a.m. at the Caltrain Administrative Office, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos. Comments can be sent prior to the hearings to changes@caltrain.com, or mailed to Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, JPB Secretary, P.O. Box 3006, San Carlos, CA 94070. Phone 800-660-4287.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm

And yet, there are Caltrain funds to refurbish Cal Ave. Something wrong here.


Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm

San Jose Mercury News Story

Employees cost Caltrain by cashing big raises during tumultuous time

By Mike Rosenberg

mrosenberg@bayareanewsgroup.com
Posted: 12/17/2010 07:57:14 PM PST

Web Link


Posted by John, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2011 at 5:22 pm

> People look at the costs but don't understand the greater impacts.
> With more people driving instead of taking the train, more car
> accidents will occur, Scanlon said.

> "The fact is that more people will die," he said.

These kind of statements would be better received if there were facts to back them up. With 20-30 people killed yearly on the Caltrain tracks, it would be hard to believe that the number of people killed on Highway 101 and Highway 280 equal this number. The CHP has the records of the fatal accidents. How is it that someone making over $300K hasn't asked them for that data?

Maybe the first thing to do is execute a 15% across-the-board pay cut.



Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm

John:

The Golden Gate Bridge portion of US-101 alone kills about 35 people a year. (source: Web Link )


Posted by John, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2011 at 6:21 pm

> 34 confirmed suicides off GG Bridge last year

Poster Dave Bloom responded to my post about "people dying" if Caltrain shuts down with a link to suicides on the GG Bridge.
Caltrain's Manager Scanlon was no doubt talking about people who now ride Caltrain, who will die if they drive their cars. Scanlon provided no data for the current fatality numbers on our main highways, nor did he suggest what the increase would be from the very, very, small number of riders of this government-sponsored boondoggle.

There are no doubt a small number of deaths on Highway 101 and Highway 280 that happen every year. The exact number is not generally published, but the CHP has the data. We all know, however, that there are almost never any 80-car pileups on these two main roadways, like in other parts of California. So it would be a surprise to learn that the number of deaths on these roads is very high, on a yearly basis.

Perhaps trying to compare the Caltrain-caused death-by-suicide to traffic fatalities will confuse some people, but these are numbers that are on the table. If Caltrain shuts down, then this 20-30 deaths a year will cease. What is Caltrain's claim the increase in vehicular fatalities on these two highways will be based on a shift of riders to drivers? From this article, we don't know. However, it is fair to say that the 20-30 lives that are lost yearly on the Caltrain line will not be lost that way. It is very hard to believe that they will now use the two highways to commit suicide.

Dragging the GG Bridge suicides into this argument makes no sense and adds nothing to the discussion.



Posted by OY!, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm

How disappointing that government officials like Scanlon, desperate to keep their jobs, are willing to make threatening and bizarre statements.The fact is that taxpayers are no longer able to subsidize unsustainable government handouts. If you want to run a legitimate business charge full price for the cost of train rides. If you want government handouts, get in line behind the other government agencies. It is truly disgusting that desperate public officials have resorted to using unsubstantive statements to save their pathetic little jobs.


Posted by Martin, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm

This is a real opportunity for Caltrain to "reinvent" itself. If they are successful in maintaining operation with this abbreviated schedule, they can expand to cover off-peak passenger traffic with two small DMUs, running north-south routes on an hourly interval. This will give Caltrain a new "more efficient" image, and perhaps something that can be supported at the ballot-box.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm

FYI, just before 7pm tonight (Thursday), Caltrain had it's fatality third of the year: Web Link

So sad.


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Get some new management in there, cut costs and get the Feds to convert the HSR funds to save Caltrain and establish a public system in the bay area that works together, instead of stumbling over each other. HSR is years away and a waste of money. Caltrain is a known entity that serves a large number of people. If the bay area had a cohesive system, even more people would use it. Make it more bike friendly, connect it better to a faster light rail, and bring BART to San Jose. Heck, bring BART down from Fremont to SJ and then down from SF on the Caltrain ROW (is that possible), then eliminate Caltrain. The state is funding HSR (who knows how). I'm against HSR, but if the feds are hell bent on it, bring it to SJ and link it to a BART system that rings the entire area instead of building HSR up to SF.


Posted by Andrew, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm

"Scanlon blamed SamTrans, which has announced it must reduce its share of subsidies to Caltrain by $10 million, for causing much of Caltrain's current problem. SamTrans is facing a crisis of its own and could halve its service in three years, he said."

Note that Scanlon is also SamTrans' Executive Director.


Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2011 at 6:58 am

"Poster Dave Bloom responded to my post about 'people dying' if Caltrain shuts down with a link to suicides on the GG Bridge."

Why is this comparison unfair? Most Caltrain deaths are suicides, too.


Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2011 at 7:12 am

...and, more importantly, Caltrain has *never* had an accidental death on-board the train, and has never had a death that it was clearly at-fault for. You can't say that about automobiles.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2011 at 8:08 am

There will indeed be a crisis if Caltrain goes under. This must not be allowed to happen.

Public transportation is a service industry, not a luxury. What surprises me is that there are so few people who seem to realise this. How would we feel if the City were to reduce the number of street lights, or the hours it provided water?

Apart from the added traffic around town, where would all the workers who presently come into Palo Alto and Stanford train by park? College Terrace? Downtown residential areas?

The fewer number of trains on a daily basis means that the number of passengers will decrease. Those that use off peak service will not suddenly decide to get on the peak service trains, they will just stop using Caltrain. Many people choose to travel off peak for a variety of reasons, just like many people only travel one way, or just a couple of days a week.

Wake up to the reality, Caltrain must be funded by a gas tax or other means of spreading the costs. Life without the train just isn't worth thinking about.




Posted by Thomas Paine IV, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2011 at 8:21 am

Express busses running on 101 could easily handle Cal Train riders. The issue is that 40,000 Cal Train riders expect the 3-million people living in the service area to subsidize the train to save them some time. Yes, busses would take longer so just get up a bit earlier. Of course, the Cal Train executives oppose looking at alternatives since they collect huge salaries.

The people have spoken by refusing to fund Cal Train. Let this monster die!


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2011 at 8:53 am

> Of course, the Cal Train executives oppose looking at alternatives since they collect huge salaries.

This is your key nugget of "truthiness" right there. Caltrain's administration costs amount to 6% (SIX percent!) of its annual operating budget, which is far less than other transit agencies. The coming year's shortfall is 30%, or FIVE times more than the savings you would realize from cutting the entire Caltrain administrative staff to ZERO salary.

This for a transit operator that recovers the most money on its operating dollar of ANY Bay Area agency except BART. Caltrain recovers $0.47 on each operating dollar from ticket sales... that's TWO times better than MUNI, THREE times better than SamTrans and FOUR times better than your very own Valley Transportation Authority.

And here everybody is outraged about Caltrain, while VTA quietly goes about hemorrhaging your tax dollars.

The moaning about Caltrain executive salaries reminds me of people who mistakenly believe that the federal budget can be balanced by eliminating budget earmarks. When you really look at it, earmarks (like Caltrain executive salaries) amount to a drop in the bucket and will not even come close to solving the budget problem at hand.

One would expect more critical thinking from Palo Altans.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of University South
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:35 am

Would it be too much of a stretch to report red herrings as objectionable content? In any case, the non-issue regarding deaths began in the article itself, so what can be done...


Posted by Steven, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

I think they need to slash salaries across the board by at least 20% and reduce benefits. Wouldn't that solve the problem without reducing service? I have other suggestions, but this one seems obvious.


Posted by yet again, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:45 am

Yet again San Mateo county holds public transit on this side of the bay hostage. 40 years ago, San Mateo voted down BART (which was envisioned to run trains in both directions all around the bay). Now they are pulling the plug on their contribution to CalTrain. People say I don't ride the train, why should I pay for it. Yet there are other costs if the train is gone. Mr. Roadshow in the SJ Merc stated last week that if you took the computer passengers off Caltrain and put them on the road at commute hours you would need to add three more lanes to the 101/280 cooridor just to keep the same travel delays.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:00 am

Jim H posts: Heck, bring BART down from Fremont to SJ and then down from SF on the Caltrain ROW (is that possible), then eliminate Caltrain

Sure if YOU WILL PAY FOR THAT - BART has funds coming from sales tax. Caltrain would be fine if it had the same arrangement.

Thomas Paine IV, posts: Express busses running on 101 could easily handle Cal Train riders.

OK where are you going to put those busses? 101 is full (yes even the carpool lanes - they stop at Redwood City anyway). Build new lanes? Sure but this is more expensive than supporting Caltrain.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:01 am

> I think they need to slash salaries across the board by at least 20% and reduce benefits. Wouldn't that solve the problem without reducing service?

It would save $1.2 million dollars (20% of six million, which is Caltrain's admin personnel). The budget hole is $30 (THIRTY) million dollars. Does not compute. Hello?


Posted by Transportation Watcher, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:04 am

...and Mr. Road show is right. Drivers should support Caltrain. Your life will change significantly for the worse if you don't.

Also, what do you think it will cost taxpayers to build those three additional lanes? Freeways are not free.

...and, by the way, they don't have the necessary right of way to add those lanes in the Palo Alto section of 101, so we can expect that the resulting congestion will encourage drivers to detour into our fair city's streets.

Look at the big picture. Consider transportaion systemically. Get involved in this one to support reform of Caltrain.


Posted by None, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:09 am

Agree with the points Anonymous makes above.

In addition to analyzing its operational budget, Cal Train needs to think of its opportunities to leverage itself and bring in revenues from sources other than ticket sales. Get some entrepreneurs and riders in a rail car together and brainstorm some business ideas.

Time to evolve and think different.


Posted by Al, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

Mike Scanlon should go down with his "ship", and resign having failed Caltrain and its riders. Resign from Samtrans too before it goes down the tubes. How can we continue to pay this man $300,000+ while the system gets ruined? Or is it all a ploy to get more dollars? A $1 per rider fare increase would go a long way toward balancing the budget, assuming riders don't quit; this is the direction bridge tolls have taken.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Without trains for Sharks and Giants games, our family won't go to games. Our teenagers are too young to drive, but not too young to take the train and there are always a lot of fans on these trains. Driving to a game means taking time off work and getting stuck in traffic both ways. Many will give it a miss.

Sharks and Giants will feel it too.


Posted by Alex Panelli, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Jim H is right.

We need a cohesive public transportation system. The current mix doesn't work. I know, I've tried it multiple times, both commuting (my office was in SF up until 3 years ago) and leisure travel (to the City as well as to/from SFO). I suggest that all of you try to use public transit once to travel from home to SFO. Walk/VTA Bus/Caltrain/BART(Millbrae-San Bruno)/BART(San Bruno-SFO). It costs $10.50 one way AND it requires a minimum 90 minutes.

Caltrain is top-heavy financially...too much overhead for relatively little service. Merge it with BART. Run one of the BART lines via tunnel from Market to Caltrain's SF terminal, then use the Caltrain Right-of-Way to SFO then on to SJ. Terminate HSR at SJ.

For those that do not want to spend the $$$ for this proposal, I offer another alternative: privatize Caltrain. Get the government out of OPERATING the system. We can own the ROW and the infrastructure, and we can lease to a private company WITHOUT subsidy.

Frank, your comment about BART funding from sales tax is apples/oranges I think. As I recall, the sales tax is to pay for CONSTRUCTION of the BART extension to SJ, not to subsidize the operations. Caltrain has a significant operating shortfall. Not a fair comparison, unless there is another sales tax component that funds BART operations of which I am unaware.

Lastly, Caltrain could simply raise the rates to cover the cost of operations...would ridership drop significantly? Maybe. Although I think that even doubling the rates would still be significantly less expensive than the cost of gas + wear and tear + SF parking rates.


Posted by The ELEPHANT in the room, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm

So...as our city struggles to figure out how they are going to comply with regional housing quotas and other city planning mandates forced on us by SB375...we face enormous cuts in transit.

Caltrain has proposed closing the San Antonio train station JUST as Mountain View and Palo Alto approved high density housing projects and a high density shopping center project is moving forward in that "transit-oriented development" area. The transportation elements of these projects RELY on train service.

How can we trust that the transit we need to serve infill housing will be delivered? Big sticks are being used to enforce the housing quotas, but there is nothing being done to insure that transit will follow. WHY is the Weekly not covering this huge, potentially devastating issue? I realize it is complex and difficult to report on, but it is critically important.


Posted by Coffee, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Wake up folks. They are letting Caltrain bleed to death so the white night Highspeed Rail can come "save" it. There are bigger forces at work here. The Peninsula is just a place in between Point A and Point B to them. San Francisco would just as soon see Caltrain go away and be replaced by a high speed rail that expresses its way through the Peninsula with no stops. They are competing for the high tech jobs to fill the new Transbay Tower and South of Market area and the associated tax revenue. They don't want to be the bedroom community for the high tech employers in Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County is willing to sell out their consituents just to get the precious Diridon station and the legitimacy that San Jose has always desperately craved, not to mention the development that goes around it. San Mateo County's piece of the action is a high speed station in Redwood City to provide the catalyst for growth they lack and the small Burlingames can take a hike with the rest of the smaller towns on the Peninsula that don't seem to matter and are just in the way. The big guys are making their development a zero sum game where they win and the small towns and now too-inconvenient-to-get to-jobs on the peninsula lose. Don't know how to outfox them as the chickens already seem to have flown out of the coop with this manufactured "crisis."


Posted by OY!, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Always find it amazing that folks believe that government is required to give them a free ride. If CalTrain is so vital, why are there so few riders? So sorry to the poster who feels the taxpayers owe it to their family to provide subsidized cheap rides to Sharks and Giants games. Maybe the Sharks and Giants can arrange a shuttle for these families at their company expense. If CalTrain is vital to the community, than I am sure there should be no problem for a private contractor to take over and make a profit, after all, our local government officials and posters on the Palo Alto Online site are adamant that government can be managed in a more fiscally sound method using private contractors than the current system.


Posted by JT, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I resent the use of my tax dollars to subsidize people who ride Caltrain.

Only 18,000 people a day ride Caltrain.

Yet 3.4 million people live in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

That's one-half of 1% of the population. That's 1 in 200 people.

Fares fund 43% of Caltrain's budget. Us taxpayers pay the remaining 57%.

Why is it that all of us have to pay for the rides of such a small number of people?

I say we turn the entire railroad over to a private company. They'll come in and reduce those fat paychecks to more down to earth wages. TAke a $100,000-a-year job, fire that worker, and hire somebody to do the same thing for $43,000. We've got a 13% unemployment rate, so plenty of people will apply for the job. The owner of Caltrain will probably make a profit right from the start.

That's the solution. Creating a new tax for Caltrain won't solve anything.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2011 at 6:28 pm

This is not about subsidizing 18,000 to get to work!!!!

This is about the ability for the rest of us to get around. It is not about cheap trains to get to a Giants game. It is about people being able to drive to the Bay Bridge on game days without getting stuck in traffic.

It is about being able to get to SFO to catch a plane, particularly for those across the Bay or North of the GG on game days.

It is about the rest of us being able to get where we want to go because the freeways are not tied up with traffic in the morning and afternoon commutes.

It is about those who are not able to drive, to have some independence. You know, those who have DUIs on their licenses, or are too young, or have some disability, or even can't afford a car.

It is what makes most metropolitan areas of the world do as a matter of course. Good public transit is vital and will become more so as more housing is built in the Bay Area and families question the need for owning more than one car. It is quality of life for the rest of us who don't regularly use public transit.

And yes, I agree that there is some politicking going on. I think that HSR has to take part of the blame for the way this whole thing is being mismanaged.

Buses cannot do the same job as Caltrain.

The tunnel at Devil's slide is only benefitting a small number of users and I doubt if I will ever use it more than once or twice. But, it is important to go ahead with the project for the benefit of us all. No one is complaining about how much Devil's Slide tunnel costs (an engineering masterpiece from what I have heard recently in the media) and the same should be the case for Caltrain.

Stop looking at the narrow picture and start using the intellect that has made Silicon Valley what it is.


Posted by Kevin, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm

JT:

Two things:

1) I am highly suspicious of that 18,000 number. Believe it's more like 40,000.

2) Cutting salaries is fine -- up to a point. Keep in mind that the Bay Area is an expensive place to live. Engineers and conductors, for instance, need to be able to get to S.F. or S.J. within a couple of hours -- especially those who are on what's known as the "extra board," meaning they cover for any absences such as vacations and illnesses and need to be able to get to work on two hours' notice from a crew dispatcher.

It seems to me that pricing your employees out of the area where they're supposed to work will likely end up costing you more in the long run -- you'll forever be training replacements for the people who ended up leaving because they couldn't afford to live in the Bay Area on the wages you were offering. Or they'll run the numbers before applying and decide against taking the job in the first place.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2011 at 7:41 pm

@ Kevin:

1. The 18,000 number represents individual travelers per day. There are ~36,000 riders on both the north and south bound trains. CalTrain acknowledges that since almost every riders uses CalTrain to go TO and FROM work, this represents about 18,000 individuals. This is an increase over the past few years. Just five years ago, there were approximately 14,000 riders (28,000 trips to and from work).

2. The cost of living is true for EVERYONE living in this area (or California, for that matter). Still, I can vouch that it is possible for a young couple to survive off of $35,000 a year while living in Palo Alto. You have to be frugal...and you may not enjoy some of the "finer" things of life -- but it is still possible.

OF course, I am not saying that CalTrain should pay its employees $35,000 a year. However, I suspect that there are at least 10,000 educated individuals who would apply for a job that pays $50,000 a year -- especially in this continuing recession.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm

@ Resident:

An extra $30 Million is a high price to pay so that you and a few others can get back from a Giants' game 20 minutes sooner.

BTW, if a "poor person" can afford $13.00 a day to use CalTrain to get to and from work -- they can certainly afford an automobile. $13 a day comes out to $3250 a year ($65 a work week x 50 work weeks in a year). Over a period of five years, that comes out to over $16,000. That can buy a nice used car with tax, title, registration and insurance to boot. Plus, they would now have a vehicle to visit Grandma and Grandpa with.

AS for the "Silicon Valley" intellect: I wonder if that is what has caused CalTrain to be perpetually in the hole? 18,000 riders want the rest of us to subsidize their choice of transportation to and from work or Giants' games.


Posted by Kevin, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Nayeli:

I'm still not buying that 18,000 figure just yet. I'll root around in their ridership count and see what it says. One thing to remember: As was pointed out in an earlier post, there's likely some one-way trips in the mix.

As to subsidizing other people's transportation: We ALL do that. I subsidize your drive to and from work and play; you subsidize mine. I also subsidize people's airplane trips, bus rides, ferry rides, etc. Even their bike rides, assuming they're using publicly funded streets and trails.

And I'm not the least bit resentful. If people and goods can't get around, the economy collapses.

The problem is, the government chose winners and losers long ago. We decided that the rubber tires would be the winners, and the steel wheels would be the losers. Evidence abounds, but I'd point to the largest public works project ever undertaken in this country (the Interstate highway system) and the decades-long overregulation of the railroad industry, largely undone by the Staggers Act of 1980, as prime examples.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2011 at 8:45 pm

@ Kevin:

No problem. I remember reading where CalTrain officials admitted that only about 18,000 regularly ride the train each week. The 36,000 figure is number of riders on North and South trains combined. I am sure that there are probably a few one way tickets thrown in there (for whatever reason), but the vast majority are going both ways.

As for the "subsidizing:" WE all subsidize roads that we all use. That is very different from subsidizing the cost of a train used by 18,000 people. IMHO, it would be akin to a nearly bankrupt ferry business (that takes several thousand people across the bay each week) asking for a huge multi-million dollar subsidy. They could certainly argue that the ferry frees up traffic across the bay bridges...but it still doesn't mean that it justifies a $70 Million subsidy each year.

Trains are great...for people who can actually benefit from them. Unfortunately, towns and cities are no longer built around train tracks. They are built around highways and roads. My husband said that he would consider using CalTrain -- but only if he worked near the CalTrain tracks AND the price of tickets was less expensive.

We could debate this all day long, but it is less expensive for my husband to drive to work (as far as our bank account goes). I imagine that the same is true for many families.


Posted by ileyan, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:28 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Al, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Today's paper article implies that many people use Caltrain only twice per week, so if there may be 18,000 people using it one day and different 18,000 people using it the next day. Caltrain can't tell the difference, but the number of people using it is twice as much. As for the costs, some people don't have cars or can't drive so comparing the cost of the train to the cost of driving doesn't work for them. And you can't raise fares for them enough to make up 30 million. We need to provide alternatives to people so we can have a flexible system that works for everyone, not just those rich enough and healthy enough to drive every day.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Comparing highway construction & maintenance costs to the operational costs of running Caltrain is a false analogy. The more correct analogy is to either compare the cost of highway construction & maintenance with the building of the railroad tracks.

Or you can compare the $100 million Caltrain operational cost per year to the cost of operating an automobile.


Posted by Coffee, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Why hold Caltrain to a higher standard than any other public transit. You think Samtrans and Muni are any more efficient than Caltrain, let alone "free-ways"? It already is the highest rider supported transit option in the Bay Area, period. If you are going to make the efficiency arguement first aim it at the bigger and less efficient systems. Just because those alternatives have a dedicated subsidy they are beyond scrutiny? Besides the whole debate about efficiency misses the point. Caltrain should be well run and as efficiently operated as possible whether it has a dedicated funding source or not. That is a question of good management and operations, not a strong balance sheet and good finances. And it is all blah, blah, blah anyway - those who seem to be willing to see Caltrain go under for "efficiencies" sake are going to see their way of life go with it, as the High Speed Rail comes rolling through in its place, concentrating the high paying, growth jobs and development in the urban cores away from the small communities of Mountain View, Palo Alto, etc. where they have been before but are now not accessable and not as competitive. Talk about your inefficient transit options, HSR will take the cake. Quit your ideological bickering and get a clue. Go fix Muni if you are a Tea Partier looking for efficiencies and do us all a real favor. Otherwise start standing up for your local peninsula community before its too late.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Privatize CalTrain? Do you seriously expect Union Pacific (what other company would do it?) to acquire an operation which is in the hole to the tune of $30 million per year? They wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole! It has been pointed out in these pages many, many times that CalTrans took over this money-losing service from Southern Pacific decades ago. Privatization ain't gonna happen.

I don't see how CalTrain is marketing itself in any way, shape or form. Somebody floated the idea of selling tickets at a bulk discount to large local employers. Not much creative thinking from people making $300,000 per year.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Nayeli

You are not listening (or reading) to these posts, just taking bits out that you can repeat the same argument against.

Not everyone is like you. You and your husband are obviously enjoying your two cars and the lifestyle which you assume you pay for without being subsidized by anyone else. You cannot see anyone else having a different point of view because it doesn't suit you. You also cannot see that we are all paying for your luxury of having your ability to drive your cars to work where you obviously do not have to pay for parking and rarely get stuck in traffic. You also don't realise that every time you take your car out of the driveway it costs more than the cost of gas. You also don't see that some families or couples choose to own only one car and use Caltrain or other forms of transport for shorter commutes than going to San Francisco five days a week.

There really is no point discussing this with you.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:51 pm

@ ileyan:

Actually, I do live near the tracks. However, I've grown accustomed enough that I don't mind the loud noise of CalTrain.

As for your ridiculous and highly offensive assertion that I am "to the right of tea partiers" -- well, it is difficult to answer such a silly comment. I don't have to defend any of my views (which are NOT as you so dishonestly claim).

Besides, this is not about party or ideological politics. It is about whether or not it makes sense for 99.5% of the population to extend many millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies so that ~0.5% of the local population can ride a train to work or play.

Next time, at least try to read a post before you begin spewing hateful and intolerant political rhetoric.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2011 at 12:38 am

@ Resident:

I think that you are misunderstanding what I am saying or else you are incorrectly reading between the lines and connecting dots that aren't supposed to be connected in my posts.

I didn't say that taxpayers do not subsidize the costs of roads, bridges, trains and ferries. We ALL benefit from things that are not mutually exclusive. Everyone who lives in the Bay Area (or in America for that matter) benefits from such things. I can drive my car or bike unto the road at any time. In fact, we ALL take advantage of the existence of those roads.

But this isn't about roads that everyone pays for and uses.

This is about a single transportation entity that is used by a very small number of residents...but an entity that also cannot seem to balance its own budget.

Now, I have been stuck in horrendous Bay Area traffic. I have sat in a car for an hour (without air conditioning) during the stifling heat of August just to drive a dozen miles. My husband has done the same. We obviously understand that there are costs associated with owning and operating an automobile. We are a young, lower middle class couple struggling to live right here in Palo Alto.

Believe me: We count our pennies, nickels, dimes and dollars and do our best to make them stretch. But that is just the point!

Our family doesn't benefit from CalTrain. Sure, it could take me to certain stops between Gilroy and San Francisco. In fact, about 18,000 individuals are privileged enough to use this as a mode of transportation. However, like most Bay Area residents, it is not cost effective or practical for either of us to ride the train to work.

We couldn't afford $13 a day for a ticket (back and forth) if we worked in South San Francisco or Gilroy. Moreover, our places of employment aren't located within walking distance (or biking distance for that matter) of any CalTrain station. The fact of the matter is that the same is true of the vast majority of Bay Area residents. That is why so few people use the train.

IMHO, it just isn't worth the subsidy that some people want to give it. In a time when our state DESPERATELY needs to learn to be frugal, I believe that we can think of a much better way to spend taxpayer dollars. If we were to consider giving a $50-100 Million subsidy to CalTrain -- we need to ask whether or not it is an effective use of such funds at such a time as this.

Now, if 5% of the population used it each week -- I would be typing out a different view here. Unfortunately, it is much less than 1% of our population that is using a mode of transportation that is very expensive to use and operate.

An old Spanish idiom states, "Antes que te cases mira lo que haces." It means that you should think (or look) before you get married. Before we extend taxpayers' CalTrain "marriage," I think that we should weigh the BENEFITS (and, YES, I know that there are some benefits) with the COST. Right now, I just don't think that the enormous cost of CalTrain is currently worth its weight in these particularly exclusive benefits.

By the way, I do not want CalTrain to shut down. I just think that it needs to be reevaluated and restructured. They are currently $30 Million in the hole. There has to be a way so that they aren't losing money year in and year out -- even after repeated fare increases.

*I do hope that all opinions are worth hearing. I may not be as wealthy...or as old...or even as important as many lifelong Bay Area residents. However, I do think that I can inject my thoughts and experiences without someone feeling the need to point fingers at me, ridicule me, or call me something that I am not. After all, I think that we live in an area where diversity of thought is encouraged. Just because someone might have a different or opposing view on a matter...well...it doesn't make that person the enemy.


Posted by Al, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 5, 2011 at 8:30 am

The article says:
--
Scanlon said public perceptions of where funding comes from make it hard to make the case for saving public transit.

"Our society quite frankly is unenlightened. There is a widespread belief that highways are free," he said, pointing instead to gas and other levies that support roadways.

But subsidies Caltrain receives are criticized.
--

He must be talking about the people posting here!


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2011 at 9:36 am

> it is less expensive for my husband to drive to work (as far as our bank account goes).

That's because most of the money that it costs you to drive never shows up in your bank account in the first place! It's called withholding.


Posted by Al, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I can take the train to San Jose for $4.50. It is about 15 miles, and at 33 cents per mile that would cost me $5 to drive. The cost for traveling all 6 zones is $12.50, but most people don't do that. Plus, on the train I can relax and read instead of stressing about all the crazy drivers around me. Priceless!


Posted by Martin, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Let's assume for one moment, that running a small light rail diesel car such as San Diego's Sprinter or Marin County's proposed Smart system, is less expensive than a five-car diesel locomotive train set.

Given this, if Caltrain were to only run the locomotive set for peak commute hours, and a smaller light rail car during off peak, money could be saved, and all riders could be served.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm

what would be the cost of replacing the service cuts with a bus that goes only to the same train station stops? Is that a less expensive option for the number of riders during that time?


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm

> Let's assume for one moment (...) Given this,

Martin, please don't assume. A small sub-fleet of DMUs would cost money to acquire, and would require a separate set of spare parts, maintenance procedures, training, etc. And it would still have a crew of at least two. It might save a bit of fuel, but consider that today, fuel for off-peak trains makes up about 5% of Caltrain's operating budget. You might save $2 million per year, but that's the cost of buying one single DMU car. You would need at least 10 DMU cars to run off-peak hourly service (2 sets of 2 cars going in each direction, plus 1 set spare = 5 sets = 10 cars.) Add in spares, maintenance, training, etc. and the VC types that live in your neighborhood would quickly tell you that it Just Doesn't Pencil Out.


Posted by Al, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Could you replace Caltrain with buses? 18,000 riders in the morning and 18,000 in the evening. At 40 per bus that is 450 buses. Some might be able to make more than one run during peak hours, so cut it to 300 buses. That also means 300 drivers! If each one costs you $50,000 that is $15 million for drivers alone, not counting the maintenance and fuel. Not a help.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2011 at 10:30 pm

AI - my question is about substituting buses for the off-peak service i.e. mid-day & weekend, as most of the 18,000 riders are during commute hours. So it might be only 10 buses. Which would be quite a bit of difference in cost.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm

@ Al:

Please correct me if I am wrong, but I think that your math might be a bit off.

At 40 passengers per bus, this would be a total of 450 bus routes -- and NOT 450 buses. A typical public transit bus runs repetitive routes over and over again all day long. If each bus ran one route every two hours, you could divide the 450 number by 12. That would be a total of 38 buses -- if all 18,000 people opted to use the bus. If each bus was able to complete each route in less than two hours, then there would be that many fewer buses (and bus drivers) needed.

Of course, I currently have no opinion about a bus replacement option. I just wanted to check the math. I do think that it is a viable suggestion to consider.


Posted by Al, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 6, 2011 at 8:30 am

The numbers I ran were for covering peak hours, where there is not enough time for most buses to make more than one run. Nayeli was assuming demand spread out unfiormly over 24 hrs, which is not the way it works. San Jose to SF and back takes a long time in rush hour traffic. The point is that buses are not an obvious winner. Salaries are a huge cost factor, and trains require fewer operators than buses.


Posted by Mike Humphries, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2011 at 8:52 am

Anybody that takes Caltrain on a regular basis can almost certainly justify a much higher ticket price-which is one key change that should be under consideration. Those who commute just need to do the math to verify that Caltrain is dramatically cheaper than driving, plus there is the bonus of being able to read or work on the train-reclaiming that commute time that is basically lost if you drive.

Most of last year I commutted to the financial district in SF four days a week. My schedule of meetings meant that I could take the train only once a week- at 8:05am. The train was almost always full when I boarded. Most appeared to be dedicated commuters since they were almost all settled in on laptops, cell phones and books. There did not appear to be many out on a lark but rather people needing to get to work or school.

When driving, my commute was 61 miles roundtrip. $.50/mile is the accepted total cost of driving an automobile including gas, maintenance and depreciation. Plus it cost me $22/day to park. So when I did not take the train my commute cost me $52.50 a day.

Compare that to a Caltrain ticket ($8 all day at that point) plus $4 for Muni-a total of $12. So the way it looks to me the Caltrain ticket could double to $16 and I would still be saving about $32/day, or $640/month! And monthly Caltrain passes are a lot less than a daily ticket.

I think there is a lot of room for fare increases if Caltrain takes steps to ensure its riders are informed as to the real total cost of alternative transportation. They should not lose riders by raising ticket prices.


Posted by Martin, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2011 at 8:00 pm

@Anonymous

You wrote:

a) "fuel for off-peak trains makes up about 5% of Caltrain's operating budge",
b) "You might save $2 million per year, but that's the cost of buying one single DMU car", and
c) "You would need at least 10 DMU cars to run off-peak hourly service (2 sets of 2 cars going in each direction, plus 1 set spare = 5 sets = 10 cars.)"

I suggest cutting the number of cars in half. Instead of "2 sets of 2 cars going in each direction", only use 1 set of 2 cars going in each direction. So, paying for 1 DMU car per year due to fuel savings, would give us a ROI of 5 years. Plus, considering you would then have new equipment, and better service, it sounds like a great deal to me. Where do I invest?


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2011 at 5:25 am

Article in Mercury News about Caltrain management Web Link

They've been increasing salaries while cutting service. If a private company were in "Crisis", they sure wouldn't be handing out pay raises.


Posted by Huxley, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

NO, they would just be handing out multi-million dollar bonuses to all the executives using tax-payer loans.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2011 at 9:25 am

On a lighter note, this seems appropriate Web Link


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2011 at 9:27 am

It is the American Corporation definition that should be of interest.

(I was too quick with my submit)


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