News

Public weighs in on Caltrain budget woes, cuts

Caltrain looking at fare increase, suspension of weekend service to close $2.3 million budget gap

Caltrain has received hundreds of messages from members of the public about potential ways to address its budget deficit, including fare hikes and service cuts, a Caltrain spokeswoman said Wednesday (Aug. 18).

More than 300 messages have been sent to the agency about its fiscal problems, which could mean a 25-cent fare increase, fewer trains on weekdays and a complete suspension of weekend service, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

Many messages have favored eliminating midday trains, Dunn said. Cutting midday service would save Caltrain about $175,000 annually, she said.

Caltrain needs to make cuts to close a $2.3 million budget gap, Dunn said. Train riders will be able to voice their opinions on the proposals in meetings at four locations on Thursday. Meetings will start at 6 p.m. at the San Francisco Caltrain station, Caltrain headquarters in San Carlos and the San Jose Diridon station. At the Gilroy Caltrain station, meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m., 7:07 p.m. and 7:47 p.m., all immediately after southbound train arrivals.

— Bay City News Service

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Cut weekend, early morning, and late night service. Focus only on standard commute hours, to keep Caltrain alive. Once the economy picks up, look into bringing back trains on an as-needed basis.

Face it, when was the last time you rode on a half-empty plane. The airlines have adjusted, long ago.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Cutting service is not the answer.

Perhaps advertising and making the present service more user friendly would help.

I believe Caltrain is a great service for longer commutes, but what about shorter commutes? Is it a feasible service for those who say live near San Antonio station who want to get to downtown Palo Alto or v.v. for a couple of hours rather than an 8 hour job?

How about putting weekend/off peak discount fare for families when the trains are half empty. I was recently in Britain and I could take up to 3 under 16s for about $2 each on top of my adult fare to London for a day's siteseeing trip provided I started my journey after 10.00 am.

How about a daily special which would include a day pass for MUNI or VTA to encourage ridership in the evenings for concerts or weekends for day trips to San Francisco or San Jose.

How about airport shuttles that meet the trains and drop/pickup at SFO and SJC.

How about encouraging ridership on these half empty trains and not eliminating them. Once passengers leave the service because they are not being served they will not return. Encouraging more use will benefit everyone. Spending some money on advertising and instituting innovations will be a good investment.


Like this comment
Posted by airport
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm

fyi - there is a VTA shuttle between Caltrain and SJC. BART connects between Caltrain and SFO. These services are advertised in the airport and in the Caltrain stations, but I suppose Caltrain really doesn't advertise at all locals who are not regular riders.

Yes, day passes that cover trains and buses would be nice.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Strangely enough, advertising at the airports and Caltrain stations are not the effective way to get new passengers.

People who use Caltrain are using it and may think of using it to the airports. Anyone who is at the airport has already arrived there or knows how they are leaving there.

The place to advertise would be on radio, tv, newspapers, travel/airline websites, even on the front page of Palo Alto Online. We need to have this type of advertising so that when we plan our next trip we think automatically, "I can use Caltrain to get to the airport".

Caltrain has to win new riders. Caltrain has to compete with cars and the only way to do that is be visible, become an option that we don't have to research to find out about.

How about a slogan "Let the train take the strain" (not original) or "its cheaper to use Caltrain than use long term parking at airports".

If Caltrain wants to survive it has to compete. To compete it needs to get more of us to use the service. It has to advertise its service, be reliable, be affordable, be efficient, and have a service that appears to serve rather than is hidden.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 18, 2010 at 10:24 pm

How about overnight parking at Caltrain stations? I'd like to take Caltrain to San Jose, get the Amtrak Capitol Corridor to Sacramento for business or the fun of it, spend the night and come home the next day or the day after that. . Now I have to take a cab to California Ave. Station or University Ave. There is no overnight parking in San Jose now - or anyplace else.
My wife and I would like to take the train to San Francisco and once in a while stay overnight. Better than driving to the City and spending big money for hotel parking there. Just a thought.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Incredibly, a member of my family used Caltrain for the first time ever yesterday and was surprised at how good/effective it was for filling a certain transportation need - getting to the Lady Gaga concernt in downtown San Jose.


Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 19, 2010 at 1:51 am

<< Caltrain has received hundreds of messages from members of the public about potential ways to address its budget deficit, including fare hikes and service cuts >>

That's backwards. The public shouldn't be reaching out to CalTrain; CalTrain should be reaching out to the public. CalTrain should be trying to figure out why people favor the freeways and other forms of transportation over CalTrain. Start with a proper marketing survey to find out the real and perceived shortcomings of CalTrain and why it is at a competetive disadvantage.

I have to wonder about the fare structure and the zone system. Perhaps they should consider a flat-rate monthly pass which would have the same fare regardless of origin or destination? I remember when Muni introduced monthly passes in 1973. It was a big boon and a great convenience.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2010 at 11:48 am

A FEW PEOPLE STILL WANT THIS INSANE HSR TO GO THROUGH YET WE HAVE SIGNIFICANT FINANCIAL ISSUES WITH OUR PRESENT SYSTEM. CAN YOU IMAGINE THE ISSUES IF THIS HSR WERE EVER BUILT? UNBELIEVABLE THAT ANY EDUCATED PERSON STILL WANTS IT! AND, NO, BUIDLING HSR WILL NOT BAIL OUT THE PRESENT CALTRAIN ISSUES FOR THOSE WITH THAT NAIVE MINDSET.


Like this comment
Posted by Also Resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 19, 2010 at 11:58 am


Resident, this article isn't about HSR - it's about Caltrain. :)

And gee, I'm for HSR, I'm also quite educated, and don't consider myself to be naive - how about that? You may WANT to believe that proponents are all greedy developers, but on the contrary, there are many of us who live in the area who want to see it happen. Sorry...


Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I live within walking distance of the Atherton station, which is closed during the week. There are a number of Stanford employees in my neighborhood who would happily take the train to work if the Atherton station were re-opened during the work-week. (STanford subsidizes use of CalTrain for employees). It makes no sense to drive to the Menlo Park station, then take the train one stop. CalTrain needs to reconsider opening this station.


Like this comment
Posted by Lady Gaga fan
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm

@anonymous:
I would have loved to take Caltrain to Lady Gaga but the last train back was at 10:30PM long before the concert ended. How did your wife get back? Caltrain should have a late train for events like that, just like they do for the Giants and Sharks. Those event trains are filled.


Like this comment
Posted by Safety issue
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I'm worried that if they cut late night service there will be more intoxicated drivers on the road.


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Resident,

You have the entire political and economic hierarchy against you, so it is not necessary to flame people who don't agree with you.

The Bay Area Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group are strongly in favor of HSR. Do you think you can call them uneducated
and get away with it?

Maybe you think Meg Whitman is your savior?


Like this comment
Posted by Just don't get it...
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 19, 2010 at 12:37 pm

To Also Resident:
Not everyone is against HSR....we just don't want it dividing so many wonderful cities up and down the state and running through beautiful, developed neighborhoods! On the peninsula run it down 101 or 680 where it can benefit thousands more. Same for other highly developed neighborhoods... HSR says it's about money but if you can't afford to do it right then wait until you can!!! That would be intelligent!!


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 19, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Caltrain needs to look at how RTD in Denver handles both it's trains and publicity...

Special RTD trains and busses ( they handle both ) for major events ( like Broncos, Avalanche and Nuggets games ) with late added specials on event nights. The same applies for certain holidays. Add overnight parking ( 72hrs is typical ) and even weekend stays in Denver are typical.

RTD is set for a Union Station merger of AMTRAK, Light Rail, AIRPORT RAIL and regular bus service similar to what SF SHOULD have in downtown Market Street underground stations....

Imagine FLYING into DIA ( or taking the local bus ), taking the RTD train to UNION STATION and taking the SKI TRAIN or AMTRAK into the ROCKIES.....

That would be like being able to have transportation from your door to RENO/TAHOE all on an easy to do transport system...

And I'm NOT talking about HSR!!


Like this comment
Posted by Just don't get it...
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 19, 2010 at 1:33 pm

to: punnisher......That makes just way to much sense and it would probably work....consequently I'm pretty sure it won't happen. Imagine how sweet it would be if everyone could bring their bike on Caltrain and could get easily to special events around the area............


Like this comment
Posted by DZ
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Aug 19, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Caltrain's days are numbered. There is no reason to waste money on this out-of-dated monster. Drive a hybrid or carpool with someone. Aren't you feel guilty when there are only 10 people in a cart designed for 120? Only thing better from a bad economic is traffic. Beside you gain all the freedom by going to much more places than a train can.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Some people can't afford a hybrid (or a car come to that) or their commute is too awkward to find a carpool.

Some people have lost their license, are blind, want to drink, work shifts, socialize after work, want to work/study/read en route, or a myriad of other reasons.

How about filling up the other 110 empty seats on the train and taking 110 cars off the highway?


Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I moved to St Louis a few years ago but still follow the news in PA. Why not just increase taxes? In St Louis we saved our local light rail/bus system with a 1/2 cent sales tax increase:

Web Link

The great thing was that it passed with a wide margin and the campaign was all about what was good for the region economically. There is a recognition here that reliable on-time public transportation is good for business.


Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 19, 2010 at 3:18 pm

There cleary is something wrong with financially troubled VTA and CalTrain.

This has been the case for years.

And yet there is advocy for High Speed Rail?


Like this comment
Posted by karen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 19, 2010 at 5:46 pm

One of the problems with taking Caltrain to the airport is the lack of long-term parking. Since you need to take a taxi or have a friend drop you off, it's sometimes not worth the trouble. I have commuted by Caltrain for nearly 20 years and frankly I would not take it to the airport - too unreliable these days.


Like this comment
Posted by Gina
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm

@ George

Your're right! You do not still live in Palo Alto nor in California - a very different
state than Missouri! You do NOT have the taxes we already have here! Move back if you wish to make comments!


Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm

To resident of Greenmeadow:
Your response to that other resident appeared to be in a snide tone. As you stated that you are educated and not naive, your response did not reflect it. Why don't you try again by responding with a tone that is based on intelligence and knowledge of the issues.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm

George

Your idea from St. Louis is what we do need here. Taxing gas would be the optimum as it would make all road users share in proportion to the amount of driving they do. The less gas someone uses, the less tax they pay for supporting public transport. Every time one person uses public transport for one journey, one commute or one recreational/concert/sports event, etc. the more we all benefit.


Like this comment
Posted by pecuniac
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 19, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Thank you Larry Cohn. Caltrain should analyze their market, reach out to the public, and 'find a need and fill it'.
Have you ever tried to get to SFO via Caltrain? Its a confusing, idiotic system and no wonder that the SFO link in the system doesn't get the ridership it deserves. The problem is not Caltrain but the necessity to make two additional train changes from the Millbrae station. One solution would be a single fare ticket, issued by Caltrain, that could be read by the BART ADDFARE readers rather than having to buy a separate ticket for BART. BART uberalles needs to learn how to play with others! Another solution would be buses that go from 4th and Townsend CAltrain station in SF to Market street every 15 minutes to the nearest BART station entrance during peak commute hours.
How about advertising the bicycle cars? During commute hours they are packed. Could another car per train be justified?


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2010 at 9:03 pm

@ Lady Gaga fan - don't make me laugh - I was talking about one of my kids and a friend
I went down and picked 'em up after the concert...ur right the train wasn't running then...


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2010 at 9:13 pm

This is exactly the problem, Anon, you nailed it.

It is a great way to get to a concert - and we have some good concerts, theater, events, but if Caltrain can't run late enough to take home after these events then they are losing possible riders. They run late trains for Sharks and Giants games, these trains are full of riders, it can be done, so advertise the trains on the ticket sites. Do you know how much it costs to park for these events? I am sure that unless you have a minivan full of people, it must be cheaper to go by train.


Like this comment
Posted by numbers
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 19, 2010 at 10:09 pm

As far as I can tell from financial documents easily obtained from the caltrain web site, caltrain costs close to $100M to operate annually. Through fares, parking and shuttle fees, they raise ever so slightly more than half of tier annual operating. The rest comes from other sources, local govt perhaps? I'm not entirely sure. Their baby bullet trains are clearly their big revenue source, at least in terms of $$ they generate themselves, but obviously not enough to keep caltrain in the black. Enter HSR, promising to run something like 20 trains a day (each direction I think), which when combined with a station or two on the peninsula, basically add a large number of additional baby bullet competitors. For the life of me, I can't figure how caltrain survives, financially, year after year, and if HSR becomes a reality, I can't imagine how they will survive at all. There probably isn't enough ridership to support all the baby bullet trains, caltrain would probably be relegated to a local only type of service, costing even more in subsidies to operate due to reduced ticket sales.

So, all you HSR boosters, please explain how one well established commuter train service, which can barely operate, can co-mingle with a HSR train, with bogus rider estimates, uneconomically low fares, a likely $70B construction cost (who is paying for that?), and a "business plan" that no one seems to understand. I do not believe that either can co-exist w/o huge public subsidies. I believe that every high speed rail system in the world does not exist w/o huge subsidies. I am unaware of any public transit system that is financially self sustaining, anywhere, yet I believe HSR claims that they will be a big money maker.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Aug 19, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Rather than cutting service, why don't we cut back salaries and benefits of Caltrans workers and administrators? I will eat my hat if they do not make twice as much as a fair wage.


Like this comment
Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2010 at 11:19 pm

A system like Caltrain needs to be able to feed into effective local transit to get people interested in using it.

Effective local transit needs density to be cost effective.

Uh, we live in the suburbs. No density here. In fact, Palo Alto residents appear to want as little density as possible.

The only place that has somewhere in the vicinity of density that can have decent local transit options is San Francisco, and even there MUNI is terrible. As the self-proclaimed progressives (i.e. idiots) running San Francisco continue to drive businesses away to other areas, the model for Caltrain (feeding San Francisco) is essentially imploding, which is what we're seeing.

I think we're watching the slow-motion death spiral of Caltrain.


Like this comment
Posted by fan of caltrain
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 20, 2010 at 12:16 am

Because Caltrain is so good, trying to be at least, about accomodating bicycles onboard, I am able to get anywhere on the Peninsula by bike and train. I use this combination to get to shopping, including grocery shopping, sightseeing in SF, my climbing gym in Sunnyvale, visit my mom in RWC..... I would be happy to pay a higher fare but I believe that eliminating services would even cause me to get out of the habit and retreat to my car.


Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2010 at 1:43 am

The peninsula commute line lost money for Southern Pacific for decades, and S.P. begged and begged and begged to abandon the service but the CA PUC wouldn't let them. That's how CalTrans/JPB came to take it off S.P.'s hands in the '80s. It's never been a moneymaker and ultimately had to be subsidized. Perhaps someone can inform us when CalTrain has ever been in the black. It seems it's always been in various shades of red.

<< Rather than cutting service, why don't we cut back salaries and benefits of Caltrans workers and administrators? I will eat my hat if they do not make twice as much as a fair wage. >>

What's your idea of a "fair wage", $8.00 per hour?


Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2010 at 1:45 am

I don't know how the contracts are written, but I wonder if they've ever considered raising the rates for freight service on the line.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Aug 20, 2010 at 10:37 am

Larry, my idea is the cheapest wage commensurate with being able to hire someone who can do the job. Given that California's unemployment rate is over 12%, I suspect that your estimate may not be too far from the mark.


Like this comment
Posted by Adam Selene
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Hey Numbers,

All transportation is subsidized, yet all of it is financially self sustaining. Air, cars, trains etc. are all supported by the state with contributions from non users. If you don't like it either stop moving or get over it. The benefits to society far outweigh the cost.

Many mass transit systems require direct subsidies to operate. Many do not, including some HSR lines. Even in the narrowest sense your assertion is incorrect.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2010 at 9:18 am

There are some good ideas and thoughtful comments here. I hope that somehow Caltrain sees this and takes note.


Like this comment
Posted by YESbabies
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Please Im lost ???!!! where O where is the news that the judge threw out the lame lawsuite against HSR from that "world class" city of Atherton/MenloPark?? where is the comments?? where is the O so drama Queen reporter Gennady Sheyner and his fear stories?


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm

People who complain about the government supporting transportation
(including cars, buses, airplanes, and trains) but are homeowners should start complaining about all the subsidies that they are receiving as a homeowner. Why do they deserve a mortgage interest deduction, a property tax deduction, and a government guaranteed and possibly subsidized mortgage?

Many of the complainers about HSR should realize they are also feeding at the trough of public subsidies.


Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I have come back from Europe recently. I used public transportation (bus, trolleys, trams, subway, taxis) everywhere. All the stops were linked to a GPS system so costumers know when a means of transport is coming. The Bay area looks like a third world country as far as transportation is concerned. Can the " we spend too much money on Caltran" tell me how much we spend on roads, all of it on a public budget? When are roads going to payty for themselves?

And then they say Caltran is expensive... though , of course, it doesn'tcrowd roads, doesn't get into traffic jams, permits an unstressful ride, besides all other benefits.


Like this comment
Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Narnia. Get over it. Caltrain is dying.

No amount of BS will help the fact that it doesn't work in an area where there isn't enough density and, unlike, say, NJRR, where everyone's headed to Manhattan, the Bay Area's business center is no longer San Francisco.


Like this comment
Posted by John Murphy
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Caltrain is very successful on the weekdays during commute hours because of the bullet trains. The midday service is less used but needs to exist in order to provide "emergency" service for commuters who are typically on the bullets. The bullets increased Caltrain's ridership greatly.

The weekend ridership still stagnates - because the trains operate more like a bus line - slowly - on days when traffic is lighter on the 101. This makes the weekend an unattractive option while being more costly for Caltrain to operate - more stops and starts, and the continued operation of lightly used Atherton and Broadway. Love those communities, but the ridership just is not there.

Nonetheless, weekend service is part of the spokes to the overall system that makes it an attractive transportation mode for many riders.

A group of Caltrain riders is banding together to ask Caltrain to modify their weekend service to run express/limited trains in order to reduce costs while providing service that would be more attractive to the ridership and more in line with service that trains should support. An online petition can be found here.

Web Link

Thanks
John Murphy


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I know of one person who has tried to use Caltrain to commute to Redwood City each day - just a few stops. Because of the schedule there are only trains every hour and one gets in 45 minutes too early and the next 10 minutes late plus even though there are just a couple of stations, they are in two zones which puts the cost up tremendously. That, plus the electronic signs telling them where they are instead of informing them when the next train comes and which stations it will stop at makes the system really useless for a short commute.

These things need to be sorted out before Caltrain can be a useful commuter service for passengers who want to use it outside SF and SJ commutes.


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