Caltrain faces $30 million gap, 'drastic' cuts in service | January 21, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 21, 2011

Caltrain faces $30 million gap, 'drastic' cuts in service

'Fiscal emergency' for the commuter service expected to be declared by governing board at its Feb. 3 meeting

by Jay Thorwaldson

Caltrain's already hard-pressed Peninsula commute service faces a $30 million deficit this year and is planning "drastic" cutbacks in services, Caltrain officials announced Thursday.

A "fiscal emergency" is expected to be declared at Caltrain's governing board meeting on Feb. 3. Caltrain's total annual budget is about $100 million.

The budget-gap announcement came on the eve of two major "save Caltrain" meetings, Friday, Jan. 21, and Saturday, Jan. 29.

The announced crisis underscores the urgency of the meetings. The full scope of the budget gap is not yet known, as it depends on how deeply three transit agencies (San Mateo County's SamTrans, Santa Clara County's VTA and San Francisco transit) cut their subsidies of Caltrain. SamTrans recently announced a $10 million reduction.

The cuts could reduce services involving 48 trains during the weekday commute.

But that's just a start.

"All other service would be eliminated including: weekday service outside the commute peak, weekend service and service south of the San Jose Diridon station," Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

"The schedule also would require the suspension of service at up to seven stations."

Mark Simon, Caltrain's executive officer for public affairs, said the cutbacks are not in final form, but are "where we are starting" given a bleak financial picture, a $10 million reduction in subsidy by SamTrans, and a continuing lack of a permanent source of funding, such as sales-tax revenues.

Caltrain is the only Bay Area transit agency without such a source of funding, and has already made significant cuts in service and staffing.

The projected $30 million gap is contingent on the other two transit agencies making cutbacks similar to the SamTrans reduction, which reduced its annual contribution by $10 million, to $4.7 million, Simon said.

Caltrain now operates 86 weekday trains, including 22 express trains, with an average daily ridership of 40,000. On Saturdays there are 32 local trains and four express trains and on Sundays there are 28 local and four express trains.

Simon outlined "aggressive" measures Caltrain has taken in the past three fiscal years:

"Salaries have been frozen. Employees will have taken a total of 17 furlough days from FY09 through FY11. Jan. 1, four weekday trains during the midday were eliminated and fares were increased 25 cents for each zone.

"In an effort to generate additional revenue, a pilot program for weekend Baby Bullet service was introduced."

Caltrain administrative staff costs are just 6.4 percent of its operating budget, below average for comparable commuter rail agencies, he said.

Caltrain is operated by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, a public entity that owns and operates Caltrain.

He said the board is planning two public hearings, one on the proposed service cuts and one to declare a fiscal emergency, at its Feb. 3 meeting. Four community meetings will be held throughout the Caltrain service area on Feb. 17, followed by a formal public hearing on March 3.

"A start date for any service changes has yet to be determined," Simon said.

The first "summit" meeting on saving Caltrain was set for today (Friday, Jan. 21) from 9 a.m. to noon at Stanford University, sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and a second will be held on Saturday, Jan. 29, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Samtrans Auditorium, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos, sponsored by a multi-community group, "Friends of Caltrain."

The Leadership Group has designated saving Caltrain its number-one regional priority for 2011. The Stanford meeting is in the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Building, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 366 Galvez St.

"Caltrain is a critical component of our regional public transportation system, offering an effective alternative to driving on our already congested highways. But it lacks a dedicated source of funding to support its operations," the Leadership Group said in an announcement of the meeting.


How critical to the Peninsula is Caltrain? Share your opinions on Town Square on Palo Alto Online.

Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at


Posted by sometime train commuter, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 20, 2011 at 10:07 am

CalTrain has two major costs: fuel; and labor. CalTrain has no control over either. Especially labor, as CalTrain has no control over the labor contracts (which are negotiated by Amtrak).

CalTrain needs to break the labor contract with Amtrak, and start over, labor-wise. Even if it means going to court over breaking the contract, and paying a penalty. And needs to take similar drastic action with respect to fuel contracts (buy long-term contracts at reduced price, if possible.)

Posted by JM, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

People should realize that CalTran service is not a desirable service by general public. It's using everyone's precious tax dollar to serve too small a population. Period.

I for one wish Caltrans to stop the train service, to save some life.

Caltrans is not the first train service discontinued in the nation, and will not be the last.

Posted by rider, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

Why do we expect train service to be self-supporting, yet publicly fund roads? Wouldn't it be better to fund public transportation to encourage use? Let's increase vehicle and gas taxes and use it to fund improved public transit. Less pollution, less congestion. Also, since the damage to roads is proportional to the weight of vehicles travelling over them, let's surcharge registration for heavy vehicles.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

Caltrain service helps every one of us even if we never use it. We need to get people to use the service more frequently and improve the service, not reduce it.

Recently family members went with friends to an event in San Jose. Our family has used Caltrain many times like this, but for the friends it was the first time they had been on Caltrain and it never occurs to them to use it. This should not be the case. It should be used to get Peninsula residents to many events in San Jose and San Francisco. Sporting events, concerts, theater, sightseeing, conferences, etc. are always more difficult to arrange when thinking of driving and parking, but often Caltrain makes the trip much easier.

I have heard radio advertising about Sharks games by train recently. This should be much more common.

Use the train.

Posted by Agree with rider, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:26 am

I'm not a frequent rider, but would LOVE to see incentives designed to force people to use the train and make it much less attractive to drive. Here's hoping that gas taxes go way up for individual vehicles - that's the only way it will happen. Raise cost of gas for individuals and lower the cost for commercial purposes (public transportation, trucking, etc.).

Posted by Koa, a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:42 am

I can't say it enough: the 36 million dollar remodeling of the lightly used California Ave station was a foolish waste of public money.

Posted by really Koa?, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Where did you read that upgrading the California Ave station cost $36 million dollars. The main thing they did was add the safety tunnel so that passengers did not have to walk on the tracks to get to the northbound trains. I doubt that even cost 10% of your figure and it was a big safety improvement.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

WTF. Last week Caltrain hyped that they were adding weekend bullet trains. Now they are in a "fiscal emergency." Which is it? Back in 2009 we heard that there would be drastic service cut-backs, but they never came in 2010. I suppose Stimulas money staved off the inevitable for a year. Now reality check.

Posted by mom, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I for one would welcome the reduction in services. Palo Alto would be a lot quieter. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I applaud the people of the peninsula who are voting with their pocket books. We don't want the train in our neighborhoods anymore.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm

The CEO of Caltrain, Mike Scanlon, makes as much money as the President of the United States. How much more do you need to know?

See also: <Web Link;

Posted by Koa, a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Source for my figure:

Web Link

$35 million to renovate the Cal Ave station. The station has an average of 917 riders a day. The Castro street Mountain View has many times that many riders and somehow they all manage to cross the tracks to get to the Northbound Side without the help of a 8 figure tunnel.

Posted by really Koa?, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Your link says the money went to renovate both the downtown and California Ave stations. I still find that number dubious. And I bet the vast majority went to the downtown station.

Posted by Koa, a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:43 pm

$35 million figure from Caltrain Press Release:

Web Link'

The undercrossing alone was $13 million:

Web Link

Posted by jardins, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm

So VTA helps subsidize Caltrain. It's also the main financial force behind the "improvements" on California Avenue. Businesses and residents don't seem to want those "improvements", so why doesn't VTA give its Cal. Ave $$ to Caltrain instead?

Posted by Improvements Want, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm

The community around California Avenue absolutely wants the improvements. A small number of uninformed people are propagating a lot of misinformation around this. So yes, please bring the improvements. We suspect that these improvements will increase ridership and thus revenue.

Posted by Buster, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2011 at 8:18 pm

The typical NIMBY comments of peninsula residents...Caltrain, VTA, Samtrans should all not exist. It should be ONE agency, BART, that circles the bay as rapid transit. For all those posters (posers) that say they don't want a train in their town, move to Mill Valley.

Posted by carlito ways, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Let the private sector run Caltrain, instead of taxpayers subsidizing: service for the few riders and bloated salaries and benefits of Caltrain employees, as the Post recently published them.

Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2011 at 10:59 pm

The private sector ran the peninsula commute line for decades until 1980. The railroad, Southern Pacific, lost money year after year and begged and begged and begged the CPUC to discontinue the service. That's when CalTrans got involved.

The Joint Powers Board owns the right of way, which also carries freight trains operated by Union Pacific. I have never seen a figure for the amount UPRR pays the JPB for the use of the right of way.

Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 21, 2011 at 8:43 am

Mr. Engel,

Mike Scanlon is the CEO of SamTrans and Caltrain, so Caltrain is only paying a fraction of that salary. Caltrain's administrative cost (as a percentage of overall expenses) is among the lowest of any major Bay Area transit agency.

Perhaps you should consider the possibility that Mr. Scanlon's salary is so high because he can manage the agencies well enough for the investment to pay off. It's the same reason that UC Berkeley pays Jeff Tedford $2,338,409 to win football games.

If you can find someone that can competently run Caltrain, and is willing to work for $60,000/year or less, then please ask them to apply for Mr. Scanlon's job right away!

One last point I want to make...I just noticed that the President of the United States's salary is 100,000 times (!!!) larger than those of Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin *combined*. We really should start paying the president less! And what the heck is up with us giving the President free housing too? On his salary, he should be able to afford his own house!

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2011 at 9:01 am

Caltrain and all public transport benefits every one of us, whether we use it or not.

Without these services there would be more traffic on our roads, no doubt about it.

Without these services, we would have more elderly and infirm people driving because of no alternatives.

Without these services how would the blind and other people with disabilities be independent. Without these services how would anyone with a suspended license be expected to get around? Without these services how would anyone without a car or who is unable (too young) get around?

Public transport should be much more of a priority all around the Bay Area. We need one overall authority and one overall ticketing scheme - the clipper is not good enough because it still involves paying for a separate fare for each service. We need to be timed rather than distanced for our fares regardless of how many services we use. A half mile bus to a 6 mile train should be one fare, not two.

We need to subsidise public transit like we subside highways. Tax on gas to cover this subsidy makes sense.

Public transit is essential in getting the Bay Area residents to where they need to go. We are building more and more housing for more and more residents and we are not building more highways so it makes sense that we should be improving transit infrastructure. We also need to make it more user friendly and more well known. Make it a viable option for people to use. Better advertising, better passenger information at stations and on websites and better coordination of schedules between trains and buses would help in these areas.

This is what we call good common sense.

Posted by Al, a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:15 am

Mike Scanlon has presided over a disastrous decline in Caltrain finances. His own agency, Samtrans, is shortchanging the train, and now Scanlon wants to shortchange the riders.

Mike Scanlon pulls down $323,643 a year, plus a $24,000 housing allowance!

Let's solve this problem from the top down. Fire Mike Scanlon, and put in somebody who cares!

Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:18 am

Don’t be confused of public transit and Caltrain. Public transit doesn’t mean we have to have Caltrain. Caltrain is a bad example of public transit. It is out-of-dated, dangerous and polluting.

Don’t be afraid of changes. If there is a demand, there will be a way to meet that demand. That is called market force.

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:53 am


Enough of your negativity. Have you joined the party of "NO"?

If you have something constructive to say, make a concrete and workable contribution. What are the market forces you are talking about and how will they help people get around? Look at all the subsidies of alternative fuel cars.

Posted by Carlito ways, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:42 am

David Bloom said:
>One last point I want to make...I just noticed that the President of the United States's salary is 100,000 times (!!!) larger than those of Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin *combined*. We really should start paying the president less! And what the heck is up with us giving the President free housing too? On his salary, he should be able to afford his own house!

LOL, you got to be kidding, right?

In case you did not know, the President of this country doesn't get millions and millions of dollars in company stock.

I have met kids smarter than you, David B.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:50 am

Same song, fifth verse?

This seems to be the yearly cry of CalTrain. They can't balance their budget.

If they had their way, they would charge $100 one way and a 75% tax on top of that.

CalTrain is now considered a failed experiment in the Bay Area. An entity that can't balance its budget or turn a profit is a FAILURE. Of course, our legislators that are repeatedly elected and have chosen to raise the taxes/fees/tuitions/tolls/CRVs/drivers licenses/registrations on California residents just don't care anyway.

They keep coming up with great ways to spend more of our money. Any dissent automatically earns you the NIMBY label. Go figure.

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm


What is your point?

Just because Caltrain is less subsidized than other forms of transportion, you consider it a FAILURE.

Posted by Nonamecalling, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Stop calling people with whom you disagree "NIMBY"s. It really degrades the quality of the discussion. Caltrain has real problems that are worth discussing in a civilized forum.

Posted by Kid, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 21, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Dear Mom (from Greenbackacres),

You are right as always! Palo Alto would be so much quieter if the train was removed from our lovely neighborhood. Too much noise pollution and pesky loiters outside the stations. And that being said, I can't wait for you to buy me a new car! Thanks so much for the allowance for gas and insurance too! I know the economy is in the ratchet, but I just know you won't mind that the allowance is soon going to have to increase with the cost of fuel. Who needs alternative transportation services anyways? Mom, thanks so much for your example of how to make the environment a better place for us all.

Your Kid.

Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 21, 2011 at 2:35 pm

@ David Bloom,
UC Berkeley does not pay Tedford $2.3M/year. The Cal boosters pay the vast majority of that salary. It's the only way the faculty and Regents would let it be that high.

Also, comparing the head of SamTrans/Caltrain to Tedford is about as apples and oranges as comparing the President and corporate CEO's.

If you're going to make an argument, make it relevant.

Posted by Scanlon, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I would like to see people drive instead of caltrain. It would help car sales and improve the economy.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Let's see - no CalTrain
Peaceful weekends.
Less hearing loss issues.
A major decrease in particulate air problems meaning a healthier environment.
Oh and lets please remove Rod's name from the SJ Station.

Keep CalTrain - make the businesses who benefit the most from it pay for it - Genentech, Stanford, Google, Sharks, Giants etc.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm

@ chris:


I am not even from California -- let alone Palo Alto! I am young (20-something), lower-middle class, moved here less than three years ago, and I am just voicing my opinion. Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to speak when you don't have all of the information?

California is broke. No. California is BROKEN. I felt the shock (literal SHOCK) from all of the taxes, fees, tolls, CRVs, high cost drivers licenses, pricey registrations, astronomical public tuition, expensive vehicle inspection, and general inflation of California (that is multiplied here by the cost of living in the Bay Area). Yet with all of the money being poured into the coffers in Sacramento, our roads are horrible, schools are lagging, social services are subpar (compared with other states), and general infrastructure is sorely lacking.

Yes, our roads are congested. So...our state built and runs CalTrain. However, it only serves a tiny fraction of Bay Area drivers. Why? It is expensive ($12 per day to San Fran and back) compared with $4 for a gallon of gas. Yet CalTrain can't break even. So, they decide to raise prices...again (and again).

Unfortunately, the powers that be don't realize that demand would INCREASE if the price of use would DECREASE. If the cost of using CalTrain was more affordable, more people would use it. More cars could be added to each train. Sure, CalTrain would make less money off of each passenger, but more passengers would mean more money from the total ridership.

Right now, there just aren't enough riders to justify the cost of CalTrain. The last time I checked, there were something like 26-32K riders on Northbound and Southbound trains. That is 13-16K individuals using the train. And, how many people live and work in the Bay Area?

People are not riding CalTrain because there just isn't an economic reason to do it. If the prices were lowered to something that would be more attractive, more people would actually use it. If they drop service, reduce lines, and remove cars -- there will be even LESS people using it. That will mean even LESS income for CalTrain.

Until something is done, we will continually hear pleas for money from a system that is obviously broken. CalTrain execs will continue to beg for public subsidies or permission to raise prices...making tickets even less attractive to commuters.

But, hey, this is California! We could always create a new tax/fee/subsidy/toll/or some other creative form of additional taxation to fund this mess.

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 21, 2011 at 4:43 pm

If CalTrain can't survive, I have little hope for High Speed Rail. The subsidies for HSR will make CalTrain's deficit look like chump change.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2011 at 5:53 pm

For lengthy discussion of Caltrain and its discontents, see:

Web Link

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Nayeli et al.:

Glad you asked. One point that some folks may be missing is the extraordinary cost of automobiles and the huge subsidies that are given to cars at every level of government. It turns out that if you add up all the marginal costs of automobiles including the cars themselves, roads, car accidents and associated health costs, land for roads/freeways, cleanup costs, etc., we are probably paying $1.00-$1.25 a mile -- and, if you are a driver, you are probably only paying half that visible to you as a car cost -- the rest is in taxes, health insurance, etc.

Urban trains and buses are a vastly more efficient use of your tax dollars to provide other people with transportation. You are already paying taxes to transport other people. Wouldn't you rather move people much more cheaply and efficiently with your tax dollars?

I would be happy to go on at great length about the economics of different transportation modes, but, I won't bore you further-- there is plenty of information available online, in books (for those who still read them), and other sources. The highway lobby would prefer that you ignore this information and get back to work paying for your car, your gas, your health insurance, and your increased taxes.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm

@ Anon:

I think that the "extraordinary cost of automobiles" argument is a fallacious defense of CalTrain. Why? BECAUSE PEOPLE WILL OWN THE CAR ANYWAYS!

It is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to live without a car in today's world. Even if you take the train to work everyday, you will still need a car to go everywhere else. You will need to change the oil every 3 months. You will need to change the tires. You will need to pay California's outrageous taxes/fees/tolls/registration/inspection/etc...

If you take the train to work in San Francisco, it will cost you $3000 a year (250 days a year x $12 round trip to San Fran). In five years, it will cost you $15,000. Are you trying to convince me that the "upkeep" of a car is $15,000 in five years ABOVE what you would be paying for that car anyway? That is poor logic.

I believe that almost 100% of the people who take the train to work also have a car in the driveway that they must pay to keep (and upkeep).

Still, this is a poor defense of a ridiculously overpriced and over-subsidized train system.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2011 at 7:57 pm

@ Anon...

BTW, I apologize if it seems like I was shouting. I probably shouldn't have typed in caps for that one sentence. I was going to remove them but forgot to do so.

Again, sorry for the caps.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2011 at 8:03 am

Caltrain is a bargain compared to building freeways. The $30 million that they need is small change compared to what is spent on highways and freeways. For example, the cost of adding auxiliary lanes on Hwy 101 between Embarcadero and Hwy 85 (only a few miles) is $102 million, and the cost of improving (not building from scratch) the Stevens Creek/I-280 interchange is $140 - $175 million. Tully Rd. Interchange improvements: $64 million. Source:

Web Link

Caltrain is not hurting for ridership, either. We need a diverse transportation system that gives people choices and doesn't force them to buy, maintain and insure cars.

Posted by registered user, stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Jan 22, 2011 at 8:57 am

I invite the readers making cost comparisons to try again and include parking and gas costs in their comparison to the daily CalTrain trip to SF and also price the ticket with the monthly pass rate.

The out of pocket cost for the train trip is less than the cost of the daily auto commute. CalTrain is a bargain for riders--and for the rest of us.

Yes most riders will have cars but that does not invalidate that taking the train costs less. Folks often forget how expensive it is to park in SF.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2011 at 9:37 am

@ Donald:

The difference is that nearly 100% of Bay Area residents use the freeways. CalTrain is used by a handful of residents. However, the rest of us pay for it (either by tax subsidies, noise, or the time it takes just by waiting for CalTrain to drive by six times an hour).

BTW, nearly EVERY CalTrain rider also owns a car. In California, you still must pay ridiculously high registration, inspection or even non-use fees on cars -- on top of the fact that you must still have insurance.

People who ride CalTrain pay about $3,000 a year to ride it to and from work. That is a lot of money that is typically IN ADDITION to owning and operating a vehicle that is parked in your driveway. In five years, $15,000 goes a long way toward the price of a vehicle that is yours to keep. I'm just saying that this "CalTrain cost v. your cars on the highway" is a poor comparison.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2011 at 9:47 am

@ stevenlevy:

Do most people pay high parking fees where they work? So far, no one that I know must pay fees to park at work. I suppose that there are a handful of people for whom this is true.

Who knows -- maybe that is why the ridership is so low to begin with? Perhaps those are the only people who think that the yearly cost of riding is a "bargain?" Then again, many people still do not live or work within walking distance of either a CalTrain station (although many people park there) or they simply do not want to take the train on cold or rainy days.

So, perhaps it is cost effective for those very few people who must pay more than $10 a day to park at work. The other 99.999% of people who must still own and operate cars in the Bay Area (and pay to maintain them regardless) have chosen (with their actions) the method that is most cost effective and practical for them.

The only time that my husband and I use CalTrain is when we are going to the San Francisco Giants games. It is cost effective BECAUSE of the high cost of parking at the stadium...and CalTrain drops us off only one city block away. Of course, we also take friends and family on the train when they visit -- but purely for the novelty of it all.

I'm just saying that it is costly for MANY residents in the Bay Area. If the buses around the Bay Area cost $12-16 a day (round trip), I don't think that many people would ride those either.

Posted by Duh., a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2011 at 12:04 pm

@ Nayeli
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Of course people pay high parking fees on the peninsula and in the city. Duh. Not many jobs come with parking perks if you work in SF. Not even high end jobs. Lack of space aside, parking garages in the city are very expensive. Companies are cutting back on benefits such as health insurance, do you really think they are going to pay for parking? Feeding meters is not efficient as it is costly in the form of lost productivity in addition to the risk of getting tickets. MUNI has gone on record stating that they will be increasing ticket writing activity to meet their own deficit. Why not just save yourself the schelp to the city by working closer on the peninsula? Sure, if you are lucky enough to get that, but today people are going where they have to. Even people working in downtown PA, MV, etc., have to move their car around to avoid getting tickets, or worse they have have to feed the meters.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm


What you are also forgetting is that Caltrain enables many families/couples to own one car as opposed to two. If one or both can use public transit for the daily commute they may need to own only one car.

Car ownership is not as high as it once was. Many teens around here do not get their own cars or even learn to drive as early as in other areas of the country. Parking is expensive in San Francisco and San Jose and for many employed in say Downtown Palo Alto, there is no parking provided by many employers - just read the threads here about parking in residential neighborhoods near Downtown and College Terrace.

We all benefit from Caltrain, even you even if you don't realise it. You benefit because there are less cars on the highways on a daily basis. You may be able to drive now, but what happens if you are no longer able to drive? Caltrain is a viable option for anyone who is living/working on the route - and a lifeline for those who are say blind, elderly, or like to have a few beers after work. Caltrain, it could be argued, even helps to keep drunk drivers off the roads.

Any money spent on improving public transport will pay dividends. You yourself use it for Giants games so you see the benefit. Multiply that benefit by all Peninsula residents and attract more to use it more often and the dividends will increase likewise.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm


At times I have had an opportunity to measure these marginal costs directly in my life. When the CalTrain schedule/service location works, it has been much less than the marginal cost of driving. About 1/4 the cost in my case. Obviously, there are a lot of variables in that, such as the cost of parking, how congested the trip is (most cars I have driven get 1/2 the mileage in stop and go driving, etc.), but, I actually have looked at the costs, and CalTrain has been much cheaper, when it worked.

However, assuming that you hate riding the train regardless of cost, the fact is that it benefits you anyway. Basically, due to the rush hour effect and the CalTrain trip starts/destinations, you are probably looking at an entire freeway lane in each direction between San Jose and San Francisco. Because of the high cost of urban rights of way, and the high cost of construction on an operational freeway, that is $1B-$2B in construction costs alone, not to mention freeway maintenance. If we don't build that extra lane, the savings will easily subsidize CalTrain.

Yes, it does bother me that we all pay extra sales and property taxes for roads and freeways-- that should all come out of auto registration (VLF) and gas taxes IMHO. For some mysterious reason drivers always complain about subsidizing public transportation, but, they forget how much all of us subsidize cars. Since this subject interests you, you should really delve into the economics of automobile-based transportation. I think you will actually (not kidding) be shocked by what you discover.

BTW, there has been mention of executive salaries for transportation agencies. The entire subject of executive compensation is for a different thread, but, yes, I do think that many executives, public and private, are overcompensated today. Let's deal with that issue in another discussion.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm

@ Duh:

I don't live under a rock. Thank you for your advice though.

I would love to see the evidence that the bulk of people who work in San Francisco are forced to pay for parking. BTW, from what I understand, the majority of riders come FROM San Francisco and work in the Peninsula (many right here in Palo Alto). Of course, you insist that I am "out of touch" and "unrealistic."

But, again, this is beside the point. The underlying point isn't that I believe that we should scrap CalTrain. I didn't say that at all. I am saying that something is TERRIBLY WRONG with the economic model of this public corporation. IF they can't make ends meet year after year, then something is wrong.

What should be done?

I think that they should LOWER THEIR PRICES. I believe that more people would ride if the price of a roundtrip ticket from here to San Francisco was dropped from $12 a day to $8. IMHO, I believe that ridership would increase MORE than 33%.

Someone needs to map out a chart that shows an accurate demand curve for CalTrain. This way, demand would rise and CalTrain could increase the number of cars on each line. Since they will ALREADY be running the train for each line, this would be money in the bank (mostly).

I may not know everything about CalTrain -- but I have been here long enough to know that the current system is terribly broken and fiscally inefficient.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm

@ Anon:

I understand what you are saying. What I don't understand is just where all of the money that California collects is going.

When we moved here, we were shocked by the cost of living. Not only are the state income taxes and sales taxes unbelievably high, we were amazed at the amount of money that we would have to pay for fees, tolls, CRVs, vehicle registrations, driver's licenses, tuition, etc... This is in addition to the increase in prices for goods, services, gasoline, utilities and rent.

With such a large population...and with so much money coming in from multiple have to wonder where the money is going. California should have the best roads in the nation! However, even states with comparable size (Texas, New York, Florida, etc...) have much better roads!

Still, this isn't about all of the roads. Those roads will be maintained the same whether CalTrain existed or not. There are only about 15,000 passengers riding CalTrain anyway. That is just a drop in the buckets from the 2 Million people living in San Francisco, the Peninsula and South Bay.

Something is BROKEN with CalTrain. I just don't know if it is irreparable yet.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm

There is no question that the funding mechanism for Caltrain is broken. 40% of their money comes from the transit agencies (SF Muni, SamTrans, VTA) that have no legal obligation to pay Caltrain. It is basically a gift to Caltrain, but now that all of those agencies are being squeezed it is easy for them to stop paying Caltrain.

Other transportation modes are funded directly by taxes: some money comes from sales tax and gas tax but most roads, both local and freeways, are funded by federal money that comes out of general funds. That means that we all pay for them whether we use them or not (and not everybody uses every freeway). The same is even true for flying: the federal government pays for air traffic control, TSA, FAA, safety inspectors, pays for runway paving and maintenance, etc. The feds pay a lot for port maintenance and security, and the Coast Guard. Nobody complains about paying for those even if they don't travel by boat, so people should stop complaining about paying for Caltrain just because they don't ride it. That is the way we do things.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Nayeli, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, wrote:

> I understand what you are saying. What I don't understand is
> just where all of the money that California collects is going.

Here is a start:

Web Link

You can see one large place it goes: health care at all levels, both in benefits to public employees (e.g. teachers), direct payments to county hospitals for poor uninsured, etc.

Health care costs seem to be an issue that seem to defy conventional mixes of capitalism and socialism.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Drivers tend to overestimate the capacity of freeways. Peak capacity of a freeway lane is often given as 2000 vehicles/hr for calculation purposes. However, real-world measurements using those sensors embedded in many California freeways show that although brief peaks in lanes occasionally reach ~3000 vehicles/hr, it is unsustainable, and congestion effects usually limit averages to 1500-1800 vehicles/hr. (Note that metering lights are usually necessary to achieve the better utilization.) That translates to 2000-2500 people/hr., or 8000-10,000/hr for a 4-lane freeway. Compare that to the capacity of a high-capacity subway line such as the NYCT Queens Blvd line, which peaks at 66,000 passengers/hr.

I'm not sure what CalTrain's maximum capacity is, but, I do note 12 trains during the peak 2-hour morning commute window. About 10 minute headway, which is about normal for an inter-city type train. For a subway-type line, headway can be 3 minutes, but, new control systems may be able to reduce that to as little as 1 minute.

Posted by Chris, a resident of University South
on Jan 23, 2011 at 9:22 am


Caltrain has farebox recovery of 45% while VTA has farebox recovery of 12%.

How many transit systems have farebox recovery of 45%.

You should rethink your knee-jerk reaction to Caltrain and start working on real solutions.

You complain when you think people are calling you names, but you seem impervious to facts.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2011 at 11:33 am

Maybe there's a way to put all these points together.
Caltrain is expensive. Raising prices and limiting trains/stops is a poor idea if the goal is long-term health of the system. I understand it would save costs in the short term. Staffing/pay -- I have no idea. Parking in SF (and yes, for work, in my experience yrs ago) is also very expensive. Some people need public transit or choose it for a variety of reasons. Rather than getting rid of an existing system I think it makes sense to try very hard to optimize Caltrain/that right of way -- increase ridership. (I don't come from a transit background so I am unsure how to do that, but I assume careful analysis should glean more ideas - do they benchmark with other similar transit systems??)
Also, Donald shares some incredible info about outrageously high costs of relatively minor highway improvements -- please see those figures above - my question as a taxpayer is are those figures very padded (owing to government bureacracy, union hiring requirements, etc., etc.) We all know government is far less efficient than business, maybe now is time to demand accountability for these seemingly high expenditures of tax money and not just accept these costs without close examination.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2011 at 8:01 pm

@ Chris:

You wrote: "You complain when you think people are calling you names, but you seem impervious to facts."

No, I simply don't like it when grownups stoop to using juvenile insults and insinuations.

You are making comparisons that no one else even cares about. Even with a 45% farebox recovery -- CalTrain is STILL complaining that they are in debt...again.

Again, I don't pretend to know the answers for the CalTrain problem. However, it is OBVIOUSLY a problem. When CalTrain officials complain three years in a row that they can't make ends meet (even after they raise taxes), then something is wrong.

I think that CalTrain should look into a real demand curve that could result with lower fares and higher ridership. Otherwise, we should make the people who use it pay for it...and no one else. It is pointless to keep saving a system year after year that only benefits 15,000 people in an area of more than 2 Million. If those statistics are correct, less than 1 in 100 people use CalTrain.

Posted by Rider, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 23, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Ridership is NOT 15,000. It is actually higher now than in the height of the trek to the city during the dot com days.

Ridership link: Web Link

By these numbers it is about $3 day more per rider to cover the deficit by a price increase alone. If the riders are serious about keeping this system up and running then $3 dollars a day will cover it. However, I'm sure there are some more creative solutions that can be thought of for the longer term to avoid this problem next year. Budget problems every where will be in a continual flux till there is less uncertainty with property taxes, state taxes, and state budgets. Our transportation infrastructure is in need of a COMPLETE renaissance and high-speed rail is NOT the answer. It's time to look at the whole system and not just the sum of the parts.

Posted by mr.x, a resident of Monroe Park
on Feb 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm

caltrain is the state's oldist train system in the state of california.opening day was on oct.17-18 1863.its was name the san francisco and san jose railroad.its was sold in 1870 to southern pacifc.then in 1980 southern pacific ask to make the j.p.bord. for over tens later.its become cal-tran.layoff start wen the j.p.b. out outsoucing all to cuts to make a very unheathy for the state.