Friday, December 31, 2010

Closing one eye when looking at Caltrain

In 2011, SamTrans is expected to slash its contribution by half, and if the others follow suit, it would lead to an estimated $30 million deficit and potential major cuts, like eliminating weekend and midday trains, Simon said.

Let's start with that sentence from the article. Who runs Samtrans? Mike Scanlon. Who runs Caltrain? Mike Scanlon. So, Mike is willing to not rob Peter to not pay Paul. (If you see what I mean.)

We all know that they are increasing fares and reducing service. More revenue in; less expenses out. Seems like a good idea. But will it head off that July 2011 projected $30 million deficit? Of course not. So, there's lots of public hand-wringing about whether Caltrain can survive.

Will there be layoffs at Caltrain? Will there be salary cuts at Caltrain? Will there be a re-negotiated benefits/pension plan at Caltrain? If so, why don't we hear about it? Because, if we're not told, it's probably not going on. In other words, by cutting service and increasing farebox income, Caltrain can continue to do business as usual.

What's the advantage of all this we-will-have-to-shut-down whining? You can see that with the new 'Friends of Caltrain.' The politicians who are leading this group are themselves very ambitious and eager to maintain a "railroad" leadership on the Peninsula. It makes great newspaper copy and keeps them highly visible. And they are eager to step in and "save" Caltrain. That's worth lots of votes. They intend to fill in for the high-speed rail project which was meant to bail out Caltrain by developing the Caltrain corridor. This, of course, was a totally illogical notion since there would be no increased subsidy revenues. The frequently promoted notion that electrification would reduce their deficit is laughable.

Now that HSR is no longer going to visit the Caltrain corridor for a long time, Caltrain is eager to find new friends to 'cadge' from. And, sure enough, here we come.

But, "Friends of Caltrain," what should friends be for? The answer to that question is embedded in the TV public service comment: "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." Caltrain is drunk, metaphorically speaking, on their comfortable income and too large headcount.

If we were really friends, we would ask them to get their house in order and sober up, before we provided our own tax dollars to keep them in business. Quid Pro Quo. Yes, Caltrain (or some more responsible organization) must continue the Peninsula commuter service. But, since so many of us love this phrase, let's just say that we should demand that they "do it right." It appears to me that our ambitious politicians don't have the cojones to do that.


Caltrain supporters aim for more stable funding

By: Shaun Bishop 12/29/10 9:00 Pm

Examiner Staff Writer

Caltrain needs a new stream of revenue such as a tax or toll in order to survive, according to business leaders and transit advocates planning a new push for funding.

Caltrain is the only transit agency in the Bay Area without a permanent, dedicated source of funds, and officials say that makes budgeting an annual challenge. As the agency faces a projected $30 million deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1, it needs the money now more than ever before in the agency’s 18-year history.

“The fact is if we don’t do it, there’s some question about whether or not Caltrain can survive,” said Mark Simon, Caltrain’s public affairs chief. “I think maybe it’s the first time it’s been clear to people that Caltrain’s future is clearly at risk.”

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, whose CEO led the campaign to extend BART to San Jose, is spearheading an invitation-only summit on the future of Caltrain on Jan. 21. A grass-roots group called Friends of Caltrain is holding its own public summit a week later on Jan. 29 at the SamTrans headquarters in San Carlos.

The groups plan to discuss the challenges facing Caltrain and brainstorm ways of establishing a new revenue source. Potential ideas include hikes in the sales tax, gas tax, property tax or an auto toll, though no voter polls on those ideas have been conducted yet. Some have suggested the 2012 ballot for a potential measure, Simon said.

About 40 percent of Caltrain’s $100 million operating budget comes from its three partner agencies — SamTrans, Muni and the Valley Transportation Authority — which are each facing their own budget troubles.

In 2011, SamTrans is expected to slash its contribution by half, and if the others follow suit, it would lead to an estimated $30 million deficit and potential major cuts, like eliminating weekend and midday trains, Simon said.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said a recession is not the best time to seek more money from voters, though he hopes the summits cast a spotlight on Caltrain’s problems.

“If you’re honest with the public, if you’re honest (about) your financial situation, the public will take a second look at it,” Hill said.

To make a revenue hike politically feasible, proponents will need to show clear benefits, such as more frequent service, said Andy Chow, president of the Bay Rail Alliance.

“So when we ask people for dedicated funding, they know they’re not just paying more for the same thing,” Chow said. “They’re paying more to get better things.”

Tracking the money

A breakdown of Caltrain’s funding for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2011:

$43.3 million: Farebox revenue

$7.9 million: Parking, shuttles, rental income and other revenues

$1 million: Contribution from Assembly Bill 434

$6.3 million: Operating grants

$35.1 million: Partner agency contributions (SamTrans, Muni, VTA)

$6.2 million: Other sources

$99.9 million: Total revenue

Closing the doors

Caltrain is raising fares and reducing service effective Jan. 1, 2011, to close a $2.3 million deficit in the current fiscal year’s budget.

Fare increase: 25 cents per zone

New cost of one-way San Jose to San Francisco ticket: $8.50 (up from $7.75)


Northbound trains: 237 and 257

Southbound trains: 236 and 256

Source: Caltrain

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