Caltrain officials proposed last Thursday to shut down up to 16 train stations in the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, as one potential option to address the projected $30 million deficit for fiscal year 2011.
The budget deficit is due, in part, to the fact that Caltrain is the only Bay Area transit system lacking a permanent dedicated source of funding. This lack of financial backing results in a continuing structural deficit, said Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn.
“A lot of people think public transportation either profits or breaks even,” Dunn said. “But what many people don’t know is that it’s actually heavily subsidized. For example, the fare only provides for about 44 percent of the cost of the ride. The additional 56 percent has to come from other sources.”
Caltrain receives funds from three primary sources: the San Mateo County Transit District, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Recently, state cuts in public transportation funding have led to decreased funding for Caltrain.
“[Our] partners have had to reduce their contributions,” Dunn said. “They are all transit agencies struggling to provide core transportation services. We don’t have the same resources we’ve had in the past.”
According to Dunn, these shutdowns, in total, could offset the deficit and leave an “affordable” deficit of $4.7 million.
But with 74 percent of Caltrain’s nearly 40,000 daily riders relying on the commute to get to work, Caltrain officials explored several proposals to minimize the impact that cuts would have on passengers.
Stops slated for closure were selected because they were the least used. These stops include South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Belmont, San Antonio in Mountain View, Lawrence in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and College Park in San Jose.
Last week’s proposal also looked at eliminating weekend and special event services, which means the closure of three more stations: the Stanford University stop, which is only used during football games; the weekend-only station at Atherton and the weekend-only station at Broadway in Burlingame.
Because this is the first time a proposal for closure has emerged for Caltrain, the commute provider is unsure about how shutdowns would impact “ghost” stations.
“[It] depends on the station,” Dunn said. “There’s a large shopping area at California [Ave.], so I’d imagine they might feel an impact. However, we don’t really know.”
Moreover, Caltrain does not have control over highways and streets, and therefore cannot change any impacts on vehicular traffic. Current services provided by Caltrain offset road congestion by accommodating 300 million passenger miles.
However, shutdowns are only the first stage of a larger process, said Dunn. Caltrain has its hands full with other proposals, including a 25-cent increase in one-way fares, and day and monthly passes across all zones. These increases would be tacked on top of price hikes implemented last year.
A public hearing will be held on March 3 to solicit feedback from residents and commuters.
Dunn said Caltrain’s board of directors is not expected to act until April. Changes will be implemented by July 2, the start of Caltrain’s fiscal year, in order “to get the most financial benefit from the changes,” Dunn later wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.