Caltrain faces deep cuts, perhaps even closure

Caltrain's San Francisco station on Townsend is crucial to the regional transportation system.

Serious doubt was cast over the future of Caltrain today, with this vital commuter rail link threatened by the same funding cutbacks that are hobbling other regional transit agencies. The joint-powers agency might be forced to cut its service in half this summer – probably by eliminating night and weekend service -- or perhaps even shutting the system down.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is in a fiscal emergency and moving ahead with service cuts and small but controversial revenue enhancements, all approved Tuesday by its Board of Directors, and the nearby San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) are in similarly desperate straits.

Those three agencies run Caltrain, and all have had to scale back their funding commitments in order to preserve bus and light rail services in their core communities. "We're rapidly approaching a cliff," Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon told the Caltrain Board of Directors today, according to the San Mateo Times. "It's going to be very, very painful. It's probably going to force people back on congested freeways."

Caltrain spokesperson Mark Simon told the Guardian that the agency is fully funded through the current fiscal year that ends June 30, but after that, “I don’t know how long we can survive.”

“I don’t think I need to tell someone at the San Francisco Bay Guardian how bad things are at the SFMTA,” he said, adding that the situation is as bad or worse at the other two agencies, and that Caltrain has no other sources of operating revenue.

“That issue has come to a head and it’s come to a head because the state has zeroed out how much money it gives to public transit,” Simon told us. “What’s really heartbreaking is that this is a time when we should be adding service.”

Indeed, Caltrain has been moving ahead with plans to electrify its track, which would increase train speed and therefore system capacity while polluting less. But while it seeks federal grants for that capital project, the operating funds that have traditionally come from the state via SFMTA, VTA, and SamTrans have dried up (state and federal transportation funds are strictly divided between capital and operating funds).

Unlike Caltrain, SFMTA and many other transit agencies have the authority to put general tax measures on the ballot to fund transit services, but so far in San Francisco, neither Mayor Gavin Newsom nor the seven SFMTA board members he appointed have shown any leadership is doing so.  


So if Caltrain stop night and weekend service, I will be forced to buy a car. I couldn't risk being stuck at work if my boss needed me to stay late. Also, I'd have no reasonable way home to SF after a Sharks game, unless you consider the 180 bus departing at 11 pm and getting me home at 1 am reasonable. With Caltrain, I am usually home a little past midnight.

In effect, this is a hidden tax. They don't want to raise taxes to pay for services, so instead I get to go buy a car or start paying for more frequent rentals/car share usage. What a waste.


Posted by Mike on Apr. 01, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

Time to charge everyone who comes into SF with a car $10. Use those monies to fund alternative modes. This is not difficult. Mass transit is not supposed to be able to pay its way. That's like saying a public park should pay its own way.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 01, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

Who refuses to live the way that I decree.

We need to tax people who refuse to see the greatness of my greatness.

Bow before me and my superior values!

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 01, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

OK G.en, we won't charge you anything. But you'll have to start paying full price for everything you do. So, after considering the full price of oil -- oil wars like those in the Middle East, pollution including global warming, destruction of ecosystems to get the oil, oil spills, etc. -- gasoline will now be about $15/gallon. After all, why should we subsidize YOU to destroy the Earth?

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 03, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

You'd think with $3.25 gasoline, ridership would be soaring. Truth is, only 5% of the bay area uses mass transit, the same percentage as 1970. The public is saying what they think of mass transit but not using it in numbers large enough to support it. Caltrain shut down on weekends for an entire summer back in 2005, and nobody missed it. Time to pull the plug on these mass transit agencies and reduce people's taxes.

Posted by Guest carnak on Apr. 02, 2010 @ 2:56 am

So then, Carnak, your plan is to reduce taxes, shut down public transit, and let everyone drive on congested, crumbling roadways? And then I suppose we just all pray that Jesus comes back to save us before the oil runs out, the oceans rise, and the poor revolt? I think your plan could use some work.

Posted by steven on Apr. 02, 2010 @ 8:38 am

Lack of ridership is not a reason to shut down transit, it's a reason to improve it. The incredibly disproportionate funding of automobile infrastructure detriments transit's appeal as connectivity, reliability, access, and convenience are sacrificed in order to make room for more driving - all at an increasing rate (Vehicle Miles Traveled per person continues to rise all over the country, save the recession's impacts and Portland). As options are shrunk, no one wins.

And Glen, congestion pricing isn't some kind of act of spite or vengeance, it's just smart transportation policy. More demand for road space has been created than can ever be fulfilled, so everyone either continues to pay by sitting in traffic jams (i.e. no one wins) or those who need to (or can afford to) drive the most can use the freeways and bridges as intended - functionally. Prices should be according to market demand, only high enough to maintain good traffic flow. It's been proven successful time and time again in cities, most notably London and I've even seen a form of it in Florida. The Bay Area already alludes to it with bridge tolls that exempt high-occupancy vehicles.

We've been given free ice cream for so long, we just accept waiting in incredibly long lines rather than just paying. We price most everything else in this economy according to the market, why not driving?

The funds can go to improving transit options, and everyone wins.

Posted by Aaron Bialick on Apr. 03, 2010 @ 7:35 am

The Democrats in Sacramento are as responsible as anyone for cutting funding to public transportation. I will never again vote for Leno or anyone else who voted for this horrible budget that cut funding for public transit. What should have been cut instead is Caltrans, that evil road-building agency. As I responded to Glen above, make people pay the true price of driving and they'll all soon be on public transit.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 03, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

costs of what they choose to do, based on the superior values of egalitarian progressives.

Why don't people with children have to pay more in taxes instead of getting a tax cut, I don't hear "progressives" howling at the cost of schools and insisting that parents pay more. These children that we end up supporting through tax dollars often times grow up and buy cars. har.

There a whole host of things that people do that doesn't support itself through tax dollars, its just a few things that excite the progressive though when it works to their advantage.

I wonder what it's like to look at every issue as if it was the only issue in the world at that moment and not have a care in the world that your a naked opportunist?

Posted by glen matlock on Apr. 11, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

Simple economics. Make it expensive to drive cars, use the money to make the public transport more convenient and more people will automatically switch to public transport.

I think people driving their cars to work in the peninsula should thank the people who take public transport. It used to take 40min on a average for my one way commute and now it is taking me 1hour 20-25min. It is not cheap either (with a two zone monthly pass at 112.75$).

Posted by Guest John on Apr. 11, 2010 @ 8:33 am

The cost of providing CalTrain service for a handful of people has finally brought this ill-conceived and poorly managed system to its knees. The cost of this system has been foisted onto the backs of people who don't use it, or can't use it, through sales taxes and massive grants from the Federal and State governments. There is no one at CalTrain that can tell you how much money has been spent on this system, because they don't keep records in a way that will allow the public to know how much money has been given away to this system, or where the money has been spent.

The cost per ride for a VTA vehicle is about $6, with only $1.75 recovered at the farebox. The cost per ride of CalTrain has got to be somewhere around $100 with the farebox recovery of less than $2-10 per ticket.

This is a system guaranteed to fail.

Shut it down now before more millions have been flushed down this black hole.

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Posted by Eduardo on Jun. 29, 2010 @ 8:58 am

In a car, my commute from San Carlos to San Jose would be an hour each way on a good day, and 90 minutes if it rains or if the driver in front of me sneezes the wrong way. Riding Caltrain cut my commute time to 50 minutes and allowed me to read the whole time. If service is cut to Tamien, my life will go back to being stressful.

Driving, I'd started getting up at 5AM to leave by 6AM and beat traffic. But then I couldn't go home from work so early, so the evening commute in a car would always destroy me. Getting up at 5AM I never got enough sleep, on top of the horrible 101 drudgery. Eventually I have to believe that the horribleness of 101 will be enough incentive for people to start taking the train.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2011 @ 4:03 pm