The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board will seek the public’s input in deciding which Caltrain stations should be closed as it sets to declare a fiscal emergency in March in light of its $30 million deficit.
Caltrain is considering the reduction of weekday trains from 86 to just 48 to run during commute hours only and the suspension of weekday service at up to seven stations including Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio, Lawrence, Santa Clara and College Park.
The stations considered for closure are the 10 lowest ridership stations on the line, said Caltrain spokesman Mark Simon.
Belmont Councilwoman Christine Wozniak urged the board to consider not closing any stations.
"Closing stations will turn people off,” she told the JPB at its meeting in San Carlos yesterday. "In the long term, it is not about who is riding the train now, but who will ride in the future. Cutting off any station will turn off riders.”
A number of factors will be considered when deciding which stations will close starting with public input, Simon said.
Other factors depend on the proximity of the stations to one another, the pattern of usage and overall ridership, Simon said.
Four public hearings will be held this month to gather input on which of the 10 stations should be closed and whether all service should be suspended south of the San Jose Diridon station, whether weekend service should be suspended and whether trains should run on holidays. Special event trains to Giants games may be eliminated and a 25-cent fare increase is being considered.
Caltrain lacks a dedicated funding source and relies on contributions from the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans), Santa Clara County’s Valley Transportation Agency and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to survive.
SamTrans is reducing its contribution to Caltrain by about $10 million this year due to its own financial struggles. Both VTA and MUNI will follow suit, pushing Caltrain’s deficit to the $30 million mark.
Caltrain has been operating under a fiscal emergency for years now, allowing it to bypass California Environmental Quality Act review to suspend the service and raise rates.
During yesterday’s meeting in San Carlos, JPB member Ken Yeager asked for some specifics as to why SamTrans was in such poor shape. Yeager is a Santa Clara County supervisor who serves Campbell, Santa Clara and parts of San Jose.
"SamTrans is really broke,” Executive Director Mike Scanlon said. "It is in very bad shape. Existing taxes do not support SamTrans.”
Much of SamTrans’ financial woes are related to paying off debt service for the BART to San Francisco International Airport extension.
"If we didn’t have the debt, we’d be better off,” Scanlon said. "Financial deficits don’t cure themselves.”
JPB member Omar Ahmad tried to simplify the complexity of how Caltrain is funded.
He used a roll of toilet paper, mentioned Napoleon and the British Parliament and spent about five minutes comparing Caltrain to Chinese paper makers dating back hundreds of years. It was a metaphor meant to simplify Caltrain’s funding complexity that gave Scanlon a hearty laugh but few others.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, who just joined the JPB representing her county, wanted to know what the impacts would be to local highways with Caltrain’s service reductions.
"More people will die if you take them out of trains and put them on highways,” Scanlon said.
Caltrain serves about 40,000 riders a day, currently.
Caltrain community meetings will take place at the following locations:
Monday, Feb. 14, 7 p.m.
San Jose City Hall, Council Chambers
200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
Wednesday, Feb. 16, 6 p.m.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Atrium
1 South Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Thursday, Feb. 17, 6 p.m.
Caltrain Headquarters, 2nd Floor, Auditorium
1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos
Thursday, Feb. 17, 6 p.m.
Gilroy Senior Center
7371 Hanna St., Gilroy
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.