Caltrain Service Cuts Could Be Mitigated With New MTC Plan

Flickr photo: Lucius Kwok

Communities from San Francisco to San Jose may be saved from much of the expected crippling Caltrain service cuts. A new Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) plan being developed could make up much of the agency’s budget deficit for the next two years, said MTC Public Information Officer John Goodwin.

A large chunk of the coming fiscal year’s $30 million budget deficit could be balanced using short-term funding sources like fare and parking fee increases, employee contributions, diverted capital funds, and collected money owed by other transit agencies, MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger told members at Wednesday’s Planning and Allocations Committee meeting. That could allow Caltrain to lessen the impacts of its expected budget cuts which would slash all but rush-hour train service and shut down up to seven stations.

“It’s late in the game, but the game isn’t over,” said Goodwin. Riders will still likely see “a reduction of service of some sort, but much less draconian than the proposal that has been the subject of public hearings in recent weeks,” he said. Approval of heavy cuts by the Caltrain Board next month seemed imminent without an alternative plan, but just what service would be retained by the new proposals is yet to be determined.

New hope for staving off the funding crisis means the Caltrain Board of Directors may postpone their vote until May. Goodwin said service reductions would still help make up about $10 million in the plan along with fare and parking fee increases as well as efficiency savings from an expiring contract with Amtrak. Capital funds reserved for system projects, including those for electrification and $5.5 million for the Dumbarton Rail project, are also being eyed for operational savings.

A fix for this fiscal year would allow time for the MTC, SFMTA, Valley Transit Authority (VTA), and SamTrans to broker a two-year plan to pursue long-term funding sources to fix the agency’s structurally unstable budget. Payments made to SamTrans on loans to the VTA and SFMTA, amounting to $8.9 million according to the Examiner, could be a part of that.

The agencies would also have time to pursue more permanent measures urged by riders, city officials, and other Bay Area organizations such as a regional gas tax, which could be seen on the November 2012 ballot.