Caltrain’s Board of Directors approved a set of fare increases last week that will raise up to $598,000 in farebox revenue. Caltrain will hike prices for its annual unlimited-ride Go Pass, paper one-way tickets and day passes, and special-event parking fees. Farebox revenues are projected to total $75 million in 2015, paying 60 percent of Caltrain’s $126 million operating budget.
Most of the new revenue will be raised by a 15 percent increase in fees for Caltrain’s Go Pass program, which currently provides discounted annual passes to 81 participating employers. Employers currently pay $165 per year per full-time employee (or a flat fee of $13,750, whichever is greater) to receive unlimited Caltrain rides for all of their employees for one year. This annual fee will rise to $180 per employee (or at least $15,120) on October 5, 2014, and then to $190 per employee (or at least $15,960) “beginning in 2016″.
This pricing structure makes the Go Pass program cost-effective only for larger employers, who can provide free Caltrain passes as a valuable employee perk. Introduced in 2003, the Go Pass program has generated a reliable and growing ridership base and increasing farebox revenue for Caltrain, with over 40,000 workers now eligible for the free passes. But as Go Pass expands, revenue per passenger trip declines, because the passes are sold at a deep discount compared to regular monthly passes — a growing concern as peak hour trains become increasingly crowded.
The higher Go Pass fees will generate an additional $600,000 for Caltrain in 2015 and $1 million in 2016, assuming that the number of total eligible employees remains stable. Even at the $190 per employee annual fee that Caltrain will charge in 2016, Go Passes are far cheaper than the private shuttles operated by some large Silicon Valley companies.
“Evidence suggests that employers would stay [in the Go Pass program],” wrote Friends of Caltrain Director Adina Levin last year, citing data from the Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) corresponding EcoPass.
But Caltrain is still probably leaving millions on the table, since even employers with high participation rates get a huge discount per employee compared to regular adult monthly fares. The largest participant in the Go Pass program, Stanford University, has seen the share of its faculty and administrative staff using Caltrain jump from just four percent in 2002 to 24 percent in 2013. With about 13,000 faculty and staff, Stanford now pays $2.2 million annually for Go Passes, or $700 per employee who actually take the train to work. Without this discount, the university would pay twice as much for two-zone monthly passes for its employees who use Caltrain, and three times as much for three-zone monthly passes.
In an effort to “incentivize use of the Clipper fare payment system”, Caltrain is also raising fares on paper one-way tickets and day passes. Passengers purchasing one-way paper tickets already pay a 25-cent premium over the fare paid with a Clipper transit card; that premium will rise to 50 cents. Prices for paper ticket day passes, currently sold for the equivalent of two one-way trips, will rise 50 cents. The fare changes will take effect on October 5.