Caltrain to Hold Public Hearings on Fiscal Emergency, Service Cuts

Up to 16 stations would no longer see Caltrain service under the latest proposal. Image: ##

The Caltrain Board of Directors has decided to hold a series of public hearings and community meetings before voting on a declaration of fiscal emergency and approving dramatic cuts that would slash service and potentially close up to 16 stations.

“Hopefully, we will be able to come up with additional funding sources before we are forced to implement drastic service changes,” Caltrain Executive Director Michael Scanlon said in a statement.

If approved, the cuts would become effective July 2 and include a reduction in weekday service from 86 to 48 peak-hour trains along with eliminating midday, evening, and weekend service altogether, according to Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn. The board is also considering a 25-cent base fare hike.

Under the latest proposal, the six stations south of San Jose Diridon Station would no longer see Caltrain service and up to seven of the ten following stations could be closed: Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio, Lawrence, Santa Clara, and College Park. Combined with three weekend-only stops, closures could affect a total of 16, or half of the system’s 32 stations.

Although Caltrain lacks a dedicated funding stream, it is considered one of the Bay Area’s most efficient public transit systems with a 47-percent farebox recovery, second only to BART [pdf]. Its administrative staff costs are among the lowest in the country at 6.4 percent of the budget. With the proposed service reductions, Caltrain would see its fiscal year 2012 deficit of $30 million reduced to $4.7 million.

Caltrain is offering the public a chance to comment at four community meetings. It will also hold a public hearing at the board’s next scheduled meeting on March 3.

Caltrain community meetings:

Feb. 14 – 7 pm. San Jose City Hall
200 East Santa Clara St., City Council Chambers, San Jose

Feb. 16 – 6 pm. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
1 South Van Ness, Atrium, San Francisco

Feb. 17 – 6 pm. Gilroy Senior Center
7371 Hanna St., Gilroy

Feb. 17 – 6 pm. San Mateo County Transit District
1250 San Carlos Ave., second floor auditorium San Carlos

  • What numbnuts schedules a public hearing on Caltrain at 7 PM on Valentine’s Day.

  • Mario Tanev

    Elimination of stops is a step in the right direction. But elimination of even limited-stop midday, evening and weekend service will seriously hurt ridership since riders would avoid Caltrain if it means getting stranded.

  • Morton


    Yes, every time I have taken CalTrain, I am stunned by how many stops there are. There must be 20 between SF and SJ, which means a stop every 2 miles.

    If they closed every other stop, then someone who is currently 0.5 miles from a stop would still be only 1.5 miles from another one.

    If this saves serious money and, of course, leads to faster journey times between the major centers, then surely it’s a no brainer.

    While the limited hours schedule, although regretable, could be reversed later, just as it was the last time it was implemented. I think taxpayers are a lot more willing to subsidize workers commuting than they are ladies who lunch or shop.

  • Ryan


    I have to come to Caltrains defense here. Caltrain stations are the centers of the walkable transit oriented district along the corridor. I know that for instance the Hayward Park station area has several mixed use and office developments in the plans. Caltrain stations are also the hearts of every peninsula downtown, making it a huge component in downtown revitalization and TOD.

    Caltrain has despite it’s limited resources managed a growing ridership and is a huge resource to the bicycling community. Destroying service won’t bring it to solvency, it’ll just make it harder to implement changes that have been in the works for decades to make peninsula corridor communities walkable and transit oriented, in the long run a death sentence.

  • Roger B

    This is absurd: one comment suggests that taxpayers would be OK with subsidizing commuters but not ladies who lunch…. As others point out, a good level of efficient public transportation helps the community; reducing traffic congestion and pollution, making it feasible for the able-bodied and the less able to get around all day long, seven days a week.

    Ryan therefore has it right; and we need to keep the service at a much higher level than these drastic proposals envisage. So yes, some tax money, higher fares, some service reduction and perhaps a few station closures … and ask Meg Whitman (Atherton’s richest resident) for a little help–after spending $150m. on a pointless and failed election campaign, she could show her sense of civic responsibility by becoming the “dedicated funding source” (referred to in the article). Her expenditure on the election alone would have saved Caltrain for 5 years, and we would not ask that much of her–just a partial contribution, say $5m. for a few years …

    Oh, pie in the sky, I know …

  • Morton


    I wasn’t trying to minimize CalTrain’s value and utility. Although I don’t depend on it on a daily basis, it has always worked well for me when I have chosen not to drive down to the peninsula.

    Rather, as with all things, it’s a matter of how to fund it to the extent that it cannot fund itself. So Roger’s support for:

    “some tax money, higher fares, some service reduction and perhaps a few station closures”

    . . seems the most prudent. It’s really Jerry Brown’s approach to CA’s deficit – a little bit of pain for everyone so that nobody has to suffer a lot of pain.

    Specifically, fares should be higher. Why does the 15 mile BART to SFO cost more than the 40 miles CalTrain to San Jose? The Peninsula is a wealthy area.

    But to the extent that taxpayers are being asked to pay more taxes to subsidize it, then a compelling narrative is needed. Because there are always competing needs for every dollar of tax revenue. It’s not going to be Meg (cute idea though) or any wealthy deus ex machina, but rather small amounts from many people, along with prudent cuts and fare enhancements as part of a remedial package.

    Longer term, as many have noted, it’s an over-engineeered service, and thought must be given to more appropriate rolling stock and motive power. Along with some type of integration of all Bay Area transit networks into a seamless, unitary and appropriately funded resource.

  • Caltrans has a $30 million deficit; Muni has a $21 million deficit, and Golden Gate Transit has a $132 million deficit. Nevertheless, the Federal government gave the California HSR project—a project increasingly unlikely to be built—$634 million last December.

  • That should be “Caltrain,” of course.

  • Rob, isn’t the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition somehow to blame for the Caltrain budget problems?

  • No, but like all good progressives the Bicycle Coalition supported the high-speed rail boondoggle in 2008.

    What’s the most important issue for the Bicycle Coalition on high-speed rail? Making sure the new system accomodates bicycles.

  • Elimination of stops is a step in the right direction? But eliminating some train runs is not? You know they amount to almost exactly the same thing, right?

    I’d say one of the myriad problems with Caltrain is that most of the station area spaces are reserved for cars, car parking, car idling, etc. If you could actually live in the vicinity of the Caltrain station and walk or bike there, we’d see a whole bunch more ridership. Then we wouldn’t have complaints from long-distance commuters about there being ‘too many stops’ — because every station would be super-important, we’d have tons more money, more political support, etc.

    Look at one of the most important stations in our transportation system — Millbrae — where BART and Caltrain meet. Huge parking garage, highways everywhere, El Camino Real is, as always, impenetrable.

    YouTube and other companies are located about 1.3 walking miles from the San Bruno Caltrain Station – but who in their right mind would walk it? And who would bike it? And what’s at the station? Parking. Everywhere. Bike lanes? C’mon. Bike lanes on El Camino Real? C’mon.

    The highest-ridership train line in the nation is the conventional rail line in the northeast (the one with hella stops) — not the high speed-ish Acela line. We need to establish real walk- and bikesheds around every Caltrain station — 2 and 5 miles, respectively. We talk a lot about BART stations completely sucking — being car-dominated to the exclusion of everything else — but what about Caltrain? The downtowns are empty.

    Burlingame Station — what’s there? Parking. Lots of it. And a ginormous, high-speed intersection at Broadway and California – complete with Chevron station on the corner. Nice touch.

    Shoot – went down to Redwood City the other night. Beautiful. And it was a ghosttown. Unbelievable. It looked like The Plague had ripped through the town — where was everybody? I dunno, but they got a lot of parking down there, and I know I couldn’t find any housing when I looked a couple of years ago — it was all on the wrong side of El Camino Real — we gotta get serious about allowing people to walk and bike to and from Caltrain.

    I say just add another quarter or two per fare zone — if you’re riding the caltrain, you can afford it — forget all this nonsense about cutting stations and runs — we need better (and possibly more) stations, more runs, possible more limited/express runs, etc.

  • Morton


    All well and good, but you are suggesting nothing less than a massive investment in turning the existing infrastructure upside down, and removing all convenient vehicular access to the stations, all in the hope that at some point in the future, enough nearly housing will be built to provide greater ridership for walkers and bikers.

    The problem is that we can’t get there from here. And it will only ADD to the fiscal woes of CalTrain if we ideologically remove all car parking in some misguided stab at sustainable nirvana.

    Right now, we need short-term solutions to the 30 million annual operating deficit, and not pie-in-the-blue-sky thinking about how we’ll all live in 2050. We need to fix the mess or there won’t be any permanent way on which to build your grandiose schemes in the futute.

    Closed stations can later be reopened. Axed non-peak services can later be restored. But keep running deficits of 600K per week and pretty soon there won’t be a CalTrain at all. We need to stop the bleeding or the patient will die.

  • All well and good, but you are suggesting nothing less than a massive investment in turning the existing infrastructure upside down, and removing all convenient vehicular access to the stations, all in the hope that at some point in the future, enough nearly housing will be built to provide greater ridership for walkers and bikers.

    exactly wrong, but proceed…

    The problem is that we can’t get there from here. And it will only ADD to the fiscal woes of CalTrain if we ideologically remove all car parking in some misguided stab at sustainable nirvana.

    again, exactly wrong, but please continue…

    Right now, we need short-term solutions to the 30 million annual operating deficit, and not pie-in-the-blue-sky thinking about how we’ll all live in 2050. We need to fix the mess or there won’t be any permanent way on which to build your grandiose schemes in the futute.

    bike lanes == grandiose. got it.

    Closed stations can later be reopened. Axed non-peak services can later be restored.

    sure — anything that gets taken away can come back sometime in the future. that usually works out well.

    But keep running deficits of 600K per week and pretty soon there won’t be a CalTrain at all. We need to stop the bleeding or the patient will die.

    i suggested we just raise the fares again — a quarter per zone, two quarters, five dollars, whatever it takes to at least keep all existing stations and services — done and done. discounts for students and other fixed-income folks.

    send a strong message to Joint Powers Board of Suck — we got your money right here — keep them trains rollin — now, let’s talk about revenue-generating station design, let’s talk about TIF, let’s talk about being able to walk and bike to the station.

    once people start paying to use Caltrain then maybe they’ll think about joining an advocacy organization like SFBC or the STFU — no more freeloaders.

    hearing upper-middle class people bellyache about tiny fare increases really gets to me — just raise and pay the increased fares so we can start concentrating on how to fix the long-term funding/improvement/expansion issues. if we need to freeze hikes in the future, we’ll do it.

    other than that, i’m more than a little bit fatalistic/nihilistic about Caltrain — do Caltrain riders want to sacrifice Caltrain to the gods by chopping stations and service? fine by me — i’m a full-time driver these days and only rely on the Caltrain occasionally — avoiding ahole Caltrain conductors is not a problem for me.

    the yuppies that ride the Caltrain ain’t gonna do jack until their service is cut, and then you know what they’ll do? nothing. that’s right — because they’re order-takers — grocery store clerks. they’ll drive and moan and maybe even carpool, but they’ll never challenge authority by showing up to a meeting — it’s been educated out of them. obedience is now who they are. i’m tired of advocating on behalf of these lazy, greedy, self-absorbed people. if they want to let their stations and service go down the drain, more power to them.

    and, we all need a good kick in the ass. what happens if much of the existing Caltrain service and stations are saved, at least temporarily? we get some long-term funding to being it back up to ‘Bulgarian standards’? then what?

    nothing. it’ll be business as usual. walk and bike access to the stations? nope — too ‘grandiose’.

    so let’s have the upper-middle class feel a little pain for a change. let’s see if the 101 actually backs up. and if it does, let’s use that to get decongestion pricing implemented. let’s let everyone with a job to go to do a little soul searching. let’s talk about how awesome all those luxurious private shuttle buses really are.

  • Sean H

    SAMTRANS runs parallel service along El Camino, passengers can transfer to a bus that serves the stations that are due to be cut. Caltrain is pulling a trick out of the Governators grab bag: Cut something dear to people in the auspice of budget cuts, then when the outcry ensues, people will be ready to actually raise taxes or implement new fees.

    These cuts, when they are finally implemented, may finally show the Peninsula how much they have taken the train for granted. The stations will eventually reopen, and targeted train service will return. I’d love to save everything with some sort of magical gold brick, but I don’t see it happening soon.

  • You folks are looking for a villain in the CalTrain cuts, but, like every other transportation system in the Bay Area, its deficit is due to the recession. Every system is subsidized by the taxpayers, since fares are not enough to pay for their operation and maintenance, which is why the Feds are irresponsible for giving $634 million to CHSR for a system that will never be built.

  • Peter – as someone who has used and abused Caltrain for 13 years, I disagree with your assessment, both at a micro and macroscopic level.

    San Bruno station is on Huntington Ave which is an excellent road to cycle on, and has a lot of housing on it. On the East side of the tracks there is substantial housing. The downtown area is near the station. I’d still get rid of it – it’s very close to exact duplicative service at Millbrae and also San Bruno BART (if MTC got their act together San Bruno BART can operate as a de facto Caltrain station, fare wise, and reasonably with timed transfers).

    The El Camino access to Millbrae Caltrain/BART is pretty gnarly, but if you approach from the East side of the tracks the path is pretty serene, accessing the BART lot via a road that is closed to cars. The parking lot is plenty excessive, certainly.

    Redwood City’s downtown has implemented demand based parking prices.

    Broadway and California is nowhere near Burlingame Caltrain. California itself is a good cycling road (Sharrowed) from Millbrae to Broadway, and the left onto Broadway followed by the right onto Carolan is not a big problem, and Carolan is a decent road. Following Broadway to get to the bike bridge over 101 is not super duper, one can agree.

    San Mateo, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cal Ave – all of these stations are smack dab in the middle of large amounts of housing and retail. The bike lane running on Evelyn from MV to Sunnyvale is posh. Menlo to PA has the very serene portion of Alma, from PA you have the Bryant Boulevard. Needless to say these are some of the highest ridership stations in the system.

    Lawrence actually has some housing near it but for the most part it serves commuters. Commuters that would be served better – on the whole – if their corporate shuttles picked them up from an express train to Sunnyvale, very little is walkable from Lawrence. Well, I’ve walked it but it’s unpleasant.

    Belmont and Hayward Park could easily be removed and not be missed if SamTrans really planned the feeder routes to San Carlos/Hillsdale.

  • Morton


    When you write that “we just raise the fares again — a quarter per zone, two quarters, five dollars, whatever it takes to at least keep all existing stations and services”, it would be helpful to know exactly what level of fares would be needed to balance the books.

    There is a real danger that the required level of fares to be self-funding is so high that ridership would decline. I can drive to the south peninsula and back for probably ten dollars worth of gas, so if the round-trip CalTrain fare was $20, that’s a worthwhile saving, especially when you throw in the convenience, ability to take others, carry more and run side errands.

    My guess is that whatever the fare level, the numbers won’t add up. So the real solution involves pain for everyone – higher fares, cuts in services and whatever the taxpayers are willing to chip in.

    One thing they could do is simplify the fares. How about just $5 one-way for 20 miles and less – $10 one-way for over 20 miles. No gimmicks.

  • JD


    I think you are too harsh, but you have one point: I was at the Friends of Caltrain meeting a couple weeks ago and the demographic there was very different from the demographic on all those commuter bullets. The trains are full of young dot-commers but the meeting was full of middle-aged (and older) suburbanites who really only care about Caltrain for the one-off trips they make to the city (like Giants games) and not for day-to-day commuting. Don’t get me wrong, they are totally right to be supporting it even for one-off things and I’m thankful they came out, but what is not okay is that the main riders were barely represented at this meeting. Of course, it didn’t help it was in San Mateo and at 9am on a Saturday morning. But throughout the whole meeting I kept thinking: “where are all the people who are *really* going to be hurt by this? Why aren’t they here getting involved?”

    And unfortunately, I think you are right: they will just drive (maybe even carpool) or take their company private shuttle. I don’t think they care all that much, and there is a certain apathy there. They also take it for granted, I believe.

    But regardless, that point is moot as to the relevancy of Caltrain. There are plenty of other institutions and services, much less public transit systems, which people in this country don’t come out and actively support. Hell, we can barely get people to vote. So it’s not really a Caltrain problem, but just a problem of our self-centered society.

    Finally, I totally disagree about raising fares (again!). Sure, a lot of people on Caltrain can afford it. But so can most people driving! I think it is utterly insane that those members of our society who choose to commute in the most environmentally-friendly and healthy manner always get hammered the hardest. All public transit systems in the Bay Area have had their service cut and/or fares raised. For many people, it is a huge sacrifice, especially when you are talking about cuts like Caltrain is proposing. Meanwhile, the car drivers pay absolutely nothing and sacrifice nothing! Zip. They are trashing the planet with one of the most inefficient, dangerous, and noisy forms of transit, yet we never consider closing a few lanes on the freeway, or a few exits, or some local roads. Of course, that would be silly, but would be logical would be a gas tax … which hasn’t been raised in 20 years. That is just nuts when we know how much damage cars are causing and how much they are very subliminally subsidized.

    You can complain what you want about Caltrain or even their riders, but all those things apply (if not more so) to drivers, yet the latter have made no sacrifices and are in fact traveling in a much less efficient and unhealthy form of transit. That is the problem I have. We ALL need to be making sacrifices when the budget is tight, not just those who take public transit.

  • @JD – my experience pushing for the Weekend Bullets, and working on petition drives for expanded bike capacity, shows full well that the commuter ridership does care.

  • JD


    That’s good to hear. I was talking to another fellow commuter at the Friends of Caltrain meeting, though, and she also brought up the same point: where is everybody who rides all the time?! It was quite noticeable. Maybe it was just that one meeting … but it was a pretty important meeting (I don’t know how much more dire it can get), so I was expecting a better turnout from the commuter crowd. Maybe they were all at home writing letters to their elected officials and press to save Caltrain!

  • JD


    Another point I forgot to make: it would take a LOT more than 25 cents/zone to make up a $30 million budget deficit. They used 25 cents/zone, increased the Go pass, cut staff at the ticket offices, and cut a handful of trains and still only plugged a couple million dollar deficit. If they were to plug $30 million, it would be at least several dollars per zone increase, and that will be an utter disaster for ridership. There is a tipping point where fare increase leads to enough decreased ridership that you start losing money, and I would argue that they are already very close to that optimal point. They might be able to do another 25 cents/zone, but that will not do nearly enough.

    Morton wrote: “I can drive to the south peninsula and back for probably ten dollars worth of gas, so if the round-trip CalTrain fare was $20, that’s a worthwhile saving, especially when you throw in the convenience, ability to take others, carry more and run side errands.”

    But you’ve externalized the true cost of your driving; it’s not just the cost of gas. You have to also include wear and tear on your car and the resulting maintenance costs, car depreciation, insurance costs, and vehicle registration. All that adds up to ~$0.50/mile. So that means a 70-mile roundtrip from SF to the peninsula really costs you ~$35 in your car. Compare that to Caltrain and Caltrain is a pretty good deal.

    On top of that, that is still externalizing the car’s pollution, its contribution to the obesity epidemic, its destruction of the livability of our cities, the increase in unsustainable sprawl, and the horrendous noise that dominates the soundscape of our cities (and not just engine noise, but over-used horns, useless car alarms which I swear have never once prevented a single break-in and only piss everyone off, and thumping overpowered stereos). And then there are all the government subsidies to oil companies and to our roads … yes, public transit gets subsidies too, but it’s just amazing how we always pretend like cars don’t.

    Further, there are benefits to the car that you mentioned like being able to run side errands and having more flexibility (though “taking other people” is not a benefit: a train or bus can do that too!), but there is a *huge* benefit to the train: you can relax, read, get work done, watch a movie on your laptop, have a meal (with a beer), or even sleep. In a car your time is mostly wasted, and you are usually stressed out having to worry about traffic and getting maimed or killed in a violent collision.

    My point is that people aren’t performing a fair analysis of the pros and cons of car vs train. When you do that, unless you live very far from the train station, the train usually wins out. One thing I would like to see Caltrain do a better job of is marketing these points. Let people know that, yeah, a car has such and such benefits, but check out all these benefits the train has and all these disadvantages the car has that you probably haven’t thought about.

  • thielges

    Though Morton incorrectly computes the cost of driving, we should be aware that many people make a similar error when comparing transportation costs. It is one of the reasons why driving is so popular, motorists are fooling themselves about the true costs.

    Also consider that the sunk costs of car ownership and insurance influence decisions to drive. The several thousands of dollars invested in a car can’t easily be applied towards any other modes. Almost everyone in the USA invests in a car whether or not they use it every day.

    These two factors (underestimating the costs of driving and pre-investiment in automobiles) handicap other modes of transportation from gaining a greater share.

  • Another point I forgot to make: it would take a LOT more than 25 cents/zone to make up a $30 million budget deficit.

    i ‘ran the numbers’ on a scrap of paper at that Saturday Caltrain meeting and i saw a $1 increase on a per-trip basis raising 2/3 of the shortfall. so a 25 cent per zone increase would probably only get us 1/4 to 1/2 of the way there (i’m guessing, based on the average number of zones that people travel — probably 1.5 to 2). so, increase it to $1 per zone or whatever is necessary to cover the shortfall. no tears.

    as a practical measure, i say we immediately increase per-zone fares 50 cents. but it has to get done right now. we don’t have time for months of meetings. after 6 months, we raise it another 50 cents per zone, if we can do it, based on ridership projections. i suspect the ridership will continue to be there, because driving is horrific, parking is going to be horrific, and both are only going to get worse, and as we manage to engage transit riders, we’ll be increasing the cost of driving significantly. not to mention, the ‘dictator discount’ on oil/gas might be disappearing soon.

    if you don’t raise fares at least 50 cents per zone, then you’re missing the point of the exercise. it’s supposed to hurt. we need our coddled brothers and sisters to feel the pain. it’s time to spread the love.

    if people want to drive, they can drive — there’s nothing wrong w/ that. have fun. Via con Dios, amigos!

    this is not city bus service — Caltrain riders are not desperately poor like our brothers and sisters who are forced to ride the bus — this is heavy rail — time to pay up. people getting on in SJ get a round-trip ticket to SF for less than $20? that’s a steal — deal of a lifetime. take a small sliver of that IT/web nerd/professor/biotech paycheck and hand it over to the Joint Powers That Be. drink office coffee once per week.

    Here are the current fares for number of zones traveled thru (each way):

    1 Zones = $02.50
    2 Zones = $04.50
    3 Zones = $06.50
    4 Zones = $08.50
    5 Zones = $10.50
    6 Zones = $12.50

    Caltrain is practically free.

    After a 50 cents per zone increase, we’ll have this rate structure:

    1 Zones = $03.00
    2 Zones = $05.50
    3 Zones = $08.00
    4 Zones = $10.00 (SJ SF day pass for only $20!)
    5 Zones = $13.00
    6 Zones = $15.50

    That means if you live in San Jose, you _still_ get to SF and back for just $20 a day. Incredible. And that doesn’t include the discounts for monthly passes. And lots of folks get to buy tickets on pre-tax money, on corporate accounts, etc.

    * 36,778 average weekday ridership
    * let’s say they each pay $1 more per trip (this might be 75-cents per zone)
    * they all ride two trips each day (one in each direction)
    * smooth over the weekends — i.e. assume avg daily ridership of 30,000

    so that’s $60k a day (30,000 riders * 1 dollar each trip * 2 trips)
    that’s $420k a week ($60k a day * 7 days)
    $420k/wk additional revenue raised

    if our weekly deficit is only $600k/wk, then the $420k/wk in additional revenue gets us more than 2/3 of the way there.

    the other money will show up if and when caltrain riders decide to cowboy up the first 2/3.

    and where’s my bar car?!

  • “increase it to $1 per zone or whatever is necessary to cover the shortfall”

    I – for one – would stop riding. I’d just ride my bike the whole way – gas prices/driving/whatever would be a non-issue. In a pinch I can cross the Dumbarton and take BART home.

    The assumption that everyone riding Caltrain is a highly salaried worker is a misnomer. Worse – a lot of the ridership is a *future* recipient of a IT/web nerd/professor/biotech paycheck currently being paid next to nothing to work on their PhD at Stanford and can’t afford the housing in Palo Alto/Menlo Park. Overall I see more Secretaries than Programmers. Remember that a big chunk of the illuminati at our most visible companies no longer ride the train, they get door to door bus service.

  • thielges

    Make that two. Actually depending on how many spurious tickets to Gilroy that I end up buying due to forgotten Clipper tag-offs I might stop riding even without a third fare increase this year.

  • JD


    I totally disagree: you raise fares as much as you are proposing, ridership will drop significantly. I already have friends who I try to convince to take Caltrain, and everybody’s reaction when they hear the ticket price is exactly the same: wow, that’s a lot. Especially when they hear how infrequent it is outside of rush hour, and how long the non-bullets take. As I’ve pointed out, it’s still a better deal than driving when you don’t externalize the longer-term costs of automobiles. But the reality is, we’re not going to change in 6 months how people think about driving versus taking the train. I would agree that you might be able to do another 25 cents/zone, maybe even 50 cents, but I think it’s a disaster if you go higher. And 50 cents/zone will not get you anywhere near solving this problem.

    By the way, Caltrain is already including a fare increase on July 1 in ADDITION to slashing service:

    At the Friends of the Caltrain meeting, Caltrain pointed out that they are already planning on running a couple million dollar deficit this year EVEN AFTER all the proposed slashes to service, fare increase, and shuttering of stations. Even if it was ethically appropriate (and I argue it’s not while car drivers are not also ponying up), there is no way the public — especially those not already using Caltrain who we want to encourage to use Caltrain — are going to pay for the amount of increased fares required to keep Caltrain afloat.

    It’s funny how easy it is to raise public transit fares but how hard it is to make driver’s pay their share. The utter domination of the automobile at the expense of all other forms of transit is epitomized by how hard it is to get drivers to sacrifice while public transit users are regularly forced to sacrifice.

    thielges: yep, totally agree about Clipper. Even though I argue that most people won’t tolerate much more of increase in fare, I personally would. However, the ridiculous Clipper card charge when you forget to tag off truly might do me in as well (especially given how convoluted the whole system is: making you wait 3-5 business days for transactions to go through, only being able to see 60 days history online, not being able to check your balance on your card at a reader without it automatically tagging you on/off, not being able to add value to the card at the station, the poor location of the readers at Caltrain stations, the weird way monthly passes work on Caltrain with only having to tag on/off the first day when everybody will forget because they don’t do it the other 29 out of 30 days of the month, and just the overall really poor way the card has been explained to the public). I can handle a buck more a day, but not a 100% increase in my fare. You simply cannot design a system that punishes basic human nature (forgetting). Controlled-access subways solve this because you are forced to go through a gate which won’t open unless you “tag off”. The only way you can “forget” is you are intentionally trying to scam the system. Caltrain doesn’t work like this, so they need to rethink this ridiculous punishment for basic human nature.

  • Morton

    JD and Thielges,

    I perfectly understand the distinction between computing the incremental cost of a single journey, i.e. the gas, and computing the fully-loaded cost per mile of owning and running a car.

    However, many of those “fully loaded costs” of running a car apply whether my car is being used or sitting in a garage, so the true distinction is some middle value.

    No way I am giving up my car no matter how good BART and CalTrain are.

    So it does come back to the marginal costs of taking any given trip. And if it’s 10 bucks to sit in my car, and 20 bucks or more to take the J to CalTrain and walk half a mile at the other end, CalTrain doesn’t look so hot.

    Which is why I agree with the others here who asserted that the 30 million cannot be covered on the backs of the riders. Meaning, to the extent that the taxpayers regard other priorities as more important, that service cuts will have to make up the difference.

  • I’m all for cutting it out completely if we mitigate the congestion issues going to Palo Alto by running an elevated 4 lane freeway through Martin Engle’s backyard.

  • Make that two.

    Yes, just like Alec Baldwin and millions of other Americans moved to Canada when Bush was elected. it’s all talk.

    you want caltrain on that track. you need caltrain on that track. we use words like “baby bullet”, “loyalty”, and “per-zone-fare-increases”. we use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something (namely, a Bulgarian-grade train system.). you use them as a punchline!

    people think the don’t need caltrain — fine — i say let them find out the hard way. the world abounds with stories of lovers who thought they could get by just fine without their better half, only to come skulking back, cap in hand:

    Flat-leaver: I’m sorry, baby! I need you! I was wrong! Please forgive me!

    ___Caltrain: Hahaha. Get lost. I’m enjoying my new-found time.

    Flat-leaver: Bu-bu-bu-bu….

    ___Caltrain: You and that flusie/flunkie, Hyundai or Trek or whatever, are a match made in heaven.

    Flat-leaver: I’ll do whatever it takes! I’ll buy you diamonds and pearls!

    ___Caltrain: You really don’t get it, do you? We are over. Spiral of death. Ever heard that phrase before? O.V.E.R. I am never coming back. You ruined a good thing, baby. Comprende? Capiche? Now beat it.

    I totally disagree: you raise fares as much as you are proposing, ridership will drop significantly.

    i’m guessing that someone has done some price elasticity-type research for Caltrain — even some very informal ‘research.’ actually, i take that back — that’s probably never been done because that would have been relatively easy and inexpensive and it would have made a lot of sense.

    well, there’s one way to remedy that situation — experiment! jack up the prices and see what happens. do a quarter a zone today. wait two months and see what the results are. do it again every couple of months until revenue generation peaks. that’s the hard way to do it, of course, but maybe drawing some numbers on a napkin is too difficult for the self-declared geniuses and go-getters of the Bay Area?

    I already have friends who I try to convince to take Caltrain, and everybody’s reaction when they hear the ticket price is exactly the same: wow, that’s a lot.

    i agree with that. i don’t have an easy solution for that.

    i think the same thing when someone tells me they pay $2.00 or whatever it is now for a ride on the SF or SJ city bus. i’m like, “Holy gadzooks! They charge you to ride that thing?! What kind of sick, twisted…”

    I believe that’s what a lot of bikers in SF and SJ think — “lemme see, ride by bike to my destination and eat lunch today, or ride the bus? Yeah — looks like I’ll be eating lunch today!”

    if u got someone without walk/bike access to a caltrain station, and they got a relatively easy commute by car, and they don’t pay for parking, and there are no other costs of driving like pollution charges and decongestion pricing, etc., then you’re not going to find converts there. look elsewhere.

    look for people, for instance, who would love to use Caltrain, but the stations are inaccessible from where they live and work. think of how many folks could get to Redwood Shores from the San Carlos and other stations if there was only a way to get from the Caltrain to Redwood Shores without fearing for your life. someone at SVBC did a google map showing what theoretical bikesheds around every Caltrain stop would look like — if we did that, we’d add thousands of potential new Caltrain riders.

    on the walk/bike access component, i think of California Ave in Palo Alto. they’re about to rebuild the street in a way that does little to nothing for bikes — or possibly even makes it worse for bikes, if that’s even possible. if we had serious people in charge, they would make sure this underutilized strip of land between the California Ave Caltrain Station and El Camino Real is made walkable and bikeable first, but instead it’s going to be made more…something, i’m not sure what.

    other than that, lots of folks want to talk about ‘sacrifice’ — like it’s only drivers who should sacrifice. “Don’t they know all the negative externalities of driving and the ‘true cost’ of abandoning public transport?!” … said the people who are threatening to abandon public transport.


    other than all this, the Barcar and other ideas like that are important because they can help us focus on the true selling points of riding dignified transit (to the extent that riding Caltrain could be considered dignified). trying to make public transit/caltrain compete with private cars on private cars’ terms is just a bad idea — it’s a recipe for FAIL — so don’t do it. sell what only Caltrain can:

    * try our new Barcar!
    * meet new people (Facebook has shown us that people want to connect, and any time you can give Americans a chance to meet people they can eventually/possibly/hopefully have sex with, we should market that.)
    * business meetings
    * hackathons!
    * meet the other co-founder of your future company!
    * full wifi access!
    * catch up on Mad Men!
    * catch up on your feed reader!
    * leave that long comment on Streetsblog!
    * network to find a new job
    * relax — enjoy the art, and spare your heart
    * enjoy a cosmopolitan lifestyle
    * even a little bit of exercise can make you _much_ healthier
    * enjoy your walk! enjoy the street life! listen to the birds! enjoy the weather!
    * save the polar bears!
    * keep SF above water!
    * discounts on patchouli oil!
    * Caltrain — it’s a train — everybody loves trains!
    * more!

  • thielges

    Peter – You’re right, I wouldn’t stop riding Caltrain altogether. I’d still ride on rainy days. You’re familiar with price elasticity so it should be no surprise that raising fares will drive away customers. I’m not saying that raising fares is or isn’t a the right thing to do but we should be aware of the effects.

    Morton – I guess I wasn’t clear. I do acknowledge that the sunk costs of car ownership skew peoples decisions to drive when other modes would be better. It is still a false economy.

  • JD

    Morton wrote: “However, many of those “fully loaded costs” of running a car apply whether my car is being used or sitting in a garage, so the true distinction is some middle value.”

    Some, but not most. Wear and tear is proportional to how much you drive, and that is the biggest contributor (along with fuel). Further, insurance costs depend significantly on how much you drive. Finally, the environmental footprint and contribution to obesity is still massively reduced if you own a car but rarely drive it. So yes, it’s true that you will still need to pay registration costs and maintain insurance even if you only drive your car once a year, but it still is significantly cheaper to own a car but barely drive it than to own it and drive it all the time. And so if you own a car but rarely use it, maybe $0.50/mile is too high for comparison purposes. But I would imagine it’s still around at least $0.40/mile. But even at $0.30/mile, Caltrain still wins.

    Morton wrote: “So it does come back to the marginal costs of taking any given trip. And if it’s 10 bucks to sit in my car, and 20 bucks or more to take the J to CalTrain and walk half a mile at the other end, CalTrain doesn’t look so hot.”

    Obviously there is a breaking point for everybody. But the point is, in order to determine correctly where that breaking point is, people need to properly be considering all the advantages and disadvantages, and people do not do that. For example, my commute is about 2.5 hours roundtrip every day. If I just leave it at that, everybody is like, “Holy crap, that is insane!” But they are saying that because there are assuming it’s in a car (which would indeed be miserable). But then I point out that: 1) most of that is on a train so I’m getting stuff done so it’s not at all a waste of my time, and 2) the rest is riding my bike which is getting exercise which is a fantastic use of my time! I argue that even though I spend 2.5 hours “commuting” every day, hardly a minute is wasted and I’m much better off for it. Now take driving: I could do it in less time (1.5-2 hours roundtrip), but that time is essentially completed wasted.

    So you have to consider these things. We all need to get more exercise, and to say that it’s not worth walking 2 miles roundtrip every day on both ends of a train commute, when we all should be spending at *least* that much time exercising every day (hell, people will use the time “saved” by driving to then go to the gym and walk or ride a bike in place!). We as a society are not properly weighing the benefits of not driving, and it has completely distorted how we think about public transit. All we value is speed, ease (laziness), and immediate short-term costs, even if it literally kills us and costs us weigh more in the long-run.

    I know I’m getting off topic, but the point is: we all need to start making the comparison fair between cars and public transit and start looking at the bigger picture. It just isn’t about how quick you get there if part of the time is spent working, reading, or exercising, and it isn’t just about immediate costs if the longer-term costs are being ignored.

    Which is why I agree that we can’t make Caltrain riders shoulder all this deficit through fare increases. Caltrain riders are already shouldering more than their fair share compared to car drivers, and it’s time to equalize the playing field.

  • @JD – The more you drive, the more likely you are to get into an accident or get a speeding ticket. A speeding ticket costs a lot of money – the fine and increased insurance costs. If you go to Traffic School instead (still $$$), you are using time that should be factored into your commute time. Even an accident where you are not at fault will cost you a big chunk of time, loss of use of your vehicle, hospitalization, etc…

  • Unlike other transit systems, most of Caltrain’s money comes from fares. The rest comes from other Bay Area transit agencies that are also in the red:

    “Caltrain spokesman Christine Dunn said the agency’s biggest fiscal problem is the lack of a dedicated funding stream. Caltrain’s budget is made up nearly entirely of fare revenue and funding contributions from its three transit partners — Muni, SamTrans and the Valley Transportation Authority. Those agencies are struggling with their own budget deficits, resulting in lower-than-normal contributions to Caltrain. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, contributions from those three agencies amounted to 43 percent of Caltrain’s budget. This fiscal year, they dropped to 34 percent and are expected to decrease again for the following fiscal year, which begins July 1.With its $30 million projected shortfall, Caltrain’s deficit is expected to be nearly 30 percent of its $102 million budget.”

  • jd

    FYI, this the working schedule that Caltrain will propose to kick in July 2nd and which incorporates cutting back from 86 train per day to 48 and closing 10 stations:

    Absolute disaster ….

  • Morton


    Yes, I do fully understand how to load and attribute the full cost of driving on a per mile basis. My point was rather that, even if people know they should do that, the reality is that they don’t.

    On any given day, and particularly if the journey isn’t a daily one, most folks tend to compare the cost of a train or bus fare to the cost in gas of driving because, on a per-journey basis, that’s the incremental cost.

    And if there’s gas in the car, driving is perceived as “free”.

    Meanwhile, 48 trains a day still isn’t bad – presumably that’s the more than 50% of the current schedule that are currently the most used. It’s still three trains an hour on average over the day. So bad? A disaster?

  • jd

    Morton wrote: “Meanwhile, 48 trains a day still isn’t bad – presumably that’s the more than 50% of the current schedule that are currently the most used. It’s still three trains an hour on average over the day. So bad? A disaster?”

    You obviously don’t ride Caltrain regularly. Would it be a disaster if we closed half the lanes on the freeway starting at 8:30am and until 4pm? And let’s also close every other exit?

    First, in the proposed schedule, the last train leaves SF at 8:30am. That’s ridiculous. On the freeways, rush hour is going strong until at least 9:30am.

    Second, right now there are 3 trains that are part of the morning commute which leave SF after that, one at 8:44, 8:59, and 9:07, and since they got rid (as of Jan 1) of the one that used to leave at 9:37, you could definitely argue that the 10:07 is still has a lot of commuters. But let’s only consider the first 3: all those trains are packed most days. You are now going to force all those people onto one train … no way everybody will fit. Definitely the bicyclists will be getting bumped, and especially further down the Peninsula. So many people will stop taking the train.

    You have the same problem in the evening, when the last train leaves SF and SJ at 6:30pm. The freeways are still packed until at least 7:30pm.

    But I would like to hear you tell all 40,000 daily Caltrain riders that getting a 50% reduction to their service (and no trains outside work hours which almost every commuter eventually has to take advantage of, and which many lower-income people use) and a dozen stations closed “isn’t bad”. Or better, do the equivalent to car drivers on the freeway and let’s see their reaction.

    It’s a disaster because our region can’t even pony up and support the most efficient and environmentally-friendly form of transit that we all claim we want. It’s an utter shame to watch such useful and efficient public transit like Caltrain get slashed when we all agree — on paper at least — that we should be encouraging people to get out of their cars.

  • Which is why it’s so awful that the Obama administration insists on funneling huge sums into the California HSR rathole. Every transit system in the Bay Area is in the red and desperate for enough money to weather this recession, and the Feds have given CHSR more than $3 billion for a project that’s increasingly unlikely to ever get built. Shameful.

  • jd


    Where I disagree with you is that we don’t have to choose between one or the other; we can (and should) pursue them both in parallel. $30 million taken from the HSR budget doesn’t make or break HSR but it does make or break Caltrain. There’s no reason that $30 million can’t be taken from HSR and funneled to Caltrain.

    Caltrain and HSR serve different purposes and should not be thought of as mutually exclusive. Caltrain is for a single metropolitan area whereas HSR is inter-city, even interstate. You need them both to have a healthy transit infrastructure. We should most certainly not be choosing between one or the other.


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