Caltrain projecting budget deficit in 2013

May 3, 2012 7:45:08 PM PDT
Caltrain ridership is at a historic high and the agency is actually considering adding service this fall. However, at the same time, it doesn't know how it's going to balance next year's budget. It's a situation that highlights Caltrain's dependence on a patchwork funding sources that come and go.

It's boom-times for Caltrain.

"Twenty months in a row of double-digit increases in ridership, revenue is record level, we've got people that can't find a seat on the train. Sometimes they're having to sit in a vestibule, which is not the safest thing to do, so we've got to make room for them," said Mark Simon, a Caltrain spokesperson.

So, the board is thinking about adding six trains in September -- four on either side of peak times and two at two in the afternoon.

"I love the idea of more trains. I think that's really fantastic. There's certainly a demand for it," said Adina Levin from Friends of Caltrain.

But just as soon as that demand is met, it could be back to over-crowding next summer when the unbalanced 2013-14 budget might force Caltrain to take back the additional service and more.

"I'm also really concerned that without a budget outline even for 2014, it is a risk to approve a service increase," said Levin.

The roller coaster budget ride is nothing new to Caltrain. The only Bay Area transit agency without its own tax base, it relies mainly on contributions from its three major partners -- Muni, SamTrans and VTA -- and a patchwork of other one-time sources.

"We're working on 14, but it's not yet balanced and it will be the tape and baling twine approach that we've used in the past," said Deputy CEO Gigi Harrington.

A sales tax increase could be on the ballot for 2014 as a long-term solution, but not in time for next year's budget.

"There are a wide range of ideas, everything from a tax increase to other kinds of partnerships. We're spending a lot of time right now figuring out what makes the most sense, what the public will think is a good idea," said Simon.

The board will vote on adding service next month.


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