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Belmont Residents Join Crowd Opposing Caltrain Service Cuts

The Caltrain administration declared a fiscal emergency at today's meeting, moving one step closer to possible service cuts and fare hikes.

Belmont residents joined the more than 100 people who flocked to Caltrain headquarters in San Carlos today to protest potential service cuts that could result in closing the , or reducing the amount of daily trains in circulation.

Both options, as well as fee hikes, have been proposed by the Caltrain administration in an effort to reduce its nearly $30 million budget deficit.

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, comprised of community leaders from across the Bay Area, unanimously voted at their meeting to declare a fiscal emergency for 2012 as Caltrain anticipates facing a $30 million deficit entering the fiscal year beginning in July.

The declaration eases the board's path toward hiking fees or cutting services.

In an effort to reduce the budget gap, the board is bandying proposals to cut the 86 trains that circulate on weekdays nearly in half, to 48 trains per day. Closing seven of the existing stations -- including Belmont's -- has been as well.

The 10 stations on the chopping block are: Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio, Lawrence, Santa Clara and College Park. Only seven of the 10 would be closed, should the board elect to do so.

The purpose of this month's meeting was for members of the public to voice their opinion about the proposed budget cuts and fee increases.

Belmont Council member Christine Wozniak spoke to the board in opposition of closing any of the train stations currently up to possibly be shuttered.

"Do not cut service to any of the stations," she told the board.

Wozniak's comments were met by a round of applause from the audience.

Belmont High-Speed Rail Ad Hoc Committee member George Burgess also spoke in favor of keeping the town's train station open.

Local business thrives on the train stopping in Belmont, said Burgess, who reminded board members that Belmont is in the midst of constructing a across Highway 101 to increase accessibility to the train station.

No actions regarding service levels were taken at this meeting, but the board is expected to begin doing so next month, in an effort to finalize its upcoming fiscal year's budget.

Should the proposed reductions in service be approved, the budget deficit would be slashed from $30 million down to nearly $5 million, according to a report released by Caltrain.

The board is dealing with a structural deficit, as it has struggled with financing for the past several years.

Caltrain is financed by contributions from the City and County of San Francisco, San Mateo County Transit District, and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

Caltrain executive director Michael Scanlon said the rail organization is looking for a sustainable revenue source, as it is the only local form of public transportation that is not funded by a dedicated source.

Other potential budget balancing techniques proposed include a 25-cent fee increase per one-way ticket, as well as suspension of service for special events or during weekends and holidays or possibly all stopping service south of the Diridon Station in San Jose.

The public turned out en masse to speak out against the potential service cuts, and often showed a willingness to shoulder fee hikes for tickets and parking in exchange for maintaining current levels of service and keeping all stations open.

A 25-cent fee increase could generate $1.2 million in additional fee revenue. Nearly half of Caltrain's funding comes from revenue made at the fare box, according to a Caltrain report.

Scanlon said all suggestions for coping with the budget crisis are still on the table.

San Francisco Supervisor and JPB Chair Sean Elsbernd said more than 1,300 comments by the public were received before the meeting.

Judi March 04, 2011 at 02:25 AM
Belmont supported the grade separation for Cal Train operation as a vision into the future. All parties need to collaborate on getting train customers "on board" for service into Belmont & Redwood Shores businesses and activities. Service should NOT be cut on weekends or holidays, but rather, events such as farmer's market, a new pumpkin festival at Twin Pines Park, should be brainstormed by all stakeholders. It is time for all business and municipalities to get their heads out of the sand and work together to MAXIMIZE resources instead of cutting & hoarding. We need to think smarter to utilize what we have already built -- not close more doors and spend more dollars on bad decisions. Let's regionalize our assets folks. Open some cafes, flower stands, etc (European style) at the Belmont station and entice folks to ride the train.
Anonymous March 04, 2011 at 06:35 AM
Passenger rail service has been in operation on the Peninsula in some form or another since 1863. Can someone please tell me why it has been almost 150 years and they still haven't yet been able to figure out how to run this operation profitably?
Adele Della Santina March 04, 2011 at 09:19 PM
CalTrain and SAMTRANS were set up to provide a SERVICE. SERVICE should be the prime focus of both of these organizations. Budgetary crunch? Cut COSTS not SERVICE.
Phyllis McArthur March 06, 2011 at 03:30 AM
With costs of fuel rising as we speak, more people are taking the train, service to these good people of Belmont should not be cut.
Laura Dudnick (Editor) March 07, 2011 at 03:44 AM
Thanks for your comments, everyone. Belmont Patch is working on a video about the potential closure of the station; if you'd like to be interviewed for the video, please e-mail me at laura.dudnick@patch.com and we'll set up a time to speak.

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