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Crowd Gathers To Oppose Caltrain Cuts

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

More than 100 people flocked to Caltrain headquarters in San Carlos today to protest potential service cuts that could result in station closures 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 has been proposed 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.

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.

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.

The board of directors is searching for ways to cope with a structural deficit, as it has struggled with financing for the past several years.

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.

Former Palo Alto Mayor and City Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto spoke out in favor of finding a sustainable funding source.

She said the service Caltrain offers is essential to the quality of life for residents along the Peninsula.

Kishimoto, who heads the Friends of Caltrain group, was one of nearly 100 speakers who addressed the board today.

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.

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.

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