By Nathan Mitchell
People hoping to save Caltrain from severe service cuts gathered in San Carlos for “The Save Our Caltrain” summit on Jan. 29 to discuss possible solutions to combat a $30 million budget shortfall.
Caltrain funding comes in large part from the City and County of San Francisco, the San Mateo County Transit District and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. SamTrans contributes a major portion of the funds, but along with the other transit agencies, it faces its own budget dilemma.
“Caltrain is not the problem,” Metropolitan Transportation Commissioner Sue Lempert said. “SamTrans can’t rise to the occasion to pay.”
If Caltrain can’t plug the hole in their budget, severe cuts are inevitable. Nearly half of the weekday trains will be cut and the remaining 46 trains will be limited to commuter hours. One cut seems so drastic that it’s even caught the attention of the San Francisco Giants – no weekend trains.
Without the weekend schedule, Giants fans could not use the trains to attend games, and the baseball organization is pledging to help, Caltrain Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey said.
That’s not the only heavy hitter on board to save Caltrain. Congresswoman Jackie Speier suggested a long-term solution through a dedicated tax.
“You’ve got a real challenge here. I am with you all the way,” she said. “We owe it to our kids to preserve and grow this program. It’s important to say, train riders are important too.”
Along with Congresswoman Speier, the Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune said Caltrain’s future depended on grassroots movements. The Sierra Club will stand behind Congresswoman Speier’s initiative to implement a tax that will permanently fund Caltrain.
Brune sees public transit as a way to combat our dependency on oil and prevent accidents like the Gulf Coast BP oil spill.
The Sierra Club will make Caltrain’s case a priority, he said.
However, no short-term solutions are immediately available, but Harvey said the agency would be scrutinizing every aspect of the budget, including salaries.
The summit ended with four breakout session where attendees approached the problem from different perspectives. At the end of the day, Assemblyman Jerry Hill’s comments summed it all up.
“[The Peninsula cities] don’t always work together, but we will work together to solve this,” he said.
The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board will hold meetings on Feb. 3 and 17 and March 3.
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