Caltrain faces ‘existential crisis’

By Isabella Jibilian, San Francisco Examiner, May 8, 2020 

Empty platforms. Empty trains. Empty coffers. 

Caltrain is facing a $71 million deficit over the next financial year, as ridership has plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Although the railroad received nearly $50 million in relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — funding that so far has stopped the bleeding — Caltrain should prepare for a looming existential financial crisis staff said at a board meeting May 7.

A southbound Caltrain arriving at San Carlos station

Transit systems across the nation are facing decreased demand amid COVID-19, but Caltrains existence is more tenuous than most. Unlike BART and Muni, Caltrain is not funded by sales or property taxes. It depends on fares and parking fees to say afloat. 

Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders, ticket sales have been down more than 95 percent, according to Derek Hansel, Caltrains chief financial officer.  

Once shelter-in-place orders are lifted, revenues wont necessarily bounce back. Some riders will choose to commute to work via car as a means of maintaining social distance. Some workplaces will not open; [some will] encourage their employees to continue to telecommute. [And] maintaining social distance on public transit will be difficult and expensive. 

In the short term, Caltrains hopes are pinned on receiving more aid. The CARES Act will distribute a second round of funding, though Caltrains share has yet to be decided. 

In the longer term, board members and staff are considering turning to tax revenue to supplement the farebox, by placing a $108 million measure on the November ballot. 

Read the full article here.