Faced with a $30 million deficit, sharp cuts in service are looming for Caltrain. Before it adopts any extreme measures, however, several community meetings have been scheduled for this month and a public hearing for Mar. 3. The hope by then is to come up with some creative ways to make money, but the outlook is grim. “The bottom line is that we need to invest in our public transit,” says Margaret Okuzumi of Friends of Caltrain.

If the deficit is not covered, Caltrain will be forced to slash its services, warns CEO Mike Scanlon. Weekday services could be limited to commute times only and weekend services might be eliminated entirely. Other possibilities include suspending service at seven to 10 stations, and eliminating all service south of Diridon Station in San Jose. Fare hikes seem inevitable as well.

While Caltrain scrambled to identify long-term sources of funding, several members of the Board of Directors have called for the rail line to find short term solutions until then.

In what seemed like an appeal to local authorities, Scanlon argued that the funding problem is due to the public’s failure to understand the cost of transportation in the Bay Area. He seemed frustrated as he told the Board, “Our society quite frankly is unenlightened,” but then went on to explain that, “There is a widespread belief that highways are free,” though these are also supported by taxes.

Scanlon also said that the decline of Caltrain will put more people on the roads, which already need repair, and result in more traffic fatalities. This struck a chord with Boardmember and Santa Clara Supervisor Liz Kniss. She advocated a campaign that highlights commuter safety, saying, “We’ve got a terrific case to make. It’s enormously important.” No one mentioned a Sunnyvale woman died last night after being hit by a Caltrain. She was the third fatality caused by Caltrain this year.

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