SamTrans riders facing possible service cuts, fare hikeBy Mike Rosenberg
SamTrans may have to cut service and raise fares again to fill a $22.5 million funding gap for next year, officials said Tuesday.
The San Mateo County Transit District, which operates SamTrans bus service, projects a $128 million operating budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, according to plans to be presented to the board of directors today.
The agency's roughly 50,000 daily bus riders could be facing service cuts later this year to help balance the budget, Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey said. He said officials are still determining how much they could save - and how many riders they would likely lose - by cutting or eliminating certain routes.
He expected to bring a broad list of potential cuts to the board in June, and after public hearings and further number-crunching the board should make its decision in late summer or early fall. The cuts would then take effect in ensuing months. The agency cut service by 7.5 percent in December, including the elimination of all but one express route.
Another fare increase is also on the table, although officials said they are still running numbers before outlining any specifics. The agency hiked base fares 25 cents in February 2009, and again this February.
The agency's budget initially shows an operating surplus of $2.6 million when including only revenue and operational spending. But the total budget is far from balanced.
Officials said they still need to find a way to fund $20.9 million in debt service for previous capital projects, about half of which is devoted to the agency's annual payment to BART for the San Francisco International Airport extension. They also must pay $4.2 million in sales tax revenues for capital projects.
That drops the total budget to $22.5 million in the red. The deficit would be larger if not for the use of one-time state funds and SamTrans' cut to the Caltrain subsidy, saving a total of $10.7 million compared to the current year.
SamTrans officials propose to cut the agency's $16.5 million Caltrain subsidy by $5.9 million, or 36 percent. Officials expect to reduce SamTrans' overall Caltrain subsidy by up to 70 percent but want to phase the cuts over two years.
The agency has also been dealing with drops in state subsidies but will receive a boost of $4.8 million in state grants next year, which will be new money compared to the past few years.
SamTrans continues to lose riders, another source of financial woe, and expects a small decrease in passenger counts next year.
Its largest source of income, a half-cent sales tax, also has been plummeting, but officials project its revenues to remain flat at $60 million.
SamTrans will also spend more money next year in some areas, including $1.5 million more in wages and benefits because of scheduled pay hikes in union contracts, and $500,000 more on fuel.
Copyright ©2010 San Mateo County Times. Published 05/11/2010.