06.03.09 - 07:43 pm
Altamont Commuter Express could get about $3.4 million in sales tax revenue to install new air conditioning on all its trains and build a clock tower at the Stockton station.
About $1.6 million of the ½-cent Measure K tax may go toward Stockton’s Robert J. Cabral train station, where planners have also proposed placing more parking lots. The San Joaquin Council of Governments will decide at its June 25 meeting how much money from the voter-approved tax goes to each project.
In all, the transit agency is slated to get about $7.3 million this year from $41 million in last year’s Measure K revenue.
More than half of the amount set aside for the train agency would be slated for capital improvements under a proposal up for discussion at the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission meeting on Friday.
The Tracy station at the corner of Linne Road and Tracy Boulevard will get the same upgrades as the Lathrop station — extended platforms to accommodate longer trains — but nothing else, said transit agency planner Brian Schmidt.
Because Stockton is considered the main train stop in the county, it’s going to get the most attention, he said.
Sales tax revenue from Alameda, Santa Clara and San Joaquin counties pays for the transit agency’s administrative costs and salaries, including a contract with a private company called Herzog that employs about 40 conductors, maintenance workers and other employees. Another 40 or so people work directly for the Altamont Commuter Express, said its spokesman Thomas Reeves.
This coming fiscal year, a little more than $2 million from San Joaquin County will go toward operating costs. Reeves expects another $1.9 million from Alameda and $2.6 million from Santa Clara counties.
The rail commission will this week talk about setting aside an additional $864,000 from the local sales tax for in-house studies and hiring consultants to make sure the transit agency is up to speed on federal, state and local guidelines, which change every year.
Another $500,000 will likely be set aside for “special studies,” for example, one about how to create electronic ticketing and eventually stop selling paper passes.
Though the transit agency has braced itself to receive nearly $4 million less than what it got last fiscal year from local sales taxes, a one-time $8 million gift of federal stimulus money will still put the agency ahead, Schmidt said.
About $5 million of those federal dollars will pay to fix up the Union Pacific track on which the commuter trains travel. The remaining $3 million will pay to fix up all the trains.
Since the agency gets most of its money from a sales tax voters approved in 1990, its funding greatly fluctuates year to year, said Dana Cowell, deputy director of the county council of governments.
Sales tax revenue is expected to continue declining into next year, so transit planners like Schmidt have to think about how to shore up money and avoid service cuts in the next few years.
“We’re watching everything we have very closely,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want to spend money on something now that will cost more to run later.”
Thankfully, fuel costs have dropped significantly from last summer, so the agency spent much less than it planned, he said. Still, Schmidt added, the advantage was almost cancelled out by declining ridership.
In April, ridership dipped 16 percent compared to the same time last year. That’s a pretty big drop, Schmidt said. The agency depends on ticket sales to bring in about $4 million a year.
“If you look at the drop in employment, it almost exactly matches the drop in ridership,” he said. “Lots of people lost jobs in the Silicon Valley and in San Jose, and you can see how it directly affects the number of people who use our trains.”
•Contact Tracy Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth at 830-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
Proposed Measure K allotments for Altamont Commuter Express in fiscal year 2009-10:
• $3,895,093 for capital improvement
• $2,006,037 for administrative and operating costs
• $863,557 for consultants and in-house studies
• $500,000 for special studies, like how to develop electronic ticketing
For more information, go to www.acerail.com or www.sjcog.org
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