Town Square

VTA proposals could save Caltrain, for now

Original post made on Feb 7, 2011

With Caltrain considering eliminating nearly half of the peninsula's train service to fix a $30 million deficit, VTA general manager Michael Burns has some proposals to keep Caltrain on track until more permanent funding can be found.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, February 7, 2011, 5:05 PM


Posted by Antonio, a resident of Castro City
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Rightsizing Caltrain to 48 trains per day looks like a perfect plan to me. It would enable Caltrain to retain the majority of its ridership at peak time, while eliminating the underutilized early morning/late night and middle of the day trains.

Once again, it shows that, when facing financial pressure, government organizations like Caltrain are able to eliminate wasteful spendings and renegotiate compensations to provide services at a lower cost to the tax payers.

Congrats Caltrain!

Posted by J, a resident of Whisman Station
on Feb 7, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Well then, if *everything* is on the table, consider this relevant item in today's SF Chron:

-- SamTrans and Caltrain head Michael Scanlon got a $407,642 pay package last year, including a no-interest home loan that is partially paid down by the district, a $24,000 annual housing allowance and $24,765 for unused time off.

Web Link

Posted by Martin, a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Its time for Caltrain 2.0! Cut the "dead wood" from the system (empty trains), focus on the profitable time periods, and rebuild a sustainable system.

Let's stop trying to prop up fictional time tables, and serve the riders as they really are. Once we have the peak commute hours profitable, we can then measure where the next groups of riders are, and expand he schedule accordingly.

This "future rider needs" market research, can be done directly on the Caltrain website. Once the dust has settled from resizing Caltrain to commute only, the next level of riders can vote on needed routes and times. Based on demand and available funding, trains can be added. Schedules can change dynamically, based on demand.

Let the people decide!

Posted by k, a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 7, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I'm not sure what all this hubbub about low ridership on midday trains is all about. One time I took a noon-time train on a Tuesday and it was actually pretty full...I wonder if things have changed since last time they did a ridership analysis.

Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 7, 2011 at 9:57 pm

USA is a registered user.

This is classic -- lot's of information on how raise more and more money and not a single word on the spending side.

Daniel, the politicians certainly are not going to offer up the info. You have to ask and to really press them on this. Skip Abe-Koga. She's clueless. Go to someone at Caltrains who knows and ask the question - "the ridership has not drastically changed nor have the ticket prices, so why the drastic problems?" Ask them if the pension out of control. Ask them if there is too much overtime for the union-protected workers. Press them for the actual numbers.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2011 at 10:34 pm

> the ridership has not drastically changed nor have the ticket prices, so why the drastic problems?

Because Caltrain's yearly tin-cup rounds of the three county agencies did not go well this year: SamTrans did not deposit the usual contribution in the cup. Since the respective agency contributions are determined by the joint powers agreement, VTA and MUNI are entitled to reduce their contribution in a proportional amount. The result? Great ridership, excellent fare revenue, ... and an empty tin cup.

What Caltrain needs is a dedicated source of funding, to end this disgraceful beggarly ritual.

Posted by Antonio, a resident of Castro City
on Feb 8, 2011 at 12:33 am

This might help explain the source of Caltrain's problems:
"Despite historic financial woes, Caltrain CEO's $400,000 paycheck is state's highest"
Web Link

Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 8, 2011 at 7:42 am


Caltrain's administrative overhead costs, as a percentage of total expenses, is the lowest of any major commuter rail operator in the country. Mike Scanlon's salary is pretty high, but that covers both his role as CEO of SamTrans and as CEO of Caltrain (it's not all coming out of Caltrain's budget).

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 7:50 am

Mr. Bloom

The salary figures are shameful and an embarrassment to rationally thinking human beings.

You will defend Caltrain wasting money at any cost. If Mike Scanlon took home 59 percent more than the median salary for a CEO of one of the state's 23 largest transit operators it makes me wonder what else they are over spending on. We are only told what Caltrain needs, not what they can afford to get rid of.

Posted by Antonio, a resident of Castro City
on Feb 8, 2011 at 8:26 am

More on the same topic
"Caltrain CEO Cashing In While Proposing Transit Cuts"
Web Link

Posted by James, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:37 am

@k- You must have rode on the one full midday train in the last 5 years. I regularly ride the midday trains and they are a ghost town.

Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

"You will defend Caltrain wasting money at any cost"
Not true -- I agreed that it wouldn't hurt for Mike Scanlon to take a pay cut to help with the SamTrans/Caltrain budget.

I was pointing out that Caltrain's administrative costs are only 6% of its budget. Most of the budget goes to the folks who actually operate the trains and check tickets, and they are employed by a contractor chosen as a result of a competitive process.

Implying that Mike Scanlon's salary is "the source of Caltrain's problems", as you stated, is categorically false. I think it be better to focus our discussions on changes that will materially affect Caltrain's bottom line.

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:22 am

What kind of morality is at the heart of a pubic employee justifying accepting such a high salary? Answer that one. Most like Scanlon are cashing it in now because they see changes coming to rules regarding public employee salaries and compensation. And to say that is the price of high talent in hog wash. Look at the result of such high priced talent. There are plenty of hardworking and intelligent people available to lead Caltrain at a modest salary. Some people are in it to serve. You are naive to think his type doesn't plan carefully for a lucrative exit package. The people be damned. Scanlon is in it for the money. What the city, state and nation need are a great awakening to this kind of con. Civic virtue is bankrupt with the so-called leaders we have now bankrupting the state.

Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:44 am

Let's hypothesize that Mike Scanlon would take a 100% salary cut.

Here's how much of the Caltrain budget deficit this would address:
Web Link

I'd like to hear solutions for the remaining $29.5 million deficit.

Posted by Konrad Sosnow, a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Caltrain is a Peninsula resource. As such, San Francisco, San Mateo, and santa Clara Counties have to make the funding of Caltrain a priority. A review of all stations is appropriate. No doubt there are some that can be closed with material cost savings and minimal impact on the public.

Perhaps Caltrain needs an independent review. Michael Burns of VTA (formerly ran Muni in S.F) has a track record of success and would be an outstanding reviewer.

Posted by Rob, a resident of Willowgate
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:43 pm

This is the same Mr. Scanlon who defended his incompetent sidekick and staff member responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars haplessly moving horns around locomotives, annoying thousands, and then moving them back based on their total lack of knowledge of safety rules or basic plumbing.

Sounds like they are both well qualified to run the taxi service for the city of Bell.

We don't need this waste for even skilled administrators and certainly not for incompetent ones. There's still high unemployment out there. Surely we can recruit someone with more skills for much less.

Who make the hiring decisions??

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of The Crossings
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Please do not eliminate San Antonio station! Why build high density housing there with plans for yet more and then pull the plug on the train station? Please, many of us depend on the San Antonio station stop.

Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:55 pm

This is also the same Mr. Scanlon that helped create the Baby Bullet service, which nearly doubled Caltrain's ridership with a relatively small capital investment (BART, are you paying attention?). Mr. Scanlon's salary is pocket change compared to the revenue generated from the Baby Bullet service.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I agree - cut the dead wood (empty trains) and do not run the trains except for during commute hours if it is not cost effective. However, please do not eliminate the stops. That will put more people on the road trying to get to the train stop. Right now, many of us are able to walk to San Antonio station, for example.

Posted by rider, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:59 pm

So now $400,000 is pocket change? That's ludicrous. Savings should come in any form possible. Period. You justify his salary but don't complain that they want to close one of MV's 2 stations. How does that serve us, the taxpayers of MV?

Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I absolutely think Scanlon should take a pay cut. It's not right that he's taking in this much money while slashing service to the taxpayers who ultimately are signing his paychecks.

I'm also concerned that all this talk of his salary is making poeple believe that cutting administrative salaries will fix Caltrain's budget. This misinformation distracts from the real problems with Caltrain's bottom line, because compared to the total deficit, Scanlon's salary really is pocket change (here's that helpful pie chart again: Web Link ).

Posted by Rob, a resident of Willowgate
on Feb 8, 2011 at 5:00 pm


I think your underestimate the damage done by inappropriate salaries - While the math of salaries may seem small, let's not forget that paying someone way above market locks that person into a position as they cannot ever find another job with matching salary. Further they typically develop valueless "administrative" skills – translation political self-protection skills.

And giving him credit for limit-stop trains (bullet in marketing speak)! I think that concept has been in use in ever country on the planet with trains for 100 plus years! There is nothing bullet other than BS marketing and in fact the bullet looking trains are interchangeable with the others on limited stop runs, identical in speed and go backwards half the time. So much for the bullet analogy. I hope he is not trying to steal credit for being 100 years behind, or bogus marketing

Posted by Train Commuter, a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Feb 8, 2011 at 6:26 pm

High salaries become symbolic of larger hidden problems and issues that makes the public weary. It wouldn't be our concern if this were a private corporation, but it's not. Mr. Bloom's continual return to the point that cutting high salaries barely makes a dent in the overall Caltrain budget misses the symbolic point. We are surrounded by city administrator, state administrators, school, fire and police leadership that all try to distract the public's attention away from their high salaries while they make a case for more tax revenue. There's a finite amount of money to be spent and every dollar should count. Enforcing that notion builds public trust. Don't raise my fare 25 cents as a "drastic measure" while telling me the CEO made more money than ever last year.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm

The problem is ridership, we need to get more people on those trains, also, the stations, parking lots need to make money. Have Billboards at the Stations, build some retail space, have Premier parking at the stations. Small Vendors paying a fee at smaller stations to sell whatever the riders of the trains. Build more Retail, Offices, Housing around the Stations, also time to meger the trannit nework around the Bay Area that would shave off thousands of dollars in Salaries

Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 10, 2011 at 7:28 am

"Rob" and "Train Commuter":

All I'm trying to point out is that 90% of the discussion here so far is about just 1% of the deficit.

Posted by Antonio, a resident of Castro City
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:26 am

Interesting piece from the SF examiner
"Caltrain staunch on budget cuts in face of other ideas"
Web Link
Remember that Michael Scanlon run both Caltrain and SamTrans
So, he is the one that decided to cut SamTrans contribution to Caltrain.
I think he is trying to make a point for permanent funding through a new tax and is not interested in short term solutions. Perhaps he believes cutting service in half would make a stronger point and improve the odds of getting a new tax approved by the voters to fund Caltrain.
Good luck getting a 2/3rd majority to approve the tax when less than 3% of the folks living in these 3 counties ride Caltrain

Posted by David Bloom, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

Update: Mike Scanlon has offered to reduce his own salary.
Web Link

Let's focus on the rest of the deficit now.

Posted by Andrea Gemmet, Mountain View Voice Editor
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:40 am

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunne offered a rebuttal to the story on Mike Scanlon's salary. Here are excerpts from it:

The headline and the news story text describe Caltrain as paying Mr. Scanlon a salary of $400,668.
This is simply inaccurate. Caltrain does not pay Mr. Scanlon a salary of more than $400,000. The total compensation paid to Mr. Scanlon on behalf of Caltrain under his contract is, in fact, $85,647.

Mr. Scanlon is an employee of the San Mateo County Transit District, with whom he has an employment contract.
Under the terms of that contract, Mr. Scanlon holds three positions:
-- General Manager and CEO of the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans);
-- Executive Director of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB), which owns and manages Caltrain;
-- Executive Director of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA).

Mr. Scanlon's base salary as of Fiscal Year 2010 is $246,643.

Of that base salary, his compensation, under his contract, is allocated to the three agencies using the following formula:
SamTrans: $197,956, or 80.26 percent;
Caltrain: $43,828, or 17.77 percent
The TA: $4,859, or 1.97 percent

When Mr. Scanlon's retirement benefits and other compensation for all three agencies are taken into account, his total compensation is $407,643.

SamTrans pays Mr. Scanlon total compensation of $290,825.
Caltrain pays Mr. Scanlon total compensation of $85,647.
The TA pays Mr. Scanlon total compensation of $31,171.

In addition, Mr. Scanlon cashed out $24,765 worth of unused vacation time, which Mr. Scanlon used to make donations to the United Way of the Bay Area, where he most recently served as president of the board.

Posted by Jan Wilson, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Mercury News editorial: A tax for Caltrain? Better lower that salary first
Web Link

Posted by Karl, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 11, 2011 at 1:19 pm

According to today's editorial, the funding problem is caused by Samtrans cutting its funding when the three agencies agreed to contribute the same amount. If the other two agencies are willing to continue to contribute what they have been, maybe all stations in San Mateo County could be closed except Millbrae (for transfers to BART) and the trains could run express through the county. This should attract more riders from the two remaining counties to make up for any reduction from San Mateo County.

As a person who only rides the trains midday - admittedly not very often - if midday service was ended, I would be forced to stop traveling to SF as I do not wish to pay the outrageous parking fees in that city.

Posted by Rider, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 11, 2011 at 5:26 pm

So SamTrans pays Mr. Scanlon a total compensation of $290,825 and then SamTrans led by him turns around cuts funding to Caltrain from which he receives $85,647. The sources of his salary seems to be made up of competing interests! His loyalties no doubt lie with SamTrans. No wonder this is such a mess.