News

San Francisco supervisors defend refusal to support Caltrain sales tax

An empty Caltrain pulls out of the Mountain View train station on March 18, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

San Francisco supervisors Shamann Walton and Aaron Peskin on Wednesday stood by their refusal to support asking voters in November to support a sales tax for Caltrain, though the move seemed to threaten the rail system's future.

Like most transit agencies, Caltrain has seen a dramatic drop in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic and is struggling financially as a result; up to 70% of its revenue comes from passenger fares. A dedicated sales tax assessed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties would help.

Both San Mateo County's Board of Supervisors and the San Mateo County Transit District, or SamTrans, which operates Caltrain for the Peninsula Joint Powers Board, have approved putting the measure on November ballots in the region.

But the boards of supervisors in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties and the leaders of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority also must agree.

Walton, who is San Francisco's representative on the Joint Powers Board, said the fact that Caltrain is operated by SamTrans presents a problem.

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"(That) means San Francisco voters and San Francisco leadership don't actually make decisions as to what happens with the funds," Walton said. "But yet we pay millions of dollars to the railroad each year. This inequitable relationship has to change."

The sales tax was initially proposed to fund the electrification of Caltrain, but the agency now needs the funding to keep operating. It said its weekday average ridership, at 65,000 before the pandemic, has dropped by 95%.

"Let me be very clear, we continue (to) support Caltrain as a regional resource and I want to give San Mateo County its due for stewarding Caltrain over many years. It is time to move the governance model and the funding model into the twenty-first century," Peskin said. "This is about the intermingling of funds for a county bus operation with regional railroad."

"The notion that the poorest individuals in the three counties would be a source of funding for Caltrain did not go over well with our colleagues," Peskin said of the San Francisco supervisors, adding that over the last year he and Walton have been discussing the proposed tax with Santa Clara and San Mateo county leaders.

Wednesday morning, Caltrain tweeted that it "needs dedicated funding." Also on Twitter, San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals said Peskin doesn't "care about traffic or the environment."

Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose, which is in Santa Clara County, sought middle ground, tweeting, "I'll push for a regional agreement - but San Mateo County cannot assume that we'll happily just give them our money without any accountability to our county's taxpayers."

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San Francisco supervisors defend refusal to support Caltrain sales tax

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Jul 16, 2020, 12:56 pm

San Francisco supervisors Shamann Walton and Aaron Peskin on Wednesday stood by their refusal to support asking voters in November to support a sales tax for Caltrain, though the move seemed to threaten the rail system's future.

Like most transit agencies, Caltrain has seen a dramatic drop in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic and is struggling financially as a result; up to 70% of its revenue comes from passenger fares. A dedicated sales tax assessed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties would help.

Both San Mateo County's Board of Supervisors and the San Mateo County Transit District, or SamTrans, which operates Caltrain for the Peninsula Joint Powers Board, have approved putting the measure on November ballots in the region.

But the boards of supervisors in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties and the leaders of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority also must agree.

Walton, who is San Francisco's representative on the Joint Powers Board, said the fact that Caltrain is operated by SamTrans presents a problem.

"(That) means San Francisco voters and San Francisco leadership don't actually make decisions as to what happens with the funds," Walton said. "But yet we pay millions of dollars to the railroad each year. This inequitable relationship has to change."

The sales tax was initially proposed to fund the electrification of Caltrain, but the agency now needs the funding to keep operating. It said its weekday average ridership, at 65,000 before the pandemic, has dropped by 95%.

"Let me be very clear, we continue (to) support Caltrain as a regional resource and I want to give San Mateo County its due for stewarding Caltrain over many years. It is time to move the governance model and the funding model into the twenty-first century," Peskin said. "This is about the intermingling of funds for a county bus operation with regional railroad."

"The notion that the poorest individuals in the three counties would be a source of funding for Caltrain did not go over well with our colleagues," Peskin said of the San Francisco supervisors, adding that over the last year he and Walton have been discussing the proposed tax with Santa Clara and San Mateo county leaders.

Wednesday morning, Caltrain tweeted that it "needs dedicated funding." Also on Twitter, San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals said Peskin doesn't "care about traffic or the environment."

Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose, which is in Santa Clara County, sought middle ground, tweeting, "I'll push for a regional agreement - but San Mateo County cannot assume that we'll happily just give them our money without any accountability to our county's taxpayers."

Comments

Robyn
another community
on Jul 16, 2020 at 4:10 pm
Robyn, another community
on Jul 16, 2020 at 4:10 pm
3 people like this

It seems that ridership of public transportation (train, bus, ferry) may be permanently reduced because people will be working from home.
Some jobs have vanished due to social distancing, like restaurant work, gyms, etc. With half the space available for patrons, only half the staff is need.
A new tax will not change that.
Perhaps a reduction in operation is in order. This should reduce costs.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 16, 2020 at 5:26 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 16, 2020 at 5:26 pm
7 people like this

Trains and other mass transit spreading viruses are history. No tax measure will get even 50% approval.


nico
Monta Loma
on Jul 17, 2020 at 12:02 pm
nico, Monta Loma
on Jul 17, 2020 at 12:02 pm
6 people like this

To improve public support of Cal Train, they will benefit from being a better neighbor. Their loud operations and over-use of horns at all hours of the night does not help public acceptance of this 200year old technology. More housing near train tracks have been developed and their horns can be heard 1/2 mile away. Improved technology to maintain safety for at-grade crossings and stations can be developed but they continue to pour money into keeping this antiquated technology and procedure.


Mike Engler
Rengstorff Park
on Jul 19, 2020 at 3:04 am
Mike Engler, Rengstorff Park
on Jul 19, 2020 at 3:04 am
4 people like this

The Caltrain right-of-way is valuable, but they're going to have to make some big changes given the permanent switch to more remote working.

Getting rid of the antiquated train-sets and switching to much cheaper options like SMART did with DMUs would enable them to continue operating at lower capacity with fewer staff and lower fuel costs.


Common sense
Old Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2020 at 3:44 pm
Common sense, Old Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2020 at 3:44 pm
8 people like this

I generally like public transit. I used Caltrain by choice (in normal times).

The problem that advocates in our area, such as Adina Levin (aka "Friends of Caltrain"), fail to seriously confront is they're asking for ANOTHER SALES TAX which for many people -- even WITHOUT current questions about transit in pandemic -- is a big red flag. In the real world you make hard choices. Between alternatives either of which includes serious downsides.

Contrary to the very cheap shot quoted in the article ('San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals said Peskin doesn't "care about traffic or the environment"') the picture is more complex than just "caring about traffic or the environment." You can be fiscally irresponsible, or burden the wrong people with paying for what many residents see as a luxury, even while claiming to "care about traffic or the environment."

God forbid that any of these "caring" advocates try something creative, like finding a way to access funds from the last several sales-tax inititatives promising transportation revolutions -- how often do you see a reassessment that looks at what actually resulted? -- or to remove an existing sales-tax component, so the net rate stays unchanged?

This region got along fine for many years with sales taxes around FIVE PERCENT when economic activity was weaker than recent years, even inflation-adjusted. Some consider the overall quality of life to've been better in the Bay Area then. It would be harder to keep selling endless "incremental" sales taxes without the influx of naive new residents who didn't experience the last dozen of them.


Rodger
Sylvan Park
on Jul 20, 2020 at 4:33 pm
Rodger, Sylvan Park
on Jul 20, 2020 at 4:33 pm
Like this comment

I think something should be done about the trains blaring their horns at crossings. It seems to me that an RF signal could be sent as a much less noisy signal located next to the crossing, this is not super high tech.
But no matter I support Caltrain taxes it cut down on dirty air which impacts everyone


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