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Elected officials release statement calling for voters to decide Caltrain funding

Supporters say sales tax would keep transit agency in operation

Caltrain, which has seen ridership drop by 95% since the COVID-19 pandemic began, is looking to present voters with a sales tax the agency says would help maintain its transit services. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

A joint statement issued by seven elected officials calls for letting voters decide on funding for the Caltrain service between the South Bay and San Francisco.

The statement — released Sunday by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, State Sen. Jerry Hill, Assemblymen Kevin Mullin and Marc Berman, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and Belmont Vice Mayor Charles Stone — responds to resistance last week by San Francisco supervisors to putting a sales tax measure on the ballot.

Caltrain has seen ridership drop steeply during the COVID-19 pandemic and there are fears that its financial struggles could halt the service.

Supporters have pinned their hopes of bolstering Caltrain on a dedicated sales tax assessed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

"For almost a year, negotiations have been aimed at helping riders by getting Caltrain firmly funded," the statement says. "It has no source of its own money, the farebox only brings in 70 percent of its operating costs coupled with annual operating costs from the three member counties, and year to year the riders are at risk of the line shutting down. Now, at one minute to midnight, the train is really in danger of not showing up at the station."

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San Mateo County 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 the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority also must agree.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who is San Francisco's representative on the Joint Powers Board, said Wednesday 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 percent during the health emergency.

"While it's wildly popular, Caltrain could shut down without its own funding," the officials say in their statement. "To prevent this, the legislature passed a statute to allow the public to decide.

"The statute requires that, if the ballot measure passes, the tax money go to Caltrain."

The statement concludes, "All of us need to keep riders first and foremost in our minds. It's really quite simple. A clean deal is what the riders and public deserve. Let the voters decide."

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Elected officials release statement calling for voters to decide Caltrain funding

Supporters say sales tax would keep transit agency in operation

by /

Uploaded: Mon, Jul 20, 2020, 9:46 am

A joint statement issued by seven elected officials calls for letting voters decide on funding for the Caltrain service between the South Bay and San Francisco.

The statement — released Sunday by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, State Sen. Jerry Hill, Assemblymen Kevin Mullin and Marc Berman, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and Belmont Vice Mayor Charles Stone — responds to resistance last week by San Francisco supervisors to putting a sales tax measure on the ballot.

Caltrain has seen ridership drop steeply during the COVID-19 pandemic and there are fears that its financial struggles could halt the service.

Supporters have pinned their hopes of bolstering Caltrain on a dedicated sales tax assessed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

"For almost a year, negotiations have been aimed at helping riders by getting Caltrain firmly funded," the statement says. "It has no source of its own money, the farebox only brings in 70 percent of its operating costs coupled with annual operating costs from the three member counties, and year to year the riders are at risk of the line shutting down. Now, at one minute to midnight, the train is really in danger of not showing up at the station."

San Mateo County 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 the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority also must agree.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who is San Francisco's representative on the Joint Powers Board, said Wednesday 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 percent during the health emergency.

"While it's wildly popular, Caltrain could shut down without its own funding," the officials say in their statement. "To prevent this, the legislature passed a statute to allow the public to decide.

"The statute requires that, if the ballot measure passes, the tax money go to Caltrain."

The statement concludes, "All of us need to keep riders first and foremost in our minds. It's really quite simple. A clean deal is what the riders and public deserve. Let the voters decide."

Comments

SRB
St. Francis Acres
on Jul 20, 2020 at 10:13 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
on Jul 20, 2020 at 10:13 am
Like this comment

Worth noting that all 7 elected officials represent (at least one portion of) San Mateo County.

I agree that we should let the voters decide ... on the sales tax but also on the Caltrain Board.

Put the Sales Tax on the ballot AND commit to have the current board resign with 1-2 years and be replaced by a directly elected and dedicated board?


Wagon Train
Cuesta Park
on Jul 20, 2020 at 11:33 am
Wagon Train, Cuesta Park
on Jul 20, 2020 at 11:33 am
9 people like this

They should change the name to Wagon Train and offer rides west into the Pacific Ocean - one way. The Board should take the first such ride.


Bruce Karney
Old Mountain View
on Jul 20, 2020 at 2:36 pm
Bruce Karney, Old Mountain View
on Jul 20, 2020 at 2:36 pm
4 people like this

The current leadership of CalTrain wants to electrify the route, which will allow the trains to travel faster and more quietly and increase the frequency of the schedule. What do the SF Supervisors imagine they would prioritize instead of these improvements? The notion that lack of decision-making by SF voters and Supervisors must be a red herring. I wonder what their real agenda is.


caltrain user
Rex Manor
on Jul 20, 2020 at 2:45 pm
caltrain user, Rex Manor
on Jul 20, 2020 at 2:45 pm
Like this comment

It should really be an income tax!


Inso
Old Mountain View
on Jul 21, 2020 at 9:29 am
Inso, Old Mountain View
on Jul 21, 2020 at 9:29 am
6 people like this

"Only" 70% is one of the best farebox recovery ratios in the nation. They had ridership success before the pandemic, thus the lack of need for dedicated funding. It's different now, but don't treat that success like some sort of failure - it isn't.


Wagon Train
Cuesta Park
on Jul 21, 2020 at 10:08 am
Wagon Train, Cuesta Park
on Jul 21, 2020 at 10:08 am
6 people like this

I see online an article last month reporting that Caltrain has had a 97% drop in ridership and is getting Federal COVID assistance. People do not want to get sick or die just to ride a train. The article says Caltrain has a $48 million annual operating budget. Post a link to where it goes. How much does the top dog make? .How much overtime is paid? What capitol projects are funded? Why aren't they underway when no one needs a train ride? How much money would be raised each year by the proposed sales tax increase? What do Caltrain bosses say about bringing the HIGH SPEED RAIL disaster to the Peninsula? Watch the Caltrain public relations team fail to answer ANY of those questions.


Wagon Train
Cuesta Park
on Jul 23, 2020 at 9:23 am
Wagon Train, Cuesta Park
on Jul 23, 2020 at 9:23 am
4 people like this

Rep. Anna Eshoo of Atherton is opposed this November 3 by another Democrat (Rishi Kumar of Saratoga). He says (online) favors Medicare for all and challenges "big pharma" that has paid off representatives for decades. If someday a vaccine or significant treatment is found for Covid-19, figure the corporations involved will demand much of the world's wealth to hand over those discoveries. If Mr. Kumar takes a wider look at Rep. Eshoo's special interest connections in Silicon Valley and takes some more positions for change, he might actually gain some traction. What did Rep. Eshoo ever do in decades in Congress to head off this pandemic? See if she answers.


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