'Yes' on Measure RR to save Caltrain
by Marc Berman
We all miss certain activities that we took for granted before our lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic — cheering on the Giants at a crowded Oracle Park, catching up with colleagues in the office at lunchtime, or spending a Sunday in San Francisco or San Jose. For tens of thousands of us, these activities all had one thing in common: taking Caltrain to get to and from our destinations.
The good news is that this health pandemic will end eventually, and we will get back to doing all of the things we miss. The bad news is there's a real risk that Caltrain will not be there for us.
We have the opportunity to ensure that Caltrain continues to serve as the backbone of our public transportation system from San Jose to San Francisco. Measure RR, which is on the ballot in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties, is an eighth-cent sales tax to create a dedicated funding source for Caltrain operations. Caltrain has no stable source of funding and more than 70% of its revenue comes from fares. With most people working from home during the pandemic, ridership has dropped by nearly 95%, crippling Caltrain's finances.
Without Measure RR, Caltrain is facing a shutdown that will cost taxpayers at least $155 million just to get the system back up and running. We can avoid that unnecessary expense by supporting Caltrain now. This will ensure that thousands of essential workers can continue to rely on its service during the pandemic, and it will preserve the system for when millions of us return to a more normal life sometime next year. A recent survey of Caltrain riders showed that at least 70% plan to start riding again once the pandemic subsides.
Measure RR isn't just a stopgap measure to keep the trains running. It's a well-thought-out, long-term plan to make Caltrain a world-class public transportation system. Electrification is scheduled to go online in 2022, and Measure RR will pay for operations for this cleaner, faster system. Electrified, quieter trains will mean cleaner air and less noise pollution for our communities, reducing criteria air pollutant emissions by up to 97% and eliminating over 176,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions along the corridor each year.
Importantly, Caltrain's Board of Directors recently adopted an Equity Framework designed to make Caltrain more accessible to more of our communities who don't currently ride. They're piloting a 50% fare reduction for lower-income riders that can be made permanent if Measure RR passes. The equity framework also proposes adding more trains to its schedule during off-peak hours, expanding access to station facilities and improving connections to other public transit routes.
An expanded Caltrain also provides a much-needed economic boost to the area. Projections show that Measure RR will add approximately 16,000 good paying jobs across the three counties.
Ensuring that Caltrain not only survives this pandemic but is in a position to thrive afterward is critical to our post-pandemic quality of life. Can you imagine if the tens of thousands of daily riders were to drive their cars instead? Join me in supporting Measure RR to support Caltrain and protect this critical transportation system for decades to come.
Marc Berman is the state assembly member for the 24th District..
Vote 'no' on Measure RR
by Michael Brady
On the November ballot is a tax measure, Measure RR, which would create an additional sales tax for the benefit of Caltrain. Sensible voters should vote "no" on this measure; Caltrain is a bloated, mismanaged public works nightmare that doesn't deserve taxpayer help during these tough times.
For years, Caltrain has been engaged in a program to "electrify" its main line from San Jose to San Francisco. This has been, and continues to be, a financial disaster. Its original cost estimate was $800 million; now it is up to four times that — or over $3.2 billion! This is a prime example of government waste and profligacy that the voters hate.
In connection with this electrification project, Caltrain has to develop a sophisticated signaling system to prevent collisions. Knowing that a certain contractor had been found incompetent in Denver, Caltrain went out and hired the same contractor with disastrous results on the Peninsula and after spending untold millions of dollars.
Instead of the ruinous electrification project, Caltrain refused to consider modern Tier 4 diesel trains as an alternative; they cost one-quarter as much, are quiet and clean, and get you to San Francisco about three minutes later than an electric train. Is that "severe delay" worth putting up with to save billions? Another example of Caltrain bullheadedness.
Caltrain made an unholy alliance/marriage with the California High-Speed Rail Authority; Caltrain received $745 million from HSR, and in return gave up control of its 50 mile right of way, agreeing to let HSR run 10 trains north and 10 trains south every hour, a little exercise that will paralyze the Peninsula with the crossing gates coming down every three minutes. No one will be able to get to work on time, get the kids to school on time, get to the emergency room, and the merchants of the Peninsula will be severely hurt, as if they aren't already suffering enough from the pandemic.
The Peninsula will be paralyzed by this stupid move. And they did this with no money for grade separation, and their famous comment as to what they were about to impose was, "We'll see how things develop!"
Currently Caltrain's ridership is down 95%; yet have they furloughed or laid off employees and executives like private industry has had to do? No. They sit fat and happy with the CEO making more than $500,000 a year! A recipe for disaster.
There is no long-term planning: For example, who says that people on the Peninsula will return to work in San Francisco? Or will they stay home to work? Will all our work habits change, with limited commute traffic compared to before? Why aren't these issues being analyzed before any tax is imposed on the people?
Caltrain has also become a wealthy person's commute vehicle. The average household income for a rider is $100,000 per year, according to a 2018 Caltrain ridership survey; this is scarcely a program for the poor and disadvantaged. But a sales tax is regressive and hurts the poor the most.
Measure RR is a bad financial decision for a badly run entity. Send Caltrain a message; vote "no" on Measure RR.
Michael J. Brady is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School who has practiced law in Redwood City since the late 1960s and been active in litigating against the California High Speed Rail Project, trying to keep it off of the Peninsula. He has lived in Menlo Park and Woodside for more than 50 years.