State legislation introduced Wednesday would allow Caltrain to seek voter approval for a new sales tax to help cover capital and operating costs.
Senate Bill 797, introduced by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, along with several other Bay Area senators and Assembly members, would authorize the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which runs Caltrain, to place a one-eighth-cent sales tax on the ballot in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
The measure could only be placed on the ballot once the joint powers board gives it two-thirds approval. The boards of supervisors for San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and transportation authorities in the three counties would also have to approve it.
Caltrain currently runs on voluntary contributions from the three counties participating in the joint powers authority and is the only passenger rail service in the U.S. to be financed in that manner.
SB 797 is intended to end fluctuations in those contributions and establish a reliable funding source, according to Hill.
Caltrain, which carries commuters between Gilroy and San Francisco, is currently operating over capacity and needs funding to meet demands for increased service, he said.
"Our region is an economic powerhouse for our state, but its continued growth is jeopardized if our residents cannot get back and forth to work, school and their families because our main transportation corridor cannot accommodate them," Hill said.
The legislation was introduced with the backing of Peninsula business groups including the San Mateo County Economic Development Association and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
"Highway 101 has become so congested that we've changed its name to the 101 Parking Lot," Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino said. "This bill would enable voters to dramatically increase Caltrain's ridership capacity, which would be transformative in the congested 101 corridor."
The text of the bill can be found at sd13.senate.ca.gov.