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Guest Opinions: Arguments for, against Caltrain's Measure RR

This fall, voters in three Bay Area counties will decide on an eighth-cent sales tax that would support Caltrain operations. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

'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.

Marc Berman is the state assembly member for the 24th District. Courtesy Marc Berman.

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.

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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.

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Marc Berman is the state assembly member for the 24th District. .

Vote 'no' on Measure RR

by Michael Brady

Michael Brady is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School who has practiced law in Redwood City since the late 1960s. Courtesy 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.

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Guest Opinions: Arguments for, against Caltrain's Measure RR

by /

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 16, 2020, 6:54 am

'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.

Comments

auggiesman
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2020 at 11:25 am
auggiesman, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2020 at 11:25 am
6 people like this

It's interesting that the commenters are asked to be respectful and truthful in our postings, yet Mr. Brady can call Caltrain management "stupid" and sitting "fat and happy." Grade separations I believe are the responsibility of local governments. We need Caltrain, period. Our alternatives are exhausted - no more freeway expansion can happen, and returning to cars is not the answer. I've voted against other funding measures, but not funding Caltrain is short sighted.


Anne
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 16, 2020 at 11:41 am
Anne, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2020 at 11:41 am
34 people like this

I agree that we need Caltrain, but this regressive tax is a gift to Silicon Valley Leadership Group. I voted No.


Jennifer
Registered user
Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2020 at 12:21 pm
Jennifer, Barron Park
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2020 at 12:21 pm
43 people like this

I voted no too. We are being taxed left and right and everywhere, It is definitely irresponsible of Cal Train not to take cost cutting measures during the pandemic. It's like living above one's means and just ask for parents for handouts when money is running low.


Common sense
Registered user
Mountain View
on Oct 16, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Common sense, Mountain View
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2020 at 1:05 pm
28 people like this

I too am a fan and supporter of Caltrain and I too intend to vote AGAINST this measure.

Partly for reasons Michael Brady cited here (in times of financial stress and prioritization, you check how well an agency has handled past funding; the recent record doesn't build confidence that Caltrain would suddenly become lean and responsible if it had a new long-time guaranteed funding source). Partly because it's Yet Another Sales Tax Increment!!! (that alone might have made the difference for me). And partly because of living here a while and knowing the history. In another discussion, someone mentioned that this train line has operated since the 1860s (as if to say, therefore we MUST keep it well funded) -- whereas what that history really demonstrates is that Caltrain (under various names) has endured many changes, including some extremely lean times. Even in recent years it survived temporary funding crises. WHY ON EARTH not simply scale back operations, expenses, payroll during the pandemic, then expand service again once the fares return?

Because I really am a longtime Caltrain fan, I'm connected with some of the folks passionately arguing for Measure RR. They DO NOT examine the points I just mentioned. Instead they take as a premise that RR "must" be passed, and proceed entirely on that basis. Not good enough!


Casual Observer
Registered user
another community
on Oct 16, 2020 at 3:10 pm
Casual Observer, another community
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2020 at 3:10 pm
31 people like this

Mass transportation requires mass ridership. Mass ridership will never return because working from home is working. Empty trains will not reduce pollution. VOTE NO ON MEASURE RR.


Old Steve
Registered user
St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 16, 2020 at 3:12 pm
Old Steve, St. Claire Gardens
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2020 at 3:12 pm
3 people like this

It is a binary choice. Caltrain has cut back service. The people who operate the trains work for a private contractor. If it is shutdown and later re-opened, $155 million in restart costs is several years of the tax revenue. I disagree with some of Mr. Brady's word choices, I don't think they fit with "respectful and truthful" above. He is certainly entitled to his views about HSR, but without that money for electrification, Caltrain would likely be shutdown already. Sales taxes are regressive, but Silicon Valley has been using them for transportation funding since 1984.
I am looking forward to riding the new trains to both San Francisco and San Jose. I will vote yes.


Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 16, 2020 at 3:34 pm
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2020 at 3:34 pm
41 people like this

There remain three existing sales taxes to support Caltrain, Measures A,B, and Prop K. There is no need for a new tax. Vote no.


Leslie York
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2020 at 8:17 pm
Leslie York, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2020 at 8:17 pm
20 people like this

If Caltrain is experiencing hard times with ridership down 90%, they should hit the "stop" button on their electrification project immediately. Have they done that or are they continuing to electrify the line during these trying times?

The trains ran just fine for decades on diesel. Electrification is all well and fine if you have the funds, which are hard to come by with ridership down 90%. It looks like they are trying to use the tax as a back-door way of continuing to fund electrification with fare-box revenue down.

Is a 30-year tax necessary? Chances are good that in 30 years the pandemic will be gone and ridership will be back up. Will the tax still be necessary then?


Thomas Paine
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 17, 2020 at 9:44 am
Thomas Paine, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2020 at 9:44 am
46 people like this

The rail fanatics have completely ignored the seminal shift in work/commute patterns introduced by the pandemic. Cal Train does not need to expand because ridership will never get back to pre-pandemic levels. Companies have discovered that working remotely is a viable option. The most probable outcome will be a blended work arrangement where employees spend 1-2 days per week in the office. And that office in many cases may will be a regional meeting/conference center in the Central Valley. That is already happening with major Silicon Valley employers opening satellite meeting facilities in the Sierra foothills. And by the way, the highly paid Cal Train riding techies who used to live in 900 sq. ft. apartments in SF are enjoying life in the suburbs in spacious homes with yards and good schools. Vote no on RR.


Leslie York
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2020 at 2:47 pm
Leslie York, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2020 at 2:47 pm
31 people like this

"ridership will never get back to pre-pandemic levels. Companies have discovered that working remotely is a viable option."

You might be right. In that case I imagine Caltrain will respond as it usually does: raise fares.

People have questioned the need for HSR due to telecommuting. So hold off on boring that insane 13-mile rail tunnel through Pacheco Pass (in close proximity to the San Andreas fault).


Reality Check
Registered user
another community
on Oct 22, 2020 at 2:48 pm
Reality Check, another community
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2020 at 2:48 pm
Like this comment

The federal CARES Act emergency relief funding that has allowed Caltrain (and other transit agencies) to survive and continue providing “lifeline” service for lower-income and essential workers throughout the pandemic PROHIBITS job cuts ... so those federally-imposed conditions are why Caltrain has literally been unable to make workforce cuts.

As anyone who follows Caltrain board meetings also knows, when CARES Act funding is anticipated to run out, Caltrain intends to make whatever workforce adjustments make sense at that time.

Like for all US transit operators, nothing in Caltrain’s history comes even remotely close to the existential funding crisis it now faces ... and unlike most all transit operators, it has never enjoyed any dedicated funding source(s), relying instead on ridership revenue for ~70% and on voluntary annual contributions from the respective “partner” transit agencies (VTA, SamTrans & Muni) of the 3 counties it serves for the balance of its operating budget ... making it the nation’s highest-performing rail transit agency for decades.

Oh, and the fully-funded $2 billion system electrification project replacing the entire fleet with state-of-the-art, high-performance, sleek, renewable electricity powered Stadler (Swiss) trains is now well over halfway complete, and will allow for level boarding and better-than-BART service in our post-COVID future.

(Visit calmod.org to see the new trains being built in a new US Stadler train factory in SLC, Utah, in compliance with “Buy America” rules.)

The SB797-authorized 1/8¢ sales tax was conceived of years ago (i.e. pre-COVID) to facilitate a long-overdue stable funding source to permit realization of that service vision. Due to the unforeseen pandemic, if passed, it will initially now serve as a survival lifeline until we slowly transition into the post COVID-19 pandemic era.


Leslie York
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2020 at 5:47 am
Leslie York, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 23, 2020 at 5:47 am
12 people like this

First, get your semantics right. Don't mislead the public.

1/8 CENT equals $0.00125 no matter the amount.

1/8 PERcent equals $12.50 on $10,000. Big difference. It's how Elizabeth Warren used to misrepresent her "wealth tax". Any graduate of Palo Alto schools knows what a PERcentage is.

Below is a summary of how the revenue would be spent:

Web Link


Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 25, 2020 at 3:52 pm
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 25, 2020 at 3:52 pm
8 people like this

No on RR. Use existing sales taxes. Make cuts. The cost of living is too high to pay more taxes to benefit union workers and affluent riders.


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