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Bullet train budget battle: Should California spend more on urban transit, not high-speed rail?

Original post made on Jul 25, 2021

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants $4.2 billion to finish the Central Valley link for the bullet train, but legislators aren’t sold. The governor and fellow Democrats are negotiating whether to spend more on urban transportation projects.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, July 25, 2021, 10:03 AM

Comments (11)

Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2021 at 12:08 pm

Samuel L is a registered user.

Laughable when they laud these projects as "job creators". At the $4.2 Newsom proposed with 1100 workers on the project, they can give each of those workers $3.8 MILLION.

The people making the most money are not the actual workers. It's the consultants, the lawyers and the politicians. (i.e. the people who don't really need the money).

Fund projects that build something that will be useful to transporting Californians throughout the state. You'll still get your "job creation" sound bite and in the end, something that people might actually use.

Posted by C.A.M.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2021 at 12:18 pm

I spent four years attending the frustrating high speed rail meetings in the mid-peninsula before the High Speed Rail group gave up (largely because of lack of consensus in a congested area) and moved to the Central Valley so as to not lose the hefty federal government funds already allotted for HSR. What we, the Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas need is efficient, reliable commuter rail service 24 hours a day at reasonable intervals before considering high speed transit between San Francisco and Los Angeles. As both Elkind and Friedman said, the high speed rail project is putting the cart before the horse. If people first get used to riding trains for local commuting they are more likely to look at rail for longer distance travel. Also, maintaining and upgrading the current rail lines between San Francisco and San Diego is more important than than making the corridor high speed as Atkins indicated. We should stress funding for these local transit projects now! Apply for federal high speed rail funds after reducing local commute traffic.

As far as jobs are concerned, there will be rail building jobs on transit available, perhaps not close to home, but transit projects inevitably move from one area to another as transit projects are built so that argument doesn't hold water. Politics needs to be curtailed in favor of planning financially for what will do the most for the constituents in the long run, not for a short period.

Posted by Demetrius Lanham
a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2021 at 12:30 pm

Demetrius Lanham is a registered user.

Why not a bullet Caltrain between San Jose and San Francisco?

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 26, 2021 at 12:31 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

We need to be thinking about Utilitarianism and its concept of "The Greater Good". If applied to this situation, that would argue very heavily in favor of investing in urban and suburban public transport for the masses, and not a hugely expensive high speed rail that benefits only a very small fraction of CA residents.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2021 at 12:34 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Personally speaking, I think public transportation has to be put center stage in the Bay Area. Get rid of all the difference agencies. Get one agency to coordinate schedules, tickets, pricing and advertising. Stop looking at public transport as a system for poor people, instead look at it as efficient travel for commuters as a reliable alternative to driving. Get shuttles to airports and business areas from highway offramps and get more ferries and shuttles to cross the Bay.

If Google can do it for their employees, then everyone should have that option. Perhaps Google can be asked to run it!

Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 26, 2021 at 3:10 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Thanks for distributing CalMatters news. CalMatters is solid journalism for the entire state.

I hope this can be a springboard for more local insight on the latest funding and activities of VTA and Caltrain. BART releases much better information about their service levels and resumption of traffic and capacity.

Covid slowdown has created an opportunity window to refocus on Palo Alto's grade crossing dilemmas. What is the latest thinking of city staff and Council?

Last but not least: What is the future of Palo Alto Transportation Management Association? The recent coverage of Mt. View TMA raises the opportunity to re-evaluate small employer PATMA assumptions vs greater attention to last-mile transportation services subsidized by larger employers.

BTW, Mt. View TMA shuttles serve employees and the general public!

Here is great link to the Mt. View Voice newspaper coverage of Mt. View's public/private TMA.

Web Link

Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 26, 2021 at 4:10 pm

Pat Markevitch is a registered user.

Demetrius Lanham, high speed trains between San Jose and San Francisco is not possible. The top speed a train is allowed to travel through that corridor is 65 MPH. Caltrain, without any stops in between, could do the in an hour.

Bystander, I agree with you 100%. One agency coordinating every aspect of all local agencies would be wonderful.

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2021 at 3:18 pm

Me 2 is a registered user.

Public transit requires a critical mass of density of housing and businesses to pencil out. As long as residentialists are in charge in the mid-peninsula, there won't be enough people to ride transit. Even at it's peak in 2018-2019, Caltrain had a pathetic ridership of less than 70K riders *each way* (which pencils out to only 35K roundtrips).

As for single agency, it's not a panacea. We have VTA as a single agency in Santa Clara County, and they're looking to defund North Santa Clara County of service. That's what would happen with a single agency - most funding would go to the population centers - SF, Oakland and San Jose, leaving transit deserts in between.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2021 at 11:23 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

The problem with most of California's "urban transit" is that it simply isn't COST EFFECTIVE as a driving replacement.

The people who argue otherwise claim try to nitpick all of the "costs" of car ownership -- including everything from routine maintenance to licenses/fees, tolls, parking, insurance, gasoline, etc. The problem, of course, is that MOST people will still own a vehicle even if they periodically or regularly use public transit.


Public transit only gets you from Point A to Point B (and anywhere in between along the line/route). It can't take you to grandma's house, the beach, etc. In fact, if you want to take public transit to the San Francisco Zoo, it's going to take over TWO HOURS and several public transit changes (whereas direct driving can take 40 minutes). It will also cost nearly $25 per person for public transit.

In other words, most people will still own at least one car. All of those routine ownership costs are still going to be felt by the population. So, it isn't fair to assess those costs when comparing the costs of public transit.

Right now, it costs $8.25 (one way or $16.50 roundtrip) to take Caltrain to San Francisco from Palo Alto. Those prices are (yet again) going up soon.

Imagine that a person earns $15/hour in San Francisco. To take Caltrain, more than one hour of your workday earnings is used to pay for transit each day (and that is if you walk before or after arriving to stations). When you consider the cost of taxes (state, local and federal), nearly three hours of each eight-hour workday is consumed by little more than going to work.

My point is that public transit should be the best financial option. A $16.50 round trip EVERY DAY fare is just too high. In fact, I would argue that it should be roughly half of that -- probably the equivalent of the price of gas to make such a commute. A less expensive fare would raise demand. More demand means more riders. More riders means more money per train.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 28, 2021 at 12:58 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

I do believe in public transit, particularly for regular commutes or things like trips to airports.

I don't believe in public transit for say weekend trips to visit Grandma, but then again, they are a great way to get to a Giants game or Sharks game. I don't believe they will replace the family car. Remember all the zip cars a few years ago. People were encouraged to stop owning a car and use a short term rental program for trips to Costco or Ikea, or even to go skiing! What happened to those. Uber and Lyft have been very popular, but is that popularity waning?

Having lived in areas, nowhere near as big as the Bay Area, where public transit is the norm, it can be done. It is attitudes that make it so poorly workable here. The attitude of transit agencies that they are providing a service for people who can't afford car ownership. The attitude of people who think that they need to have a car with them so that after work they can go to do other things without first going home. The attitude of people who are afraid of the half mile walk which in fact would give them some much needed exercise on a daily basis. The attitude that unless we have dense housing it won't work. The attitude that transit has to pay for itself. The attitude that workplaces need to provide a huge parking lot to be attractive to employees.

Free parking outside the office is a perk and should be treated as such. Can free parking at work be taxed? Parking at Caltrain stations makes for a much more expensive trip than just the cost of the ticket, can we get more free parking at transit hubs? Can we get our highways to have transit buses with stops at say 5 mile off ramp parking/shuttle facilities?

The real problem is attitudes to transit, not the transit itself. Make public transit an affordable, efficient, comfortable, reliable, alternative to driving and if it works better than solo driving, people will use it.

Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2021 at 10:33 pm

Leslie York is a registered user.

ANOTHER $4.2 billion for HSR? What happened to the $10 billion we voted for in 2008? Did it evaporate? How many billions are we going to pour into this sparsely-traveled route between Madera and Shafter? It'll be a high-speed train between nowhere and nowhere — the world's most expensive rail line, if it's ever built. The article tap dances around air travel, the most expedient option to go between northern and southern California.

Why are we focusing on rail transit in drought-stricken California with our agricultural economy? A succession of Governors has done practically nothing about water or water management despite periodic droughts since the '70s. Is anybody in Sacramento even thinking about desalination plants?

Nobody thinks about water until we've had a couple of years of sparse rainfall; then it becomes an instant crisis which seems to vanish come the first wet year. But don't worry — you can get from Shafter to Madera at high speed through the California dust bowl.

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