Monday, January 24, 2011

The Caltrain summits

A lot of attention is focusing on Caltrain given the budget situation and the possibility that most of the train service could be eliminated.

SVLG held a summit last Friday at Stanford mostly attended by representatives from businesses and governments. This Saturday, "Friends of Caltrain" will host a "grassroots" summit in San Carlos. The goals of both summit are to find solutions to the Caltrain funding problem and to the rally support.

The Caltrain situation is bring together political factions that have been at odds. SVLG, as we know, is behind the BART project and also supports high speed rail. On the other hand, cities like Palo Alto and Burlingame are lending support to preserve Caltrain service as they fight against the High Speed Rail Authority.

Regardless of their true intentions, it is clear that cities and businesses will hurt if Caltrain service were to be eliminated or curtailed significantly. The high tech businesses in the valley rely on Caltrain to bring employees that prefer to live in San Francisco. The cities up and down the Peninsula take advantage of Caltrain to promote downtowns and transit oriented developments. Employers like Stanford University depend on Caltrain to reduce traffic and cut down the parking spaces that otherwise would be required.

Some people, perhaps blinded by their pure hatred against high speed rail, think that Caltrain should be eliminated to kill any chance for high speed rail. At the same time, some high speed rail supporters suggest that high speed rail could be completed sooner if Caltrain were eliminated. But as history shows (Caltrain was closed on weekends from 2002-2004), there's no transit that can truly substitute Caltrain. There's also no room to add lanes on 101 without tearing down homes.

Given Caltrain's performance and potential, Caltrain needs and deserves a strong regional coalition in order to survive the financial crisis. If done right, Caltrain could be a catalyst for a more integrated and efficient regional transit system. If groups on both sides of the high speed rail issue can work together to save Caltrain, it is possible that they could agree on a high speed rail scenario that is integrated, achievable, and does not create unnecessary fear.

Location: SamTrans Auditorium,
1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos (near Caltrain)
Date: Saturday, January 29, 2011 Time: 8:30 am to 2:30 pm.


Anonymous said...

It's ironic to see the grossly misnamed Silicon Valley "Leadership" Group involved in the effort to save Caltrain. For the past decade or so, this loathsome bunch has been advocating extending BART to San Jose at the expense of just about every other transportation improvement in the south bay. The 2000 Measure A sales tax increase ballot language listed 14 specific projects or project areas which included:

Improving Caltrain by double-tracking to Gilroy and electrifying from Palo Alto to Gilroy.

Increasing the level of Caltrain service.

and connecting Caltrain with the Dumbarton Rail line.

Sadly, these and other promised projects have been sacrificed at the alter of BART, and this group hornswaggled voters into passing yet another BART tax in 2008. (some folks never learn.) Now this group wants YET ANOTHER TAX to bail out Caltrain.

Santa Clara County residents already pay enough in transit tax, most of which goes into one gold-plated, over-designed project that uses the wrong route. The last thing we need in this lousy economy is more taxes.

Peter said...

All of the items from Measure A that you mentioned were capital investments. Those would not pay for day-to-day operations of Caltrain.

The 2008 tax for BART was for operational spending. You really think another 1/8 cent tax similar to the BART tax passed in 2008 would break anyone in Santa Clara County? Especially if it would save Caltrain?

arcady said...

Yes, the taxes were to provide capital funding. And Caltrain doesn't lack funds for capital projects: just look at the San Bruno Grade Separation, the cost of which would have covered 6 years of operating budget deficits.

accountablevta said...

Usually capital projects are funded by outside sources that cannot be redirected to operations. The federal government for example supports transit through capital funding, but it doesn't provide ongoing operating subsidy. The federal government's attitude is take it or leave it. There's no chance to redirect that money for other uses (see what happened when Wisconsin and Ohio turned down federal HSR money).

The only leeway available is to use capital funding for "preventive maintenance" (a part of regular transit operation), which was how many agencies took advantage of the stimulus funding available two years ago.

arcady said...

Yes, I'm aware of the system of federal funding. But it messes up transit systems' incentives and distorts long-term planning. If the situation at Caltrain is as dire as its leadership would have us believe, then we'll have a nice $180 million bridge in San Bruno with no trains using it because there's no money to run it.

Anonymous said...

2000 measure A also allowed for "Funding operating and maintenance costs for increased bus, rail and paratransit services." But SVLG and their buddies have made sure that all the money is going to BART.

Anonymous said...

The 2008 Measure B will be remembered as a dramatically huge blunder. Rather than saving transit in SC Co., it will be the measure that destroyed it.

All Measure B money was funneled into one project(BART) that won't even be completely built to downtown SJ. Does anyone think SVLG didn't know this? They lied to win. And that they did.

But BART will go to Berryessa and every other transit system will diminish for lack of funding. Some victory, huh?