Commentary: Bill Would Give Caltrain Permanent Financial Stability

July 19, 2017

Mercury News
By Jeff Gee, Tom Nolan and Perry Woodward

As current and former chairs of the Caltrain board of directors, we are happy and thankful that state Sen. Jerry Hill has introduced a bill to address Caltrain’s longstanding need for a permanent, dedicated funding source.

Every year, the absence of a dedicated source of funding threatens Caltrain service levels, defers essential maintenance, and risks driving people back to their cars with disastrous effects to an already unacceptable level of traffic congestion.

San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties make up an extraordinary corridor of innovation, education, economic vitality and quality of life. Caltrain is the spine of this corridor. As our economy and communities have grown and Caltrain has implemented more and faster service, train ridership has exploded.

Moving forward, Caltrain is undertaking a transformational project to move the railroad into the 21st century, providing a fully electrified system that will mean more trains, running more frequently and with a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases. Electrification will allow Caltrain to almost double passenger capacity.

Today, the farebox covers about 70 percent of Caltrain operations and maintenance needs, leaving a substantial funding gap to be covered by Caltrain’s partners — the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, the San Mateo County Transit District and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.  Year after year, these already cash-strapped agencies struggle to pay their shares, putting Caltrain in a fiscal straitjacket at a time when the railroad should be growing to meet growing demand.