Today’s Headlines

  • SFMTA Chief Nat Ford Could Find Out About a New Job Today (City Insider)
  • Nanny Online Forums Discuss How to Skirt Residential Parking Permit Rules (SF Examiner)
  • SFMTA Preparing Test Program to Put More Taxis on Streets During Peak Hours (SF Gate)
  • Vallejo Ferry, Bus Riders Speak Out Against Proposed SF Service Cuts (Vallejo Times-Herald)
  • Solano Supes Urge State to Provide More $ for Transpo Infrastructure (Vacaville Reporter)
  • Santa Clara Supe Ken Yeager on Caltrain Cuts: “It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way” (Chron Op-Ed)
  • “Senior Mobility Summit” to Get Underway in Santa Rosa Today (Press Democrat)
  • Redesign Proposed to Accommodate Bikes on I-280/Alpine Road Underpass (The Almanac)
  • Living in the O: Get Rid of My Bus Stop to Speed Up Service on AC Transit’s 51 Line
  • LA City Council Passes Bike Plan; Signing to Take Place Today (Streetsblog LA)
  • Meg Whitman Joins Board of ZipCar (GOOD via Streetsblog LA)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • I’m glad to hear someone is at least trying to do something about Caltrain instead of just throwing up their hands. Thank you, Ken Yeager.

  • Walter

    Re CalTrain, Yeager seems to be saying that since SamTrans can’t pay, VTA and SFMTA should pick up some of the slack.

    So the funding would no longer be evenly split between the three Counties, but rather in a barbell shape, with the two large cities/counties at the two terminii paying the bulk of the costs, and the more rural San Mateo County copping a break.

    That may reflect ridership patterns more equitably. Whether the voters will see subsidizing their county neighbors in that way is another matter.

    Maybe we’ll get our own back on San Mateo with that congestion charge.

  • Yet another reason to use local non-profit City CarShare over Zipcar.

  • “Is this $16 million infusion a long-term answer? No, but it buys a year’s time to see if a long-term solution like a dedicated funding source can be found.”

    Do you even read this stuff?

  • “Walter” has topped himself.

    “That may reflect ridership patterns more equitably”. Of course, this is easily researched (and shown to be incorrect), but why bother when it’s so much more fun and easy to throw out random assertions!

    San Mateo County can’t pay because they got the shaft by your precious BART.

  • By the way, the funding problem just got worse. Caltrain managed to ram a NB train into the 4th/King trainstoppers today, multiple injuries. Lovely.

  • Yeager can’t speak about BART killing SamTrans since VTA will soon be bled to death with the BART to SJ expansion.

  • Walter


    It’s obvious to anyone that there are much larger populations in SF and SC Counties than in SM County. So if you take the view (and I’m sure you predictably do) that CalTrain benefots more than just those who ride it, then it falls on those communities to put their hands in their pockets for CalTrain, And of course in some reasonable proportion to those populations, budgets etc.

    Today’s accident won’t help, as you note. I suspect the real solution here is a fiscal band-aid while we figure out how to make this system work in a way that actually makes sense. CalTrain is a mess. Let’s hope the voters are happy to keep pumping money in anyway.

  • Caltrain is not a mess!!!

    And 101 benefits the most from having reliable Caltrain service so we should put a toll on there to keep Caltrain running.

    Stop spitting unfounded platitudes, you have no idea what you are even talking about.

  • Walter


    If 30 million in the hole, for just one lousy year, isn’t a mess then I guess we don’t really have a problem then. That’s a relief to hear. But we can call it a “slight fiscal anomaly” if you prefer.

    BART ran a surplus of 8 million last year. It can be done.

  • Whatever you need to say to “win” the argument. Facts and reason have long since left the building.

  • Walter is actually Jimmy Wales, trying to drive Wikipedia traffic.

  • Let’s increase Caltrain funding by $38 Million. That covers the $30 million deficit, and ends the year with a $8 Million surplus! Bingo!

  • Justin

    Yeah exactly — Walter — BART has a surplus not because it is just so much more efficiently run than Caltrain or something. It has adequate funding sources. If its financial backers and grants pulled out, then it to would have a big deficit. How many times do you have to see people on this blog point out the fact that all transport modes (cars and planes included) are heavily, heavily subsidized and if funding was recalled for any of these modes they would be forced to shut down or run a deficit as well. If you don’t get this, don’t want to accept it, or just won’t believe it, then you’re not contributing to a discussion about the real world at all.

  • Walter


    Of course BART has public funding. That’s because the voters of the Counties served by BART voted to be taxed more to provide that funding. That’s understood.

    And the three counties served by CalTrain can also choose to vote on added funding for CalTrain. If they want it, they can pay for it.

    So yes, the difference between financial viability and fiscal ruin is the willingness of residents to tax themselves to subsidize it. The failure of CalTrain is the failure of the voters of those Counties to be convinced of it’s value.

    IOW, the running deficit isn’t the problem. It’s the symptom of the real problem. BART has better visibility because it is perceived as being a more useful system. Money flows to where value is perceived.

    So, put a voter initiative on the ballot for June.

  • You need to stop. This isn’t funny anymore.We are trying to have a real conversation.

    “The failure of CalTrain is the failure of the voters of those Counties to be convinced of it’s value.”

    Caltrain is run by a Joint Power Board and does not have the authority to levy a tax. This is being addressed at the state level. This is also the agreement that was reached when Caltrain came into existence. Please do a LITTLE bit of research.

    “It’s the symptom of the real problem. BART has better visibility because it is perceived as being a more useful system. Money flows to where value is perceived.”

    Once again, this is completely FALSE.

  • There has been no ballot initiative regarding Caltrain. That is not a failure of the voters – that’s a failure of Mike Scanlon. We go through this year after year, and he hasn’t done his job, because he relies on the riders to do it for him – threaten cuts, the riders scream and complain, and some random dollars come from the MTC to plug the hole.

    “So yes, the difference between financial viability and fiscal ruin is the willingness of residents to tax themselves to subsidize it.”

    I assume this means you are a HUGE supporter of both CAHSR and SMART.

  • Scanlon also wouldn’t have promoted bike capacity or tried (in Jan/Feb, the worse time of year) weekend baby bullets.

    I’d love to see the people we pay so handsomely (Scanlon and Ford) actually come up with some innovative ideas and responses to the trouble their agencies face. They are, however, good at one thing – cashing checks.

  • Walt


    Yes, I am a supporter of most rail transit investments. I’d include SMART and HSR, definitely. I’d also include the BART extensions and (if you can call it rail) the Central Subway.

    I think CalTrain is the wrong system for the route, even without it’s organizational structure and funding limitations. It’s over-engineered, uses inappropriate rolling stock, and is too slow. Longer-term, I’d like to see it’s ROW used for HSR or BART.


    We’re having a real conversation. You really should stop trying to shut down anyone who disagrees with you. After all, you learned from me that CS will link CalTrain to SF downtown. If I stick around, who knows how much more you might learn 🙂

  • John, also meant to ask you about the Alpine/280 revamp. I haven’t ridden under 280 there, I usually head up Woodside to Canada, but sounds like I should avoid it at all costs. Do you think the new lay out will do any good? Is it really that bad right now anyway?

  • I haven’t looked at the plans. Alpine as it is, is better than Woodside road (note someone was killed by yet another elderly driver at Woodside/280 a few years back). In fact, I don’t really have any issues with Alpine, the worst part is after you cross there is traffic from 280 merging onto Alpine that often thinks they are still on the freeway.

    This is why I suspect that the driver was in error in that incident – it’s not that sketchy an intersection and the rider was very experienced. Quacks like a duck… My thoughts on that subject and 2 bucks will buy you a hot chocolate.

  • Walt (going with that now?),

    I learned no such thing. I’m not shutting down anyone who disagrees with me, just you (and your many names) because you fail the capacity to research any of the topics in which you address.

    BART down the peninsula? You do realize that Caltrain and BART have different rail gauges, right? +1 for random assertions!

  • jd

    Walter wrote: “If 30 million in the hole, for just one lousy year, isn’t a mess then I guess we don’t really have a problem then.”

    As others have pointed out, it isn’t Caltrain’s fault. After Bart, Caltrain has the highest percentage of its revenue come from farebox of all the transit agency’s in the Bay Area. Their administrative costs are 6%, also one of the lowest for all Bay Area transit agencies. There on-time percentage is consistently in the lower to mid 90-percentage range, as good as anything else. And ridership has continually increased (even with fare increases and in the last two years, service cuts) since the introduction of the baby bullets. If that’s not an efficient and well-run transit agency, then nothing is.

    And like all other transit agencies, Caltrain relies on subsidies. Those subsidies were cut this year (and a little last year, but it was small enough to be filled), so they have a problem. And those subsidies were cut because *other* transit agencies, eg, SamTrans, are having the financial difficulties, not Caltrain.

    Caltrain’s only mistake for which they are culpable, is that they haven’t pushed harder to get a reliable, dedicated source of funding. Granted, that’s a big problem, but you certainly cannot criticize Caltrain for being poorly or inefficiently run.

    But moving forward, in the short-term I really would like to see the state government help fill Caltrain’s $30 million deficit, or at least enough (say half) of it so they can run *some* non-commute and weekend trains. In the long-term, Caltrain and the transit agencies involved need to work very hard on getting a dedicated source of funding, which probably means putting a tax raise on the ballot for this November.

  • Wwalt


    I Understand the more complex funding nature of CalTrain. But to get back to the cited news article today, it’s entirely possible for one of the Counties or Agencies effected – in this case, VTA – to step up their investment to offset shortfalls elsewhere.

    And they in turn can go to their County’s voters with a proposition for revenue increases if they feel the support is there.

    So the problem is solvable, in the way which Yeager is suggesting. The question is whether the public will is there? And that comes back to the perceptions of utility and value I cited earlier.


    Of course BART or HSR can’t just run along CalTrain tracks, and for more reasons that the one you cited. That’s why I was careful to say alternatives could run on CalTrain’s ROW. The tracks, signaling, clearances etc. would all have to be re-engineered but it would still be much cheaper and quicker than trying to buy a new ROW through eminent domain, and then build out.

    And when BART runs through to San Jose, even though via the East Bay route, there’d be an opportunity to do those works, maybe running buses down 101 from Millbrae to Diridion.

    Sorry about the handle variations but someone at SFSB appears to be amusing themselves by trying to create hoops for me to jump through. Maybe registration here should be compulsory? I have nothing to hide.

  • Possibly because you enjoy talking circles and “winning” arguments that you fabricate?

    And you completely ignored everything jd posted. I still seriously lack you have any grasp on how Caltrain is funded or why SamTrans is in the dire straights it is in now. The only reason I feel any need to rebuff your non-researched comments is because I’d prefer that your misinformation doesn’t stay uncontested. If you actually had questions, instead of unfounded assertions, then maybe we can have a constructive dialog. However, you choose to completely ignore facts (BART is sinking SamTrans and therefore sinking Caltrain), propose ridiculous suggestions (BART on Caltrain ROW?? and buses on 101??), and do so behind an ever evolving handle (end each comment with the same name if you are having trouble signing in).

    I’d love to ignore you, but if people read these comments looking for deeper discussion on the topics and find your unfounded comments uncontested, they may be led to believe the crap you throw up. You are welcome to your opinion, but not your own facts.

  • jd


    As a short-term solution, I agree with you: the other counties should help out if they can, even if it’s only partially (just anything to prevent the loss of all non-commute and weekend service, and the shuttering of stations). However, my understanding was that VTA and MUNI aren’t doing so hot either. Can anybody confirm? I could look it up, but feeling lazy at the moment ….

    Long-term though, it’s not a viable solution. The contributions from each of the 3 member transit agencies are based on the daily number of riders who board in each county. And like a census, I’m sure those numbers are updated year-to-year to reflect the most current statistics. So you either have to make some creative arguments of why one (or two) of the agencies should pay more than the percentage of the riders that board in their country, or else you have to find a different solution.

  • jd

    By the way, regarding Bart vs Caltrain down the Peninsula, for those who were not at the Friends of Caltrain meeting last month or follow Clem Tillier’s blog, Clem makes a convincing case for why Caltrain needs to be electrified and why Bart should not be extended down the Peninsula (unless you want to paint the electric Caltrain cars with the Bart logo and call it Bart!). His presentation is here:

    Unfortunately, it’s not as good without having him speaking along with it, but it gives the gist of his rather sound argument. Page 8 is particularly revealing: it is *way* cheaper to electrify Caltrain than expand Bart down the Peninsula to San Jose. He also makes the good point that, even though there is a large capital investment with Caltrain having to buy new electric cars, they are already going to have to buy new cars anyway, whether they are electric or not.

  • jd,

    I’ve never heard that about the funding being based on the percentage of ridership. I tried looking that up, but couldn’t find anything. Do you have more info on that? Thanks.

  • John, here a little blip about the Caltrain incident. SFist as well.

  • Evan

    No talk of the Vallejo ferry/bus service? I use that all the time to get to the northeast bay area, and it’s really useful. It’s also expensive and relatively well-used, so I’m surprised that they’re looking at cuts. I can’t imagine mid-day weekday is very well used, but it would really be a shame to cut it. I imagine that service is one of the main reasons that people decide to live in Vallejo. It’s super fast too, bus only takes about 40 mins from downtown Vallejo to the SF Ferry building.

    I say raise peak fares when service is most popular.

  • jd


    At the Friends of Caltrain summit back on Saturday, January 29th, Caltrain Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey gave a brief talk outlining the finances of Caltrain in order to explain why there was a $30 million deficit:

    The presentation is well worth reading as its a concise summary of the financial basics of Caltrain.

    On slide 16, he shows the numbers for the contributions of the 3 member agencies. During the summit, the question was asked: how are those determined? To which he replied: it’s based on the number of boardings in each county. So that was how I found out.

    However, you can more or less see it for yourself though. The numbers he gave for FY2011 on slide 16 are (with the percentage indicating the percent each member contributes out of the total all members contribute):

    SFMTA: $6.2 million (17.7%)
    SamTrans: $14.7 million (42%)
    VTA: $14.1 million (40.2%)

    If you look at the ridership counts by country, which can be found on page 7 of this:

    you get:

    SF: 26.4%
    SM: 32.2%
    SC: 41.4%

    So it doesn’t exactly match up as far as I can tell, but it’s approximately correct. SF apparently pays less than it should while San Mateo is paying more, and Santa Clara seems to be paying the right amount. Not sure what that discrepancy is all about though …. Be a good question for Caltrain.

  • Thank you jd. I’ll go through those presentations now. I wanted to go to that summit but I was out of town, sounds like it was very informative.

  • Frank


    Did CalTrain explain how they got the ridership counts? The slide says they counted “Boardings” which, to me anyway, implies they counted people where get on the train but not where they got off.

    Again, how did they count? Count a few days at random and then extrapolate?

    Or did they infer it from ticket sales?

    It was interesting that they claimed they can save more than 80% of their deficit by cutting about half their services, given that they must have substantial fixed costs.

  • @Frank – they actually hire a bunch of high school/college kids to ride the train and count passengers on/off. Seriously.

    Inferring from ticket sales doesn’t work. A zone 1-3 ticket could take you from SF to Mountain View – San Francisco County to Santa Clara County. Or it could take you from San Bruno to Menlo Park – entirely contained in San Mateo County.

    A big chunk of their costs is labor. The removal of the stations is actually so the train runs are faster, and they can run with fewer crews. The savings of not having the station up and running is not the big winner there – especially since in theory they will maintain them for future reintegration.

  • lmz

    At the SF Caltrain meeting, I asked the presenter about the caltrain funding formula as well and he said it’s based on AM boardings, not daily boardings, so they are trying to weight them based on commuter’s home-locations rather than destinations.

    The 2008 financial report ( says “Under the Joint Powers Agreement, net operating and administrative costs are to be apportioned based on a morning boarding formula.” But then it also talks about 3% annual increases so it sounds like they do the boarding-calculation less frequently than annually.

  • jd


    If you go to the ridership counts link I provided, on the first page it provides the methodology:

    “Weekday boarding and alighting headcounts for every train are collected Monday through Friday at all stations with weekday service. The total number of passengers for each train is then averaged over the five weekdays to get a single average weekday boarding count and a single average weekday alighting count per train at each station. Averaging the counts for five days ensures that changes in ridership that are seen over any given week are taken into account. The average weekday boardings are then used as the average weekday ridership (AWR).”

    As John mentioned, Caltrain has volunteers (some are high school aged, but not most) standing near the doors on all cars of certain trains throughout the day keeping track of who gets on and who gets off. If you ride the train regularly during February (when they do their counts), you can’t miss them.

    lmz: I didn’t know that. The AM peak boarding numbers by county are, for 2010:

    SF: 20.8%
    SM: 35.4%
    SC: 43.9%

    and these numbers are definitely closer to the percent of money they each contribute, so I think you are right.

    lmz: if you look at the most recent quarterly financial report:

    it says on the bottom of page 30: “Member agencies provide funding to the JPB. Net operating and administrative costs are apportioned on the basis of mutually agreed contribution rates, updated on an *annual* basis.” [emphasis mine].