Advocates Gear Up to Make Caltrain Awesome

One of Caltrain's first new trainsets, under wire. Photo: CalMod
One of Caltrain's first new trainsets, under wire. Photo: CalMod

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Advocates with the San Francisco Transit Riders, Friends of Caltrain, Seamless Bay Area, and other pro-transit groups are gearing up a campaign to get the required two-thirds of voters in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties to support a 1/8 cent sales tax on the November ballot and raise over $100 million annually for Caltrain.

“Measure RR will make sure Caltrain is still there when we all need it. If we don’t support Caltrain now with this new funding source, at the very least it will face an uncertain future and fare increases. With this measure, Caltrain can move forward with increased service throughout the day so it’s not just for commuters, and with its fare assistance and equity programs that will make it more accessible to more riders,” wrote the San Francisco Transit Rider’s Cat Carter, in an email to Streetsblog.

Back in 2017, Caltrain started electrifying its tracks. The $2 billion project should be completed in two more years. That’s a necessary first step towards transforming the rail service from one geared towards salaried 9-to-5 commuters to one that runs at 15-minute intervals all day long and into the late evening, more useful to service workers and people taking recreational trips up and down the Peninsula.

Caltrain has sometimes been accused of being a “tech train,” serving only the needs of relatively well-paid workers at Google, Facebook and other tech giants on the Peninsula. This accusation came up during last month’s kerfuffle between Caltrain and San Francisco Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Shamann Walton.

But from Streetsblog’s viewpoint, such accusations miss the point: the whole idea of the tax is to make Caltrain more accessible by offering more discounted ticket programs and more frequent service – frequent enough throughout the day to be an option for everyone, rich or poor. That’s why Caltrain passed an equity plan – to broaden access. “The ballot measure will make Caltrain more accessible to a bigger variety of people,” explained Friends of Caltrain’s Adina Levin during an online forum held last Thursday. “If you want a system accessible to all, we should fund it and run it according to these policies.”

Caltrain running under new cantenary poles in 2019. Hayden Clarkin's twitter feed
Caltrain running under new cantenary poles in 2019. Hayden Clarkin’s twitter feed

“If Caltrain provided more frequent service, including more frequent service all day and all week, not only at peak commute times (i.e., service more like BART), it would achieve BART-like ridership,” wrote Levin in a post for Seamless Bay Area. “Caltrain ridership could quadruple by 2040 if it provided enough space on the trains and frequent service.  In order to carry that many people in cars instead, the region would need to double-deck Highway 101.

Furthermore, funding Caltrain also frees up funding for other transit agencies on the corridor. “We don’t generally love sales taxes, but SFTR strongly supports this one,” wrote Carter. “We don’t know when the next opportunity will be to secure more funding for Caltrain. In the era of COVID, this funding is even more crucial. It will also reduce what each county currently pays in, freeing up funds that can support Muni service.”

Friends of Caltrain, meanwhile, has created a pledge card people can sign if they want to help in the campaign. In addition, they ask:

  • Are you part of a nonprofit or community group that might like to endorse Measure RR?
  • Do you have colleagues at work who’d like to know about what’s needed now to save and improve Caltrain?

If so, Levin asks readers to send a note to “…and we will get you the info you need and a short zoom presentation or brown bag info session.”