Comment: SMCo. BART disaster killing Caltrain, SamTrans
- Published Saturday March 19, 2005, in the Peninsula Independent
By Lou Papan
How Peninsula Transit Got Derailed
Soon, Peninsula residents residing in Santa Clara, San Mateo, and
San Francisco counties will learn the full breadth of the financial
straits of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) which
operates the Caltrain service and is managed by the San Mateo County
Transit District (SamTrans) administration.
The JPB is facing an estimated $13.6 million deficit next year and
has only $1.4 million in reserves.
The $13.6 million deficit represents approximately 16 percent of the
$78 million annual budget for the rail service and will translate
into significant service cuts in the coming fiscal year beginning
July 1, 2005.
Communities hosting stations with the fewest number of boarding
passengers will be the hardest hit. This will likely include
stations such as Atherton, Broadway Avenue in Burlingame, College
Park in San Jose, and 22nd Avenue in San Francisco.
San Mateo County transit officials have cited increased fuel costs,
diversion of gas tax revenue by the state, and the failure of our
partner counties of Santa Clara and San Francisco to contribute
their shares of operating revenues for the financial disaster.
But the real cause has much more to do with the failed long-term
management of the system, a debilitating characteristic evident
in both of our major transit operations in San Mateo County.
In March of 2004, the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)
threatened to sue SamTrans if the agency did not pay an $11 million
debt owed to operate the BART-SFO extension. The cause of this
dispute arose from the fact that SamTrans officials, in their
rush to bring BART to Millbrae and the airport, signed off on an
agreement to cover any operating deficits for the new line in
the event that it did no turn a profit. Of course, the Millbrae
extension has been a disaster, with just over half of the promised
ridership actually getting on board.
Initially, the BART-SFO deficit was projected to be $6 million
annually but skyrocketed to $22 million in its first year of
operation. SamTrans officials negotiated an $8.9 million payment,
but the ongoing obligations will continue to drain our resources.
Local transit officials have already stated that there is no funding
to cover this debt in the next fiscal year.
So, in order to cover this disaster, San Mateo County's Measure A
half-cent sales tax was tapped. Over the life of the 25-year tax,
$30 million will be diverted to support a service that was never
supposed to require additional funding. But even Measure A funding
will not be enough to cover multi-million dollar losses. That is,
until the BART extension turns a profit.
As a result, county bus service managed by SamTrans will continue to
decline despite the claims by county officials that such cuts are
targeted at "underutilized" bus lines. Lower income communities and
geographically remote communities that rely on bus service will pay
the price. BART service is expensive by comparison, but due to the
stranglehold of the BART debt, transit dependent commuters will have
New leadership of our transit agencies it desperately needed. But
as San Mateo County was witness to recently, the local emperors
are reluctant to relinquish power.
In January, former San Mateo County Supervisor and current Chair
of the JPB, Mike Nevin stole a "public" seat on the SamTrans board.
After a decade on the board as an elected official, Nevin was termed
out of office but found a way to stay on as a "public" member. The
only defense offered by SamTrans staff was that they did "nothing
illegal." The seat was swapped without public notice or a public
interview process, but it was all by the book.
San Mateo County's transit systems are in crisis, but as Rome
burns the emperors continue to play the same tune on the same
broken fiddle. It is time for real reform and real leadership.
[BATN: See also:
VTA to try to sell Palo Alto on another SJ BART tax
Editorial: Caltrain gets it right -- speed will sell
Caltrain looks to express trains to help close budget gap
Transforming Caltrain: from caterpillar to butterfly in 3 steps
Caltrain proposes big changes to narrow $13.6m deficit
Caltrain cuts eyed -- Atherton service on chopping block
Caltrain eyes 35% fare hike and/or various service cuts
Caltrain to hold meetings on proposed fare hike, service cuts
Full Biography for Lou J. Papan
Letter: Nevin's slippery work on SamTrans Board
SamTrans may alter board rules -- will Nevin keep seat?
Daly City, Nevin domination of SamTrans grows into spat
"Transit activist" Silver claims to get calls from "enforcers"
Nevin says Samtrans board reform brouhaha just politics
Nevin/Daly City transit board appointments draw critcism
Nevin and his puppet sworn in to SamTrans over protests
Termed-out Nevin keeps on stage; Tissier on SamTrans
Opinion: SamTrans cronies hand Nevin the public's seat
SamTrans & Transbay JPA chair Mike Nevin profiled
SamTrans plans 3rd major service cut in 3 years
MTC still defends fraudulent SMCo. BART predictions
SamTrans plans service cuts, layoffs
Editorial: Hooray for SamTrans/BART payoff deal
Editorial: Hooray for SamTrans cave-in to BART
BART Millbrae cuts fail to stem SamTrans bleeding
BART, SamTrans settle SFO extension dispute
SamTrans, BART reach agreement on Millbrae failure
SamTrans cuts may eliminate or reduce 13 bus routes
BART, SamTrans try photo op to boost Millbrae flop
BART scraps SMCo. parking fees to boost ridership
BART to try free parking on failed SFO extension
BART to give away parking on failed $1.7b extension
Column: BART covets SamTrans' share of SMCo. transit tax
Column: SMCo. transit tax; BART dispute gets nastier
BART to sue SamTrans over SFO extension subsidies
BART plans to sue SamTrans over SFO extension red ink
SamTrans accused of reneging on BART pact