Go to the Friends of Caltrain for the most current actions to save Caltrain.
Can the Bay Area provide a seamless experience for transit users across agencies and modes? What role can be played by Clipper and Transit Data? How do other parts of the world provide integrated regional transit services? Come to SPUR San Francisco tomorrow, Wednesday July 16 at 12:30pm for a panel discussion, co-hosted by Friends of Caltrain.
Use this Facebook event page to invite friends and colleagues.
The California state budget agreement reached last week and voted on Sunday includes provisions to use Cap and Trade funding in a way that is likely help the Caltrain budget for years to come.
The cap and trade funding includes ongoing funding that can be used for transit in three different categories:
- 5% for Low Carbon Transit Operations – this is allocated by formula grant to transit agencies
- 10% for Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program – this is allocated by competitive grant to different agencies
- 10% for Sustainable Communities – these are allocated by competitive grant, and could fund local or agency initiatives to reduce carbon emissions
Critical for Caltrain electrification, the budget includes an annual ongoing allocation of 25% for High Speed Rail. The California High Speed Rail Blog explains how this is likely to help the High Speed Rail Authority stabilize its funding plan, by providing a base of funding to borrow against to help finance initial construction. If the High Speed Rail Authority is able to move ahead, it will be able to keep its commitment to fund Caltrain electrification. Caltrain has the money to complete the current EIR and planning, but will need more money for rail cars and implementation.
The Cap and Trade funding is expected to raise $850 million in budget year 2015, growing to $3 to $5 billion annual in future years. The first year is expected to provide $4.5 million each to Caltrain directly and to SamTrans, helping to address SamTrans’ challenge in paying its Caltrain operating bill.
For more on the Cap and Trade provisions and broader consequences, see this blog post from TransForm.
After a June mid-term election with dismal turnout, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group polled again, and results suggested not going forward with a transportation ballot measure for 2014, and trying again for 2016. The electorate in low-turnout elections mid-term elections tends to be less supportive of taxes than the electorate in national elections.
Given some of the issues raised in the rapid sprint toward a 2014 ballot measure whose timing took communities and transit agencies by surprise, it may be just as well to take the time to plan.
The package of capacity and speed improvements that were being proposed for Caltrain seemed reasonable (platform extensions, level boarding, diesel car replacement), but there wasn’t a solid approach for grade separations, which are likely to become increasingly important over the proposed 30 year time frame of a tax measure.
On the transit side, the ballot measure proposal focused almost entirely on BART and Caltrain ($1.8billion), with $50 million targeted toward special services for the elderly and disabled. There wasn’t attention and funding given to the bus components of the overall transit network.
What improvements will be necessary for the feeder services for BART and helpful additions as feeders for Caltrain? The backbone rail system, and rail/bus transfers, are priced out of reach for low income people, who are locked out of jobs, or locked into very slow bus commutes or budget-draining cars. Is it possible for our region to create a fare and transfer structure that could give low-wage workers access to jobs? Key bus routes have degraded in speed over the last decade due to traffic congestion and correspondingly lost ridership – should there be investments to speed up buses?
The highest priority reflected in the measure was peak hour congestion – but this does not address the needs of transit users who do not drive out of need – the elderly, disabled, and very low income – as well as the growing number of people – especially younger folks – who would rather not be driving. There is a need not just for transit at rush hour, but to be able to reach destinations throughout the day and evening. Sprawling Houston is realigning its transit system to provide a 24/7 “frequent network” – could Santa Clara County? Would community shuttles and/or newer on-demand technologies help serve the needs of the elderly and disabled. Could community shuttles help residents of densifying neighborhoods get around with fewer parking hassles?
Preparing for a ballot measure in 2016 would hopefully do a better job of considering transportation investments from an equity perspective. Preparing for a 2016 ballot measure could consider the perspective of a complete network including rail and bus, backbone and feeder, arteries and capillaries.
The transportation proposal included $1Billion in funding for expressways and expressway/freeway interchanges, with no funding for bus service in those corridors, and without discussion about whether there might be transportation mode shifts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Neither was there discussion about how the transportation investments related to the land use priorities in Plan Bay Area. The discussion about the ballot measure felt like SB375 – and regional goals to coordinate transportation and land use, and reduce vehicle miles travelled – was a dream that had never happened. Preparing for a ballot measure in 2016 would hopefully do a better job of coordinating land use and mode shift goals.
Another the barriers in discussing transit priorities was the lack of clear accounting relating to the 2000 Measure A. The funds from that ballot measure have been heavily advanced toward BART. That ballot measure will continue to collect taxes til 2036. If the BART project is completed before then, are there additional investments originally contemplated with 2000 Measure A that might still be fundable with that tax measure?
Are there some projects in that measure – e.g. Vasona Light Rail – that could be halted and their funds redirected? Are there projects in that measure – like the airport connector – whose implementation needs reconsideration? Does the Diridon to Santa Clara BART extension serve a need in current thinking, or can that be updated for current needs and land use patterns?
There is another opportunity specifically related to Caltrain. With Santa Clara County pursuing a tax measure in 2014, it was difficult to impossible to coordinate with investments and structural improvements with the other 2 partner counties. In 2016, San Francisco will be pursuing a sales tax increase, along with a just-postponed vehicle license fee measure. San Mateo County could potentially join them, creating opportunities to synchronize to set aside funding for Caltrain operations, invest in capacity improvements that benefit the whole corridor (like extra cars for longer trains), and other potential improvements requiring simultaneous action.
The sprint to try and craft a ballot measure for 2014 revealed many areas where the region could do a better job of planning for a strong transportation ballot measure in 2016.
On Thursday, the VTA board board heard an update on the transportation sales tax measure being proposed by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Multiple board members (Chavez, Price, Rocha, Campos, Kalra) seemed supportive of community comments urging funding for bus in addition to rail investments.
A common theme in public comments was a request for investment in the bus system, in addition to backbone rail. So far, the ballot measure proposal includes $1.8 Billion in funding for BART and Caltrain, $1 billion for expressways and expressway interchanges, and $50 million to support transportation for seniors and the disabled.
Why invest in buses in addition to trains?
The rail-heavy investment mix is unbalanced in terms of social equity – a higher proportion of seniors, disabled, and low income people use the lower-cost buses than the higher cost trains. San Jose has the highest car ownership of the nation’s largest 30 cities. Many lower income families use cars despite the heavy cost burden, because transit isn’t practical for their needs.
The population of non-drivers includes an increasing number of younger folk across the income spectrum. Caltrain’s recent rider survey showed that 40% of Caltrain riders don’t own a car or don’t drive, and the survey didn’t ask how many own cars but drive them infrequently.
Fundamentally, the county’s network of frequent transit includes buses in addition to trains (see map below – yellow is Caltrain, red is the BART extension, blue is frequent bus, lavender is community bus). Buses serve more destinations and more corridors than the region’s backbone rail. The bus network is needed to serve people who don’t drive because they can’t drive, can’t afford to drive, or choose not to.
What sorts of bus improvements?
According to Chris Lepe of Transform, bus service has slowed substantially in the last decade, as traffic has increased. Improvements would be needed to speed the bus routes. Also, the BART extensions are driving the need for connecting bus and shuttle service to get people to and from stations.
Recently, similarly sprawling Houston announced a redesign of its transit system to provide frequent, 24-7 service on key routes. With a frequent bus network, Santa Clara County could enable a more equitable and more effective transit network.
On Thursday, the VTA board asked staff to come back by the 26th and propose potential improvements for the bus system in addition to rail.
Board members Price and Chavez asked about the flexibility to adapt to new transportation modes. Technology is changing. Rideshare networks and on-demand shuttle services are here today and growing; autonomous vehicles seem likely to be mainstream over the lifetime of a 30 year tax.
More public input and board discussion
Several board members mentioned the need for public input and board deliberation. In order to hear more public input and have more board engagement in the decision, Chair Kalra had scheduled a 3 hour study session on June 26 to hear community feedback and discuss the content of the ballot measure.
Based on questions asked by Board Member Yeager, it’s possible that there will be special board meeting during the VTA Board’s traditional July vacation to discuss the measure further. The board will need to vote on whether to put the measure on the ballot by August 7.
Your chance to weigh in
If you want Caltrain funding to be used for Caltrain, and have other ideas about the transit network, rail and bus, come to the study session on the 26th if you can, and write VTA board members if you can’t be there in person.
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group proposal for a $3.5 Billion Santa Clara transportation tax includes $1.3 billion for BART to Silicon Valley, and $500 Million for Caltrain capacity and speed improvements.
The first phase of the BART extension is under construction, and is expected to be in service to Warm Springs by late 2015 and Berryessa by 2017. The second phase is planned to extend not only to Downtown San Jose/Diridon Station, but to the City of Santa Clara.
The “Phase 2″ project was last estimated at about $4 billion, with about $ 1 billion for the Santa Clara component. It is proposed to have stops in Alum Rock, downtown San Jose, Diridon, and Santa Clara. The Santa Clara County funding would be matched with federal and state funding approved at the regional level.
Superfluous for commute service
The Santa Clara extension isn’t needed for commute service. It duplicates the Caltrain route, in a segment that doesn’t need extra capacity. This can be seen in current Caltrain ridership. Diridon is the 4th most heavily used Caltrain station, with 3,489 average daily riders in last published 2013 count (San Francisco had over 10,000, Palo Alto had over 5,000). Santa Clara had 822 average daily riders. Diridon has over 4x the Caltrain usage as Santa Clara. In much of the line, Caltrain’s rush hour trains are crowded, but not at Santa Clara. The Peninsula corridor needs extra capacity, but not between Diridon and Santa Clara.
Maintenance yard and airport connection?
The original rationale for extending BART to Santa Clara was to have a maintenance yard to repair trains, and to have “tail tracks” to park trains at the end of the line. Since the Silicon Valley project was broken into two phases, BART is expanding its Hayward maintenance facility, and staff think they are likely to be able to handle the maintenance requirements on the East Bay side of the line, according to several sources. It would be less operationally efficient to stop the line at Diridon, but would the operational efficiencies cost-justify the estimated $800 million project?
Another reason for the Santa Clara Extension is a connection to San Jose Airport. But Diridon is planned to be the major transportation hub – San Jose leaders are asking why not add an airport connection from Diridon. For that matter, since East Bay riders want a connection to SJC, why would they they go all the way around to Santa Clara or even Diridon, why not add a bus connection from Milpitas to Berryessa?
Questions from the BART board
At a recent board meeting, director Robert Raburn questioned the strategic of the Santa Clara Extension at the May 22 board meeting, on video in the discussion of the budget item, at about 4:22 (http://www.bart.gov/about/
“Just in the last week we’ve seen the Valley Transportation Authority release their own poll. And they’ve started as far as I can tell to move forward with their plans for maybe extending BART to the airport, maybe extending it to Santa Clara. I think we’re all in agreement that we should get to Diridon Station, but we don’t have a solid plan that’s been in place beyond that. The last time that BART had seriously looked at the extensions was in the 2007 Regional Rail Study. So I’m going to push that we prioritize get funding for two items in the budget – the [study of] BART metro, which is $1.1 million and the BART Vision, which is $1.5 million. They need to be carried out so we can be nimble, otherwise it’ll be the tail wagging the dog, and we’ll be the dog. I think we should should be letting other agencies let us know what our priorities are, and should set our long-term priorities based on the studies we do.”
In answer to follow up questions, Raburn explained further. In 2000, when the Santa Clara extension was put on the ballot, BART’s overall strategy favored extensions. These days, the strategy focuses on increasing core capacity and urban infill. Says Raburn, “BART must carefully weigh future investments of public funds so that regional priorities are met first. Given the capacity limitations on BART’s four busy transbay lines that carry hundreds of thousands of passengers each day, does an extension to the City of Santa Clara warrant priority for regional transportation dollars?”
More discussion by the BART board might be forthcoming as part of their upcoming agenda item on the BART Metro strategy, scheduled for June 26, at the same time as VTA’s study session.
The doubts could add risk to the project in several ways.
The federal and state matching funds for the BART project are allocated regionally by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Raburn is casting doubt on the ability of the project to get these matching funds approved regionally, if the project doesn’t meet regional priorities.
The decision about whether and when to pursue the BART extension to City of Santa Clara in Phase 2 is in the hands of the VTA board, according to the terms of the agreement of the BART Silicon Valley project. But public questions about the Santa Clara extension might create doubt in the minds of voters, the vast majority of whom don’t have any clue about the institutional arrangements behind the BART to Silicon Valley project.