Yesterday June 24, Caltrain disclosed surprisingly strong poll results in favor of putting a ⅛ cent sales tax on the ballot to provide stable funding and more frequent electric service for Caltrain.
Despite the pandemic recession, poll results were very close to the results from a year ago, with nearly two thirds ready to approve a measure. The poll shows wide swings based on messaging, with 70% in support after positive messaging, and much lower support after negative messaging. So the outcome will depend heavily on an effective campaign.
The strongest support comes from people who were frequent Caltrain riders before the pandemic. So on the margin, Caltrain riders reaching out to their friends, neighbors, co-workers and family talking about the importance of Caltrain into the future can be powerful in what would likely be a close race.
The poll was conducted conducted during weeks 12 and 13 of the Shelter-in-Place period, as there were numerous demonstrations for racial justice around the region and the country.
Voters in the region continue to value Caltrain as a regional service that helps relieve traffic and improve travel along the Peninsula, even for those who do not use transit.
The poll shows that the policy decisions that the Caltrain board is soon to finalize regarding connectivity and affordability, are very important to voters, as is the creation of local jobs.
Even though some longtime skeptics of transit and cities have used the pandemic to predict a future where people will permanently return to car-driving and gravitate toward exurban living, that is not the future that Peninsula corridor residents see.
Most respondents who were frequent Caltrain riders pre-Covid have steeply reduced ridership, but over 70% expect to return to previous usage or even more after the pandemic is over.
Voters were more optimistic this June than a year ago, with a plurality of people seeing things going in the right direction. The top issues on peoples’ minds are still housing and homelessness.
Policymakers in San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties will have these results in mind in July when they decide whether to give the Caltrain board the option to put the measure on the ballot. This would relieve the local transit agencies from having to carry the cost of Caltrain operations on their budgets as the economy recovers from pandemic recession.
And the Caltrain board will have these results in hand to make the decision in August, about the relative risk of a ballot measure in a volatile time, compared to the significant financial risk posed by a gradual pandemic recovery while dependent on the voluntary contributions of neighbor agencies.