Caltrain board starts to consider governance options including regional ones

On Friday, March 19 workshop, the Caltrain board kicked off a year-long discussion to consider how the service should be governed going forward, now that Measure RR has passed and electric service is coming soon.  Of note, most of the Caltrain board members wanted to be considering regional options, in addition to the options regarding executive management accountability and the managing agency.

At the workshop, Board members agreed that their goal is to position Caltrain to achieve the business plan service vision to greatly increase ridership by providing more frequent, all-day service that is well-connected to local and regional transit, serving a greater diversity of trips and riders.  

Board members wanted to use objective criteria to assess options, including assessment of costs and benefits, and an analysis of Caltrain’s current legal structure.

In the series of workshops coming up this year, the board will consider a variety of options for executive management to be accountable to Caltrain. With the appointment of Michelle Bouchard as Executive Director, Caltrain for the first time has an ED focused solely on rail service; previously the ED had also split their job in running the SamTrans bus service and SMCTA funding agency.  However, Director Walton pointed out that the appointment of Bouchard was made by SamTrans, without consultation with the other member agencies.  

Another substantive topic for the governance discussions is the managing agency: SamTrans has managed Caltrain since San Mateo County put up the funds to purchase the right of way in the 1990s.  Some board members in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties have wanted to replace SamTrans as the managing agency. If so, what would replace it, with options including making Caltrain a standalone agency with no shared services; sharing services with other agencies; or merging with other agencies.

From the discussion on the 19th, the board wanted its discussions this year to cover regional options.  Director Heminger made the case that Caltrain is inherently part of a regional system; but it is currently a regional system that is run by local governments.  There are a variety of options to more strongly integrate Caltrain into a regional system, that could include mergers; a network management entity that ensures that slices of the rail network provide integrated service; and/or functions being provided regionally, such as a regional construction authority.

While the 2019 organizational assessment report from consultant Howard Permut indicated that considering regional options would be relevant on a longer time scale, the region has since embarked on three initiatives that could affect regional rail and transit governance, including a fare integration study, the MTC-convened Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force, and an upcoming state-funded regional rail study.  The board may convene a fifth workshop focusing on regional options. 

What are your thoughts about the options the board will be considering:

  • Among the 3 counties?
  • Regional options