Caltrain on the Rocks as Sales Tax Measure Fails

Advocates are concerned about the possibility of Caltrain entirely shutting down—less than a year after the commuter rail line seemed positioned for a massive expansion of service.

2 minute read

July 16, 2020, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Commuter Rail

Hank Shiffman / Shutterstock

"The effort to place a sales tax for Caltrain on the November ballot appears to have been dealt a fatal blow after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday declined to support it," reports Zachary Clark. 

"The move likely ensures Caltrain for the foreseeable future remains without a dedicated revenue source," explains Clark about the consequences of the decision, "intensifying fears that a systemwide shutdown is 'imminent' as the railroad struggles to stay afloat with ridership and revenue at historic lows due to the pandemic."

In August 2019, almost exactly a year ago, Caltrain officials proposed a plan that would bring Caltrain service up to BART levels—an admittedly speculative goals, but one that would meet the region's expected population growth. The plan would have required a multi-county sales tax among other sources of funding.

"San Mateo County signed off on the measure in April and, to keep it alive, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors had to introduce a resolution in support of it during a meeting Tuesday...but the board never introduced the resolution, contrary to expectations," reports Clark. The Board of Supervisors will require governance changes at Caltrain to support the tax measure.

The loss of that ambitious plan is only one concern now, however, as the region's economy, housing market, and transit ridership reacts to the coronavirus. Caltrain is currently operating on federal relief funds, but is likely to run out of money by the end of the year, according to sources cited in the article.

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