No April Fool’s Joke: Caltrain In Serious Trouble

Apr 1st, 2010 | Posted by

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s war on public transportation could claim an extremely high-profile victim: Caltrain. Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon gave a dire warning today about massive cuts that would wipe out half of Caltrain’s services:

Caltrain has gone broke and will likely need to wipe out half its service — including weekend, nighttime and midday trains — officials warned Thursday, bracing passengers for a major shake-up to the popular commuter line that links San Francisco to the South Bay.

“This is not an April fool’s joke,” Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon told the agency’s board of directors. “This is real. We’re at a watershed moment where there’s a possibility this railroad could go away.”

Scanlon said the service cuts, which would idle trains for much of the day, would need to be completed by June 2011, although the agency may begin slashing its schedule as soon as this fall.

The impact of these cuts would be nothing short of catastrophic for the Peninsula’s economy, which relies on Caltrain to get workers to their jobs and consumers to retailers (and in many ways that includes the San Francisco Giants and San Jose Sharks) to a far greater extent than is realized. Losing this much Caltrain service would be a massive step backward for the Bay Area, a step away from mass transit and back toward the failed model of dependence on cars and freeways that the region had begun to move beyond.

As Michael Scanlon pointed out, the loss of state funding has been simply devastating:

The agency has lost $10 million in funding from the state each of the past three years. And for more than a year, it has been losing riders, which account for 40 percent of its revenue.

But now a new, more damaging problem has emerged. Scanlon, who is also the CEO of the San Mateo County Transit District, or SamTrans, said he will ask that agency’s board of directors to lower its Caltrain contribution by nearly 70 percent by July 2011.

SamTrans, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and San Francisco Muni each provide Caltrain with a subsidy, which combined amounts to $39.4 million. But with the smaller SamTrans contribution, VTA and Muni will lower their shares proportionately. SamTrans, Muni and VTA all recently cut service and raised fares, and Scanlon said they are “beyond broke.”

A fare increase has not been proposed, as officials say it would drive away even more riders. They also don’t expect to propose any ballot measures, such as tax increases, citing the recession.

In short, because Arnold Schwarzenegger has used the state budget crisis to wage war on public transportation to benefit his oil company donors, with a Department of Finance full of right-wing ideologues who demand mass transit pay for itself when freeways aren’t held to the same standard, local transit agencies are hemorrhaging money, worsening Caltrain’s already precarious situation.

Ultimately the response will have to be some sort of regional funding source to support mass transit. There should be a Bay Area-wide tax, ideally on gas, to fund operations of the region’s transit agencies, from Muni to BART, from Caltrain to AC Transit, and the smaller agencies in between.

And of course, there will need to be an all-hands-on-deck effort to restore state public transportation funds. This needs to become a top priority not just of the passenger rail advocacy community, but of Californians as a whole. In the summer of 2008 local transit agencies had much more capacity to handle the massive increase in ridership that helped California avoid the worst of the gas price increase. As we face another increase in gas prices later this year, we are left with much less transit to fall back on. The result could be a choking off of our state’s halting steps toward economic recovery.

This also raises the question of what Caltrain’s woes mean for high speed rail. This could go one of two ways: the woes are used against HSR, or used to bolster HSR.

The first path will be taken by those who already criticize HSR. These deniers will claim that Caltrain’s crisis proves that passenger rail isn’t viable in this state (despite the fact that there has been passenger rail service on this corridor for over a hundred years). Doubt about Caltrain’s future will be used to fuel doubt about all passenger rail, despite Caltrain’s wide popularity in the region. Others may argue for saving Caltrain but suggesting we do so at HSR’s expense, creating a false division between Caltrain service and the HSR project.

The second path will be taken by those of us who understand that passenger rail is one of the keys to California’s future. As Michael Scanlon and Bob Doty have been saying for some time now, electrification and grade separation is essential to Caltrain’s survival. Here’s what Doty had to say at the Palo Alto HSR teach-in back in September 2009:

Another key point Doty made, one that keeps getting overlooked on the Peninsula, is that HSR is necessary to Caltrain’s survival. Caltrain needs to electrify in order to survive. That’s the only way they can accommodate future ridership growth, the only way they can manage operating costs, the only way they can have financial survival with a 75% farebox recovery rate (Doty’s prediction).

The HSR project and capital funds are how Caltrain will be able to electrify its operations and achieve the stable operating costs and increased levels of service that are needed to achieve the 75% farebox recovery ratio. HSR is the key to Caltrain’s survival, not some external threat or unrelated or unnecessary project. We’ve often said HSR is a rising tide that lifts all boats, and that’s especially true of Caltrain.

What this also shows is the massively shortsighted and ultimately reckless approach of the Peninsula NIMBYs and their enablers in local government. Despite months of warnings about the problems facing Caltrain, these groups claimed – quite wrongly – that the status quo was working out just fine and didn’t need to be changed. As we see, the status quo is actually killing Caltrain. Without the improvements that HSR brings to the corridor, it’s difficult to see how Caltrain can survive. And even then, an immediate rescue for it and other transit agencies is absolutely essential for the survival of passenger rail.

While Peninsula NIMBYs and local government officials wasted time challenging the CHSRA ridership projections, filing lawsuits, and hiring lobbyists to challenge the HSR project, they were letting the Caltrain crisis grow worse. Instead of working to produce a Peninsula rail corridor that can thrive for the next few generations, they’ve avoided the core issues in order to focus on aesthetic values over the continued operation and improvement of passenger rail in their communities.

For some of the Peninsula NIMBYs, like the Stone Pine Lane Gang, the collapse of Caltrain might not bother them at all. Prosperous beneficiaries of a 20th century growth model that has failed most of their neighbors and fellow Californians, these kind of NIMBYs apparently aren’t motivated by the need to preserve Caltrain, assuming that they’ll always be able to afford to drive, and if there are fewer train horns, so much the better.

The Caltrain crisis shows clearly that renewed investment in, and improvements to, passenger rail should be one of the top priorities of the Peninsula and of the state. Let’s hope that Scanlon’s warning shakes the Peninsula out of its stupor, brings an end to the efforts to kill HSR, and instead produces new unity around saving Caltrain in the short-term and ensuring its long-term survival through partnership with high speed rail.

  1. Evan
    Apr 1st, 2010 at 22:14

    I take Caltrain every day. Dozens of my coworkers take Caltrain every day. And Caltrain is one of the primary things keeping us in downtown Palo Alto, spending our dollars in nearby restaurants and shops. This is terrifying news, especially as I don’t have a car and depend heavily on Caltrain’s service not just to get to work, but to be able to stay in Palo Alto for dinner or visit on weekends. This is going to push people back to cars, and the thousands of people who depend on Caltrain to get to work are going to look for jobs closer to home or start packing their workplace neighborhoods with cars.

    Residents should be up in arms about this. We need to do something, and we need to do it now. Caltrain is vital for this area, and they should be increasing service, not slashing it.

    jimsf Reply:

    This is what happens when the state raids transportation funds in order to pay for other stuff. It happens year after year. Sac is the culprit here and that’s where the ruckus must be raised if you care about your service.

  2. Spokker
    Apr 1st, 2010 at 23:16

    The HSR opposition will pretend that if HSR didn’t exist all that money would be going to local transit. Sacramento was short-changing transit before CAHSR actually became a reality.

    Federal DOT has already said no money for operations. Cancel HSR. It wouldn’t save Caltrain. It might even hurt it more.

  3. Ezra
    Apr 1st, 2010 at 23:20

    If Caltrain were to fail, would that make running the high speed line through there any easier? Additionally, could the CHSRA also run slower speed trains on the line to link up smaller stations like they do in Europe (TER in France, RE in Germany)?

  4. Spokker
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 00:15

    Maybe they are bluffing though. Metrolink was ready to cut 44 trains, but now they are cutting 12.

  5. mrcawfee
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 00:53

    I wonder what effect the new law that restores some state funding back to transit is taken into account for this or not.

    Reality Check Reply:

    That “new law” has some one-time token funding, which is not going to do much to make up for the massive under- and de-funding most transit agencies around the state have endured over recent years. See also:

    $10m windfall from state won’t reverse Caltrain, SamTrans cuts

    Caltrain says they’re looking at a $30m deficit, with little or no prospect for the trend to reverse … the 3 member agencies are all in very bad shape — and funding their share of Caltrain’s operating subsidy/budget is low on their priorities list (always has been). Caltrain has never had a dedicated funding source and has no taxing authority … so it’s a really weak agency whose board is not elected (to Caltrain’s JPB, that is).

    Caltrain should be a district with dedicated funding sources and elected directors, just like BART.

    jimsf Reply:

    Since Amtrak already supplies the clerks, conductors and I think, engineers, maybe amtrak should absorb the service under its own brand. Since amtrak is entering expansion mode.

    jimsf Reply:

    could even make it part of ccjpa.. the trains could run all the way down to sjc from sac, and all the way up into the city. That would create a consolidation of sorts, as well as a uniform pricing and ticketing system and include service to gilroy helping to close the coast gap. Just a thought. Please don’t give me a tirade about how much everyone hates amtrak either. Its just a creative idea okay?

    lyqwyd Reply:

    I think it’s a great idea if Caltrain really does fail. And I like Amtrak, I’ve have many good experiences. And now that we have a president who understands the importance of rail I’m hoping Amtrak will get some proper funding in the near future.

  6. Brandon from San Diego
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 06:11

    We will have a new govenor after the elections and swearing-in by the end of January or february next year. After that, even if the victor is Meg Whitman, the blows taken by transit should have fewer impacts. Or, that is my hope.

  7. YesonHSR
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 08:50

    I love the article about the “stone pine lane” gang…its a perfect example of Nimbys

  8. tomh
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 09:39

    I agree that it’s unfair to expect public transit systems to pay for themselves while not expecting the same of freeways. It’s also totally UNREALISTIC, not because the public transit systems are inherently not workable, but because they can’t compete when freeways get barrels-full of government money. Raising fares to the level that the public transit systems pay for themselves isn’t an option when people can just use the HEAVILY subsidized freeways for just the cost of gas and wear and tear on their cars.

    Obviously we need to dedicate a major portion of the gas tax to public transit systems. Either that, or turn ALL the freeways into toll roads (not just the bridges and in Orange County). In metro Santiago, Chile, the highways in the area are open toll roads that just use FastTrak-like transponders everywhere (no stopping to pay tolls anywhere). It’s about time people realize the true cost of the road trips up front.

  9. Paul
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 09:47

    Why don’t they lay out a plan to raise the gas tax incrementally over the next five years, so that by 2015 each gallon of gas has a $4-$5 tax – or more? At the same time maybe they can start removing freeways from the cities and fund rail and other forms of transit, safe cycle infrastructure, layout better growth plans, etc. A good city does not have a freeway running through the middle.

  10. jimsf
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 09:54

    I absolutely think that caltrans needs to move towards implementing a toll system to convert, one by one, our freeways into tollways. I think that each freeway could be, or at least lean towards, being sort of self sustaining. Lets say you turn the 405 into a tollway like they do back east. Then make sure that the money raised on the 405 tolls, must be dedicated to 405 imporments and can not be used for the 110 for instance. The tolls from the 110 must be earmarked for 110 improvements. and so forth same for the 60, 91, etc. The i-5, should have tolls border to border, and that money used to upgrade the 5 to a more deluxe road with grade separate premium trucking lanes, long distance high speed lanes, and local lanes. and so forth. Has california completely lost the will, creativity and desire, to come up with big ideas?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I support this, generally speaking. LA has been talking about congestion tolling its freeways – AND is pushing the 30/10 plan to ensure that there is a truly excellent mass transit system there in place over the next 10 years.

    Congestion tolling and flat-out tolling the intercity interstates – like I-5 between Tracy and Santa Clarita – would be the right places to start.

    CA hasn’t lost “the will” – it’s that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is determined to shackle people to their cars and to the oil companies.

  11. Tony D.
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 09:55

    I’m (again) going to get blasted for this idea, but what the heck.

    I say CANCEL/DECOMMISSION Caltrain completely from SF to Gilroy in favor of HSR only. Looking at a map of the current Caltrain system I would strategically place stations, along with the currently planned HSR stations, at the following: South SF, both Redwood City/Palo Alto, Mt. View, Santa Clara, South SJ/Blossom Hill and Morgan Hill. You could run “local” HSR between all stations from SF to Gilroy much like the current Caltrain system. Use rapid-bus to “feed” those stations from area’s with current Caltrain service. Money saved could trench/tunnel the line in contentious areas of the Peninsula (gulp…Palo Alto/Menlo/Antherton…gulp) and you wouldn’t need to 4-track the entire line. You would then have BART-like service (serving 364,000 daily vs. Caltrains 40K), with similar spacing between stations, from SF to Gilroy. You don’t need full-scale commuter rail to serve towns every 1-2 miles! That is all.

    jimsf Reply:

    IT was the first thing that crossed my mind too, but the in between folks won’t go for it, it will never go politically. They are gonna wanna keep their local territorial control.

    Joey Reply:

    Rapid bus would never draw the ridership that rail transit does, especially since you’d have to transfer. CalTrain’s stations are unusually close together (with some being as little as 1.5 miles apart), but you would never be able to get the same service level with regional HSR that you would with a true commuter service.

    Tony D. Reply:

    I hear yah Joey. My thought is that transit riders transfer all the time: be it VTA light-rail/bus to Caltrain or Muni Metro/Bus to BART or Caltrain. Would it be so difficult for someone in, say, Belmont to catch a bus to a Redwood City HSR station and transfer to a local/express HSR to SF or SJ? Again, just an idea I’m throwing out.

    Peter Reply:

    But what if both their start and end points are not at an HSR stop? You would require two transfers? You ridership-killer, you. ;)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You might as well ask yourself, why not take a bus from Belmont all the way to SF? And why not drive all the way?

    Look, there’s a big difference between “transit riders transfer all the time” and “let’s make everyone transfer multiple times, between different modes so that they have to walk a lot from the bus bay to the station, just because we can.” There is such a thing as a transfer penalty in transportation planning.

    tomh Reply:

    HSR trains are single-story trains with different capacities than the current and future planned double-decker CalTrain trains. It’s a different ridership model. HSR is for long distance, while CalTrain is for short distance. And regardless of who runs the local service (CalTrain or HSR), separate tracks will be needed for the different services, else the local trains will delay the long distance trains. So there goes the cost savings to tunnel/trench the train services.

    Tony D. Reply:

    So how is it that BART can do 360k daily riders with single-story trains? I know it’s major standing room only during commute hours, and perhaps you can’t have people standing in trains that travel 125 mph vs. 60 mph (can you?). Maybe have special double-decker HSR trains for the SF to Gilroy segment? And do you really need 4-tracks the entire length from SF to SJ? I like jimsf’s Millbrae-Santa Clara BART idea below, but how much would that cost? Nice discussion by the way.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    There’s a heated discussion going on over on clem’s blog on the electrification EIR thread about whether or not caltrain needs double decker trains. (They don’t)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    perhaps you can’t have people standing in trains that travel 125 mph vs. 60 mph (can you?).

    NJT routinely has standees at 160 km/h. The ICE does not require seat reservations, which means that in a crunch, it needs to accommodate standees, at a speed of 300 km/h.

    But what matters isn’t speed; it’s acceleration. People often stand on airplanes traveling at 1,000 km/h; they only have to sit during takeoff and landing, and through turbulence. Even high cant deficiencies are not enough to make standing on a train unsafe; train safety and passenger comfort provide far lower limits to lateral acceleration. The only real speed-related issue is that when the track is poorly constructed, the ride will be bumpier at high speed.

    Peter Reply:

    “The ICE does not require seat reservations, which means that in a crunch, it needs to accommodate standees, at a speed of 300 km/h.”

    That’s how a lot of German soldiers get home on the weekends, sitting on their packs.

    Aaron Reply:

    I’ve never had a problem standing in line at the café on the Acela before, even on the faster segments in RI and Mass.

    Joey Reply:

    High speed trains typically accelerate a lot slower than commuter trains or subways anyway…

    tomh Reply:

    Yeah, standing is not an issue when it comes to safety. I’ve ridden on Spain’s AVE and the Eurostar from Paris to London at almost 200 MPH, and I practically didn’t feel any movement. So 125 MPH is no big deal. That said, assuming the time between SJ and SF would be about an hour, I wouldn’t want to stand the entire way, let alone would I be productive with my laptop while standing. If they did go for the single-storey thing, then I’d agree that BART is the way to go.

    Even if the local trains and the express trains could travel at 125 MPH on the Peninsula, the local train needs to make more stops. That would slow down the long distance train. That’s why 4 tracks are needed. And if BART was the way to go, then 4 tracks would REALLY be needed (at least up to Milbrae) unless BART and HSR are the same gauge.

    Peter Reply:

    Here’s a really crazy idea. Instead of tearing all the tracks up and replacing them with BART infrastructure, how about if we instead fold Caltrain into the BART organization. Electrify and grade-separate the “new” system as planned, but under the BART label. It’s not as if BART is totally averse to using standard gauge rail (see eBART), so I don’t see why they would want to replace all the current infrastructure. That way there is only one fare structure to worry about for heavy rail in the Bay Area (not including HSR, of course), and Caltrain gets the political and funding clout it currently lacks.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Peter, I was thinking about that because BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit and it could be incorporated under BART cause that is where it fits under. Just make sure that they don’t try anything dumb like forced Millbrare transfers.

    Tony D. Reply:

    I like this BART idea also!

    Samsonian Reply:

    I’ve mentioned something along this line on other transit blogs, and it’s also been talked about there as well.

    The problem is that Bay Area transit is so balkanized and fragmented, and that BART receives the lion’s share of transit money while spending it in the worst possible ways.

    Part of the reason BART gets so much money is its brand, giving it mind share in the community. But another reason, even more important, is its organizational structure. BART is organized as a “Special District” under California law, giving it state powers. This means it’s an independent government agency (like a school district), and has independent taxing and eminent domain authority. BART has taken full advantage of this, and has dedicated funding sources, protecting it from reduced state support. The downside to this is its large bureaucracy for its size, and how insulated it is from real transit needs (though they hardly have a monopoly on these).

    Whereas CalTrain is organized as a “Joint Powers Authority” (JPA), under California law. It’s a consortium of the 3 SF Peninsula Counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. As such, it has little to no authority, funding, or powers independent of its member agencies. As such it doesn’t carry the political will or funding to do big things like DTX or electrification. And now that it’s member agencies are financially reeling, they’re cutting their support to CalTrain.

    The long term answer to all of this is consolidation of regional rail in the Bay Area (and even across all of NorCal; I don’t know SoCal transit that well, but I suspect it could use the same), along with dedicated funding sources. In the NYC metro, they have the MTA, which is a NYS agency, that runs NYC buses and subways, Metro-North Railroad (MNR), Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). It’s hardly perfect (Alon Levy has talked a lot about this on The Transport Politic), but it works a lot better than what we here.

    The consolidated agency could be called BART for all I care, but the existing BART metro system really shouldn’t be expanded further out anymore (infill stations are). Another good example, and one definitely worth aspiring to, is Paris. The Paris Metro got too big, expensive, and unwieldy to expand in the post WW2 period. So in the 1960s they started the Paris RER, a regional express rail network built with standard gauge rail width, a large loading gauge, and 25 kV AC overhead electrification. It runs EMUs with high frequencies, serves almost all of the Paris metro area, has intermodal stations with the Paris Metro, and features multiple lines with through-routing from suburbs to city-center to suburbs.

    The sad thing is during the same time frame, we built the epic fail that is BART (broad gauge, small loading gauge, third rail with little juice, and sky high costs driven by rent seeking contractors, costs that have no relation to costs anywhere else). Essentially equivalent to, or worse than, the Paris Metro or NYC subway, instead of a metro-wide regional rail system that it claims to be. The thing is we can still create a Bay Area RER, if you will. We have existing rail corridors (ACE, CalTrain, Capitol Corridor, future SMART) that serve communities and can be leveraged, combined/consolidated, and upgraded (e.g. widened, grade separated, electrified, passenger dedicated tracks) into a single, comprehensive regional rail system with multiple intermodal stations with the existing BART Metro system (e.g. Richmond, West Oakland, East Oakland/San Leandro, Fremont/Union City, Pleasanton/Livermore, SF CBD).

    We need transportation and political leaders with the vision to see something like this. And the will to break down bureaucratic barriers, re-prioritize existing (aviation and road) funding, seek new funding, knock the FRA’s and UPRR’s heads around, and all the other obstacles in the way.

    Risenmessiah Reply:


    In Southern California, the Metropolitan Transit Authority acts as both the regionwide transit planner and operator for services with LA County as a “special district” with yes, its own sales tax. However, Metrolink the regional rail agency is a contractor to the MTA and is supervised by the Authority. Where this gets kind of bizarre is that Metrolink stretches across six counties but the MTA only has the authority to operate or fund connection services in LA County for it. There’s no meaningful competition for routes in LA County between light rail and the subway and commuter rail because of the alignments. MTA will only build new service on areas with density, and Metrolink uses only existing ROW on existing track.

    But this is the same problem haunting the Bay Area. If the MTC was in charge of BART and commuter rail as well as planning there would be almost internecine warfare between the counties over control of the system. After all, if you control the flow of traffic, you effectively control all land use.

    There is a solution to be sure, but it’s going to rely more heavily on state control of urban planning than I think people realize.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Don’t forget that in LA, you have to pay twice if you transfer, even when you transfer between two buses or rail lines run by the MTA.

    Samsonian Reply:

    Good grief. LA sounds just as bad, if not worse.

    You might be right about the state needing to assert more control (and funding). In the Northeast, the states run the passenger rail systems (NY MTA, NJT, MARC, MBTA), not local governments. RATP of France is as well.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The current BART infrastructure is incapable of running a mixture of local and express trains, which would really suck for SJ-SF travelers.

    But it doesn’t matter, because nobody would need to stand the whole way between SJ and SF. More likely, the train would fill up gradually, becoming standing room only somewhere in the middle of the line – perhaps Palo Alto, or Redwood City. By analogy, most New York City subway lines only turn SRO in or close to Manhattan, so that people only have to stand for 15-20 minutes; the ones that are SRO further out run super-express, again limiting standing time.

    jimsf Reply:

    Perhaps the correct model in the long run then is to keep hsr in the corridor with the planned limited stops and replace caltrain with bart after all letting bart close that millbrae-santa clara gap. it kinda makes sense. with one bart station in each city represented. The problem though is that bart stations can’t be spaced close enough together to duplicate what caltrain does because the stations are too expensive. Locals aren’t going to give their stops.

    tomh Reply:

    I tend to agree that one regional rail transit system makes more sense. Since BART is already all over the Bay Area, goes to Milbrae, has dedicated funding sources, and is a district with elected directors, it should be the one that wins out. It could run up and down CalTrain’s current route to Milbrae (grade separated of course like the rest of BART (sorry NIMBYs)). But you’re right. There would have to be fewer stations than what CalTrain already has. Also, what about the fact that BART is single-storey and CalTrain is double decker?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Tony, you’re just plain wrong. The money quote,

    You don’t need full-scale commuter rail to serve towns every 1-2 miles! That is all.

    is the exact opposite of how real railroads work. Commuter rail serves stations spaced about 1-5 km apart. When the connecting buses are timed right, when the service level is high, and when the line serves many different job and retail centers within walking distance of the stations, it can get very high traffic levels. Buses don’t even come close to providing the service levels of the Chuo Line or the RER A.

    For intercity trips, if Caltrain sucks, people would just drive from their Peninsula home to Redwood City or Millbrae. But most trips are not intercity. People would not take a connecting bus to Millbrae for a trip to San Francisco; it would be much less of a hassle to drive the whole way instead. High-speed rail has the “We’ll save you three hours of your time” trump card; urban/suburban rail doesn’t.

    Spokker Reply:

    And there is also express service during rush hour so I don’t see what the problem is.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Spokker you have to go read Caltrain is going to be BART with pantographs. all local all the time with different platform heights and loading gauge. . . even thought they don’t need to

  12. jimsf
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 10:02

    Right now, all the money, the tax money, toll money, counties’ money, all the money, goes into a big murky black hole in sacramento, never to be seen again. We have an economy the size of a euorpean nation, and we broke every single damn year. The money is being mismanaged, if not stolen outright. look: “As of 2007, the gross state product (GSP) is about $1.812 trillion, the largest in the United States. California is responsible for 13 percent of the United States gross domestic product (GDP). As of 2006, California’s GDP is larger than all but eight countries in the world now, where in effin hell is all the money? hmmmmm? Somebody needs to be in front of a firing line if you ask me. To piss away through mismanagement, that kind of wealth, should be a crime punishable by death executed by the people against the perpetrators. Criminal gross incompetence. I think for too long all of have muddled along and accepted band aid fixes, for decades, not wanting to rock the boat too much for fear of winding up with something even worse.. But this just can’t continue or it will plague every endeavor the state pursues, including high speed rail. I mean shouldn’t we all be a little fed up?

    Peter Reply:

    I think we are fed up. The question is, though, what to do about it? Liberals would favor levying taxes to fix the budget problems. Conservatives favor tax cuts to stimulate more business and scream bloody murder if anyone tries to raise taxes. So where’s the compromise?

    And that’s just one of MANY problems.

    Maxi Reply:

    Isn’t this the problem the redistricting initiative is supposed to solve? When does that take effect, and can it get over our corrupt and overbloated bureaucracy?

    Peter Reply:

    Well, the redistricting initiative doesn’t change the problem of the required 2/3 majority to even pass a bloody budget, much less change taxes (add or cut, iirc), or the fact that term limits mean that politicians have no incentive to build relationships with their colleagues on other sides of the aisle, and therefore have no incentive to compromise.

    elfling Reply:

    The redistricting initiative will probably make little difference in how many seats are competitive, if that even should be a goal of redistricting.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The redistricting initiative will accomplish nothing, since Californians have already clustered together in like-minded communities.

    The only way the logjam in Sacramento gets broken is by restoring majority rule and eliminating the 2/3rds rule.

    tomh Reply:

    You say that CA’s money is being mismanaged or stolen outright, and then talk about CA’s gross state product being the 9th largest in the world. Yes, CA has a very large economy, but a very small percentage of that is controlled by Sacramento in the form of taxes (and maybe regulations). You should be talking about how our TAX MONEY is being mismanaged, not bringing up the size of the state’s economy.

    jimsf Reply:

    WEll I was thinking in terms of the grand picture – a place, california, in which huge amounts of goods, services, and wealth are generated, should look like a place where there is a lot of wealth. But the wealth that is generated is not being put back into home pot if you will, whether it be through private side investemnt back into california or through taxes, earmarked for quality of life improvements. The weatlh generated by the california economy does not appear to stay in california, or if its here, its not going towards making the state better. Its a case of ” I can make my money here then put it in my coat pocket and take it elsewhere with no personal responsibility to contribute back to the place that made my success possible to begin with. However you slice it, there’s a boat load of money generated here, and yet the state is literally crumbling around us. Education, health care, transportation of every mode, general infrastructure of all kinds, quality of life in general, everything that at one time – most of the last century, made california a leader forever striving for a utopian ideal, has now been thrown under the bus. There is no more pride in california. There’s no more cohesive california culture. Now its just 38 million people who barely haven an interest in speaking to each other, or in many cases, couldn’t if they wanted to, who happen to live in the same state but who have no real connection. The state feels completely broken up into 38 million separate unrelated pieces. I hate this. I remember when being a californian meant something. Now we’re a third world laughing stock and the rest of the country looks down on us with disdain instead of looking at us with envy. Its totally effed up if you ask me.

    jimsf Reply:

    or in other words, it used to be, like hella nice here, and now it totally isn’t.

  13. jimsf
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 10:26

    First I’d love for everyone to click here and see the nonsense we are paying for. See how many of these you can toss out. I mean is this a freakin joke or what?

    tomh Reply:

    Agreed. Everyone hates all these government programs except for the ones THEY use.

    ks Reply:

    Which ones would you get rid of? Earthquake Authority? Services for the Blind? Coastal Conservancy? Name 5 after you go through the list.

    jimsf Reply:

    ok ill name at least 20… brb

    Peter Reply:

    And make sure they’re actually STATE agencies, not private organizations.

    jimsf Reply:

    Forget it there are too many too list. Basically most of them need to go. We don’t need an earthquake “authority” earthquakes happen just fine all by themselves. We just need building codes.
    we don’t need a department on aging, we age automatically with no help or direction needed.
    The vast majority of social welfare programs need to go. The ONLY people who should get help from the state are disabled people, and seniors. Everyone else has to figure it out on their own the way they do in other states. We don’t need huge department such as the air resources board ( remember theses are hungreds of people making 6 figure salaries with lifetime benefits) we dont need any of this crap, most of the other states function just fine with out all this.

    WE need

    department of health
    department of transportation
    department of interior (parks, water management)
    department of agriculture
    department of education

    and thats about it.

    we don’t even need a dmv, most states do that in the transportation department like texas for instance.

    jimsf Reply:

    Just like we don’t need a high speed rail authority when we already have a department of transportation who, if they were competent and acually EARNING their salaries, would be able to manage a new transportation project. They are transportation experts n’est ce pas?

    “why er, uh yes, we are transportation people and yes this is the department of transportation, however, we are completely at a loss when it comes to this newfangled fast train thingy…. yes yes I know you pay us a lot of money for our expertise but… we aren’t that expert-y I guess, perhaps if you pay us more..?”

    I mean for real.

    Peter Reply:

    Well, just to shoot a couple holes in your tirade, air resources boards are required to meet FEDERAL Clean Air Act requirements to get airsheds in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. (It’s nice to not be breathing in shit, or to be able to see the hills occasionally).

    Do you even know what the Earthquake Authority does? (Hint: It has to do with a certain type of insurance not offered by regular insurance companies).

    So, you’re saying that we should fold the DMV into the DOT? Well, that’s fine, but you’re still going to need the same bureaucracy to run such an organization.

    Single mothers should be left completely on their own, after they’ve been left on their own by their loser-boyfriends?

    Prisons supposed to run themselves? I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you meant DOJ when you wrote CHP.

    jimsf Reply:

    I did forget the prisons my bad, ( I knew I was missing some) as for the mothers. they are on their own. they shouldn’t’a got knock up to being with if they didn’t have a ring on that finger. Look I grew up poor and spend half my life in those parts of cali where these girls and guys abound… I know them very well thank you and they are a bunch of eff ups., meth heads, crack heads, if a girl is in serious trouble then direct her to the department of health.
    doj and chp of course and those basic things, courts and such, of course you need that.
    If the feds have air mandates, then we can follow theirs and they can pay to clean stuff up. Why are duplicating things?

    Now, there is an opposite way to do this in the other direction. You could get rid of the counties, thats a hell of a lot of duplication.

    one state police, chp, eliminate county sheriff and county jail and consodate it all in doc. Jsut eliminate the counties all together. the entire layer.

    You know many other states get by without all this stuff to begin with, in fact, we never used to have all this stuff either, oh yah, back when life here was good, and there was plenty of money left over for good infrastructure and schools. how bout that. now we piss it all away trying to micromanage everyone taking a shit and wonder why we can’t afford to build good stuff that we actually need.

    Peter Reply:

    Quite honestly, I don’t care about the mothers. I care about their children, who may need some help so that they don’t grow up effed up like their parents.

    I’d be fine with folding municipal and county law enforcement into state police. You’d get more uniform enforcement (maybe).

    The feds have air mandates. It’s up to the states to implement them, though, called State Implementation Plan. If the states don’t prepare a SIP, then the feds DO come in, and impose a Federal Implementation Plan. Which the state STILL has to implement. If the state doesn’t, there’s a citizen-suit provision to CAA, iirc, where you can sue the state for not implementing the now mandatory FEDERAL plan. It’s still up to the state, sorry.

    jimsf Reply:

    ok well open your wallet thats all im sayin. cuz we’ll need that 20 for hsr, and we’ll take that 10 for the kids, and what’s that you have there, a silver dollar, we’ll need that too for the department of samoan lesbian pianists. cough it up.

    Peter Reply:

    Should I go on?

    Peter Reply:

    I mean, do you even know what most of these agencies you’re bashing DO?

    jimsf Reply:

    I mean you all are the younger ones who are gonna have to pay more and more and more to cover all this crap so if that’s what you want, while meanwhile , they can’t even keep libraries open more than 3 days a week…. well, you better start reaching deeper into your pockets. Im all for making big business pay a fair share, but, you have to cut somewhere too. otherwise we wind up with the current kind of devastation which doesn’t help anyone.

    You help old folks. You help disabled folks. You lock up criminals. simple as that. Everyone who is able bodied needs to snap out of it and apply some common sense, and behave themselves. Hell we’d save millions if people would just behave themselves and use common sense. fewer accidents, no litter to clean up, etc etc, all the money freed up for big ticket items that can really help. But, if you’d rather piss it all away playing sugar daddy, just remember the whole mess is gonna be dumped on your generation.

    BW Reply:

    Somewhere along the line we have deviated from the process of Natural Selection. Society is doomed as a whole, it has happened many times in the past and it will happen again, just a matter of time. It is believed the human race has come back from the point of extinction several times with as few as a couple of hundered men and women. “On a long enough time line the survival rate for everyone drops to zero”.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    The whole mess is already dumped on the youngest generation a while ago. Why do you think political involvement by the Millennium Generation is rising?

    Here’s the catch as far as California is concerned. When Prop 13 took away the leverage local communities had to assess property tax it created a serious disconnect in the minds of the citizens. Suddenly, it was all about what happened in Sacramento and the deals cut there and not really much about what happened locally. So the local municipalities fought back using urban planning to fiscalize land use and overbuild essentially to provide revenue that was usurped by the loss in property tax.

    Now I say this because physical size is an inherent cost on government as much as population size. Even if we just have the police and fire…you still spend more money patrolling a 50 square mile city than a 5 square mile one.

    So from the perspective of the Millennials, it’s too easy to say cut spending and raise taxes. Instead it has to reduce the costs on government and build revenue streams that are sustainable. That’s the path, and HSR is part of it.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Polls show most “Millennial” voters (a category I am sometimes included in, depending on when one dates the beginning of that generation) are supportive of higher taxes to pay for government services, support offering more government services, and have no real attachment to Prop 13 since it’s we who are getting screwed by it.

    Prop 13 today functions as a massive transfer of wealth from the young to the old. It subsidizes people who bought homes before 1995 at the cost of forcing younger people to pay higher housing costs and higher education costs. Prior to Prop 13, the old subsidized the education of the young. After 1978, the young subsidized the housing values of the old.

    Spokker Reply:

    I once brought up Prop 13 to a group of older co-workers who benefit from it and I thought they were going to beat the shit out of me for suggesting that it be repealed.

    Okay, I exaggerate, but it was really awkward, almost as if I had sexually harassed them or something. They got very indignant, as if I said something really offensive.

    jimsf Reply:

    One problem with prop 13 is that it was originally devised to keep seniors from losing their homes due to rising taxes. No one is keen on throwing old folks out in the street. ( and this was back when housing prices did not fluctuate and skyrocket to ridiculously inflated values the way they do now) but I believe business lobbies to be included in prop 13 which was never intended. So 13 should be modified. ( good luck with that) Of course anytime you add costs to business they get passed on the consumer anyway. Personally Ive never minded paying taxes but the situation in cali is that we have these overblown social services and hundreds of departments and agencies. If we make this place less desirable to leeches they will stop coming here. People move from other states to get our social services. I know some. The bottom line is if you agree to some serious cuts, then taxpayers will be more willing to listen to ideas about raising taxes for other things. You know, just like your parents used you tell you, “you can do “a” so long as you prove you’ve done “b” and I say this as lifelong democrat, who always voted for for for more stuff in the past only to see the negative result of that. We can not afford everything. so you gotta make a choice. I say seniors, the disabled, (and we’ll throw in kids too sense they are vulnerable to their loser parents’ screw ups) should get some help, but no one else. And its not just social services but these layers and layers of bloated state agencies. Start cutting. Let people figure out how to live on their own without constant guidance, restraint and/or help from the government. I’m totally NOT one of the anti government people either, I love the government, what I am concerned about the is fiscal irresponsibility that we can no sustain. Working people who foot the bill, shouldn’t go without transit and good roads because the tax money goes to sac and evaporites into black hole. There are so many states that don’t even have a state income tax and they are still around and functioning. I pay about 275 a month in state income tax. Thats a whole notch on the standard of living scale that I can’t move up and then they cut my transit service and raise my fare. Well excuse me but where the eff did my tax money go huh? hellooooo!!! sacramentoooooo, get your heads our of your asses please!

    jimsf Reply:

    oh and my most favorite part, is that I get to pay for all this crap to help my so called fellow californians who don’t even consider me their equal. “hey thanks for voting against my equal rights, gee here’s another grand to pay for your little brats education, oh sure, I know he’s the one tagging my transit vehicle, but thats ok, once we lock him up I can pay for that too”

    very nice indeed. god forgive me if I have to start voting republican but im desperate.

    Risenmessiah Reply:


    Half of California’s General Fund (which receives revenue from its biggest revenue sources) goes to education. You know, teacher salaries, school construction costs, the UCs… You want real savings? How about abolishing local districts in favor of a state department of education that runs all the schools?

    Another quarter of the General Fund goes to health and human services. And you know what the biggest chunk of that is? Medicaid! And that’s because instead of picking up the 90% or so of the cost like with Medicare, the federal government requires the states to split it. Why? Oh yeah that’s because Medicare is for old people…and Medicaid is for the poor or poorly assimiliated and guess what…they don’t vote as much. So what you really want to do my friend is start campaigining for the end to Medicare Part D, because then the feds could pitch in more for Medcaid. Or how about we opt out of Medicaid entirely and just let the next TB epidemic run its course?

    But wait don’t stop there….legalize marijuana…yeah that’s it…and save yourself a bundle in the next biggest hunk of state spending….prisons!!!

    It’s all fine and good to say you want to cut services. But it’s another thing entirely to act as if “waste, fraud, and abuse” is 90% of the budget.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    ….and for the record….(pretends to clear throat) Prop 13 was not about seniors being thrown out of their home.

    I’ve met Joel Fox who ran the campaign for Prop 13 before and Fox stated in no uncertain terms that Prop 13 was about a “popular response to the Legislature in California becoming full-time”. And coincidentially, that change in the Legislature also was when the Supreme Court ruled that a state senate based on something other than population was indeed unconstitutional. (It used to be that a senator would represent one or two counties as opposed to the Assembly which was always based on population.)

    It’s important to note though, that Proposition 13 passed in large part because of local property taxes were rising at a time in which the Govenor declared the budget surpluses in Sacramento “obscene”. It occured when political advertising was being taken over by television, and it was impossible to explain the byzanite nature of taxation in California in 30 seconds.

    jimsf Reply:

    Well I certainly never said it was 90 percent. Im asking for some common sense and accountability. And no, of course don’t cut medicare but the working age bottom feeders on medicaid need to be escorted to the state line. Getting rid of local school districts is a great idea though since most of them are in trouble anyway. The education budget must not be increased any further until they start making some cuts to the school bureaucracy. Cut the 6 figure folks and hire two teachers for every 6 figure dude you fire. I’m not sure about the pot. I’m for it, but I’m not sure what the ramifications might be. Living in SF were everyone is either drunk or high most of the time, I can say that stoned people are incredibly annoying. But it depends on how they earmark the revenue. And I sure support getting the non violent minor drug offenders out of the doc while at the same time, making sure they don’t get any public benies. that way when they hit bottom, they will either die, leave, or get their sh-t together. their choice but no more “there there poor baby” that’s called “enabling” and its not good for them.

    Again every dime you want to spend on people who don’t contribute is a dime you don’t get to spend on making the state functional, hsr and other other perks. So which do you prefer cuz you can’t afford both.

    Finally, every tax paying californian should, upon paying his or annual state income tax bill, receive a detailed, clear concise, accurate portfolio of the state budget with expenditures for each department detailed, from wages, salaries, materials purchased, service provided and so forth, written in plan english so that we the tax payers can quickly go line by line, nickel by nickel, and see what’s really goin’ on.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    The state has a fiduciary duty to public safety and human welfare. As much as I would like to believe it’s possible to do nothing with those “who don’t contribute” but you have to approach it the same way as you would air pollution. California is a global commons, and we must through voluntary means pursue the best use of resources or face the prospect of dystopia.

    Peter Reply:

    @ Risenmessiah @ 9:53
    Could you elaborate, as it’s late and your post made no sense to me whatsoever. I am interested, though, don’t get me wrong.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    The easiest way to think about this is that the state of California is a sovereign entity under the US Constitution. It is responsible for its citizens in that it must control the workings of its citizens that are wholly contained within the state. The federal government is responsible only for controlling those working which have an interestate element to them. So, California has to deal with the education of its young, the treatment of its sick, the incarceration of its criminals. It’s not an option, the state spends most of its money on institutional populations (students, the sick, prisioners). It also has to exercise police power and regulatory power generally.

    And truth be told, there’s only so much government can do. So while the expense of running the system is real, there’s no way to know what costs more….actively managing society or letting it be. For example, is it better to spend money on education than on public safety? Will society be more fruitful and require therefore fewer squad cars? Or is it better to distribute clean syringes to heroin addicts at state expense than not and risk occasional outbreaks of HIV?

    Economics is the study of scarcity. Americans and especially Californians don’t know what that is, unless they were born in another country. There has to be effective resource management of…yes conservation to ensure that we only use what need. But to say that by not spending on “those who don’t contribute” California can actually save money is not realistic unless these individuals do magically self-deport. If they stick around, it’s just another problem and another cost to government. Instead, it’s about getting those individuals who aren’t contributing to contribute in a meaningful way. And that’s what in the racially, ecologically, and economically balkanized land of California is hard.

    jimsf Reply:

    Risen- there are 49 other states and I doubt many of them the way california does on social welfare. I’m not trying to be a big meanie here, but we can not afford this. And they will “self deport” as you said as that’s what they do now from other states. The problem with the “ca entity” idea is that we can’t control our (domestic or international for that matter) borders. Americans are free to moove here without restriction so the more we offer to the non productive, they more they keep coming and cali becomes the de facto babysitter to the nation. States such as Nevada, Texas, pretty much all the red states offer barely the bare bones if anything at all to such people so they pack up and wind up here for to sign up for their handout. It been going on for decades. Its like trying to bail out a sinking boat with a teaspoon and its killing the cities and counties who have to directly deal with the problem. My city being the worst offender as we are broke beyond all comprehension yet as I walk around my neighborhood there must be no less than 50 city supported operations catering to these folks. Meanwhile my fast pass price is doubling and my transit service is being cut. I’m the one tring to get to work everyday so they can take a THIRD of my paycheck every week to pay for this crap. Enough is enough. Losers in california can do whatever it is losers in oklahoma and losers in texas do where they don’t get squat. I’m not even going to touch on the illegal immigration problem since one isn’t allowed to bring that up for being accused of being racist.
    you know what, god help me but I am going to hold my nose and vote for a republican in the governors race, which I have never done in my life. I’m that desperate.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    See, I think you are looking at the glass half empty.

    The University of California is one of our greatest assets, yet it used to be almost free to attend. Is it any different than a free HIV clinic on the streets of SF in my mind, no. Sure, California gets beat up for being socialist and communitarian compared to the rest of the US. But what I’m saying is there will always be social ills, whether or not we have the safety net in place. And there will always be public goods, even if you have to pay $700 just to pay to park at the beach.

    For example, San Francisco could save money by jettisoning those program of which you speak. But then, with fewer resources and more of a street population, it’s likely the city would spend more money to increase the number of police. The city’s reputation would suffer, and that would hit the revenue from tourists and the power lunch crowd. After all, the reason you have so many panhandler is obvious…so many people walk there. L.A. could do the same, but it’s not like a climate that allows you live outside for most of the year would act as much of a deterrent.

    jimsf Reply:

    Risen- in sf, from 1980 30 years ago, I have stood right here and watched as year after year ever more resources have been put into homeless etc service while the problem has gotten ever worse. The more we offer, the more show up. It has gotten to a point now that is worse than I’ve ever seen it, and its far more agressive and unsanitary. The tourist are already appalled. The business people are appalled. The local (bay area) day visitors are appalled. I watch well heeled show goers from the south and east bay exit shows at the Orpheum only to be aggressively accosted by street urchins. They can’t get to their cars and out of town fast enough. Even if the cost savings from social cuts would mean cost increases for law enforcement, id rather we pay for the latter, at least then the offenders are out of sight and being locked up is more of a deterrent for those who may think twice before coming here in the first place. You don’t see them sh-tting on the sidewalk in Atherton do you? Have you ever tried walking around sf without looking down at the sidewalk to see where you step? You better not.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    I seem to recall Gavin Newsom gained popularity by proposing “Care Not Cash” when he was elected Mayor. What all happened with that?

    jimsf Reply:

    Care not cash cut GA payments down, and provided services instead. They have housed a alrge number of people, however, its only a drop in the bucket. Meanwhile the money is not going to service agencies which have popped up all over the place, especially concentrated in the tl and soma, these create a big problem with loitering and other crimes, meanwhile, the gangs have moved in to sell drugs in the same area where the “recovery” homes are. Also many of the homeless refuse service and litter the streets instead while day trippers come from around the bay to loiter, solicit, fence, and beg. The young street dwellers come down from portanld to panhandle and camp in the park, and the city panders two illegals including those who are in gangs and who deal drugs. No one is ever picked up let alone prosecuted. 40 years of liberal live and let live has resulted in creating a calcutta like atmosphere in these neighborhoods and its likely that zero percent of the people who are supported by and who accost san franciscans daily, are even san franciscans at all. YOu wanna help them, by them an amtrak ticket to your town and I will gladly see to it they make it into the bus.

    jimsf Reply:

    heres this years budget breakdown frightening amounts of money being thrown around. Note that education gets 45 billion and welfare gets 25 billion, and business-housing-transportation combined gets only 2.5 billion. The biggest source of revenue by leaps and bounds is the personal income tax, which penalizes working people. 48 billion, nearly double any other revenue source.
    here just for kicks I browsed throughmeg whitman’s plan. Most of it sounds good although a couple of things -labor issues-made me cringe. Still over all there is way more good than bad in it.She supports “electrifying the ports” but not mention either way on hsr.

  14. Dave
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 10:40

    Here’s what the whole thing boils down to. The money required for transit to be self sustaining and possibly near profitable is being shipped off to oil companies in the form of massive profits, wich are reported by them year after year. PROFITS wich means the money made after their expenses. This money needs to be re-directed away from them and to our local transit systems. But none of that can happen unless someone decides to invest heavily in local, regional and state mass transit like HSR, Commuter rail, light rail all TIED together with clean, brand new, on time and frequent bus service.

    You can’t expect people from everywhere to choose mass transit when it is inconvinient to them, doesn’t serve their area, doesn’t go where they want to go, isn’t fast enough. Once you build the backbone, connect the tendons, and then the veins to every corner of the state you get something that works for a lot of people. Do that and those Oil profits instead go towards those systems and their operation. We will not be in this mess again. We need to break that cycle but we need to start now. What is shown here is the oil and auto cycle wich they created for us. Take transit like Caltrain away and we fall back on driving and using roads.

    tomh Reply:

    The fact that money is being shipped off to oil companies (gasoline prices) is actually a reason why people would want to take public transit (to avoid the cost of gasoline). The problem is that roads and freeways are heavily subsidized by the taxpayer, and a transit system that tried to be self-sustaining can’t compete with that. If freeway subsidies ended and all freeways became open toll roads (using transponders) instead, then self-sustaining public transit systems might be a reality.

    BTW, I’m sure it can be shown that oil and auto industry lobbyists are greatly responsible for the heavy freeway and road subsidies at the expense of public transit.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    That is why we need to get lobbyists for public transit. Get them around the construction unions because jobs will be more long term with rail systems and TODs versus suburbs and roadways. Got to fight fire with fire as crooked as the institution is.

    Robert Reply:

    It is a fallacy that there are massive subsidies for highway use in this country. Through various taxes and fees, auto and truck drivers pay for 70 to 80% of the total construction and operations costs of highways and roads combined. The data are here If auto/truck dirvers paid the full costs of highways and roads their cost would go up less than 50%, but if mass transit uses paid their full costs the fares would go up several fold. This is not to say that mass transit should not be subsidized, but please stick to the facts.

    Spokker Reply:

    “Using Federal Highway Administration statistics, Subsidyscope has calculated that in 2007, 51 percent of the nation’s $193 billion set aside for highway construction and maintenance was generated through user fees—down from 10 years earlier when user fees made up 61 percent of total spending on roads. The rest came from other sources, including revenue generated by income, sales and property taxes, as well as bond issues.”

    Commuter rail can cover up to half its costs. Metrolink down here in Southern California does it.

    Some say that it’s because money is diverted to transit. Well, let’s put the money back.

    “However, even if those funds were fully devoted to highways, total user fee revenue accounted for only 65 percent of all funds set aside for highways in 2007, according to Subsidyscope calculations.”

    Even Amtrak’s six San Diego to Santa Barbara runs recover 70% of its costs through fares.

    What about local roads and state highways? What about building infrastructure out to the suburbs? Who pays? Who benefits? Who loses?

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    It’s even worse for highways when you take out the amount of gas tax revenue generated for highways when people are driving their cars on the street, or when you include city streets. A texas study I can’t find at the moment was somewhere around 25-30% farebox recovery.

    Even at 50% farebox recovery, transit makes more fiscal sense than roads. THSR, the one that was mentioned earlier as a huge failure, is running 200% farebox recovery.

    Robert Reply:

    This is another part of the mythology, vast amounts of money being spent by local governments on roads. Frequently cited by never with reference to any supporting data. The dot database includes spending on local roads.

    Spokker Reply:

    I’m not as down on local spending on automobile infrastructure because those projects tend to be wrapped up in neat little packages and paid for by a tax increase that people vote for. So it’s really a case of a county or something collectively making a choice to widen a freeway or street or something. Many of them are highway heavy such as Orange County’s Measure M and Renewed Measure M, but Los Angeles County’s last sales tax increase was based on the transit heavy Measure R that received 2/3rds of the vote to pass.

    But I don’t think these projects pay for themselves through user names. They are thought of to stimulate commerce and all that good shit. I don’t expect freeways to pay for themselves but apparently transit has to or it’s not a success.

    Of course, when Los Angeles County’s MTA was shut down for a month in 2003 all hell broke loose, and this in a place where only 10% of commuters commute via bus or rail. The problems were greatest along rail corridors. Does transit matter? Is it worthy of subsidy? I think so.

    Spokker Reply:

    *user names = user fees

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Spokker wins the week on the HSR blog for this all-important find. I am in your debt for this.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Now this data will kill the highway lobbyists and show really that rail in terms of farebox recovery is still better. With more speed, comes less subsidy as seen with Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor.

    Robert Reply:

    For a better analysis of highway spending and subsidies, see For 2006 user fees accounted for about 72% of highway spending. His analysis corrects some of the strange accounting ideas in SubsidyScope. For 2007 the percentage is about 70%.

    Spokker Reply:

    What’s funny is that Amtrak fans had a problem with SubsidyScope’s study of which Amtrak routes lose the most money and the highway fans had a problem with their study of highway spending.

    But the Amtrak fans had nothing to say about their study of highway spending and the highway fans had nothing to say about the Amtrak study, except to say, “I told you so!” ;)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yay, links to Randall O’Toole! There’s a fair-minded, objective world-class expert on transportation policy for you.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You are leaving out the cost of “free” parking provided by zoning mandate …

    … and of course also entirely leaving out external costs. Since automobiles generate net external costs compared to alternative means of transport, automobile passengers ought to be paying more of their share of costs than passengers of other means of transport.

    Robert Reply:

    Yes, those were left out. Mostly because the value of land use ‘subsidies’ (required parking) are very dependent on the philosophy of the person doing the evaluation. And then there are reverse subsidies such as SF, when there are requirements to limit parking in order to favor transit.

    Yes there are other benefits to mass transit, but mass transit is frequently not an economical or effective way to address the supposed problems. For example, with current conditions, buses actually generate as much or more CO2 as cars do per passenger mile, based on average occupancies. Rail systems are better, and in CA an electrified rail system would be much better, because of the relatively small amount of fossil fuel used for electricity generation in CA.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    SF does not have requirements to limit parking. It’s legal to buy land and build a parking garage there, if it’s permissible by zoning. It’s nothing like Downtown Calgary, where the government passed parking maximums so that people would ride light rail more.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The difference is that Caltrain is convenient to people and goes where they want to go, generally “fast enough” with the introduction of the Baby Bullets though electrification and grade separation will help a lot.

    You’re absolutely right though about our money being shipped off to oil companies. And Arnold Schwarzenegger is attacking mass transit in order to ship more money to oil companies.

    The solution is ultimately a region-wide gas tax for the nine-county SF Bay Area that funds mass transit operations and then expansion (once operations have been restored to 2007 levels).

  15. Jathnael Taylor
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 11:34

    One thing Caltrains really needs to do is look for other income sources.
    I am always surprised how un-business like our .gov rail systems operate.
    Caltrain has a bunch of land(station areas) that it could develop for retail and such. Also more advertising and..well heck anything to get more money into Caltrains operating budget.
    While I understand the feeling to look to the .gov to get more funding, there is also a need to look at ALL sources of income that would be usable.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Good point J.T. The JR Groups railways here in Japan sell advertising space in their trains and stations, some commuter trains have above-door LCD screens which in addition to giving train info and news, air commercials. Stations are integrated with retail space, and in fact in-station shopping centers are currently quite profitable, while traditional department stores are still suffering from the recession. Heck, in some city stations, you can get a haircut, a bowl of hot soup and bread, or a cup of freshly brewed coffee right on the platform.

    Yas Reply:

    I suggest Caltrain to open the shopping center, or build condo next to Atherton station.

    jimsf Reply:

    They are desperate so they need to start wrapping the trains with ads. I don’t care for it, but its better than cutting service.

  16. Tony D.
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 12:50

    By the way, what’s up with the delayed approval for Caltrain electrification because of the “threat” of yet another lawsuit? See today’s Mercury News.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Got a link?

    Reality Check Reply:

    Caltrain delays electrification OK due to veiled lawsuit threat

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The money quote:

    But Caltrain legal counsel David Miller said Wednesday the agency received a
    veiled threat of a lawsuit in the form of a letter from an attorney representing
    the Planning and Conservation League <>, a Sacramento-based
    nonprofit that also helped sue the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 2008.

    I don’t know what else needs to be said: the Planning and Conservation League are enemies of passenger trains, and are absolutely dedicated to sprawl and an automobile-based system of transportation. They are the *classic* defenders of the status quo, people who are absolutely convinced that it is still 1970 and that there is no need whatsoever to build more sustainable infrastructure for any reason.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    the Planning and Conservation League are enemies of passenger trains, and are absolutely dedicated to sprawl and an automobile-based system of transportation.

    So do they have Google down there in happening Monterey yet or do you need to go to all the way to the local library branch to do the simplest fact checking?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    That was 20 years ago, and PCL was not solely responsible for Prop 116. Here in 2010 (i.e. it’s no longer 1990), PCL’s actions are anti-passenger rail.

    After all, it was Gary Patton who bragged to the crowd at the Palo Alto HSR teach-in back in September about how he killed a proposed passenger train to link San Jose to Santa Cruz. The effect of that was to fuel massive sprawl in Watsonville and to choke Santa Cruz County with vehicle traffic.

    I see nothing – nothing whatsoever – from PCL in 2010 to indicate they are anything but proponents of dependence on automobiles and oil. The have become deeply hostile to passenger trains, and their threat of suing Caltrain over their electrification, after almost every single claim in their lawsuit against HSR was rejected by the courts, is further proof of that fact.

  17. Paul Steranka
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 12:59

    Its time to improve inefficiency of Caltrain operation and try to increase fare box recovery. I fully undestand that Caltrain is much better than Muni or VTA, in terms of efficiency. Utilization of trainset is low. Turnaround time is very long. Example of Tamien station, train arrived Tamien 7:03 and depart 7:56. This train is not generate any revenue during this 53 min. There are 2 train/hour but train depart 5:50, 5:56, 6:49, 6:56… frequency is 6 to 54 minutes apart. Unuseful long (5 car) train and two conductor in midday train. I don’t know how much of them comes from FRA regulation but mostly due to Amtrak’s lazy labor bahavors. Some train may terminate in Redwood City or Palo Alto. Not all trains have to run between SF-SJ, since ridership into SJ is 1/3 smaller than that into SF.

  18. Amanda in the South Bay
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 19:09

    Well, i guess that would leave the 180 to Fremont, then BART to get from the South Bay to the city on weekends?

    That just sucks.

  19. political_incorrectness
    Apr 2nd, 2010 at 21:23

    With those rumors of Caltrain being sued. Well it is by none other than our NIMBY neighbors in Atherthorn by the PCL

    Tony D. Reply:

    By the way, does anyone know what the hell they’re going to sue for this time? Everything they brought up last year was pretty much thrown out of court, and the UPRR from SJ-Gilroy, Peninsula vibration issues are being addressed.

    Peter Reply:

    All I can think of is that possibly the EIR doesn’t discuss the combined environmental effects of HSR on the electrification project? I haven’t read the EIR, though, so I could easily be wrong.

  20. political_incorrectness
    Apr 3rd, 2010 at 14:22

    I figured the lawsuit will sink quickly. They are saying there aren’t environemntal issues dealt with saying that the cons outweigh the pros which is simply a non-starter with electric locomotives.

  21. Reality Check
    Apr 3rd, 2010 at 22:28

    According to Caltrain electrification EIR OK delayed for NIMBYs. PCL attorney it wasn’t just Garry Patton … it was also Palo Alto mayor Pat Burt, CARRD’s Nadia Naik, Burlingame bicycle advocate Pat Giorni and a few other Menlo-Atherton area NIMBYs.

    Gary Patton, environmental attorney for Wittwer & Parkin, LLP, Planning and Conservation League (PCL) and the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail (CC-HSR) sent a letter on March 31st stating these organizations object to the proposed adoption. Patton said “…taking the action recommended to you by staff would violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). We urge the Board to comply with CEQA and to revise and re-circulate the EA/EIR for additional agency and public comment, before making a project decision.”

    At the meeting Patton reiterated his legal position but wanted to speak to the board as a former elected official and warned them if board used a six year old EIR “what you’re really telling people is you don’t want to include them, you’re not trying to help them build this new vision of a better rail system for the peninsula.” He urged the JPB Board to “take the time to revise and re-circulate this document, get the public buy-in for this kind of project that can take us to the end of this century here on the peninsula.”

    Joey Reply:


    Nadia Reply:

    CARRD requested that Caltrain take the time to get public comment on the Electrification EIR because it was circulated for 45 days in 2004 and never again since then. In those 6 years, there have been changes. For example, they decided to NOT electrify south of Tamien station due to budget concerns. This change caused the movement of equipment placement. Specifically, for example, they are moving a sub-station that would be at the entrance of a historic neighborhood in Palo Alto that came on the registry in 2005 and was therefore NOT covered in the EIR.

    We recommended that rather than have Caltrain be lumped together with HSR in the way they handle the communities concerns, they could take the time to work with the public on any “concerns” before final approval. They have time to do it and still apply for the money they want – and they can improve their relationship with their constituents by showing that they listen.

    Having 3 different asynchronous EIRs for the same 40 miles raises eyebrows and while those who follow the project closely understand it – it only adds stress to a situation unnecessarily. Electrification is clearly a good thing – but if they proceed with a stale EIR, it only opens the door to unnecessary suits. If they take the time, they won’t have any problems. That was the point of our comments.

    Peter Reply:

    I would agree that a LOT has changed since 2004, which would in fact warrant a recirculation of the EIR. Alone the passage of Prop 1A would be sufficient, in my opinion.

    Joey Reply:

    At the very least it would be nice to see better coordination between CalTrain and the CHSRA.

Comments are closed.