Measure RR on the Nov. 3 ballot is a one-eighth-cent sales tax that would be levied for 30 years in order to help “save” Caltrain, the commuter train line that runs between Gilroy and San Francisco, according to supporters.
Opponents of Measure RR—which appears on the ballot in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties—have voiced an anti-tax stance that argues more tax spending is wasteful and fails to accomplish its stated objectives.
The Measure RR ballot question states that the requested sales tax revenues would “preserve Caltrain service and support regional economic recovery, prevent traffic congestion, make Caltrain more affordable and accessible, reduce air pollution with cleaner and quieter electric trains, make travel times faster, and increase Caltrain frequency and capacity.”
The sales tax would provide an estimated $100 million annually to Caltrain operations and improvements, according to proponents. And the measure includes a formal oversight program with citizens and taxpayers participating.
Measure RR is proposed by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which was created years ago to operate Caltrain. The measure needs a two-thirds majority in the Nov. 3 election in order to pass.
At an Oct. 22 virtual town hall hosted by the City of Morgan Hill, Matthew Quevedo of the Committee to Save Caltrain offered more details on the benefits of Measure RR.
Quevedo explained that the commuter transportation service is on the brink of collapse. The Covid-19 pandemic has “drastically” hit Caltrain and public transportation in general with reduced ridership. The situation is uniquely problematic for Caltrain, 70 percent of whose annual operating budget relies on ticket sales.
“The success of Caltrain has led us to a situation we’re in now,” Quevedo said. “There is not a permanent funding source for Caltrain. We are calling on the voters to help rescue Caltrain.”
Funds raised from Measure RR would not only keep Caltrain running; they would eventually help to expand the train’s frequency of service to South County, Quevedo said.
Quevedo that Caltrain ridership and demand will inevitably increase again after the pandemic, as commuters will return to their offices throughout Silicon Valley. That will cause normal vehicle traffic loads to resume on the freeways—further enticing residents to take Caltrain instead.
“Two out of three Caltrain riders own a car and decide to hop on a train instead” to go to work currently, Quevedo added. “Those freeways are freed up thanks to the folks who ride Caltrain.”
An argument against Measure RR—signed by the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association and other respondents—says, “Sales taxes are regressive taxes that hurt the poor and middle classes.” The argument cites the pandemic as a reason not to disperse more taxpayer dollars to Caltrain.
“We need to rethink our options—not just throw more money at trains,” reads the argument, signed by Mark Hinkle of SVTA, Brian Holtz of Purissima Hills Water District, former manager of Southern Pacific Transportation Mary Gingell and Steven Haug.
The anti-Measure RR argument further calls the proposed sales tax a “gravy train for certain public employees and private contractors at the expense of everyone.”
A rebuttal to this argument notes that reducing vehicle traffic and air and noise pollution—which are key goals of Measure RR—benefits everyone within Caltrain’s service area. Proponents also note that many “essential workers” rely on Caltrain to get to and from their jobs every day.