Caltrain to offer free rides for New Year's Eve revelers

Possible solutions identified in contentious debate over Caltrain governance

in Community

Are derailed discussions about the future governance of Caltrain back on track? 

Green Caltrain, a blog operated by the nonprofit Friends of Caltrain, recently suggested a “narrow path on an agreement” might be in play after a “sometimes-tense” special meeting of the transit agency’s Board of Directors last Thursday. According to the report, Caltrain staff was tasked at the meeting with bringing proposals to the Board on Nov. 4 that aim to satisfy the desire of Board members representing San Francisco and Santa Clara counties to have more respective control over Caltrain governance and operations. The proposals would also aim to satisfy SamTrans’ request of being repaid by its partner counties for purchasing the right-of-way in 1991.

The solutions could involve keeping SamTrans as Caltrain’s managing agency, but providing the Caltrain board with more power to hire, fire and evaluate Caltrain’s executive director.

An agreement by the Board would bring to an end a long-running, contentious debate over Caltrain’s future governance. Following SamTrans’ purchase of the Caltrain right-of-way in 1991, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) was formed consisting of three representatives from the three counties where the transit agency operates.

Up till now, SamTrans is Caltrain’s employer, while taking direction from the JPB. Under the existing structure, the SamTrans Board of Directors is tasked with hiring and firing Caltrain’s executive director, who also serves as SamTrans’ general manager. Following the passage last November of Measure RR, an 1/8-cent sales tax that marks Caltrain’s first dedicated source of funding, JPB members from San Francisco and Santa Clara demanded the dissolution of the existing governance structure in favor of one providing them with more respective control over the transit agency. In response, SamTrans demanded repayment for the cost of purchasing the right of way. The call to collect was not well-received by JPB members from San Francisco and Santa Clara, who declined in protest to participate in a mandated special governance meeting last June.

Representatives for all three counties came together Thursday to search for points of agreement, with the exception of Shamann Walton, the San Francisco supervisor who has been missing in action on this issue for some time.

At the meeting, Director Steve Heminger from San Francisco acknowledged that SamTrans “had purchased the ability to serve as managing agency” and agreed if the other counties want more independence, they must repay SamTrans at least $20 million for the right-of-way.

Disclaimer: Adam Alberti, the publisher of Climate Magazine, is Managing Director at Singer Associates, Inc. SamTrans is represented by Singer Associates.