Caltrain gets $39M in additional federal pandemic relief

Proposal could end multi-year stalemate over Caltrain’s governance

in Community/Infrastructure

A new proposal on how to structure Caltrain’s governance in years to come will be presented today at the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) meeting. Viewed as a compromise, the plan has the potential to end a multi-year stalemate pitting San Mateo County transit representatives against their longtime partners in Santa Clara and San Francisco counties. Officials say the dispute threatens the health and future of the railroad.

The proposal would maintain the San Mateo County Transit District (SMCTD) as the managing agency for Caltrain, but a main change is the structure would provide the JPB with more control over the rail agency’s decision-making. For example, the Caltrain executive director would remain a SamTrans employee, but the position would exclusively report to, and take direction from, the JPB, which could hire and fire the executive director via a supermajority vote, and would set annual goals, performance reviews and compensation for the position. In addition, the general managers of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and SMCTD would participate in the selection process for the Caltrain ED position along with members of the JPB, but the general managers wouldn’t participate in the vote to hire the position that would be selected by a vote of the JPB members.

More details of the proposal can be seen here.

The impasse among the three counties where Caltrain operates centers on control over the transit agency’s direction. After SamTrans purchased the Caltrain right-of-way in 1991, the JPB was formed consisting of three representatives from the three counties where the transit agency operates. Up until now, SamTrans has been Caltrain’s employer while taking direction from the JPB. Under the current structure, the SamTrans board hires the general manager, who is also executive director of Caltrain, and the SamTrans board also does the GM’s performance review.

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’s direction. 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.

To view today’s agenda for the JPB meeting, go here.

Photo courtesy of Caltrain

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