January Caltrain JPB Meeting
Positive Developments After Only
Eight Years?
Report By Richard Mlynarik
San Francisco Joint Powers Board (JPB) representative Leslie Katz,
frequently absent from JPB meetings, has resigned. A different represen-
tative will be announced next month.
The JPB public correspondence packet this month contained 81 pages
of letters. Sixty people faxed or mailed in the Peninsula Rail 2000 VTA
Measure A/B form letter to the JPB. Dozens wrote personal letters about
the abysmal proposed rate of improvements in service. Thanks all!
The fact that increasing numbers of people actually know that that
transit agency staffs involved with Caltrain exist should start to make
their lives a great deal less comfortable.
Michael Burns, Muni director and new JPB chair, has requested that
two JPB subcommittees be convened.
The first is to study funding of Caltrain, and to suggest ways in which
funding of the agency can be arranged so that it is on a more stable basis
than going cap in hand to the three counties on a year-to-year basis. (Not
so encouraging is which obstructionist JPB members are likely to sit on
this subcommittee.)
The second is an advisory subcommittee on the upcoming competi-
tive contracting of Caltrain operations. Amtrak’s contract is coming up for
renegotiation, and it’s in the public’s and JPB’s interests to have the best
workforce providing the best customer service at the best price. (Amtrak
has performed well considering inherent operational inefficiencies due to
SamTrans staff “decisions” about equipment and systematic non-mainte-
Burns also wants the JPB to hold meetings in San Francisco and San
Jose once a year, on the theory that this will make the agency more
accessible to the public. Though commendable, I have my doubts about
this move: the real problem with public attendance is that the meetings
are held on 10am on working days and can go on for hours.
Moving along, Michael Scanlon, the new SamTrans General Manager
(and Caltrain Executive Director), appears to be a breath of fresh air. His
reporting to the Board is both far more complete and far less misleading
than we have come to expect either from his predecessor Haugh or from
Rail Services Director Kirzner.
Scanlon reported that the Ticket Vending Machine contract had been
amended to require that machines be able to issue tickets with any origin
(not just from the current station.) This was in response to universal
dismay at the design when a prototype was presented to the public last
(Two points to bear in mind. Firstly, if they’d had contact with any
real transit operator or any real vendor or any actual passengers they’d
have done this right from the first. Secondly, over two years ago we
explicitly warned the Board about the way in which staff were making
procurement decisions — rail cars and ticket machines — without any
rider input, and that the results would be poor as a result.)
Scanlon appears to actually be responsive to directives from the Board
and even to the long-suffering public. The fact that the Board is asking for
and now apparently receiving basic levels of professional conduct from
their staff (for example the first real synoptic view of the budgets and
timetables of all capital projects was made available last month) is a major
change, and it is to be hoped one which will outlast the individual short
tenures of board members. McLemore in particular has been emphatic
about receiving enough actual information to make informed decisions,
particularly when spending public money; this should be contrasted with
the pervasive “here sign this or the sky will fall” approach of agency staff
towards their nominal boards (MTC, for example).
A Memorandum of Understanding between the JPB and the City and
County of San Francisco with regard to the completion of the Downtown
Extension EIR has been agreed upon and signed.
Scanlon dispatched Caltrain Chief Engineer Darrell Maxey to the Elec-
trification 2000 Conference (www.iqpc.co.uk/utilities/electrification/
contents.htm) just held in London. A big emphasis of the conference was
Global Best Practice (i.e. not whatever the engineering firms Parsons and
Bechtel happened to offer on any particular day), on total life-cycle system
costs, and hard data and costs from recent world-wide projects. We hope
that the grossly inflated $376-million-for-77-route-miles figures by mod-
ernization-hostile current-and-former JPB staffers will be seen for what
they are. We’ll see what Darrell has to say when he reports back.
Staff will make a presentation on their SF baseball park service plans
next month. (If they’d actually boosted their rail car fleet three years ago
when they should have we wouldn’t be buying an extra fleet of superan-
nuated special service equipment. And presenting their plans at the very
last minute — the baseball season opens in April, and the JPB only meets
once a month — is JPB/SamTrans business as usual.) Anyway, they
should be selling the service aggressively to ticket holders now. We’ll see.
Scanlon said that Amtrak (the train operators) will be making a com-
mitment — sorely lacking in the last decade — to actually use the PA
systems installed with such fanfare around 1993/4 and largely silent since
to announce to actual fare paying passengers when any train has been
delayed more than 10 minutes. The claim is that PA systems are “opera-
tive” at all but 8 (unnamed) main line (north of Tamien) stations, and that
Amtrak has hired “information clerks” whose responsibility this will be
See JPB, p. 3
All-Highway Sales Tax
EMERGENCY HELP is needed from throughout the Bay Area to de-
feat an ALL-HIGHWAY sales tax measure on the MARCH 7 ballot in
Sonoma County. This measure, funded with millions in highway lobby
money, may spawn similar measures in the rest of the Bay Area and
California as a whole.
The highway lobby sees this as a test case for getting rid of pesky
transit advocates. Their strategy is to put competing highway & transit
measures on the ballot and “let the voters decide.” If the highway mea-
sure wins and the transit measure fails, it would be the first 2/3-majority
win in over a decade for transportation sales taxes.
- Donate to the NO Campaign: send checks to “CAWM/Citizens
Against Wasting Millions”, PO Box 14906, Santa Rosa CA 95402-6906
- Have your group endorse the NO campaign (national & regional
groups only please)
- Phone-bank from Berkeley (Tu 2/29, Th 3/2, and possibly Sun 3/5)
- Phone-bank in Sonoma County (most Sun-Thurs nights, starting 2/15)
- Precinct walk & Get-Out-the-Vote
To volunteer, contact Jeff Hobson at jhobson@igc.org or 510-540-7280.
Clean Air Act & Transit Incentives Threatened
Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) and Rep. James Talent (R-KS) have intro-
duced bills (S.1053/H.R.1876) to amend the Clean Air Act and overturn a
recent federal appeals court decision ruling stating that transportation
projects must comply with state air pollution reduction plans. These bills
may be considered as this issue of Staying On Track goes to press.
For more information see