By Cat Tucker
Seven months into the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are feeling the profound personal effects. While the pandemic will eventually come to an end, allowing us to go back to doing what we love, its long-reaching economic impacts could make it difficult for things to return to normal. In fact, these impacts have already put a key part of the Bay Area’s transportation system in jeopardy: Caltrain. Fortunately, we still have the power to save it by voting yes on Measure RR, for both the good of Gilroy’s economy and our community.
Measure RR is a 1/8-cent sales tax designated as a dedicated funding source for Caltrain in the three counties where it operates: Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco. Despite its role as a convenient, reliable source of transportation that provides profound relief from commuter traffic, Caltrain currently has no stable source of funding. More than 70 percent of its revenue comes from fares, and with most people working from home during the pandemic, Caltrain ridership has dropped by nearly 95 percent. Unless Measure RR passes, Caltrain will be forced to shut down, and it will cost taxpayers at least $150 million to get it back up and running—hurting our wallets, our air quality and our commute times when we eventually return to work.
However, if Measure RR is passed, Caltrain will be able to enact its expansion plans—greatly improving our quality of life by cutting down on both traffic and pollutants in our air. According to new data analyzed by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an expanded Caltrain could take 100,000 cars a day off of Bay Area freeways. CalMod, the program to electrify the Caltrain system, is already scheduled to go online in 2022 and will allow Caltrain to boost its capacity by 30 percent. By 2040, this would remove an additional five lanes of pre-pandemic car traffic from Bay Area freeways—something we as commuters will need as the Bay Area population continues to grow.
Even for non-commuters, the expanded Caltrain will offer multiple environmental and economic benefits. This year’s historic fire season, with its orange skies, was a good reminder that clean air is key to maintaining our overall health and quality of life, and electrification will reduce criteria air pollutant emissions by up to 97 percent. This will eliminate more than 176,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions along the corridor each year.
In addition, the new-and-improved Caltrain will also provide a much-needed economic boost to the entire Bay Area, aiding in pandemic recovery. Projections show that the passage of Measure RR will add approximately 16,000 good-paying jobs across the three counties. Those who don’t ride or work for Caltrain also stand to share in the economic benefits. Because access to world-class transportation like Caltrain eases people’s ability to get around, it incentivizes them to choose the Bay Area when considering where to live, work and open businesses.
We’re fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful, thriving areas in the country that offers many opportunities for fun and recreation in our normal, everyday lives. While there are many factors that go into the high quality of life that Gilroy and the Bay Area provide, reliable public transportation, like Caltrain, is a major part. Measure RR is a simple solution that will have a positive impact on our entire region for years to come. We’re all looking forward to the day when the Bay Area can fully, safely and enjoyably reopen—and we need Caltrain there for us when that day comes.
Cat Tucker is a Gilroy City Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tempore.