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Voters in the three counties served by Caltrain passed a measure that will add a one one-eighth cent sales tax in each county to help the financially struggling rail system.

Measure RR will provide Caltrain an estimated $100 million annually for the next 30 years to help fund operations, including expansion of service and capacity, as well as major capital projects. The measure needs to pass by two-thirds among the ballots cast in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

As of Thursday afternoon, the measure is winning at 70.62 percent, which clears the bar for approval.

In San Francisco, the measure is passing at 73.66 percent. The approval rate is just slightly less in San Mateo County at 71.38 percent. In Santa Clara County, 66.83 percent of ballots signaled “yes” for Measure RR.

Transit officials said Caltrain has historically depended on fare revenue to fund 70 percent of the rail system’s operating cost. Contributions from member transit agencies typically make up the remaining amount. But with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the rail system has experienced a devastating drop in ridership, from 65,000 to 3,600 average weekday riders, the agency said.

Officials are celebrating the passage of the measure. San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, who chairs the Peninsula Joint Powers Board, said in a statement:

“With this victory, Caltrain has a bright future as it will now be able to provide congestion relief throughout the corridor by serving tens of thousands of new riders with a vastly improved, modernized rail system.”

Federal funding awarded by the CARES Act is most likely to run out by the end of the year.

The three-member countries were able to place Measure RR on the ballot after the state legislature passed Senate Bill 797, authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill. The agency will begin collecting funds from the new tax beginning July 1, 2021.

While the passage of Measure RR was good news for the agency, Caltrain board directors still discussed Thursday possible service changes, including reduction in the number of weekday trains and increased weekend service to accommodate increased weekend ridership since the pandemic. 

The board plans to vote on the schedule changes next month.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn covers transportation and City Hall in San Francisco for SF Bay. Email: jerold@sfbay.ca. Twitter: @Jerold_Chinn. Instagram: jeroldwashere.

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