Letter to Editor: Vote No On All Transportation Related Tax Measures!

South San Francisco, CA    March 24, 2018  Submitted by Jeffrey Tong

Residents of San Mateo County will be facing a plethora of new sales tax proposals this coming November, and maybe as early as June, allegedly to alleviate traffic congestion.

What is crazy is that transportation authorities are marketing these tax measures as solution for problems they either don’t understand or do not wish to acknowledge.


What are these proposals?

Senate Bill 595 (Regional Measure 3) – Jim Beale.


RM3 superficially looks appealing because it promises to fund everything, but it is grossly inequitable! It allocates 25% to expand highways despite Caltran’s revelation in 2015 that highway expansion induces demand – creates more traffic!  Although it allocates 69% to public transit, it allocates only 3% to bike and pedestrian infrastructure and 3% to alternatives.  But transit is only as strong as its weakest link, so categorically separating and limiting the latter to 6% creates a problem.  Unless people can safely reach transit stations without a car, they’ll drive to their final destination, making SB-595 just a highway expansion measure.


Senate Bill 797 (Caltrain Sales Tax in SF/SM/SJ Counties) – Jerry Hill.


SB-797 is supposed to be a dedicated funding source for Caltrain. But the poor and disabled do not ride Caltrain – they ride Samtrans.  So a sales tax to fund Caltrain will be a regressive tax impacting most severely the least able to pay (nonusers) to subsidize those most able to pay (users). Moreover, Caltrain is managed by Samtrans, which is horribly mismanaged.


Assembly Bill 1613 (Samtrans Sales Tax) – Kevin Mullin.


Samtrans is the “Transportation for the Poor and Disabled,” managed by wealthier people who choose not to ride the system they manage.   They allow accountants to create policies which satisfy gov’t mandates, but serves no one except those who have no alternative.


Samtran buses are like battleships and they serve only a tiny fraction of the Peninsula population.  Fed regulations mandate wheelchair accessibility, are costly, and takes up a lot of room.  Moreover, Samtrans says labor is their most expensive cost. So their solution is to buy the biggest battleship they can, and run them once an hour.  Problem is that fewer than 5% of population will wait one hour (based on a survey of 100), and buses are too large to enter residential subdivisions.  So with the exception of ECR and ECRx, Samtrans does not serve Peninsula residents.  If they are only serving 5% of the population, why do they fear the loss of that 5% when they have a much greater potential attracting the other 95%?  Two smaller buses may double the cost, but the survey indicated an approx 6X increase in ridership when wait time is cut from one hour to 30 minutes.


Samtrans should stick to the one and only route it does best – ECR & ECRx, and let cities handle the rest.  But first, Samtrans must end their anti-competition mandate.  Samtrans holds a total monopoly on public transit in San Mateo County.  Its policy of preventing service duplication ensures that no “competition” exist.  But public transit is not competitive – they’re complementary!  If riders miss a bus, they’ll need an alternative quicky.  Samtran policy guarantees that riders have no alternative!  Is it any wonder Samtrans ridership is decreasing – despite more cars on the road?



Now they want more money to spend on technical fixes while their dysfunctional management policies stay in place?


Samtrans is so dysfunctional, its policies contribute to traffic congestion. Without a structural reorganization, AB-1613 would only add more fuel to the fire.


“LETS GET US MOVING” is not a survey – it’s just a sales pitch to justify taxing the people!  If it were truly a survey, Jerry Hill and Kevin Mullin would have completed and analyzed it prior to finalizing their tax bills.


The question politicians never address is WHY are roads so congested?  Legislators make you believe that we need more traffic lanes.  But Caltrans made a rare admission in 2015 that adding more lanes merely attract (induces) more traffic.



The real problem is an overdependence on one mode of transportation – the car. The solution is to build MULTI-MODAL INFRASTRUCTURE that makes car alternatives equally convenient with the car, rather than increase road capacity for only cars.


Can we trust our politicians to do the right thing – based on their track record?  In 1988, SMC Transit Authority convinced voters to pass a 1.5 billion dollar Measure A Sales Tax, which has been renewed for 30 years.  Measure A doesn’t exclude bike and pedestrian infrastructure from streets, highways, and grade separation, but by giving bike and pedestrian a separate category and limiting it to 3%, TA Director Joe Hurley strictly interpreted it as such. Essentially, 96% of funds have been used to expand automobile infrastructure, 3% to bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and just 1% to alternative transportation modes. In retrospect, Measure A has only exacerbated traffic congestion!


If legislators are serious about reducing traffic congestion, they should first change the planning codes to ELIMINATE FREE PARKING SUBSIDIES in the suburbs. https://youtu.be/Akm7ik-H_7U


These subsidies caused urban sprawl forcing suburbanites to walk 3X the distance to reach transit hubs compared with their urban counterpart.


Secondly, finding an acceptable car alternative to CLOSE THE FIRST/ LAST MILE GAP between home and mass transit hubs will be essential.  But that will be a formidable task, especially when suburbanites have gotten used to the convenience of a car.  What alternative people accept will depend on their age, physical condition, and tolerance to seasonal temperature / weather conditions.


Given that none of the ballot measures will do anything to stop urban sprawl, close the first/last mile gap, or restructure Samtrans and the Transit Authority, I strongly recommend rejecting SB-595, SB-797, and AB-1613.


CLICK HERE to view video regarding the hidden costs of parking places.


{edit 3.27.17}



Jeffrey Tong is an avid cyclist, public transit user, and former member of CCAG’s (City/County Association of GovernmentsBike & Ped Advisory Committee . He has analyzed in depth both San Mateo County’s 1988 Measure A and Santa Clara’s 2016 Measure B among other issues aimed at County transportation and funding.


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6 years ago



Traffic congestion is reduced when you don’t build more housing units, there’s a novel idea.

But, WE NEED housing, yes there is a need, but the solution is not to increase the cost of living on the rest of the working poor.