SamTrans up for a share of proceeds from San Mateo County tax measure 

click to enlarge Some 41 percent of SamTrans riders earn less than $25,000, and 44 percent ride the bus to work, according to the Citizens Advisory Committee. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Some 41 percent of SamTrans riders earn less than $25,000, and 44 percent ride the bus to work, according to the Citizens Advisory Committee.

Whether San Mateo County really does have the nation's highest concentration of Teslas per capita is a point of contention. SamTrans Citizens Advisory Committee Chairman Peter Ratto certainly believes it's a contender.

Yet it's also a county with a substantial population of low-income public-transportation riders, who use the system 12.4 million times a year, according to 2013 statistics from the committee. Some 41 percent of those riders report household incomes of less than $25,000 a year, 67 percent don't own a car and 44 percent ride the bus to work, Ratto told the county Board of Supervisors last week. And with SamTrans facing a long-term structural deficit, that largely invisible population could be left without a way to get to work.

"When you make that kind of money, you don't have the luxury of riding BART," Ratto said, arguing that the consequences of reducing bus service could be grave.

But with supervisors contemplating ways to spend the proceeds from Measure A, the $60 million half-cent sales tax that voters approved in November, transit activists like Ratto scored a partial victory last week. They managed to persuade the Board of Supervisors to unanimously recommend that $10 million in Measure A revenue be set aside for public transit come fall — mostly to patch up a looming structural deficit that afflicts the county's commuter bus and transit system.

Although SamTrans managed to balance its budget this year by withdrawing funds for Caltrain and redirecting a million dollars from its reserves, spokeswoman Christine Dunn says it can't do that indefinitely.

So Ratto and other SamTrans advocates appealed to the Board of Supervisors to disperse $10 million in Measure A funds over a period of two years. The funds would go directly to paratransit services for people with disabilities, which would free up other money in SamTrans' coffers to pay for buses and Caltrain.

Caltrain has relied on funding from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority since 2011, when SamTrans reduced its contribution to the service.

But Ratto cares less about the popular train system than the cheaper city buses, which, he says, are an essential lifeline to keep San Mateo County's working poor off welfare.

San Mateo County Transit District volunteer Rich Hedges offered a real-world example. Fernando Earls, who was a member of Hedges' labor union, worked 40 hours a week sweeping the floor at a Lucky's Supermarket until shortly before his death. Like so many people in San Mateo County he took the bus to and from work, eking out a living from a $1,600 monthly salary.

The board will vote on whether to approve the $10 million sales tax ration this fall.

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