Editorial: No on Measure W; SamTrans bailout is ridiculous


Here we go again. Another ballot measure that promises us that if we just raise taxes again, traffic congestion will go away.

“Measure W will help you and your family spend less time stuck in traffic so you can get to work, school and home faster,” the ballot argument in favor of this half-cent sales tax increase reads.

Half of Measure W, about $40 million a year, will go to fund the bureaucracy at SamTrans, the transit agency with all of those empty buses rumbling around on our streets.

If SamTrans were the answer to traffic congestion, we would have seen the results years ago. SamTrans isn’t the solution to anything.

Pet projects

The rest of the money will go to the cities so elected officials can spend money on their pet projects like road diets.

Like all of the other transportation taxes you’ve been asked to approve over the years, this won’t solve anything.

And that explains why so many local leaders — like state Sen. Jerry Hill and Congresswoman Jackie Speier — haven’t endorsed Measure W.

This is just a taxpayer-funded bailout of SamTrans.

If you want to deal with serious traffic congestion programs, think ahead to when Caltrain will be running trains more often than they do now. The crossing gates will be down more minutes out of every hour, causing backups throughout the mid-Peninsula. Now is the time for the community to start cobbling together the money to pay for bridges over or under the tracks, something planners call grade separations. These grade separations will run more than $100 million a piece, given the cost of acquiring land near these intersections. Where’s the money for that in Measure W?

Yet the geniuses who put together Measure W only allocated 2.5% of the money this tax will generate for grade separations. That’s $2 million a year, which won’t build any grade separations.

The authors of Measure W — the Board of Supervisors and SamTrans — want to increase taxes but don’t have any clear ideas about how to fight traffic bottlenecks.

Underhanded campaigning

Another reason to reject Measure W is the underhanded way this was brought to the voters. It’s legal (though unethical in our view) to spend tax dollars on a ballot campaign before it is officially put on the ballot. So the county and SamTrans spent $1 million of your money on a campaign called Get Us Moving, or GUM.

They used the campaign to reach out to voters and groups that would support the measure before this hit the ballot. The idea was: Tell us what you want, we’ll put it into the measure, and then you get your followers to support the measure.

What it will cost

Approval of Measure W will raise the sales tax to 9.25% in most San Mateo County cities. In Belmont, East Palo Alto and San Mateo, it will go to 9.5%.

If you think sales taxes are insignificant, consider a family who spends $30,000 a year on items subject to the sales tax. A 9.25% sales tax costs them $2,775 a year. To a wealthy family, this tax increase might not matter, but to those struggling to put food on the table, it’s quite a hit.

If Measure W is such a good idea, you’d think that there would be a movement in the community to start their own donation-funded campaign to bring forward this tax increase rather than a bunch of bureaucrats funding a campaign with tax dollars.

When the day comes that taxpayers are asked to pony up for grade separations, it will be understandable if the public says, “Hey, I already supported your previous tax increases and toll increases, and they had zero impact on my life. Why should I part with any more of my hard-earned dollars?”

A tax increase for transportation might be acceptable if it funded things that would actually reduce traffic. But the people behind this measure have no track record showing that they’ll accomplish anything beneficial. Vote “no” on Measure W.


  1. For over 40 years since WWII, we have been asked to spend billions of tax $$$ allegedly to alleviate traffic congestion. But these measures have been doing the exact OPPOSITE!

    Reference: https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2015/11/californias-dot-admits-that-more-roads-mean-more-traffic/415245/

    Since Samtrans largely does not serve my city – except ECR route, our councilmember and a few volunteers conducted field work to provide the data to apply for a grant to start a limited shuttle pilot project, with citywide potential! But SMC Transit Authority (aka Samtrans), which holds a 100% monopoly on public transportation, claimed we’ll “compete” with them and shut us down before we could apply. If their heads were screwed on right, they would know that public transit doesn’t compete with one another – they complement each other!

    When I asked Samtrans board members individually if they take public transit to work every day, they said… “No – too inconvenient!” If they don’t ride the system they manage, why should we – the public?

    Traffic congestion is CREATED by Samtrans because they mandate only two options – Samtrans or car, and SMC residents chose the car! Now the county bureaucrats at the Transit AUTHORITY say, “trust us to FIX the problem”?

    VOTE NO on ₩A$T€

  2. We must invest in public transit to make getting around locally without private cars possible. We can no longer afford to pollute our planet by driving ourselves around. Mass transit is proven to reduce waste, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and make life cheaper for all. No longer will people have to waste thousands of dollars a year on a car that sits idle most of the day.


    • I agree, we need way less cars. Public transpo is better for the environment. So why does only half of this tax go to Caltrain? Another 5% for cyclers/pedestrians but the rest is for highways and roads.

      I’ll consider the prop that’s coming in 2020 for Caltrain, not this one. If they really needed the funding they would be using what they have first and coming forth with a prop showing they NEED more money. Prop V in my county did this by showing that there’s a deficit in the school budget. Instead they have lots of ideas (the giant list of projects in the voter pamphlet are “sample projects”, not written plans) they already have funding for. Why are they asking for more money? Prove you need it first.

  3. Given how many SamTrans buses now operate with few or no passengers, what makes them think that expanding SamTrans will get more people off the road? This doesn’t make sense. I’m a definite NO vote.

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