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San Mateo County Slashes Bus Subsidy In Half

Photo: SamTrans

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at their Tuesday November 21 meeting, on consent calendar, to cut the annual subsidy the County provides to the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) for bus service in half, from $5 million to $2.5 million. The County began allocating $5 million per year in 2013 to shore up SamTrans budget, but that will be cut to $3.75 million in Fiscal Year 2017 – 2018 and to $2.5 million in Fiscal Year 2018 – 2019. The resolution notes that the County’s contribution to SamTrans will total $26 million for 2013 – 2019.

The cuts are significant for SamTrans, which has an operating budget of $147 million, and come at a bad time for the agency, as looming long-term pension obligations threaten its ability to continue providing the bare-bones service it has. Ridership on SamTrans buses has steadily declined for over two decades to roughly half its former level, and the agency’s consolidated ECR 15-minutes bus service on El Camino Real (2013) has failed to boost overall bus ridership as hoped for.

SamTrans is now studying new express bus service to various destinations along Highway 101 from San Francisco to Palo Alto that could begin operating after the highway is widened from 8 to 10 ten lanes with new Express Lanes. The express bus services are anticipated to attracts thousands a new passengers and reduce traffic volumes on the highway, but the county’s transportation agencies don’t have and aren’t yet seeking funding to pay for it.

At the same time, SamTrans is seeking voter approval of another half-cent sales tax for transportation projects dubbed “Get Us Moving” in the county’s November 2018 election. The agency hopes to fund both bus service and the Highway 101 Widening project using revenues from the tax, estimated to generate $80 million per year.