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What SMART is not telling the public

The following comments were submitted to the Marin Chapter of the Sierra Club in anticipation of their Executive Committee meeting, held on November 20, 2019.

Here's what Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit is not telling the public:

1) Ridership is not growing. It is a bit down year over year. It has no impact on
traffic congestion other than the traffic congestion caused by SMART in San Rafael.

2) It is the most inefficient (from a cost perspective) transit system in the Bay Area. This is calculated as the taxpayer subsidy per rider which is over $50. Golden Gate Transit buses, which are one of the more expensive transits, are $17/rider. This is based on published data.

3) They are increasing traffic congestion in downtown San Rafael, which is about to made far worse once the trains begin operations across 2nd and 3rd.

4) The "connectivity to the ferry" has been and is a hoax. In fact, Golden Gate Transit is eliminating the 31 route once the train begins service. Fewer people are expected to use it than are currently taking the bus. Why?

The buses depart downtown San Rafael, pulsed to meet the ferry departures. Commuters get off the bus in front of the ferry bldg. The train will take longer. It will leave passengers a 7-10 minute walk from the ferry bldg. and trains cannot be scheduled to meet the ferries.

Supposedly, Farhad will publish the new rail schedules, today. Be sure to compare those schedules with the published ferry schedules before you vote. It's not possible with trains arriving every 32 minutes.

5) SMART has way overestimated its sales tax revenue potential over the course of the next 39 years (2020 - 2059). Yeah, I'm one of the few that knows the underlying economics of how one does this. I tried to train Gary Phillips (along with David Schonbrunn) on how they should do this. But nope. They decided to make it up as they did in 2008.

They have overestimated their revenue potential by hundreds of millions of dollars. What does this mean?

They are in real financial trouble and their future operations will be squeezed. For this rail system extensions are a financial loser because they generate more cost than fare revenues. Ridership is that low. The Windsor now estimated to cost $65 million is an unbelievably uneconomic extension.

6) So what is this election really about? In 2012, they issued unbelievably risky bonds that contained a rising debt service payment schedule. Those payments are now consuming 42% of the sales tax revenues (just as I predicted they would in an Op-ed years ago). They want to refinance the bonds. But here's the catch: they can't until calendar year 2022 because that's when the call dates are.

7) This means the tax if it passes won't impact their sales tax revenue stream until April 1, 2029. And it won't impact their debt service expenses until FY 2023. Which in turns mean, they're lying to the public about what is likely to occur. A recession is quite likely before 2023. And when it occurs -- depending on its depth -- they'll be facing major cutbacks. Major. And there's nothing in this measure that will prevent those cuts.

8) If you want documentary evidence of how out of control the Board is, just take a look at the first 3 years of financials in the Strategic Plan. They're ASSUMING that they'll be operating in the red for 3 years even with growing sales tax revenues. Is this responsible prudent management? Should they be rewarded with a 30 year extension?

All I can say is this is not your typical rail system. They have been misleading the public for years regarding its financials and ridership. It shouldn't be rewarded with your endorsement. Before they do get one from you, they need to "come clean" with the public.

I'll be happy to come a meeting and make the case, if the leadership is so inclined to want to hear what I have to say.