The ARRA was a plan to pump money into the economy and provide jobs. One thing that constantly came up was that this money went to "Shovel Ready" projects focusing on infrastructure and capital.

For example, SamTrans the San Mateo County Transit District was able to buy some new buses that they can't afford to pay drivers to drive!

What we have here, is a bit of a false economy. And that false economy just landed on top of me.

I cannot complain about my lot in life. I studied hard, worked hard, and got a pretty good - to be honest quite lucrative, not Too Big to Fail Bank lucrative, but high paying and requiring no physical labor. Flexible hours, good benefits. Life is good.

I married my lovely wife and we live in the City of Saint Francis - bastion of liberals and progressives. This means I have a pretty long commute, 40-50 miles to Santa Clara California in the heart of Silicon Valley. I endure this commute because my wife's life is already centered in San Francisco. Moving closer to work would be a big hardship on her, while I would miss my friends in San Francisco, I have a base of co-workers down in the Valley.

This commute is made very tolerable by two things. Some days I ride my bike all the way in with people from Google and when I'm not biking in or home, I have a wonderful commute option - Caltrain. Caltrain runs 90 trains back and forth between San Jose and San Francisco daily, including express trains that can get me from San Francisco to Mountain View in 40 minutes. Caltrain has a wonderful feature - they allow bikes on board the train on 40-80 special bike racks per train, allowing me to bike to the station, put my bike on the train, and then ride to work, avoiding the less frequent Valley Transportation Agency buses and the unreliable San Francisco Municipal Railway buses.

Caltrain is run by the "Joint Powers Board" - a combination of officers from Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Francisco Counties. The CEO of Caltrain, Mike Scanlon, is also the head of the aforementioned SamTrans. And Caltrain and SamTrans are broke

But now a new, more damaging problem has emerged. Scanlon, who is also the CEO of the San Mateo County Transit District, or SamTrans, said he will ask that agency's board of directors to lower its Caltrain contribution by about 70 percent by July 2011.

SamTrans, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and San Francisco Muni each provide Caltrain with a subsidy, which combined amounts to $39.4 million. But with the smaller SamTrans contribution, VTA and Muni will lower their shares proportionately. SamTrans, Muni and VTA are all facing budget cuts of their own and recently cut service and raised fares, and Scanlon said they are all "beyond broke."

What does this mean? Caltrain will be drastically cutting service. A reporter from the San Jose Mercury News sent me this snippet and asked for comment.

Caltrain officials on Thursday said the agency has gone broke and will almost assuredly need to wipe out half its trains. There will be no service on weekends, and on weekdays trains will stop running during the midday and after 8 p.m. Officials said at this rate they may go belly up and completely halt service before the agency can finish its rescue plan to electrify trains, which will be much cheaper, by 2015. It comes as San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties – which provide about 40 percent of Caltrain’s revenue – said they will cut about 70 percent of their contributions. The cuts could start as early as this fall and be complete by next spring.

I said "I have to move or quit my job. I'm not buying another car, and I'm not driving 45 miles each way a day"

This is all a function of taking stimulus money to pay for new buses and not funneling that money into operations. This has happened nationwide

Earlier this year, Lorain County, Ohio, purchased 13 new buses for its transit service using federal stimulus money. Come January 1, those buses are going to be sitting idle.

How does this all sum up to a false economy? We invested ARRA funds in infrastructure and capital equipment because "That provides jobs", neglecting to consider the jobs now lost because we can't pay the drivers or conductors. That's the first order effect. What is less obvious is the 40,000 daily Caltrain riders who are now going to be left in the lurch.

I can probably figure out a (much lower paying) job in the city and adjust. I can move. Telecommute some. I can (shudder) get a car and start a carpool. I have money, resources, and a very flexible job. there are less affluent people who have made major life decisions based on what could be assumed would be the rock-solid option of taking that train to and from work every day. Without the capability to get home midday, or worse yet not be able to get home at all if they must work past 8 PM, the choices will be bleak. The Recovery Act will be causing people who already have jobs to make major life changes or lose their job. That's not stimulus.

While theses folks will recover eventually, this is an impact that could have been mitigated had we been smart enough to prioritize running the buses and trains we already have, over building new ones we can't afford to drive.

Caltrain is just the example that impacts me. In the Bay Area, all major transportation agencies have suffered from service cuts and fare increases. Multiply this by every major city in the United States, and you have what I call an anti-recovery act.

Originally posted to murphstahoe on Thu Apr 01, 2010 at 03:49 PM PDT.

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