Measure W, the countywide half-cent sales tax to help fund SamTrans and other transportation efforts, officially took effect July 1 and officials are already making plans for the $80 million it will generate every year.

The measure, which passed by a razor thin margin last year, is expected to generate $2.4 billion over its 30-year lifespan, with half going to SamTrans and the other half going to the San Mateo County Transportation Authority for congestion relief projects, including highway, bike and pedestrian improvements. A strategic plan for the funds to be administered by the TA is currently being developed. 

The new revenue will allow SamTrans, which has long faced a structural deficit, to improve rather than make cuts to service, said spokesman Dan Lieberman. 

“It’s hard to tell what specifically would have been lost [without Measure W] but, overall, our service would have had to take some cuts,” he said. “We certainly wouldn’t be in a position to be launching new service in order to expand our ridership.”

Some of those projects include potential on-demand services, real-time arrival information on the SamTrans app and 511 and express bus service connecting San Francisco to San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. 

Six express bus routes, most of which will travel on Highway 101, will be rolled out in the next couple of years. The first express bus line will travel between San Francisco and Foster City via Highway 101 starting Aug. 19.

Measure W will also fund youth and senior mobility programs, further electrification of the bus fleet — SamTrans is shooting for a 100% zero emissions fleet by 2040 — and the comprehensive operational analysis study, or COA, Lieberman said. Known as Reimagine SamTrans, the COA is an 18-month deep dive into the ridership conditions of the SamTrans system that began in June. When the COA is complete in early 2021, it will include a series of recommendations that will improve bus connections to other regional transit in the area, Lieberman said, adding that the study would take a different approach without Measure W.  

“Without W, the COA would be outlining which routes would do the least damage if they were cut or curtailed,” he said. “Measure W gives SamTrans the flexibility to explore innovative approaches to taking on the congestion throughout San Mateo County, and continue to provide transit service to some of the neediest groups in the county, including low income, disabled, youths, etc.”

Measure W also allowed the SamTrans board to defer fare increases that would’ve taken effect this year. Lieberman said there’s no indication that the board will be revisiting a fare hike any time soon.

“There are currently no plans to raise fares that I’m aware of and the financial incentive to do so isn’t there,” he said.

Measure W was approved in November of 2019 after clearing the required two-thirds threshold with support from 66.87% of county voters. 

SamTrans has budgeted $45.5 million in Measure W revenue for fiscal year 2019-2020 with an equivalent amount going to the TA, Lieberman said, though it is not yet known how much revenue has been generated thus far and the funds won’t be available until the fall. SamTrans is the county’s transportation district that also oversees bus service, while the TA oversees the expenditures of the county’s previous half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements.

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