The SMART Train Controversy
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) train, which began operation in 2017, has shown to be beneficial for passenger transportation as far north as Sonoma County Airport and as far south as Larkspur, but multiple factors have caused controversy regarding whether or not the train should continue to run.
One reason for the disapproval is the amount of money that is used for the project, while still others argue that “less than 1/8th of the population is using the SMART train,” stated Brandon Cho, director of NotSoSmart. NotSoSmart is a committee that wants to stop the SMART train from running and transporting passengers.
The SMART company is trying to increase its sales tax so they can expand their current program with projects like station production, more trains and new tracks with additional routes. This new tax increase is called Measure I, which proposes to add a thirty-year extension to the current sales tax, raising the overall increase by $2.4 billion.
An additional concern is that SMART has not provided new budget information about the overall supervision of the company as it continues to grow. “SMART is burning through $40 million worth of taxpayer money, for something that isn't a guarantee, and essentially has not been built,” stated Cho.
Measure I concerns many taxpayers since there is no insight into the company’s overall future vision. SMART’s current sales tax profit shows that more than 42% of taxpayers’ money already goes to paying interest on SMART’s debt. The new ballot for the SMART train taxes does not specify what the money will be used for. This means that the taxpayers' money could potentially be used without supporting the improvement of the SMART train.
In 2008, the commission promised 70 miles of rail track yet nearly 11 years later, only 45 have been delivered. With that being said, the train also began its service three years after promised and was drastically over budget, leading to the proposed tax raise. Along with the 70 miles of rail track, the equivalent amount was promised in bike paths for eco-friendly transporters. This bike path has not been created and is not planned to be constructed until further notice.
Regional residents are exasperated over the untimely and costly manners of the promised ballot. “When taking a poll to get real resident results, it was found that when educated the simple majority declined the need and want to continue the SMART train,” Cho stated. Being educated on the varying opinions and conflicts arising is an important step to settling these disputes. The SMART company’s actions to improve the train system has greatly affected the community and has caused conflict for citizens that want the train system abolished.