Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG): An Open Letter to Silicon Valley

Bay Area hi-technology companies are being panned in the New York Times and elsewhere for failing to apply their high tech and management skills to benefit the areas in the proximity of their campuses. Nowhere is this more evident than in the traffic agonies surrounding Silicon Valley. In fact, Southbay and Peninsula cities are now talking of imposing payroll and gross receipt taxes on hi-tech companies to help pay for public sector efforts to alleviate Southbay transportation problems…..the very same problems that the public sector has failed to address effectively for decades.


There might be an alternative. Take Highways 101 and 280 for instance. They are a perpetual mess and the mess gets worse every year. Next to these gridlocked roadways is a 78-mile underutilized, comfortable, increasingly popular commuter rail system. To bring Caltrain to its full potential the line needs to be extended 1.3 miles from the existing San Francisco terminal at Fourth and King Streets to the San Francisco new Transbay Train Center and the Market Street subways in the heart of downtown San Francisco. The significance of a major transit hub connecting 10 rail lines and over 40 bus lines near the center of a 400,000 person job center and adjacent to 20,000 units of transit-oriented housing is hard to overstate.

The largest and richest hi-tech companies with substantial facilities in the Bay Area have the financial and political power to prime the pump sufficiently to get things off dead center. If as a result Caltrain were to be extended quickly and effectively it would set a new and higher performance bar for the entire region. Assuming a major responsibility for putting this long delayed project back on track could obviate the need for the hi-tech community to be subject of perpetual payroll and gross receipts taxes, the proceeds of which would in all likelihood be largely wasted. An offer of this kind would:

  • enable the hi-tech community to have a strong say in the timing of the program
  • oblige the relevant public agencies to either get on the ball or step out of the way
  • resolve a long standing regional problem that because of a lack of regional leadership has festered for decades
  • provide a fast, comfortable and reliable non-automotive connection between Silicon Valley and downtown San Francisco
  • put the hi-tech industry in an extremely favorable light throughout the region

Well over a half a billion dollars have already been spent on the Caltrain extension. Yet the project has stagnated for over five years and there is currently nothing to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent but a huge empty underground trainbox waiting for trains that if left to the public sector won’t arrive for decades. Something needs to change.

Gerald Cauthen
Co-Founder and Chair of BATWG