Happening Now

Passenger Rail is on the Ballot This Year

October 7, 2020

Several states across the nation are asking voters to approve funding for expanded rail transit.

There’s a lot at stake on the next round of stimulus funding. We all know it, we all know the economic cost, we know that it’s people who’ll bear the brunt of these cuts, we’re working hard to include emergency funding for Amtrak and transit in the next round of coronavirus legislation.

But, as always, there are other battles to fight. This November 3rd in states across the nation, rail transit will be on the ballot for tens of millions of Americans.

Rail Passengers Association is presenting our Rail Passenger’s Voter Guide for the 2020 transportation elections. We hope you support these important transit initiatives--with your vote AND your time as a volunteer!

[Last updated: October 7, 2020]

Measure RR - California

Who: Caltrain

What it means: 1/8th cent sales tax in the tri-counties to fund Caltrain through 2050

Where: San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties

Election Date: November 3rd

Rail Passengers Association Position: Vote YES

Why Passengers Should Support It: Caltrain currently gets 70% of its operating revenue from ticket sales and has long sought a predictable, dedicated source of funding. This problem came to the fore during this year’s pandemic, when the system’s budget was devastated by declines in ridership. The agency warned that, absent an infusion of funds, it would have to make severe cuts--and potentially shut down the service. If a shutdown is initiated, it would take 2.5 years to restore service. Passage of this 1/8th cent sales tax would provide an estimated $100 million annually to fund long-term upgrades to service and keep the system running through the COVID-19 crisis.


After weeks of political wrangling over the structure of county oversight, in August the San Francisco Board of Supervisors cleared the way for voters in three Bay Area counties to consider a tax measure on the November ballot in efforts to finally provide Caltrain a dedicated source of funding, and save Caltrain from bankruptcy in the process.

If approved by voters in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, funding will:

  • Support the operation of Caltrain service levels throughout the corridor from San Francisco to Gilroy, including, but not limited to, expanded service and increased capacity realized through the operation of an electrified system;Provide a steady stream of funding to support the annual operating, maintenance and capital needs of an electrified Caltrain service with increased frequency and capacity, which in turn will reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in the Counties;

  • Support the infrastructure, rolling stock, and capital projects necessary to advance the expansion of the Caltrain peak hour service from 5 trains per hour per direction to 8 trains per hour per direction, as well as the expansion of the Gilroy service to a minimum of five morning and five afternoon trains;

  • Expand access to the Caltrain service and facilitate use of the system by passengers of all income levels, including establishing an affordability program; and

  • Help leverage other local, regional, state and federal investments to advance capital projects including, but not limited to: the San Francisco Downtown Extension project including the Pennsylvania Avenue alignment, the extension of electrified train service to Gilroy, and grade separations throughout the Caltrain rail corridor.

What you can do: with no official campaign in place, we need passengers to voice their support for clean, reliable, and frequent transit options for the Bay Area!

Gwinnett County Transit Referendum - Georgia

Who: Gwinnett County Transit

What it Means: Introduces a 1 percent sales tax to fund a wide range of transit projects to better connect Gwinnett County to the rest of the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Region.

Where: Northeastern Suburban County of Atlanta

Election Date: November 3rd

Rail Passengers Association Position: Vote YES

Why Passengers Should Support It: Would fund a long-fought for extension of MARTA’s regional rail system to the northeast of Atlanta, while maintaining local oversight, planning and operations of non-rail transit.


On July 21, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners agreed to place a transit referendum before voters on the November 3rd ballot. Voters will have a chance to approve a 1 percent transit sales tax would run for 30 years and fund 82 transit projects.

Voters rejected a similar referendum early this year. City officials, spurred by the need to address rising congestion, went back to the drawing board and drafted a new plan. Improvements include:

  • A more aggressive, first 10-year implementation strategy;

  • More local bus routes and shorter wait times for local bus service;

  • Increased regional connectivity;

  • A BRT route to the Mall of Georgia.

The revised plan won the endorsement of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, which said “the development of transportation alternatives is essential for retaining and attracting new and expanded businesses and high-paying jobs… The development of a robust transit system gives our county regional connectivity, greater access to top workforce talent, and improved mobility throughout the county where our residents have the enhanced ability to live, learn, work, and play."

Specific projects slated to receive funding include:

  • An extension of MARTA’s heavy rail service from Doraville to Jimmy Carter Boulevard;

  • BRT projects to create a network of frequent, reliable transit service through the construction of dedicated lanes and high-quality stations;

What you can do: with no official campaign in place, we need passengers to voice their support for clean, reliable, and frequent transit options for the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Area!

Measure 26-218 (Get Moving 2020) - Oregon

Who: Oregon Metro

What it Means: A tax of up to .75% on total wages paid by businesses in the Portland metro area to fund expansions and improvements to public transportation in the region

Where: Greater Portland Metropolitan Region

Election Date: November 3rd

Rail Passengers Association Position: Vote YES

Why Passengers Should Support It: The Greater Portland Metro has seen two decades of steady population growth, and the transportation headaches that come with it. Get Moving 2020 will tackle this problem head-on, building 11 miles of new MAX lines; the region’s first rapid bus transit system; 45 miles of new sidewalks and an additional 140 miles of new bike lanes, heavily weighted toward communities of color; and 120 miles of roadway improvements with280 new marked crosswalks. All while creating 37,000 new jobs!


On July 16 the Metro Council voted unanimously to send the Get Moving 2020 measure to voters in November. The Get Moving 2020 plan includes dozens of much-needed projects across 17 major travel corridors across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. The plan includes expanding the light-rail network, upgrades to heavily traveled streets, adding bicycle and transit only lanes, building and improving connections between transit and walking/biking paths, and improving and upgrading existing transit centers while constructing new ones.

Rail-specific upgrades include construction of a new tunnel downtown Portland to provide faster MAX Light Rail service, while also expanding the network southwest to Tulatin. In addition to these proposed projects, the Get Moving 2020 plan allocates funding for planning and development of future transportation networks.

The plan proposed by Oregon Metro would change this, by providing much needed safety improvements to streets to make them bikeable and walkable, upgrading and improving the bus network, and by expanding the MAX system as well as speeding up service. Highlights include:

  • Building a tunnel underneath Portland to increase speeds for MAX service through the city;

  • Expanding the MAX system south to Tulatin;

  • Improving and upgrading existing bus stops and transit stations;

  • Connect existing biking and walking paths to the street and transit network;

  • Upgrading the bus fleet, with some routes getting all-electric busses;

  • Building sidewalks, as well as adding streetlights and crosswalks in areas that do not have them.

The bond will bring in a projected $5 billion in revenue and allow Metro to leverage an additional $2.8 billion in federal, state and local funds. Funding would be provided by a business tax of up to .75% on total wages paid in the Portland Metro area by private businesses, with an exception being made for small businesses that employ 25 people or fewer.

If the measure passes in the November election, the tax would not come into effect until early 2022, however improvement projects could begin as soon as 2021. If the measure fails, Oregon Metro will have to severely cut back infrastructure upgrades.

What you can do: Supporters have launched the Let’s Get Moving 2020 campaign to ensure the measure passes this November. You can get involved or donate to the campaign here!

Proposition A (Project Connect) - Texas

Who: Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority

What it Means: Dedicates 8.75 cents of the City’s property tax rate revenue to fund Project Connect’s initial investment of $7.1 billion in transit infrastructure.

Where: Greater Austin Metropolitan Region

Election Date: November 3rd

Rail Passengers Association Position: Vote YES

Why Passengers Should Support It: This is, quite simply, a no-brainer. Austin has struggled for decades to accommodate massive population growth. In the past, the city has been content to try and pave its way out of the steadily increasing traffic that chokes the region’s roadways, to little succes. Transit advocates have tried to launch several transit investment plans over the past few decades, with equally little success. Now, voters have a chance to set Austin on the path to a better future, with a slate of projects that include 27 miles of new rail service and 31 new stations.


On August 13, the Austin City Council voted to include Project Connect's Initial Investment on the November ballot. The vote approved an ordinance ordering an election to authorize and fund the Project Connect Initial Investment of $7.1 billion.

Austin’s transit advocates have been rolling this boulder up the hill for decades, and it almost looked like it was going to end badly again this year: in June, the Austin City Council approved an 11 cent property tax to fund $10 billion in transit projects, but concerns over voters’ willingness to approve new taxes during the COVID-19 recession were giving public officials second thoughts. A compromise was struck, however, with the Initial Investment scaled back to an 8.75 cent rate to provide $7.1 billion in funding.

This compromise comes with real costs: the original plan provided funding for three new light rail lines, which has been scaled back to two. But it’s a compromise that city leaders and advocates feel finally get these transit projects moving.

“I’m excited about moving Project Connect forward with both an initial and smaller overall impact to Austin property taxpayers,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “It’s the right decision to lower taxpayer cost while still pursuing the entire Project Connect rapid transit system.”

Projects include:

  • The 21-mile Orange Line light rail, serving 22 stations between North and South Austin;

  • The 15-mile Blue Line light rail, serving 20 stations and connecting Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to downtown and North Austin;

  • The Green Line, a new commuter rail service that would connect downtown to East Austin’s Colony Park;

  • A downtown transit tunnel that would move light rail operations below street level, increasing speed, on-time performance, and safety.

What you can do: with no official campaign in place, we need passengers to voice their support for clean, reliable, and frequent transit options for Austin!