Caltrain's CEO, who has proposed shutting half the rail line's stations and halting much of its service to survive financially, earns more than $400,000 in salary -- more than any transit boss in California.
Last year, Caltrain chief Mike Scanlon took home 59 percent more than the median salary for a CEO of one of the state's 23 largest transit operators, according to a Bay Area News Group review of salaries released by the State Controller's Office this month.
Scanlon's pay topped the list even though the three agencies he oversees -- Caltrain, SamTrans and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority -- are average in size when combined and are on far shakier ground financially than most other transit operators. And he's not the only one who has seen a hefty bump in pay at Caltrain, where both administrators and train workers have enjoyed pay raises in recent years.
"Good personnel come at a high price," said Mike Nevin, a former Caltrain and SamTrans board chairman who led the search committee that found Scanlon. "I realize it's expensive, but I feel he's the best."
Scanlon's $400,668 salary eclipsed the second-best-paid transit chief, BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger, by $47,000, even though BART has four times more employees and riders. And Scanlon made $137,000 more than the chief of the state's largest transit agency, Los Angeles Metro, which is about 15 times bigger.
Michael Burns, general manager of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, made $291,192 in 2009, and turned down a bonus because of the agency's budget struggles, his spokeswoman said.
Scanlon declined to comment on his compensation, which totals nearly $440,000 including benefits.
Defending his pay
The 44-year industry veteran has built up plenty of supporters since taking the job in 1999. His peers recently named him chairman of the committee that oversees the American Public Transportation Association.
Board members that oversee the agencies Scanlon runs said the CEO's pay rose with his accomplishments, such as implementing the popular Baby Bullet service last decade.
"No doubt his performance was considered outstanding, and we did not want to lose him," said Jim Hartnett, a former Caltrain and SamTrans board chairman who helped set Scanlon's compensation.
Board members also gave him annual bonuses to help offset the high cost of Peninsula housing and because he runs three agencies.
But even when combining the three agencies, Scanlon oversees about 800 employees and service that carries some 90,000 total bus and train riders -- both about in the middle of the pack statewide.
In the Bay Area, the CEOs of five larger public transportation operators would need raises ranging from 13 percent to 42 percent to reach Scanlon's pay.
Rough times for riders
Several riders interviewed at the San Mateo station Monday said it was disconcerting to learn of the salary data as they prepare to potentially lose their service. Some, though, thought his salary was less important than having the right person in charge.
Scanlon and his staff have proposed closing up to half the rail line's 32 stations, raising fares and stopping service during all times except the weekday commute between San Francisco and San Jose to combat a record $30.3 million deficit. The Caltrain board is set to vote on the plans this spring, and they would take effect in July.
The proposals come as the agency's administrator payroll has increased 14 percent in the past three years -- even while it has cut service and raised fares -- while Scanlon has seen his pay rise from $324,836 since the fiscal year that ended in June 2007. And national labor agreements at Amtrak, which supplies the rail line's operating employees, have led Caltrain's line-level worker pay to soar nearly 40 percent in three years.
SamTrans, meanwhile, has recently dropped bus routes and increased fares and is in such bad shape that Scanlon said last week it would lose half its service in three years based on its current path. That's led Scanlon to propose slashing SamTrans' subsidy to Caltrain this year, which in turn has sparked Caltrain's fiscal problems.
The transportation authority, meanwhile, doles out revenues from the county's half-cent sales tax.
Caltrain board President Sean Elsbernd pointed out that Caltrain has lower administrative costs than other transit agencies and said Scanlon is the right person to lead the agency through its fiscal woes.
"Mike is straightforward, to the point, highly intelligent and a man of integrity," said Elsbernd, a San Francisco supervisor. "You can't ask for much more."
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 650-348-4324.