In 1999, Scanlon, 67, was named of GM and CEO of SamTrans, Executive Director of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Authority, and Executive Director of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. “During his 15 years and at the direction of the District’s three boards, Scanlon has transformed SamTrans into a modern mobility manager, led the dynamic growth of Caltrain into a regional and record-setting rail system, presided over the reauthorization of the Transportation Authority sales tax by 75% of the voters, and undertook the Caltrain Modernization program to electrify and modernize Caltrain,” said SamTrans Board Chair Jeff Gee.
“SamTrans and its sister agencies still have many important and exciting challenges in front of them,” said Jeff Gee. “We had urged Mike to stay on as we navigate these next few years of continued growth and change, and are sad to see him go. But after 47 years in the industry and a workload second to none, our sorrow at losing his talent, expertise, and leadership is tempered by our appreciation at all he has done and the fact that his retirement is well and entirely earned.”
Scanlon is credited with shepherding SamTrans and Caltrain through two economic downturns and playing a central role in achieving the financial stability both agencies currently enjoy. “During Mike’s time with the District, Caltrain’s ridership and farebox revenue have nearly tripled, SamTrans has added innovative new bus services like the FLX Pacifica and San Carlos, and the agency has implemented important efficiency measures that stabilized the District during the recession,” Gee said. “Much of his tenure has been focused on the changing needs and expectations of the public toward transit and transportation. Mike responded with forward-looking programs to address increasing congestion, the transportation-land use nexus, and the challenges of skyrocketing demand for fresh and innovative solutions to public transit.”
“Mike saw all of the possibilities and challenges facing SamTrans as it made the leap from a smaller operator to an important component of the Peninsula commute,” said California State Senator Jerry Hill. A former member of the SamTrans and Caltrain boards, Hill participated in the hiring committee that selected Scanlon from a field of more than 70 candidates. “In the 15 years, he has led the Transit District he has made his vision a reality,” Hill noted. “He was instrumental in the creation of Caltrain’s Baby Bullet express service and the reauthorization of Measure A, to fund roads, highways, and public transportation projects throughout the county.”
When Scanlon started with SamTrans the “dot com” bubble was just exploding in the Bay Area, carrying job growth and traffic congestion to new heights. As demand for public transit soared, plans got under way to develop an express service that would transform Caltrain into a competitive alternative to commuting on the region’s highways. The service would eventually be named the Baby Bullet by U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, then a State Senator. Speier was instrumental in securing $127 million for the new express service.
“Caltrain needed a reinvention to remain a relevant component of the Bay Area’s transportation network, and Mike displayed vital leadership and resolute commitment in making the Baby Bullet service a reality,” said Speier. “That transformative project helped set the framework for the ridership growth Caltrain continues to enjoy today. The most notable thing about Mike is that the word ‘impossible’ is not in his vocabulary, and that’s why we’ve enjoyed such a tremendous amount of innovation and success over the past 15 years.”
Since the introduction of the Baby Bullet, ridership demand on Caltrain has continued to grow, rising to record-setting levels over the past four years. “As Caltrain has experienced such growth—and the challenges that have come with it—Mike began leading the effort to make a reality the next generation of Caltrain through the Caltrain Modernization (CalMod) program,” noted Jeff Gee.
CalMod includes the introduction of new electric trains that will be quieter, cleaner, and will allow for more-frequent train service to help meet growing ridership demand, reduce regional traffic congestion, and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by the rail system’s current diesel equipment. The program also helps reduce the taxpayer subsidy required to operate the system and creates more than $2 billion in economic value.
Scanlon has also had an important national role during his time with SamTrans. He has been deeply involved with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) since 1974, and before that with APTA’s earlier iterations. “Mike has not only helped modernize transit in the Bay Area with his innovative approaches at Caltrain and SamTrans, but he’s also been an outspoken advocate for this country’s public transportation programs,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “As the former chair of APTA’s Executive Committee and past member of numerous other boards, Mike has demonstrated a passionate commitment to the future of public transit by helping to shape policies that have driven growth in public transportation usage nationwide. His big smile and treasured sense of humor will be missed dearly at APTA.”