Thursday, December 1, 2011

Will McFarlane ever get up the nerve to meet with Erik?

Mr. McFarlane,

As a DAILY bus rider, I echo your sentiments that the vast, vast majority of TriMet employees are good, decent, hard working individuals. They get up each day, drive me and my fellow riders to work safely and back home again at night. They deal with other motorists that seem to think that a 20 ton brick-on-wheels can stop on a dime; riders who are lost or get on the wrong bus, punks that think the F- word yelled on a bus is perfectly acceptable, parents who can't control their children...oh, the list of things that happen on a bus each and every day.

That's where I'll end the agreement.

Each day, I get on a bus that is 21 years old. And those Operators are at the mercy of that bus, and hope that the mechanics went through it the night before. More often than not, something breaks. Who gets the complaint? The Operator does.

Dispatch fails to keep tabs on the buses and doesn't re-route buses appropriately. Who gets the complaint? The Operator does for getting stuck in traffic.

Dispatch creates a re-route, but doesn't inform riders or doesn't dispatch a Supervisor to pick up stranded riders. Who gets the complaint? The Operator does for driving off-route.

Each day, dozens of scenarios happen in which the Operator gets charged the complaint, but the problem has nothing to do with the Operator.

And despite your leadership, and that of your infamous predecessor, NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

TriMet's bus service has been, and continues to be, an afterthought. There's never any money to replace buses that should have been replaced nine years ago (and federal funds would have paid 90% of the cost) - but there's money panels? No money for bus stop replacements...but TriMet can buy a fleet of Chevrolet Equinoxes? No money for basic service...but money to launch a new light rail line, a commuter rail line (whose operating costs are seven times that of a bus), and still money to hand off to the City of Portland for a Streetcar?

If TriMet is really changing its culture for the better, I'm not sure how. What TriMet is doing is forcing its dedicated Bus Operators to put on a happy face despite all that TriMet's management throws at those same Operators. They are forced to be the public face, when they are the ones that have no control of what they have to deal with - and worse yet, they have to get the blame when they couldn't have done anything.

You have my name, my address, my phone number - you know what route I ride, and what trips I'm on. That's because I post it to each complaint to 238-RIDE or And each time I am told I'll get a response...and I rarely do (and often times the response is so untimely and irrelevant I've just given up.) I have asked, repeatedly, to meet with you in person to discuss service issues that affect me and my partner riders each day on TriMet's bus system.

There is no change in the culture. You remain, holed up in an office behind locked doors, leaving your Operators to fend for themselves. You refuse to accept responsibility; to demand accountability. Your Operators are being scapegoated for the actions of you, your leadership staff and the front-line managers that refuse to do their part. At the end of the day the buck stops somewhere and it has to be you - Neil McFarlane, General Manager of the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon.

And so far, you're refused to make the change. YOU have refused to accept responsibility for your transit agency.

As I've said a million times before, I'll see you at 5th & Hall, at the line 94 stop, any weekday at 4:50 PM. I'll be waiting to see what change there is.

But I'm not always it is business as usual at TriMet. Bus service is an afterthought...while TriMet's management and leaders are too busy concoting light rail projects and cutting bus services.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Customer service and what it really means

 In response to THIS  Post:

As a customer service representative we are reminded constantly as to how important customer service is. After all, it's MY job.
But what is absolutely disheartening is being told over and over how important it is...when we depend on "non-customer service" employees to do the job. And when those people fail at providing customer service, we are left to apologize to the customer (which doesn't necessarily work) and take the blame.
This is exactly what is going on at TriMet. Case in point:
Immediately contact the Operations Command Center (Dispatch/Control) if there is a situation on your vehicle or on district property that requires an emergency response or if a situation is creating a safety concern.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

TriMet celebrates MAX Red Line: 10 million passengers to PDX

Thomas Ngo Trimet employee states:
"ltjd: The cost of a MAX ride is less than the actual fare."

Erik Halstead responds:
That's not correct either.

TriMet only counts operating costs of the MAX system in that number, and doesn't count capital costs, overhead, interest on bonds used to build MAX and other costs.

In fact, SOME of those MAX costs are actually allocated to bus operating...and bus operations is charged with the cost of bus replacement (which is actually a capital cost) while the equivalent expense on the MAX side is not.

TriMet has a history of underreporting true MAX costs and overreporting true bus costs, and this is confirmed by comparing with virtually every other transit agency in the nation. No one - not ONE single transit agency reports its numbers like TriMet does. TriMet until recently has been very secretive about releasing financial data and refused to publish its budget and audited financial statements; today the audited statements still do not break out costs by mode (hmm, I wonder why?) while other transit agencies routinely do (since many costs on the balance sheet are specific to a mode - bond issuances, for example, have nothing to do with buses.)

That said...with TriMet's own data, the most "successful" operation is the 72 Killingsworth/82nd Avenue bus, which has a per-boarding cost of less than $1.00. That's right - not a MAX train, but a bus. The most expensive route is the 84 Kelso/Boring bus, which takes a full-size bus and a full-time operator nearly two hours to run out from Gresham to Boring and back, often with just one or two paying riders. Let's see...$125 per hour to run the bus so $250 in expenses...maybe $5 in revenue? The problem isn't that it's a bus, it's that the bus route itself makes no sense.

Erik Halstead comments:
To celebrate, TriMet’s general manager, the head of the Port of Portland and other officials handed plastic luggage tags to passengers spilling in and out of MAX trains at PDX this morning.

How much did that cost?

How much did paying the various TriMet dignitaries cost?

Now, why won't TriMet give that same consideration to each and every TriMet bus rider who has ridden the system, some since TriMet's very inception in 1970? Why does TriMet celebrate every tiny little rail "milestone" but bus riders get nothing? When is the last time Neil and Mary and Bekki showered arriving bus riders with thanks for being the backbone of TriMet and helping to its success?

Erik comments:
How much does road maintenance for vehicles add to the national debt?

Actually, zero. With the exception of one or two years during the Bush administration, all highway funds came from the Highway Trust Fund so all road maintenance was "pay as you go". No money, no maintenance.

Light rail projects are heavily leveraged; in fact TriMet dodged a bullet during the A.I.G. financial scandal because TriMet engaged in a risky sale-lease-leaseback arrangement with a number of the MAX light rail cars (that's right - taxpayers don't own them, a bank does!) and A.I.G. itself was nearly insolvent - meaning that those light rail cars almost got foreclosed upon. But The Oregonian refused to report on it...

Friday, February 4, 2011


I speak as the son of a drunk driver victim. My dad was killed right before my 8th birthday, as he drove to work (as the sole supporter of our family) - leaving my mother, my sister and I. My mom, who was previously a stay-at-home mom, was forced to work to support us two kids.
What Ms. Day did was wrong, but it was purely an accident. Ms. Day did not wake up and say "I want to kill two people." She had the best of intentions to make a courtesy stop. She had driven thousands and thousands of miles, for many days, without a single blemish on her driving record. What happened was the perfect storm of a number of factors that lined up and caused this tragedy.
It was an accident. The victims' families understand that it was an accident. Ms. Day did not intend to cause harm. She made a mistake, that she will be held responsible for. But what punishment do you propose for someone who made a mistake? Do you truly feel that someone who has been completely remorseful over the situation be thrown in jail over a mistake?
My father was killed by a drunk driver. Someone who made the calculated CHOICE to get drunk, get behind the wheel of a car, drive, and blow a stop sign to kill my father. He didn't have to drink alcohol but he chose to, hours before the wreck. He didn't have to drive, but he chose to. It wasn't a matter of a blind spot that he forgot to check - it was selfish decisions made for his own being, rather than the thoughts of others.
He was charged with criminally negligent homicide (because he was drinking alcohol), and served one year in jail.
He can legally drive today. Even hold a commercial license.
I can see the difference between what happened that fateful night in downtown Portland, versus what happened on the outskirts of McMinnville one June morning in 1985.
There is no amount of jail time that is going to improve this situation. No amount of jail is going to rehabilitate Ms. Day (because there is no rehabilitation needed). Thousands of people die each year because of mistakes; it does not mean that people need to go to jail. The victims' families will probably receive a financial settlement from TriMet and the other defendants in a civil trial. It is a tragic event...but the victims' families have forgiven Ms. Day.
I hope you are not a Christian, because if you are...I hope that on Sunday, you have a very long talk with your Pastor or other religious leader. A very, very long talk. It is okay to be upset, but there is no reason to be vindictive.

Monday, January 17, 2011


On one hand, I do applaud TriMet for looking for cost savings in not running empty trips for no reason. For example, on December 31st, I was only one of two riders on my #94 bus from Sherwood into Portland, and the only rider on the bus out. It costs TriMet over $100 per hour to run a bus, and for that they earned only $4.70 one way, and $2.35 the other way.
On the other hand, TriMet still has an obligation to serve the public. I don't recall any printed schedules or notices on the buses to alert riders of the schedule changes (and not everyone has a cell phone or internet access). Many people do NOT get the day off, or still have to get around on Monday.
I can certainly see buses like the 61, 64, 65, 66 - buses that exclusively serve V.A. Medical Center and OHSU employees (many of whom will have the day off) not running; there is still the 8 bus to get you up on the hill if you still have to get up there (plus the tram which will be in operation). But many of the canceled trips are neighborhood routes with no nearby service. Why couldn't those routes simply be operated on a reduced schedule? Or at least come up with some creative solution like a "dial-and-ride" shuttle service using a LIFT bus to at least make sure that those who NEED transit still have access to it?
It's this attitude of "TriMet needs to act for its own convenience" that is really aggravating - TriMet works for the people, not the other way around. I appreciate the saving money (although TriMet does a good job wasting money elsewhere, so that's kind of an empty appreciation) but at the core of TriMet is serving the public. We pay a variety of taxes for TriMet to provide service - and we expect that service to be provided. If TriMet doesn't want to provide service, why does TriMet exist? Does Neil McFarlane get a pay cut because of the M.L.K. Day service cuts? Do riders get to pay a lower fare because of lower service?