Friday, September 17, 2010

On the Tiffany Sweitzer editorial

TriMet has already taken several steps to address the revenue shortfall. The agency has eliminated programs, cut administration costs and implemented a hiring freeze.
Has TriMet eliminated the Capital Planning department - a department that is funded in part by bus riders, but provides ZERO service to bus riders? No! Has TriMet eliminated or reduced its Public Relations department which employs several highly paid personnel to do...nothing to service the transit users? NO!
As a result, more than 120 positions have been cut from the budget.
Since TriMet has no problem holding out bus operators to dry who do wrong, I want the names, positions, and salaries (plus benefits) of the 120 positions that have been cut.
Columnist Susan Nielsen blamed the budget problems on health care costs. Well, TriMet is in the final stages of union negotiations that would reduce those health care costs, but they represent only a fraction of the agency's total budget.
What "fraction"? Are we talking 1/100th? Or 1/5th?
Columnist Anna Griffin suggested that TriMet has moved too fast to build light rail. But most of the money to build MAX came from federal grants dedicated to rail investments, as well as funds from our regional partners. TriMet's share of building the five rail lines throughout the Portland area has been only about 10 percent of total cost.
And yet TriMet refuses to answer: why does TriMet not leverage available federal funding for new buses? Do you not understand that OLD BUSES REQUIRE MORE MAINTENANCE, RESULT IN MORE BREAKDOWNS, AND ARE MORE POLLUTING AND LESS FUEL EFFICIENT - all of which equals one thing: It costs more to run! Yet TriMet wants us to believe it has to pay for new buses from the operating fund.
If that is even true...why has TriMet repeatedly and continuously raided the operating fund to provide funding for light rail CAPITAL costs? Why did TriMet bail out a Colorado company to make sure WES would open; why did WES come in 200% over budget, and costs between 700% and 1500% more per passenger to run than an "expensive" bus? Why do you defend the $5 million annual cost of WES that serves so few passengers; and why do you defend WES riders paying comparatively little for their ride when in fact most commuter rail services require an additional fare that provides no transfers? WES riders should be paying at least $5-6 per ride in addition to what they pay for a bus/MAX ride before or after their trip; and WES riders should not be given free wireless internet access which costs all of us to subsidize.
And light rail costs less to operate than buses.
No, it doesn't. It seems so because TriMet plays a shell game with accounting, and shunts a lot of light rail "operating" costs to a capital expense; while forcing bus "capital" costs to be accounted as operating. TriMet's bus riders should not be forced to subsidize the cost of light rail construction, interest payments, park and ride maintenance costs, station maintenance costs, or for that matter the cost of the expensive to operate shuttle buses that exist solely for connections to and from MAX that frequently cost $10-15/per passenger; as opposed to TriMet's "mainline" buses that cost as little as a dollar per rider - FAR LESS than any MAX line (the 72-Killingsworth/82nd Avenue bus is TriMet's most financially successful route.)
Finally - why does TriMet continue to allow light rail riders downtown to get a free ride if TriMet is so strapped for cash; and why does TriMet continue to subsidize the City of Portland Streetcar - a service that COMPETES WITH TRIMET SERVICE but is not part of the regional transit system? Just shutting down the Streetcar subsidy, eliminating the Free Rail Zone, and shutting down WES would cover more than half of TriMet's budget shortfall; aggressive negotiating with the insurance carriers would result in cost savings, and buying new buses with FEDERAL DOLLARS would save TriMet millions more in lower fuel costs, better maintenance, and less overtime costs for relief drivers. TriMet could also purchase articulated buses which would result in TriMet being able to run 20 minute service on many "Frequent Service" routes but without a drop in passenger capacity - the same quantity of service for lower cost. TriMet refuses to do any of that.
TriMet has been silent on my Ms. Schweitzer - let's hear it. Why is TriMet so biased against the bus rider? Why is TriMet refusing federal dollars to improve the bus system? And why is TriMet insistent on running the most cost ineffective service, WES, or at least not demanding that its high-cost riders pay more for their service in line with other transit agencies in North America?

On the Trimet Bond measure

Neil McFarlane: "TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane says the agency should not be forced to choose between bus and rail service."

The problem is that TriMet HAS chosen rail service over bus service, that much is a clear cut fact. So if he claims we need a balanced system, we need to restore that balance. That may very well mean putting off rail investments for a few years.

Regardless...TriMet has consistently failed to explain why it is failing to take advantage of the various federal grant programs that will pay 80% of the cost of a new transit bus, and is readily available to Portland and other large transit systems.

I personally believe TriMet is using this ballot measure not necessarily to fund new buses...but as a proxy measure to judge whether the public supports the bus system or not. If the public votes no on this measure, TriMet will see it as valid justification to continue investing in a rail transit system while ignoring the bus system. reality this measure exists only because of prior mismanagement by TriMet of its finances, by using money that was supposed to be used for bus replacements and shunting it over to expanding the light rail system as well as WES.

TriMet refused to use Stimulus dollars for the bus system, but heavily poured on the federal trough to the MAX system with numerous improvements.

And TriMet could easily find internal cost savings that would easily pay for new buses as well as restore service cuts...but refuses to. Why is TriMet spending money on the City of Portland Streetcar? Why is TriMet spending money on the Columbia River Crossing project? Why did TriMet spend money on the I-205 Bike Path?

And how can TriMet claim that rail is "cheaper to operate", when WES costs between 7-12 times (that's 700%-1200%) more than a bus to run - a WES train sits idle for 36 minutes out of every 90 minutes of "revenue service"...yet TriMet has to pay TWO crew members for those 36 minutes of time that the train sits still doing nothing. Meanwhile, bus Operators have been forced to work long (and potentially dangerous) runs without the benefit of a break every two hours, and often are forced to take their breaks at odd places (like...the corner of 82nd and Sandy?)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On Trimet operator John Nations getting a citation

$10 says this ticket will be thrown out.
TriMet Operator was proceeding legally on S.W. 6th, had to make a left turn. Operator determined he could not safely make the turn from the left lane due to the size of the vehicle, and thus used (without conflict to other vehicles, which would simply be other TriMet vehicles in this case as the center lane is a restricted lane).
Had the Operator not used both lanes, he would have climbed onto the sidewalk putting pedestrians at grave risk due to the size of the vehicle and/or collided with a stopped light rail train on Morrison. Further, there are no prohibitions on left turns by oversized vehicles at this intersection.
At the end of the day, it was not the actions of the Operator that caused the collision. Given the choice of two evils, he chose the evil that would have prevented possible injury to pedestrians standing on the street corner waiting for the walk signal that could have been clipped by the size of the vehicle. It was the actions of a bicyclist who disobeyed a traffic control device and failed to yield right-of-way to the bus which was proceeding legally through the intersection that caused the collision.
Ultimately, this is just another example of TriMet Management making boneheaded decisions to route buses on short notice without thinking about their actions, and using low level Operators as the fall guy instead of the General Manager owning up to the routing being the issue. In Germany, for example, every Autobahn has pre-determined, and permanently signed, detour routes in the event of an Autobahn closure. If the Autobahn is closed, you simply use the next exit and follow permanently installed signs that route you to the next on-ramp. If that ramp is closed, you keep following the detours. TriMet ought to have pre-determined detour routes for each bus route and MAX shuttle, including designated safe turn locations. It's not that difficult to do. TriMet Operators should not be the fall guy because some Supervisor didn't do their job correctly.