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?

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