Friday, November 19, 2010

On reducing the Trimet budget re: CATO institute

I actually don't disagree on some of the key points that Cato brings up, but they fail to justify their overall point that privatization will accomplish their goals. There are many bloated non-government organizations out there that succumb and fail because of a lack of internal controls.

TriMet could do very well to adopt some of Cato's suggestions:

1. Reduce transit employment. I'm not talking Operators, folks - I'm talking management. According to the infamous TriMet Salary database, isn't it close to 50% of TriMet's employees aren't directly involved in service delivery (providing transportation)? TriMet is bloated - at the top - and that needs to be addressed.

2. Overbuilding. Portland uses light rail not because it's the appropriate mode, but because of its attractiveness - primarily politically. The mode of transport needs to match the need of transport - in some areas of the Portland metro area - or anywhere else - all we need is a shared-ride taxi service. In other areas, light rail is certainly appropriate. But you can't expect a neighborhood that needs just a taxi service to support a fixed-route bus; you can't expect light rail to be cost-effective when a bus will do the job; and you need to build light rail and streetcar where buses are overflowing. Portland's transit planning in that regard is completely backwards.

TriMet has for many years had the mentality of "one-size-fits-all" which is clearly not correct. Some areas need 60' articulated busses; others could use sub-30 buses. TriMet needs to look at Seattle, Vancouver, Salt Lake City and other cities to see how they can effectively mix multiple vehicles to provide comprehensive service.

3. Energy efficiency. Yes, a 40' transit bus running empty wastes a lot of diesel. Privatizing the bus operator doesn't change that.

How can you fix that? Use more fuel-efficient buses (hybrids). Run buses on schedules that match needs. On heavier routes, use higher capacity buses (artics) so that you can carry the same number of passengers using fewer vehicles. Use smaller vehicles - a Sprinter platform bus gets over 15 MPG, nearly four times that of a 40' bus - on lesser patronized routes.

Another way is to look at deadheads. A TriMet express bus, in particular, spends over 50% of its time in non-revenue service - that's driving around, burning gas, without a single rider onboard. Why are TriMet's bus garages located strictly in the center of the service area, and not where the runs start - in Hillsboro, Tigard, Oregon City, and Gresham? TriMet should disperse its fleet into smaller fleets located strategically located near the start/endpoints of its runs. Not only will this eliminate dead-heading, but also could reduce the commute length for many of its employees.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On the bond measure defeat

SP Red Electric November 04, 2010 at 9:11PM

If your parents gave you $20 to buy clothes, and you went out and spent it on something else and then asked your parents for another $20 for clothes, how do you think they would respond? Should they give you the additional $20, simply because you can't afford the clothes yourself?
Last year, I directly (or through employer contributions tied to my income) paid $1,522.59 cents in TriMet taxes as well as an annual pass. In addition to that, I paid another $20 in federal fuel taxes that went to the "mass transit account" which pays for federal funding of transit programs, plus federal and state income taxes which are also used in part to fund TriMet programs.
I'm also a daily TriMet bus rider. I count on TriMet each day to get me to and from work, and often to other destinations too.
I have been highly disgusted after seven years of daily TriMet ridership - if TriMet were an airline, I'd be one of the elite "Frequent Fliers" - where I have encountered countless broken buses, buses that simply failed to show up, buses which passed me up, buses that were crush load, buses that were on the road but had some type of failure, bus stops which were unsafe and lacked amenities...the list simply goes on. Meanwhile, TriMet has no problem issuing blank checks for rail projects - $6 million a year handed off to the City of Portland for its Streetcar; the WES project which came in over double the initial projections and is still costing TriMet money in the form of a "quiet zone" in Tualatin - not to mention its $20/boarding ride operating cost; the Free Rail Zone that gives MAX and Streetcar riders a free ride while I pay for every ride I take... It's just like my opening analogy - I give TriMet money to operate my service, yet it goes out and blows the money on some toy. And then it has the gall to ask me for more money, but under the guise of "helping the elderly and disabled".
TriMet isn't going to grow in debt because of buses - TriMet, today, has over $873,480,000 in liabilities - debt - almost entirely because of overreaching light rail expansion. And to service that debt, TriMet must pay, out of operating funds, close to $13 million a year. That's $13 million each year that doesn't move a single passenger, or make a bus move one inch - that's paying TriMet's credit card bill.
TriMet admits that deferred maintenance on its bus fleet is costing millions each year - increased maintenance needs, Operator overtime, and of course the intangible cost of the loss of ridership and goodwill of its citizens, and the time that citizens lose because of TriMet's inability to safely and reliably operate its bus system. TriMet's service cuts and failure to purchase and deploy high capacity buses have also cost TriMet millions each year - by turning away riders who wait for a bus, but simply can't get on the bus because it refuses to allow boardings.
Passing this measure would not solve any of TriMet's problems. In fact, passing this measure would actually tell TriMet that it's acceptable to continue to defer long-needed bus investment, because TriMet would use its existing revenues solely for light rail investment and demand more credit from taxpayers the next time new buses were needed. This measure was a bad precedent and fortunately voters were smart enough to tell TriMet to get its act together.
Like you, I want TriMet to provide a good, quality transit experience no matter who one is, where they live, or what mode of transport that we use. TriMet has shown the public who is demanding better bus service that bus riders are in fact second-class citizens and that our opinions don't count. I'm sure that as a high school student you have learned about the American system of government - one must ask, why TriMet has no citizen representation, but only appointed Board members - appointed by the state's Governor, when TriMet does not even serve the entire state. As far as my "representation" at TriMet, I get just as much as a vote as someone in Jordan Valley, or Brookings, or Joseph, or Astoria gets - yet none of them have any vested interest in TriMet like you and I do.
Voting "no" on this measure was certainly a drastic action. But I never had the chance to vote "NO!" on WES, or the Green Line, or the Yellow Line, or the Red Line. I never had the chance to vote "NO!" on the Portland Streetcar, or the CRC Project, or Milwaukie MAX. Nor did I have the chance to vote "NO!" to TriMet entering the development business. I never had a chance to tell TriMet to use ARRA stimulus dollars for bus service over, say, bike paths (which TriMet doesn't own/operate, but TriMet found its share of Stimulus funding to pay for lighting on the I-205 bike path).
TriMet has every responsibility as a government agency to serve each and every one of its citizens equally and without bias. And part of that is ensuring that we all pay the same fare, and we all get the same quality of ride. It doesn't matter if we ride a bus or a train. TriMet, however, has broken that creed to the public and has engaged in a transport mode debate. And the failure of this measure is in no way a sign that the public does not support bus service - it is a sign that TriMet, as an organization, has failed to serve the public - and that TriMet must change from within, not just ask for money to solve the problem. Just as if your parents give you $20 to spend on clothes - who is to say that you'll take the next $20, and spend it on clothes?
Voting is a serious responsibility and one that I do not take lightly. My vote against 26-119 was not, as you say, from someone "who don't use it, gaining a bad reputation." My vote against 26-119 was from a frustrated, daily TriMet rider - someone who TriMet has made clear is not appreciated or wanted as a dedicated TriMet rider, and someone who is for all intents and purposes a second-class citizen. And for that...I've given TriMet some $1,550 last year, for the privilege of riding in 20 year old buses that are roasting in the summer, leak in the winter, and often break down; while standing on the side of the road in the rain with not even so much as a sidewalk to safely wait on.
How is it that giving more money to TriMet would suddenly fix that? After all, TriMet has 250 buses that are beyond the Federal Transit Administration guidelines to replace yet the bond measure would only replace half of those buses. And we'd be paying interest on those buses long after the buses have been retired and themselves replaced...