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.

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