Saturday, August 14, 2010


The problem with TriMet's little scheme is that they're asking voters to cover up a huge mismanagement. TriMet, like all transit agencies, would usually hold funds to cover their share of bus replacements - depreciation.
The problem with TriMet, and we have no more than Fred Hansen and an absent Board of Directors to thank, is that TriMet raided this fund for multiple light rail projects, giving the money away to the City of Portland for the Streetcar, and of course WES.
After the defeat of South|North, TriMet found ways to build light rail lines that didn't require voter approval. After all, TriMet had this little savings account that was supposed to be used to replace buses after 12-15 years. (And the federal government routinely pays 90% of the cost...shouldn't be that difficult for TriMet to leverage it, right?) So, a little money went to the Airport line, some to the Interstate line, some to the Portland Streetcar, some to the I-205 line, some to the Mall line, and some to the WES line.
Just one problem: TriMet ran out of money. Oops. And apparently the feds are onto TriMet's little scheme - why else would TriMet be asking voters to pay the full cost of new buses, when the feds would normally pay 90%?
Unfortunately I have no doubt in my mind that this is more calculated and sinister than one seems to believe on the surface. TriMet has no intention of this measure passing. TriMet knows that public opinion is heavily against it. TriMet knows it has huge financial issues. And...remember...TriMet normally would only have to come up with 10% of the cost but it's asking voters for 90 times more. TriMet is turning this matter into a referendum on the bus system. Don't pass this measure, and TriMet will use it as proof that the public does not want the bus system and will start taking drastic steps to shut down much of the bus system, except for a handful of routes. (After all, there's no way TriMet can continue to run much of its bus system if 300 buses have to be retired due to age; and a good number of those buses were made by a company that doesn't even exist anymore.)
The public is not that dumb. The public appreciates the bus system, even if they don't ride it personally - they know people who do ride it, either by choice or of necessity. They might use it when the car is broke, or for a special occasion. Their kids might use it. But they are not going to be fooled into paying for something that they already paid for. They have for years trusted TriMet to maintain its system as a good steward of public funds, and TriMet has proven that it failed. Sure, TriMet can build a light rail line. But at no time did the public expect, or anticipate, that TriMet would not be able to maintain the bus system and provide the new services - that was the job of TriMet's management to ensure that new services would not impact old services.
The Oregonian, finally coming to its senses that the bus system is important to Portland, has got it right. TriMet needs to come clean. And frankly, an investigation into Fred Hansen's "leadership" of TriMet needs to be conducted with the potential of fraud and other misconduct charges. There was no problem with buses before his tenure, and the new guy seems to understand that there's a major problem. There's only one man inbetween - and that's none other than Fred Hansen.

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