Wednesday, April 6, 2011


April 05, 2011 at 9:43AM

Can we please stop this divide & conquer approach pitting bus riders against bus drivers? I read the HuffPo article and noticed on page 3 a glaring difference from TriMet - Milwaukee transferred capital funds (which would otherwise be used to buy new buses) to operations to keep things afloat. Meanwhile at TriMet, they'll be transferring between $40 and $60 million OUT of the operations budget into capital funds to build rail to Milwaukie. That has nothing to do with driver benefits and everything to do with building having a higher priority than maintaining current service at TriMet.
And our buses, at least where I live on the west side, are old enough to vote and aren't going to be replaced any time soon, because for whatever reason THAT was put to a public vote where the Orange Line was not.
I agree, it was poor planning on TriMet's part to not set aside money for negotiated benefits, but that's only a fraction of the whole picture, and it's not just union negotiations creating the problem.

April 05, 2011 at 10:00AM

catenary makes an excellent point. TriMet has developed an odd anti-service mentality giving priority to project development rather than user support. WES is one example, and stiffing riders to build rail is another. Doing away with Fareless Square is another example of undermining public support to pursue the embrace of certain downtown business interests. We were told ending Fareless Square was necessary to reduce street crime, minor drug deals (apparently drug dealers are thought to be incapable of buying a monthly pass) and curing other urban ills. People who live downtown pay TriMet taxes that once purchased service to downtown from suburbs and free movement within Fareless Square. Now all we get are subsidized riders from the suburbs. I no longer vote in favor of TriMet projects because the system abandoned me.
Until TriMet changes priorities and management strategies we can expect to see more efforts to paint its rank-and-file staff as guilty of what in fact is poor decision-making at the top.

April 05, 2011 at 8:55PM

The exact same argument can (and should) be made against any further investment in rail, until we can get a handle on maintaining the service we have.
We've been told all sorts of glamorous promises about how light rail will deliver such and such benefits to our region. Guess what? Congestion isn't down, MAX carries just 1% of our region's trips taken, the cost of building, operating, and debt service of the combined rail system (MAX, Streetcar and WES) are just as much to blame for the operating funds shortfall contributing to the cutback in bus services, and the promised development is still not occurring. Just a cursory glance of the original MAX line from downtown to Gresham still shows, after 25 years, many under and un-developed, light rail adjacent (and sometimes, station adjacent) properties. Much of the development in the Lloyd District is only because of government buildings (Metro Headquarters, Convention Center, State Office Building, Bonneville Power Administration) which doesn't have a positive benefit at all (no property tax revenue, jobs would still exist just elsewhere in the region and sometimes in a more logical location).
TriMet's only interest is in empire building, while leaving day-to-day operations to flounder. Yes, benefits is certainly something that needs to be addressed but I agree - it's not the employees' fault that management agreed to the deal. It's not employees' fault that management went out and got an expensive health care plan. It's not employees' fault that management was asleep at the wheel - the employees and their union negotiated in good faith. Management could - and probably should - have said no, but that's 10, 15, 20 years in the past. It takes two to tango, so why is the focus on the employees who are actually out there doing their job, maintaining the service as best as they can with no management support, equipment that is prone to frequent failure, and an increasingly angry public who's fed up with how TriMet operates its system?
But I don't see any accountability for TriMet's management. The Board is appointed rather than elected, and the management gets their bonus based upon empire building, rather than simply operating a transit system. I care more about bus reliability, on-time performances, fuel economy and operations costs than I do miles of track built or the amount of fois gras eaten by Mary Fetsch during the Green Line grand opening gala. I just wish that someone at TriMet did too
  April 06, 2011 at 12:40AM

...I too concur with Cantenary. The two city's situations are "apples and oranges" (or to put things in a more local perspective, "buses and light rail").
I grew up in Milwaukee and like the riders interviewed in the story, pretty much rode transit since my primary school days so this hits home a bit for me. Back then bus service was provided by a privatised operation known simply as "The Transport Company", owned by the Milwaukee & Suburban Transport Corporation" (after the transit company was spun off from it's former parent, the Wisconsin Electric Power Company). The Transport company was fully self sustaining operating only off farebox revenue (no bonds, tax levies, or government subsidies). However as with the passenger railroads, it became increasingly difficult to keep things running totally off passenger revenues as fuel costs began to increase and the local economy tanked. Hence began several rounds of service cuts and fare increases.
That is when Milwaukee County stepped in to take the system over. Fare rates were frozen, the unwieldy system of zones (in some cases, up to seven zone boundaries) was first simplified and later eliminated altogether while overall service which had seen schedule reductions and cuts in the years prior to the takeover, was restored and improved. The MCTS became a model for many transit systems and was rated as one of the nation's best systems for years. Buses were frequent and scheduled to create good connections so that travel throughout the system would be as smooth as possible.
As Milwaukee is a relatively flat and more compact metro area with streets set up in a north-south/east-west grid, the city's layout is more attractive for the development a comprehensive network of bus lines rather than light rail. This also allowed for a number crosstown routes that didn't hub in downtown as they do here in Portland.
In contrast, Portland is a victim of it's topography. The West Hills are a major barrier with only a couple good thru streets between downtown and the western environs. In Southeast Portland, the offset pattern of many streets makes it difficult to to travel in a straight line for very long. Throw in the mazes of Laurelhurst, and Ladd's Addition, and it appears that a good part of the the city is almost laid out with the purpose of stymieing efficient transit development.
Another issue with Tri Met's route system is the fact that most lines tend to hub in or go through the heart of downtown and there is little to no east to west crosstown service that bypasses the city centre (the only route I know of is the #66 which is a limited weekday AM/PM commute route between Hollywood TC and OHSU).
When I first moved her over twenty years ago, I was amazed at how good the service was. Many routes had decent frequency, even late and on weekends (better in some cases, than they do now during the commute). New routes were being added and there was even serious discussion of 24 hour service on some routes.
Even before the current recession, Tri Met began reducing bus service and in so doing began to make the system unattractive to ride. Through their so called "service adjustments" buses which used to connect would just miss each other (even at transit centres). This is exasperating, especially when coupled with the recent frequency reductions as it can add twenty to thirty minutes (or in some cases even more) to one's commute.
So what happened?
The Max that is what. For some reason the Tri Met board deemed that light rail and streetcars, not buses were the future basis for our metro transportation needs. However, unlike setting up a new bus route, building a light rail or streetcar line is an expensive, disruptive, and time consuming affair. Once the line is finally in operation, the federal spigot turns off and paying to run it has to come from the general operations budget - the same pool of money used to keep the buses rolling. So something has to give, and as we have seen, it usually ends up being bus service.
I am still a bit dumbfounded as to how TM could come up with three quarter of a billion in matching funds for Orange Line construction, but can't seem to find even meager financial support to maintain decent bus service, not much less acquiring replacements for the aging buses in the fleet or even installing a long needed shelter at the #20 stop by my house.
It's misdirected priorities which are the the issue here. It's also a lack of real commitment and accountability. Last year at the final hearing on the proposed service reductions and fare increases I exhorted Tri Met to get together with other transit agencies and go to Capitol Hill and press for a change in transportation fund allocations to help cover operations. I mentioned that we were in a crisis situation and cutting service people depended on would be counterproductive not just for the system but the metro region as a whole. The presentation received one of the loudest ovations of support that afternoon.
Unfortunately, where the attending council members were concerned, I could have just as well been talking to a brick wall.
The Tri Met council needs to be both accountable and responsive to the Metro region's commuters and businesses. Were they an employee of a private company, they would have been shown the door long ago for their poor judgment. Unfortunately with how the board is selected, they are more like the company owner's obnoxious nephew who cannot be fired.
I keep hearing all this rhetoric of reducing dependency on foreign oil and rebuilding our nation's infrastructure, yet transit seems to not even be an afterthought in the equation.
Oh, and a story in the Milwaukee Journal today paints an even bleaker picture for the former "Beer Capitol", as Governor Walker is pushing to move transit funding from the state's transportation budget to the general fund where it will compete directly with cash strapped social programmes and schools. So it will come down to an issue of "bus service vs. schoolbooks or healthcare" and guess who will win that argument.
...a little food for thought from the Huffington Post article...
"It certainly does create a vicious cycle. There's no doubt about it," said former MCTS president and managing director Anita Gulotta-Connelly, who retired at the end of March. "Once you get into the cycle of raising fares and cutting services, then you're reducing your revenues, as the service becomes less attractive."
This is what was happening to the privately run transit systems before regional councils and counties took over operations over three decades ago. Now it is occurring again. What the article tries to point out but, many refuse to see, is that failure of transit will have a negative impact on economic recovery and growth.

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