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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fighting the mystery train to Milwaukie

Tri-Met's ill-advised plan to blow upwards of a billion dollars on an unwanted commuter train from Portland to the sleepy 'burb of Milwaukie may sail through the transit agency's board meeting today, but the taxpayers down at the other end of the line are fighting back. It appears that the City of Milwaukie will put its share of the massive cost to a public vote, and a petition drive is about to be launched to have Clackamas County voters do the same.

Those votes will both almost certainly be negative.

That won't stop the train Mafia, of course. They'll probably build it anyway. But it will wind up costing even more. Hey -- maybe we can break $2 billion! Another achievement for Portland.

Comments (24)

Good for them. Whether MLR is ultimately good or bad thing for Milwaukie and ClackCo, the voters and taxpayers out there should get to weigh in on it. In addition to TriMet and the usual developer suspects, several vested interests in Miwaukie and on the ClackCo Commission want this rail line built. If they do not let the citizens have a say on how their money should be spent, the citizens will find a way to do so, whether it's voting overwhelmingly against the bus bond or initiating a recall or petition: IIRC, Milwaukie voters once recalled a city commissioner over his support for light rail.

Except for its northern reaches, ClackCo is a mostly rural county, suffering the same high unemployment as other rural areas in Oregon, and is also reaping the bitter harvest of overbuilding during the housing boom. They could really use the money that would be sucked up by MLR on social services to help struggling families, as well as to keep the lights and heat on and the teachers paid at their schools.

Will the Milwaukie Light Rail line, if it's built, bring money into Milwaukie and Clackamas county or will it pull money to Portland?

Maybe it's just life support for downtown Portland.


Gravy Train
Earl Blumenauer and the ”transportation mafia”

In my opinion, both the D and R Party have left us floundering with a mess.
Does the Multnomah Democratic Party like what is going on, as they continue to support Blumenauer and the like?

We citizens in this country need to do more than just vote and think we have done our civic duty. There is also civic responsibility to do more. Those Children on that nice photo above need responsible adults to step up to the plate.

It doesn’t look like we can depend on “leaders” to take care of matters for us, these “leaders” for the most part are no longer on the side of public interest.

Yes, infrastructure development is probably best deferred while we use all of our money to bridge current payment deficits...

Perhaps they will use the Takings principle to strip residents of land that they've degraded in value by preannouncing their intentions to do so and then make no stops in Milwaukee much like TriMet did for WES in Tigard!

Nothing suits the population better than when a government takes land using eminent domain from a population center and then gives absolutely nothing back to it but a train that locks up traffic along Scholls Ferry Road!

Oh wait, they already did that at the Beaverton Round! Where's that Park and Ride TriMet? Land thieves. Brigands.

Land, Land, Land.

Land is especially valuable and also scarce in a UGB agenda.

Is this why there was such a focus on school property recently?

Is this why the water bureau declared 8-9 properties surplus?

Is this why

Is this why

Fill in the blanks!

Yes, infrastructure development is probably best deferred while we use all of our money to bridge current payment deficits...

Yes, let's max out our credit cards on new toys rather than pay for last year's restaurant meals. Charge it! It's like getting stuff for free.

I am not against mass transit. I am just against THIS mass transit system. What can you say about a system that no matter how much money you throw at it cannot seem to do the basics very well, like move people from point A to point B. They want money to expand but they cannot operate what they have very well. I take the Maxx, every now and then, from Hillsboro where I live to Gresham where I work. I can drive it in 45 minutes on a bad day. It takes 2 hours on Maxx. On almost every day I do take it there is some problem delaying the train or requiring us to get off and wait for another or take a bus. Two out of three ticket machines on most Maxx stations do not work properly. The trains run infrequently thus making them very crowded. Security is almost non existent and the Maxx stations are a mess.

Most of the employees, including the so called "fare inspectors" do not seem to give a hang about custormer service. Your complaints are filed in their circular file the the thousands of others. And the managers of this mess have made so many bad strategic decisions that have cost so many millions of dollars that it makes you wonder how they have kept their jobs.

So with that record why should anyone with either a scrap of sanity vote to give these people more money?

Your complaints are filed in their circular file the the thousands of others.

It's because TriMet long ago gave up any interest or desire to serve, you know, actual passengers. Now it's all about landing federal pork, feathering the nests of local developers and land barons, gouging employers for a service their employees never use, and stroking the labor unions to get out the votes to keep the whole creaking edifice standing.

If history serves, we the voters were given the opportunity to vote on MAX at three other occasions in the past. And voted down every time. They have always built it anyway. The vote will mean nothing.

A close analysis of the NYC subway shows that its roots are a private set of multiple systems. Only once they converged and the bulk of the expense for the tunnels and property did the public pick it up as a social program. Once again showing how only a private enterprise system can create such a thing and it takes a social entity to mire it in problems. Granted there were bumps along the way as one can expect from any thing with such an enormous business cost of entrance.

MAX is nothing short of the North Korean rail system. One or two souped up stations to show off to the world with a "fareless square" to encourage ridership of a healthy load of drunks, psychotics, and the chronically hygiene impaired in an area devoid of those actually paying the fare or the taxes to support it.

The Soviet People's Republic of Portland wins again! After all, it's easy to vote something in when you aren't the one paying for it. I've ridden the MAX several times and never seen a ticket checker.

I'm pretty sure that the pit bull companion to a homeless man who got on near China Town and rode the train beside me last weekend to the Rose Quarter wasn't a service dog. You can't even get into the Metro station in Paris without passing a valid fair ticket through the gate. MAX simply shuttles various never do wells around Portland while the tax paying public get slammed with enormous property taxes and fares. It's 1.5 euros to ride ANYWHERE on the Paris Metro. You can go nearly 15 miles and it hardly takes more than 30 minutes to cross the entire city on it.

I found this little tidbit over at TriMet's website:

Paying for Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail
October 29, 2010

Funding for the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail (PMLR) project will not affect money available for bus service. Here are the facts:

In Fiscal Year 2013, TriMet is slated to sell bonds to generate roughly $40 million for its contribution to the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Line. Like a mortgage, these bonds will be paid incrementally over 25 years or so. TriMet's annual payment will be approximately $3.2 million for debt service on the bonds. It is important to stress that this borrowing won’t begin until FY13 and has no impact on current service levels. Where do we plan to get this money? Not from bus service, but from an increase in payroll tax revenue that was authorized by the Oregon Legislature in 2003 specifically for service expansion of light rail and other service in our region. This was the same revenue source that paid to build and operate the Green Line.

Over the past 3 months, we have been working to close the final $137 million local funding gap for PMLR. Our regional partners have contributed nearly $102 million to fill the gap, leaving just 2 percent of the $1.49 billion project to be covered. TriMet is looking to other partners to fill the remaining gap. Meantime, TriMet will ask its board of directors for authority to issue about another $20 million in bonds as a placeholder if needed to close the gap. Those bonds, if needed, would not be issued until FY15. Again, it is important to stress that the bond issue five years from now has no impact on current service. The cost to TrIMet would be about $1.9 million per year. Where will this money come from? The answer is, from future increases in the payroll tax.

It is important to understand that the Oregon Legislature approved an increase in the employer payroll tax rate that is projected to pay for new service. This new revenue will pay for the debt service on the new rail as well as future expansions of rail and bus service.

Of course, what TriMet conveniently ignores is that MAX still has a cost to operate that is extremely high. Sure, if you cram a MAX train full of riders, it will cost less per rider than a bus; but you can just as well cram a bus full of riders and it'll cost no more than MAX. The MAX train cannot shortline (operate less than its full route) as easily as a bus can to avoid operating a less patronized portion of the route; the MAX train has significant fixed costs even if the train doesn't run (you have to maintain the overhead and the track structure, which a bus doesn't as it shares its infrastructure with cars who pay for it.)

A MAX line costs millions to operate...without an increase in revenue from taxpayers, and with additional borrowing costs which will absorb any likely increase TriMet can squeeze - where does the money come from?

Is TriMet going to eliminate all of the buses along the MAX corridor, or will regional taxpayers be forced to cut back so TriMet can provide "choice" service in the Milwaukie corridor?

Will the remaining buses become "MAX Shuttles" which have proven, time and time again, to have among the highest operating costs of any bus route? Most of the MAX shuttles TriMet has instituted over the years have gone away as they were expensive (high costs, few boardings) while mainline, workhorse bus routes remain strong. (Ironically, the pro-rail folks harp on the lack of success of the bus routes and how riders prefer rail service - when in fact it is these buses that exist only for MAX; and mainline bus routes that have little or no interaction with MAX are still able to stand on their own - the 72 bus, for example, has the lowest subsidy of any TriMet service - including a subsidy half that of the MAX Blue Line - the MAX Yellow and Green Lines, as well as the Streetcar, cost as much if not more than the bus system average; the Red Line between Gateway and PDX also has pretty high costs but is cross-subsidized by running to Beaverton.)

I have some friends who live in Argentina. This has got me thinking about how great it is to have some infrastructure. Roads, sewers, eletric service, Zoning, building codes, and a banking system are all things sadly lacking in the the Southern Hemisphere. Would I like to ride the Milwaukie rail line (would pass near my home) Yes! Do I think the city and county should spend the money to build it at this time. No!

Milwaukie MAX isn't infrastructure - it's fluffastructure. You want to do something for infrastructure on that end of town, then build a new Sellwood Bridge before the current one collapses and kills a bunch of people.

Interesting specifics on the bonds Erik H. Note that with interest the ultimate cost over 25 years will be double the $40 million borrowed.

"Will the Milwaukie Light Rail line, if it's built, bring money into Milwaukie and Clackamas county or will it pull money to Portland?"

Neither, it will suck money out of everyone's pocket forever, while making our bus service worse.

I ride the bus often, and the MAX occassionally, and I greatly prefer the bus. While a full bus isn't always a picnic, having the driver actually in the cabin makes it much more civilized.

Aside from cost, light rail is just ridiculously inflexible. If you just imagine the MAX system as a bunch of spokes running out from the central city, everyone who lives between those spokes has to travel to the MAX. In most of Portland, a bus line comes pretty close to you. But with the MAX, you have to go to it.

From a practicality stand point, buses are much better than light rail, but they don't look good on a postcard.

"Milwaukie MAX isn't infrastructure - it's fluffastructure"

comment of the week

Great report velledorchid.

Would the corrupt government implement any of the ideas...fat chance.

I testified at today's TriMet Board Meeting on MLR. Afterward, while meeting was still in progress, a TriMet employee came up to me and called me a "teabagger".

First, what does testifying about MLR have to do with being a teabagger? Secondly, I asked the lady why should she pigeonhole someone for expressing opinions, either way-what does name calling have to do with the price of tea in China? Third, she doesn't even know what political party I might be a member of-I'm a demo. But I guess being a demo also allows one to be a teabagger too, since teabaggers isn't a party and there are all kinds of political crossovers.

But, what really rankled me, how/why can a TriMet employee (staff) start name calling? This incident, and otherwise, doesn't look good for TriMet, especially in regards to MLR, it's debt problems, and their unions. I think it is boiling over there at TriMet.

2 hrs on Max versus 45 minutes by car -
20 work days:
80 hrs on Max
30 hrs by car

Agree having a driver on the bus is good.
Other communities are ahead of us with express buses and snazzy ones with wifi, coffee, etc. Too many insiders pushing our ole slow moving light rail around here.

I believe corporations through the media have done a good job of "tagging" people who are not going along with plans as tea baggers. Some may be shy of expressing opinions for this very reason, being called a tea bagger. Good for you, first for speaking out at the TriMet hearing and then letting the TriMet staff know what you thought about their name calling.

We may have to do political crossovers in order to save the day! Jane Hamsher, progressive and Grover Norquist, far right joined hands a year ago to jointly write a letter wanting to have Rahm Emanuel investigated.


Snards is absolutely correct to say that "buses are much better than light rail, but they don't look good on a postcard." Yet there is a city whose buses have long featured on postcards, and whose new buses may feature on future postcards : London. There is no reason Portland's buses have to be so bland. We could have a first-class bus service, featuring iconic, sexy buses that anyone would be happy to ride; but we can't have that AND build wasteful, super-expensive light rail and streetcar lines.

How about an entirely Natural Gas fueled bus fleet? Who cares if they're sexy...Natural gas buses don't emit particulates like diesel buses and you can drive behind them with your windows down without choking.

It's cheaper and cleaner than diesel, doesn't require environment-taxing battery storage (like hybrids), and the technology has been around for 15 years.

Natural gas is abundant in North America, and the cheapest hydrocarbon (on a BTU-equivalent basis) by a wide margin.

Mister Tee:

Tacoma has a 100% CNG powered bus fleet.

Salem was headed that direction, but decided to go with "clean diesel" with its most recent bus purchase. I believe right now about 50% of its fleet is CNG.

Many agencies in California go with CNG; Los Angeles in particular has a very large CNG fleet.

As for double-deckers, Community Transit (Snohomish County) has 23 of them, made by Alexander Dennis (the same company that manufactures the London double-deckers) in the U.K. for use on Seattle commuter routes.

For having a bus-only transit system Seattle's transit ridership on either a per-capita or percentage of trips taken basis is virtually identical to Portland's bus + light rail system. Only in recent years did they open the S.L.U.T. from Westlake Center to the Fred Hutchison Cancer Center, and the Central Link light rail line from DSTT to Sea-Tac Airport; but before those two routes opened Seattle's transit ridership was just as high as Portland's.

It also has four different transit agencies plus one regional agency (many TriMet supporters claim that having a single transit agency improves ridership as it makes transit usage easier), with dissimilar fare rules; you also cannot transfer between light rail and bus - they both have different fare systems (and the light rail system uses a distance based fare system, not zone based as TriMet has). You can, however, transfer between S.L.U.T. and bus (but there is no such thing as the "free rail zone" - there is a fareless zone but the S.L.U.T. is entirely outside of it, and even when the historic Waterfront Streetcar ran it required a fare despite being in the fareless zone.)

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