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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Do Tri-Met bus cuts violate your civil rights?

It's an intriguing question. Down in Los Angeles, the transit district has gotten into deep trouble with the federal transportation agency for failing to gauge the impact of bus service reductions on minority groups -- cuts that have come as the district has gone ga-ga for light rail. Sound familiar?

Comments (16)

Portland has been trying to emulate LA for 20 years.

LACMTA has been operating under a consent decree (or has until recently) concerning bus cuts and civil rights. A local activist group, the Bus Riders' Union, was able to demonstrate that service reconfigurations back in the 1990s (particularly reductions in bus service to offset the operational costs of the Red Line subway, IIRC) had a disparate impact on minority communities.

In other words, while LA was building a subway through Hollywood (the rich white part of town), it was cutting bus service in the poorer, browner parts of town, prompting the lawsuit.

Does that apply here? Probably not. If MAX and other rail investments were concentrated in wealthy parts of the metro area, and bus service was cuts impacted minority communities, there might be grounds for a lawsuit. However, MAX serves plenty of poor communities, and bus service cuts have been more equitably spread around--if any area has been hit by bus service cuts, its the marginally-performing lines in the 'burbs.

And Portland has nothing which resembles East LA or Compton. (Both of which now have LRT lines of their own, BTW...)

One *might* be willing to make a disparate impact argument about Streetcar, given it's current downtown focus; but it would be a difficult case to make for many reasons. The racial politics which are commonplace in LA simply don't exist to the same extent in Portland.

First, our "official" headcount of minorities is on the low side and the respective demographic tends to not fit in very well with the planner's and developer's vision of an affluent bikey community, and second, we have our new Portland Office of Equity to address these concerns, right ?

Negatively impacting the underemployed or impoverished whites of Portland isn't a problem either because they don't count as minorities, so I'd say Tri-Met has little to be concerned about.

TriMet, last I checked, wasn't in the business of building bike facilities.

If you want to complain that the City of Portland has been inequitable in its infrastructure investments, you possibly would have a stronger case to make than you would against TriMet.

TriMet, last I checked, wasn't in the business of building bike facilities.

Then why did TriMet use ARRA funding to place lighting on the I-205 bike path - a bike facility owned, operated and maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation?

And why did TriMet refuse to use ARRA funding to replace buses, giving TriMet the dubious distinction of one of North America's oldest, least reliable, most pollution and least fuel efficient bus fleets, when statistically more minorities use the bus; more minority neighborhoods are served by buses and not MAX; North Portland has seen the results of gentrification as a result of transit oriented development policies along the MAX line pushing the minority and low income residents away from the MAX line towards St. Johns and other neighborhoods not as well served by transit?

Why does TriMet openly spend millions on building MAX facilities including "art" and large shelters; while the majority of bus stops lack any such amenity? MAX stations get Transit Tracker signs, large shelters and benches, safe places to watch, lighting and security cameras - the typical bus stop is a sign bolted to a pole and you're lucky if there's a concrete pad where you step on and off of the bus.

And...does TriMet have a policy where any city that wants local transit service akin to Portland's demands for regional funding of the City of Portland Streetcar is funded EQUALLY to the Streetcar - if Cornelius (a well-known minority-majority population) wanted to operate a circulator bus route (and have it a fare-free route), that TriMet would use regional transit operating funds to fund the City of Cornelius bus line?

How about availability of air conditioned transit vehicles to minority versus non-minority areas? Or vehicles equipped with wireless internet (seeing that only WES - which serves mostly a non-minority ridership group) are spread out?

The issue comes down to numbers.

There is no real activist community here to mount an effective challenge to that lumbering behemoth known as Trimet transit district.

The people that use the buses, and I know this first hand, are too busy working low paying jobs to put any energy into activism.

We have group called OPAL, a very dedicated small bunch of activists who have done a very good job proposing counter measures to what Trimet proposes.

The board of directors heaps praise on them, I have my doubts that any of their proposals will actually be implemented.I don't trust anything that comes out of the mouth of the executives or the board members.
I sure hope I'm wrong.

As a former driver on the west side of the district, I told people plainly, if you rely on transit you should be living/working in Portland proper or on a MAX line.

The future for bus riders outside of Portland is very very gloomy.

And don't expect Trimet to stop taking money from the FED;s anytime soon. The executives that run Trimet are federal funds addicts.

These bozo's are about to get completely new executive headquarters all courtesy of the Milwaukie big bucks boondoggle.

I can't even imagine what kind of games they are playing with all that money.

I have such a hard time understanding how the system can be so totally and completely broken down.

Trimet rolling in dough, the citizens getting crappier and crappier service.

But then I remember, transit in America is not about serving riders, its about making money for everyone involved in providing transit.

Executives all make 6 figure salaries with huge golden parachutes and the union employees all make a upper middle class life style,with actual benefits, the contractors making who knows how much.

The riders, are last, they don't even count in reality.

Then why did TriMet use ARRA funding to place lighting on the I-205 bike path - a bike facility owned, operated and maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation?

Uh, because TriMet was building a light rail line alongside the path, and was required to do this as part of the project mitigation?

Perhaps I need to be more precise: Excluding bike amenities on or near TriMet properties or vehicles, TriMet is not in the business of building bike facilities. I trust you have little problem with bike racks at transit centers, or bike mounts on the busses themselves.

As for the rest of your questions:

* There has been some gentrification in North/NE Portland, but the worst of it seems to be along MLK, not Interstate.

* Many minority neighborhoods are along MAX, and many minorities use it. Indeed, some of the commenters here seem to regularly complain about this. (Not you, certainly).

* I'd happily get rid of the "1% for art" law, which is little more than a subsidy to bad artists (and affects far more than TriMet). There are plenty of artists who would love to have work exhibited in public places for free. And likewise, I'm all for stop consolidation on bus lines to improve transit service--an effort which can (and should) include nicer amenities than a pole with a sign. But there's thousands of bus stops located throughout the area--do you really expect every last one of them to be built to have a TVM, a shelter, bike racks, and benches, just because rapid transit stops have these things?

* Regarding city-sponsored lines in other cities, I've asked the same question. I believe TriMet's union contract would prevent TriMet from getting involved in things like the OC shuttle, or the hypothetical Cornelius line, unless ATU757 operators were hired to drive the line. You're familiar with the Cedar Mill Shuttle and what happened to it--same principle applies elsewhere.

* TriMet's general policy regarding bus assignment is that the older busses (high-floor, no A/C) go on the peak-hour only lines; the newer busses on the all-day lines--the idea being to have the older busses on the road as little as possible, both because customers view them as undesirable, and to save wear and tear. It's not a bedrock principle--you might find an old bus on the 72, for instance--but it's their general policy. Whether this has a disparate impact on poor/minority commuters, I don't know--on one hand, peak-hour services are generally ridden by downtown office workers, who are less likely to be poor; OTOH I can think of lower-income neighborhoods, mainly in the 'burbs, who only have peak hour service.

The decision makers at TriMet and in our local government don't use public transportation with any frequency, so any anecdotal impressions they may have about this issue are imaginary and aspirational. Nobody really knows whether minority TriMet users suffer disproportional impacts when bus lines are cut to build the WES, Max, tram, and streetcar lines. Such disproportional impacts are likely, however, because the whole point of transit-oriented development is gentrification. It seems like a huge flaw and oversight in TriMet's current transit policy.

Uh, because TriMet was building a light rail line alongside the path, and was required to do this as part of the project mitigation?

How was installing lights a "project mitigation"?

When the lights did not exist in the first place?

And why was it "required" - was it required by federal law, or by some agreement TriMet agreed to with no legal basis other than TriMet signing a contract that it didn't have to sign (like so many other obligations TriMet seems to be signing off to, like WES and Milwaukie MAX and the CRC?)

The idea of TriMet funding "mitigation" projects is a joke in itself - TriMet is removing old wood pilings from the Willamette River in Linnton, to "mitigate" environmental issues down near the new light rail bridge downtown? But does TriMet properly "mitigate" the loss of bus service? Of course not - to TriMet, its bread and butter - the bus service - is expendable at any and all cost. At what point will TriMet cease to even be a transit agency?

It must absolutely gall Portland's planners that they find themselves mimicking Los Angeles.

I imagine the work was required by ODOT, who owns I-205 and the bike path, and who, until recently, owned the transitway as well. Whether that was due to a condition of funding or ROW use, due to law, or what, I have no idea.

Construction of lights along a bike path next to a rail line is a really silly thing to argue about, Erik. It makes you look petty. There's bigger fish to fry if you want to criticize TriMet.

And modern-day LA is actually praised by urbanists (and trashed by the oil-funded Kochtopus hacks at Reason and other outlets opposed to building anything that isn't a highway). LA itself is quite dense (twice as much as Portland), and is quite a good transit city. And LA County residents have been more than willing to invest in more transit projects--google "Measure R" if you have time.

Orange County, on the other hand...

So mass transit is a civil right? How about bad mass transit?

Mass transit itself is not a civil right--many parts of the country have no transit whatsoever (good or bad).

Systematic discrimination in provision of government services, OTOH, can get a government agency in trouble--particularly if the discrimination cuts along racial lines, or otherwise impacts members of a suspect classification.

I imagine the work was required by ODOT...

Ah, imagination.

We needn't reconcile it with reality.

I imagine that statement make you look petty...

...and it's there are, not there's.


I imagine so.

"I imagine" is short for "I'm pretty sure it's true, but I'm too lazy to look it up right now".

But yes, it's commonplace that when inter-agency projects like this happen, one agency will demand improvements on another agency's dime. You've no doubt noticed the sheer amount of log-rolling in the Columbia River Crossing, and here within Orygun, the Sellwood Bridge project is waaaaayyy more expensive than it needs to be, in large part because ODOT wants a fancy interchange at the west end. Of course, what one thinks superfluous another may think essential; I'm sure there are plenty of folks here inhabiting this blog that think if so much as a dime is spent on bikes or pedestrians, it's a scandalous boondoggle.


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