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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 23, 2012 8:46 AM. The previous post in this blog was Has Clackamas County been hustling MAX bonds illegally?. The next post in this blog is Guess what -- Portlanders hate Sam Rand garbage ordeal. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tri-Met still borrowing money for WES

Tri-Met's WES train line, one of the worst strategic decisions ever made by a government body in Oregon, continues to rack up debt. The transit agency's latest $111 million borrowing, which became final this week, includes a few more million thrown down the WES hole:

That $3 million more for WES is "mandated" by federal law. In contrast, the whole line was "mandated" by dopiness.

Meanwhile, a reader sends us a link to this funny photo of a WES platform at "rush" hour yesterday afternoon. Keep in mind that trains in both directions stop here:

What a hotbed of activity! And just think, taxpayers, you're only subsidizing this thing to the tune of $18 a ride.

The big news in the Tri-Met bond sale, of course, is how big it is. Even leaving aside the hanky-panky that government agencies go through when telling you how much debt they're taking on, Tri-Met's long-term borrowings just went up from $308.4 million to $401.7 million -- a 30 percent increase. And all of its payroll tax revenue is mortgaged to pay off the banks and other bondholders, who get first dibs over all other creditors.

The debt numbers we just quoted don't include the moribund transit agency's unfunded pension and health care obligations to its retirees. Those amount to another $1.2 billion (with a "b"). But don't worry! We're putting our best people on this.

Comments (14)

Jack, your posted TriMet Bond breakdown has another astonishing number-the $30 Million for "Bus and rail communication system".

Why do all the governments around here spend more on communication than on providing real services?

Note that the TriMet CFO just left to go work at MercyCorps. Good timing on her part...the house of cards is about to collapse.

Remember to bridge to no where in Alaska? WES the Wasteful Expensive Scheme is the Metro-TriMet version.

What a fine regional friend and partner TriMet is is for Clackamas County.

Gee, and I just read in a Tri-Met blurb last week that WES ridership is up.

Gee, and I just read in a Tri-Met blurb last week that WES ridership is up.

I'm sure they have to to keep the Feds happy. Trouble is, I don't think the Feds do any validity checks, or maybe they're just looking the other way, possibly for political reasons.

O/T somewhat, but I also find it very hard to believe that the NW Portland to PSU streetcar averages (?) 10,000 riders a day.

I used to work in downtown Portland and would occasionally (every six weeks) take a few hours off work to get my hair done from around 2:30 to 4:30 or so, and the hair salon was west of the streetcar line (past The Galleria). So, when my hair was done, I would often see the streetcar as I was going back to my office and I never saw that many people on it. And, frankly, with all the one-way streets, you could walk faster (especially downhill) because with the breaks in traffic you could just go ahead and cross the street.

What would prevent Tri-Met from just making up numbers, especially given the free zone? Are they ever audited or otherwise held to account for these numbers?

Remember that TriMet has to operate WES for 20 years, or else they have to pay back all of that sweet, sweet grant money to Uncle Sugar.

Problem is, they're losing enough to where they will burn through that same amount in well under 10 years. It would COST TAXPAYERS MUCH LESS to shut it down now, today, let racoons nest in the DMU's, and walk away.

As for Streetcar ridership, guess how many of those riders pay a fare? When they start enforcing the new $1 fare next month, ridership (whatever is really is) will drop markedly. PSU students are cheap. Tourists are few.

As for Alaska, don't forget that the relief trains TriMet acquired (at the 11th hour) were retired from long years of service in Alaska. So it all works out.

Last I heard it was $875 million unfunded liability for retirees....

The interesting thing about that is that the management pensions are over 100% funded!

I wonder why something like that would occur?

Remember that TriMet has to operate WES for 20 years, or else they have to pay back all of that sweet, sweet grant money to Uncle Sugar.

I believe the feds only chipped in $50 million or so, and TriMet magically came up with the rest (or local governments). I know when the planners conveniently forgot who owned the railroad between Beaverton and Tigard (Union Pacific), Washington County and TriMet lawyers had to catch a last minute flight to Omaha, Nebraska and sign over a $24 million check to UP for the five miles of track UP owned. (In comparison, the railroad line from Eugene to Coos Bay was purchased for about $16 million.)

TriMet could easily afford that, by eliminating the WES operating cost ($7 million a year) and Portland Streetcar subsidy ($10 million a year), reduce the contingency budget to $10 million ($10 million savings), eliminate the Marketing, Capital Projects and I.T. departments (about $30 million in savings). Look, I'm already $7 million in the black.

the $30 Million for "Bus and rail communication system".

Unfortunately you can blame the Federal Communications Commission for that one. The FCC years ago decided that business radio users had to convert to "narrowband" radios which use less spectrum, thus allowing the FCC to cram more users into a smaller piece of spectrum and then auction off what is no longer needed. This has affected countless government agencies AND businesses, just so the federal government can permanently sell radio spectrum for a one-time income infusion.

Sadly, I can't blame TriMet on that one...

Pages 36 and 37 of that bond prospectus would be funny if they were not outright bald-faced lies. (Or maybe it just means that the fix is in.)

WES ridership could be up 100% and it would still amount to nothing. Both sides (the feds and TriMet) need to face reality and cut the losses and shut it down now. Maybe they can even sell off the trains and cars to another city that could actually use them.

Why do you comment about Streetcar when it's owned by the City of Portland. TriMet operates Streetcar under an agreement so get your facts straight. About WES it may not be operating at the level expected but with this economy who and what is. Have you looked at your own personal budget lately. When the economy turns around and it will II'd like to see what song you birds will be singing then, but of course you'll find somethig else to complain about. TriMet I and many others appreciate what you do. Continue to look towards the future and expand your operations.

"Why do you comment about Streetcar when it's owned by the City of Portland. TriMet operates Streetcar under an agreement so get your facts straight."

Special, not sure which comment you're mouthing off about, or why, but since TriMet operates the streetcar for the City of Portland, would it not be TriMet who provides the ridership numbers?

By the way, even though we are still operating in a seriously impaired economy, there are many, many people with jobs and commuting to work each day. If they wanted to ride WES, they would be doing so. Furthermore, in a down economy is when you'd expect ridership to INCREASE because people would need a cheaper mode of transportation. You know, with that "personal budget" and all.


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