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Friday, February 15, 2013

It's the trains, stupid

Tri-Met's general manager, Neal McFarlane (right), has been making the rounds trying to sell his story that the bus drivers' union is what's breaking his insolvent transit agency. We've expressed disappointment that the local mainstream media has run stories that allow McFarlane to make this case without also giving opposing views anything near equal time.

Some of the other side has now been aired -- the union's side -- in at least one later piece, in the O. But there's still been precious little discussion of our main gripe, which is that Tri-Met has trashed its bread-and-butter operations, buses, for excessive layers of "planners" and managers, and for dopey rail projects.

It's hard for us to believe that professional writers can interview McFarlane without crucifying him for the epically failed WES heavy rail project, of which he was in charge. That has turned out to be the biggest waste of money in the history of Tri-Met, and perhaps in the history of mass transit in this country. Then there's the empty east side Portland streetcar, and now the Mystery Train to Milwaukie, and next, the light-rail deck on the new bridge to the 'Couv -- a deck that most folks in that suburb don't seem to want.

And it doesn't stop there. Here he is on video, nattering about new capital projects "in the pipeline" for after that.

The local reporters and editors are also letting McFarlane off the hook on his bloated "planning" and management staff and his fancy new digs that are being set up at enormous taxpayer expense in -- surprise! -- one of Legend Dan Saltzman's buildings.

If the media in Portland were really interested in the truth, McFarlane would crawl out of every interview figuratively bruised and battered. But he's never really challenged.

When Tri-Met's hack board and its bungling management start talking rationally about terminating WES, slimming down their own house, and scrapping all their grandiose train plans for the future, maybe someone will listen to their whining about the unions. In the meantime, we find ourselves rooting for the bus drivers; although they are fat and greedy, they're far less of the problem than the dummies in the suits.

"Are we a health care provider or are we a transit agency?" McFarlane keeps asking, in a speech that he doubtlessly rehearsed to his poodle all last weekend. His performance has ensured that they are neither -- they're just enablers of construction pork projects and propagation of the Earl Blumenauer Fantasy World of shiny trains, crappy apartments, grown adults riding bicycles everywhere, and terrible roads.

They can keep interviewing McFarlane, but it's time for the smart people to look elsewhere and start seriously discussing what is going to replace Tri-Met, because it's not going to make it in its current form. Nor does it deserve to. And something tells us that the Goldschmidt Network, which has feasted off Tri-Met for years, already has a plan for picking the carcass in the inevitable Tri-Met bankruptcy. Taxpayers who have no more fleece to give had better begin coming up with a Plan C.

UPDATE, 3:24 p.m.: More on the management bloat, finally, here. On Friday afternoon, of course, when no one will see it. Meanwhile, WW today continues to drag out what should have been one story into an entire week of chopped-up bits.

Comments (17)

I don't have time to think this through more this morning but I want to throw it out there:

States: The Urban Renewal Districts of the Federal Government.

We all know about the abuse of urban renewal districts - calling places blighted to rake off the tax revenue. It's basically a legalized way to steal for powerful developers and their side projects, cynically wrapped in some sort of altruistic spin that they're helping the downtrodden. For politicians, it's an abuse of power by violating the spirit of the law.

Isn't the federal government abusing its power in the same way, by dangling the bucks for these projects in front of these rabid politicians? It'd be one thing to send extra revenue back to the states where they could use it to shore up our budgets, but to tie it to some project we can't afford? Isn't that really encroaching on states' rights? It's a form of federal entrapment.

So what's the common thread? In both cases, the spirit of the law is violated and the politicians who are handing out the goodies get more power. There is no reason the Tri-Met board should have this much power. If these projects are funded by the federal government then aren't they a de facto part of the federal government interfering in our state?

Of course, after the budgets on the federal level and locally are all screwed up by these scams, we get clowns like Neal here, talking about austerity measures. Who does he think he's kidding?

Excellent points Bill.
The same old story is always, "follow the money".

I'm sorry, but my first thought after seeing the photo was Dr. Smith from Lost In Space.

I thought at first it was Wally Cox.

Bill - you have just illuminated how the Federal government is esssentially a mix between corporate socialism and a protection racket.

Money is not returned to the states unless specified for certain corporations or key players.

And in order to get that money you have to pay by performing unusual acts that will beholden you keep the game going or else.

There is nice rebuttal in the Hollywood reporter from the Tri-Met union/bus drivers if anyone wants an alternate take from the corporado honchos.

Great post, Jack. Excellent discussion.

Carrying Bill's point to a more despicable level, several people providing testimony in opposition to Clackamas County's CRC
resolution have lectured that the CRC is none of Clackamas County's business and that they should mind their own business.

Really? This unwanted, behemoth boondoggle that will devour $10 billion in state and federal funding over decades is none of Clackamas County's business?
This is government at it's worst.

Some even threatened the county with political retribution and future funding consequences if the county dare to publicly oppose the boondoggle.

One in particular was a former legislator who brazenly warned the commissioners of dire consequences should they approve
the resolution opposing the CRC. He advised them to remove the resolution from the agenda and stand down, or else.

Watch it for yourselves here:

Drag to 1:52:19 in the video.


and click on "video"

Besides his brazenly delivered threat he propagandizes the funding source and impacts from such a large misappropriation and closes by asking the union guys in the back to remember his "help" next time he runs.

Actually it's both things that are bankrupting Trimet: expansive health benefits AND expansive capital projects.

At the rate things are going, Tri-Met won't go broke. It'll just wind up being assimilated into some another agency of the "one big government".

With taxpayers subsidizing 75 percent of every one-way ride, TriMet really doesn’t have any bread and butter operations. Some high ridership bus routes like on 82nd Avenue somewhat offset the losses for the majority of other bus routes. TriMet would have to charge $10.00 per one way trip just to be operationally self-sustainable. If a person really wants to see how much money TriMet blowing through, dig into the budget and compare the dollars being spent on planning verses the dollars going to operations. TriMet seems to think they are a development agency on the Homer like take rather than an alternative transportation provider. TriMet’s political supporters, the media, the car haters and the environmental zealots simply don’t understand the inclusive all encompassing meaning of sustainability. It starts with financial self-sustainability. Additionally, TriMet consumes more energy per passenger mile as measured in BTUs, and emits more pounds of CO2 per passenger mile as compared a fuel efficient car such as a Toyota Prius (source: Gridlock by Randall O’Toole). TriMet can in no way be described as being sustainable.

He's smirking at us.

TriMet really doesn’t have any bread and butter operations.

No form of public transit makes money. So the criteria for success have to be (a) how well the services benefit the public and (b) how they can minimize the inevitable losses. Tri-Met's buses outdo its crap trains on both counts, if you honestly take the enormous capital costs of rail into account.

The points made about government rackets, shakedowns, etc. made by Bill, Tim, Clackamas and others has played out so many times around here.

A few years back Mayor Sam, after taking the first $10 Million from SoWhat for Milwaukie Light Rail, explained to the neighborhood that he needed their support for his proposed $1/2 Billion dollar increased taxes for street improvements. He explicitly stated that he needed their support if they expected any return from him for SoWhat/South Portland Neighborhood issues.

This scenario plays out so often in all levels of our government. We should start standing up in these meetings and just ask these politicians and bureaucrats,
"Is this a shakedown, are you threatening us?"

I just read the update. I'm really beginning to appreciate the Oregonian's Joseph Rose. Looks like we've got a star reporter here.

It's fun watching partners in crime scramble over the loot.
Up until now Trimet and it's union played hand in hand in the rape of the public coffers with the sweet union labor contracts and the unions silence on issues such as "overwork" and the obscene capital projects the planner/manager class have pushed on the public.
But now the chickens have come home to roost.

Today, for the first time, I happened to find myself on the sole streetcar made locally with "Made in the USA" emblazoned on its side. Since it covers exactly the same ground that the NS line does through downtown, I could use it to get to 11th & Taylor. The smarmy recorded voice now crows at regular intervals, "This car was MAAAAADE in the USA!" I used to think the most annoying thing the voice said was, "Hold on while the streetcar is in motion!" or "This stop sponsored by Mirabella STYLISH senior living!" but I think I have changed my mind.

And wherever did you find that photo of Mr. McFarlane? Taken in the 1960s? As my grandfather would have said, "Judging by his recent pictures, he's larded up considerable since then."


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