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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tri-Met's in play in Salem

Some members of Oregon's brilliant state legislature are popping bills into the hopper to change drastically the setup of Portland's transit district, which is currently insolvent and digging itself a deeper hole with every dopey capital project its bloated staff conceives. Yesterday we read of a bill that would force the area's oddball Metro government to take over Tri-Met. Metro doesn't want it, of course, and one of its leading lights, Bob Stacey, says that critics of Tri-Met have got it all wrong:

"It's not a governance problem. It's a resources problem. I'm not looking for a big management shift over there, and I don't know that people who are calling for that are have a good understanding of the resource limitations that TriMet faces."

Translation: Tri-Met just needs more taxes. What a tool.

A more interesting proposal is this one, which would take away the governor's right to appoint the Tri-Met board. One look at the members of the board over the last two decades is all it takes to see that this is a good idea. They've all been political hacks, and they've proved it with their performance.

Unfortunately, the bill would merely shift the appointment power to the counties, Metro, and the City of Portland, which would merely guarantee more hacks, maybe worse hacks, on the transit board. Can you say "Streetcar Smith"? And it would expand the committee to 11 members, which is hardly needed.

The Tri-Met board needs to be elected directly by the people. And if direct election were implemented, the board members would need to receive a small salary, so that somebody with half a brain might actually run for the position.

In any event, it's good that the legislature is looking at changes for Tri-Met, because it is careening toward bankruptcy. When it emerges from that bankruptcy, something other than the Goldschmidt template will be needed to manage it.

Comments (18)

I just finished reading the article in today's paper. Most telling is that, when polled, only one out of nine TriMet board members admitted to using public transportation at all. That ought to be a PREREQUISITE for the position.

The lion rarely thinks that overconsumption of wildebeest is the problem, only that there are not enough wildebeest to be had.

And in this case, the hyenas concur.

Maybe Tri-Met just needs to go broke, declare bankruptcy, reorganize, and start over.
It kind of reminds me of the "too big to fail" argument, to which I say, "really?, then explain all this to me like I am six years old".

Stacey and Streetcar Smith are both car haters. Both would just a soon raid and pickpocket scarce, motorist paid highway dollars to fund to fund their transit folly. Having either one of them directing TriMet would be a horrendous disaster. For the floundering transit agency to even echo sustainability, the fare structure must be realigned to better reflect the costs of delivering the service. Transit riders themselves need to pay fair market value for the service service they receive.

I've been trying to look up the 1969 OR State legislative assembly members without success; to see who was pushing the formation of Tri-Met way back when.

Then came across this interim report that hasn't yet been scrubbed. Check out the crisis, created by the city, the rue that was used to take the transit system public. A fare increase of 5 cents, from 35 to 40 cents, to pay for a union (ATU), wage increase.


Perhaps better reading than the final, as it is similar to a draft, containing bits of interest that might not make it into the final report. Which happens to be MIA.


Nice piece of research. I confess to skimming much of the reports, but I was struck how little has changed in 44 years!
The mor things change the more things stay the same...
Deja vu, all over again!

Given what folks in the PDX metropolitan area (outside Clackistan) vote for, both in terms of taxes as well as candidates, I am truly frightened of direc election of riMet's board. You'd ge boh Streecar Smith and Stacey right away.

What we need is a bunch of folks like Eric H. on that board.

I like the idea of elected transit boards (don't forget TriMet mini-me in Eugene!) but I don't think making the board into a day job would be a wise move. Sure it might bring in more people at first, but soon enough they'll figure who is signing their paychecks and act accordingly.

For those who like the deja vu aspect of Oregon politics, Cascade Policy Institute posted their post-Measure 5 report from twenty years ago. Fake cuts, excessively generous pension benefits (mainly PERS, but Portland Police & Fire's scheme gets a shout out), high supervisor to employee ratio in state government, lack of rain day funds, illegal user fees... it's all there.


The cherry on the whole thing is the city of Portland. After much doom and gloom, city revenues actually exceeded projections. What did they do with that surplus? Spent an additional $400K on "the arts".

"Streetcar Smith" isn't that bad, really.
He understands the issues surrounding transit in Portland at least, something all the current board members do not.

Trimet has turned into a complete disaster.
Ridership on light rail has plummeted by 11% since they started terrorizing riders who can't buy fares because the ticket machines aren't working.

The cut service cut workers and then hand themselves raises with praise from this board?

The place is a disgrace.

Meanwhile that loser Kitzhaber does nothing.

I'll tell ya what should happen, a 20% across the board wage cut for ever single employee there, union and non union.

Take all that money and restore service

(are you really going to stop this blog?)

Contract the whole damn mess out to private operators or sell it.

I'm surprised Bob Stacey hasn't just come out and asked to shut down all those pesky awful polluting buses. That would "free up resources" for his light rail projects...

The only real legislation would be to allow TriMet to continue to collect taxes from any property within 2.5 miles of a CURRENT TriMet route, even if this route is discontinued...that way, Sherwood, King City, Tigard, Tualatin, Forest Grove, Cornelius, Troutdale - they would all be required to pay TriMet's taxes for a light rail system they can't effectively use.

when polled, only one out of nine TriMet board members admitted to using public transportation at all. That ought to be a PREREQUISITE for the position.

Don't we normally require our government leaders (Board Members, Mayors/Executives) to actually be a part of the community they govern?

Oh, wait, we threw that out the window when we elected a resident of Camas, Washington as the Mayor of the largest city in Oregon; and a resident of New York City, NY as one of our two Senators...

Maybe Tri-Met just needs to go broke, declare bankruptcy, reorganize, and start over.

That won't happen, at least not anytime soon.

TriMet COULD declare Chapter 9 to get rid of all the union issues...which they are using as a public ruse to describe their financial situation. A quick Chapter 9 filing would resolve that, very cleanly and effectively.

So why isn't TriMet declaring Chapter 9? Because they know - they know VERY well - declaring Chapter 9 is THE END of light rail projects. With a Chapter 9 filing, TriMet won't be able to sell bonds for a very long time...and TriMet needs to sell bonds to finance light rail. Plus, it would be a red flag to the feds that TriMet is unable to maintain their current service (which the feds have so far overlooked and let TriMet do as they please)...a Chapter 9 filing would be national news and would only have hundreds of journalists - nationwide - asking why the feds poured money into TriMet's much ballyhooed light rail system, only to defraud investors (the banks and other interests that buy the bonds)...it would be the next Solyndra (or whatever that solar company was called)...

Thus - TriMet is making a public cry that the unions MUST be the problem...because they refuse to accept the real problem. If the unions were the only problem, Chapter 9 would be a quick an effective way to deal with it. But we all know the unions are only a small - if any - part of the problem. And remember, all those union contracts were fully approved by management - the union has no unilateral power. The no-strike clause (state law) was requested by TriMet. TriMet was more than happy to placate the unions so the unions wouldn't oppose TriMet's empire building of light rail everywhere...now it's coming to bite TriMet in the ass real hard.

The next time TriMet goes to the press or states on their website or in a meeting how the unions are so bad...the very first question should be "Why not declare Chapter 9 and get rid of those contracts and obligations?" TriMet needs to come clean...SOMEONE needs to ask Neil McFarlane, point blank...this needs to be public. TriMet won't declare Chapter 9, because it will be the end of light rail...THAT is the real financial problem at TriMet. Unsustainable contruction projects...

They do indeed have a "resource" problem.

There is a huge lack of resources in practical thinking and citizen stewardship.

In the background materials for the upcoming adoption of the FY 14 budget, Neil MacFarlane makes a point of saying which factors are NOT part of the current financial crisis -- namely light rail construction and debt service on bonds. That means that light rail construction and debt service are DEFINITELY part of the problem.

TriMet management can't do anything about the union contract, because it's about 20 years too late, but they can do plenty about the insane rail construction program. They just won't because they are afraid to take on management. Therefore the legislature should prohibit TM from selling any more revenue bonds. That would be the end of the rail game.

The legislature should also begin shrinking the district by mandating that most cities run their own systems, so that TM ends up serving just Hillsboro, Beaverton, Portland and Gresham. The "bigger is better" experiment hasn't worked.

An "elected" Board is exactly what ATU 757 wants. It is NOT the solution.

The solution starts with declaring Tri-Met bankrupt and transferring the assets/mission to a private non-profit org. The General Manager would be fired. All current building contracts and labor contracts would be cancelled. A forensic audit would be conducted and a grand jury convened if appropriate. The new NPO would do its best to push the restart button.

There's also a bill to allow counties and other jurisdictions to opt out of TriMet service. This would speed TriMet's demise much more quickly, as local governments and its people might want to flee from the billions (and growing with the help of the Bob Staceys of this world) in TriMet obligations.

The solution starts with declaring Tri-Met bankrupt and transferring the assets/mission to a private non-profit org. The General Manager would be fired.

First of all, there's the pesky issue of transferring taxpayer owned assets to a "non-profit organization" that has ZERO accountability to the public...exactly who is this non-profit organization? Who is in charge of it? What oversight is there? Who is to say that TriMet's management doesn't form the non-profit organization...or for that matter, the Latter Day Saints, who then uses the buses as LDS temples on wheels?

Secondly, this non-profit organization will have virtually no revenue source. Eliminate the taxes that pay for this public service, and they are left with farebox revenues and advertising revenues...that won't be enough to pay the diesel fuel bill. Forget drivers, or vehicle maintenance. And those 200 buses that despirately need replacement? Are we going to have a Tiajuana style public transit system? (Where private operators buy worn out U.S. school buses and make up their own routes)

Third - volunteer (unpaid) bus drivers might work for the King City senior citizen shuttle, were they drive 15 passenger buses (that do not require a CDL) and where many of the societal ills are non-existant. How many volunteer drivers do you expect to come in to work EVERY DAY, at 4:00 AM in the morning in order for people to get to work on time? Or driving the 4 line late at night with the gangs and the drunks and the kids whose only two words in their vocabulary are four-letter works starting with "F" and "S"?

I dislike paying taxes like the next person but acknowledge that we live in a civilized society where government does have a role to provide certain services; public transit is one of those services that we want to have. There are many communities that have no such service. On the other hand, I know of towns in the deep rep bastion of Montana that have very good public transit systems - even places there the percentage of Democrat affiliated voters are somewhere in the single digits acknowledge the need for a public transit system. The issue with TriMet is not its mere existance, but rather its bloated head-in-the-clouds management that has made repeated bad financial choices, transforming the public transit agency into a construction company, a I.T. company, and a marketing company - while cutting back on its core mission to provide transit.

As for the unions - it took TWO to enter into that contract. Management is 50% of the signatures on that contract.

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