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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Tram operating cost: $1.7 million a year

At long last, someone is reporting what it's supposed to cost to operate the Pill Hill Aerial Rapid Transit system. Not to build it -- to operate it. It's now estimated (way down in the story) at $1.7 million a year.

That's a budget, not an actual number, of course. The thing hasn't even been opened to the public yet.

And I know you're not going to believe this, readers, but that $1.7 million is actually up from the original estimate of $915,000. An 86 percent increase!

Meanwhile, water pipes are busting at OHSU Hospital and the city's cutting 18 positions from its transportation department. Mmmmm... floatin' Twinkies.

Comments (40)

I would like to know which building was affected by the broken water pipe. I work in "Multnomah Pavilion", which is the old County hospital. OHSU told the Planning Commission it had a 0-5 year life expectancy, in 2001. I don't know of any plans to move inpatient psychiatry elsewhere.... certainly not into the spiffy new building connected to the shiny new tram.

The article references the increased construction costs--from $28M to $57M. I haven't been following this as closely as others, but I seem to remember a $15M figure as the original estimate. What happened to that?

These fares seem designed to discourage riders other than OHSU workers.

It's like OHSU itself -- "public" when it's convenient for them, otherwise private.

I seem to remember a $15M figure as the original estimate. What happened to that?

Mike, Mike, Mike. That lie was replaced by a new one, years ago now.

The original cocktail napkin design cost was nine million. Nobody remembers that.

My friend Bob Butler wrote a letter to Blackmer asking him to audit the tram project back in December 2002. Blackmer's response: we are too busy.

Few citizens a hundred years from now will remember the cost to build and operate the tram. Yet, they will have a lower standard of living caused by the totality of all the poorly planned, worse monitored, and vastly over-budget inept government programs that came before them. We demand too little from our public officials and they demand even less from themselves.


Yes, indeedy... Yet another evidence of bait and switch, or outright fraud, as it should be called.

During the OHSU employee "informational meeting" held last year, I made a point of asking how much the annual operating costs were expected to be. They hemmed and hawed before coming down with a "in the neighborhood of $500,000 a year."

Hey, they did better with that than they did with the capital costs. I remember the $8.5 million estimated cost. From $8.5 mil to $57 mil (and we're not yet done) is a factor of 6.7 (almost 7 times the initial estimated cost). The estimated operating costs have only increased by half that amount (3.5 times) to the current estimate of $1.7 mil.

Geez... In other news, OHSU sold the OGI campus for $44+ million, so it seems they'll have some revenue to throw at that $57 mil white elephant that sucks up $2 million a year. Ten acres of prime industrial park land in Washington county, along with some obvious budget savings through deferred maintenance of hospital facilities, for the world's most elitist "public transportation".

Such a deal.

And Amanda? They don't want those patients of yours down at the Center of Health and Healing because they pose one of Public Safety's biggest tram nightmares. Of course, we could also postulate that they really don't want to even have a hand in healing your patients, being as very, very few of them have the resources to pay for their care.

Now, if you were in breast augmentation or wrinkle removal, you might have gotten one of the decent new clinics in SoWhat.

When others ask me about the tram, I try to make point out that it will inevitably raise the cost of health care at OHSU. Scrambling to cover an unexpected cost like the tram's $57 million means reducing your expenditures (tightening one's belt) and increasing your charges. Net result: worse health care for more money. All so the service personnel can ride "above it all".

Is it any wonder we all suffer from upwardly spiralling health insurance costs. Now, on top of the Mercedes and BMW payments, insurance purchasers will have to pay for the tram, too.


I would like to know which building was affected by the broken water pipe.

Golly, Amanda, since you work there, why don't you ask?

See also the op/ed piece from Homestead Neighborhood's Land Use chairman.

Oh, no! You mean OHSU has lied again?

How is it that that keeps happening, without any corrective measures being taken? Like terminating those who made the empty promises?

Dave Lister, I don't mean to quibble but the original tram estimate when PDOT/OHSU was making cost comparisons to other modes was $8.5M. But what's .5M to CoP? Well, it would fix 20 miles of holes in our streets like in front of my home.

What is also interesting about those early comparisons of operating costs for different modes of moving people from OHSU to SoWhat, is that yearly operating costs were less than $500T. This false figure helped Matt Brown of PDOT (now with Homer Williams) dupe Council and the media that the tram mode was little more than shuttle buses-one can forget about the hard cost differences. But wait, as smart as the Council and staff is, do you think they were duped?

Also recognize that the "projected operating costs" of $1.7M annually does not include the long-term maintenance/replacement cost for the tram.

The "dribbling" of information on projects in Portland seems to be the method of PDOT, Planning, Council, PDC, etc. to get things built. They assume that in 100 years we'll forget what it initially costs-and to heck with maintenance/replacement costs-who thinks of them or plans for them.

For those who don't actually remember, the architect of the tram herself said at the very beginning that $15 million was a "political" figure.

No one paid attention to her.

Oh, FYI, the interview in which Graham said that $15M was "political" and that she wouldn't take that number to Las Vegas?

It was conducted by Randy Gragg.

Who then used it as a way of somehow exonerating her, as I recall. What a joke -- the project, and the both of them.

I don't quite see how it can be put on her. She stated at least as early as November 2003 that the figure the politicians were using was bunk. The only other thing she said, from the standpoint of her work, was that if the powers that be tried to get it done for anything like the "political" figure, she'd walk away. That's a fair thing for a professional designer and architect to say if they want to work only at a particular level, and she could simply have kept her mouth shut about the $15M figure being unrealistic. She didn't, she called it what it was. It wasn't her job to say to the city, if it decided to spend more than that, "No, that wouldn't be right." Her job is to take the job if she wants it.

Isn't OHSU on the hook for the percentage of the operating costs of the riders with OHSU badges? (I.e., if 75% of the riders are OHSU employees, OHSU pays 75% of the annual operating cost.)

So the city only pays the operating cost when a fare-payer rides it - thus the $4 charge.

Would people prefer that a tram ride cost less, thus creating a bigger operating budget hole for the city? Or would people prefer that a tram ride cost more?

I know that the real answer is that you prefer it would not have been built. But that decision has already been made.

How about running a candidate for office who runs on the platform of OHSU paying 100% of the operating cost and allowing the public to ride for free? Surely you'd have a groundswell of public support.

b!X, you are right. Hers was one of the more truthful statements. But it's a long way from "$15 million seems low" to $60 million. And Gragg used her statement to say, "Everybody knew; nobody lied," which isn't true.

Government officials pitching infrastructure pork routinely lie about costs. With the Fire Station, they couldn't do it with a straight face.

In my former life as a temp, I worked a few gigs at OHSU, the last one being this summer. I temped for 8 years off and on, and have worked for every kind of organization in a wide variety of environments. I’ve seen it all. OHSU has some really talented people in its workforce. That being said, I don’t think any Portland business would be around for long if it was run like the administrative department of OHSU. There are a lot of people who have admin type jobs that don’t have much to do. I can think of at least 10 people that I worked with whose jobs could be completely eliminated and no one would ever notice because they did not do anything other than look busy when it counts. Office paper is under lock and key because employees can’t be trusted not to steal it. These are the same employees who have access to patient’s medical records. This problem is no secret, but it is very hard to fire someone up on Pill Hill because the admin staff (secretary types) are union. The purpose of my last gig was to do the work of two part time admin workers because they spent all day surfing the internet and making personal calls and knew they could get away with it and not be disciplined. Everybody knew that was why I was there. Many workers have a look of apathy on their faces that I’ve only seen when working at the cannery during summers off from college. I don’t think a Tram is going to fix that.

Pop quiz, people:

$1,700,000 divided by XX number of riders in 2007 = $$ per rider.

Does anybody know the XX number? (ie projected ridership). It's somewhere between 1 and a zillion.

Once calculated, the $$$ per rider'll surely be more than a Sally Struthers $1.70 meal ticket.

Yo, Gretchen...

Boy, do I know what you're talking about. I work there. If you think it's bad at the administrative support level, you should consider the staff above them. They have people pulling down five to six times (or more) the income of the admin support staff wages and they probably do even less.

It's been postulated that this is a function of those who are the administrators have little to no training in management or administration. There's a prevailing attitude that hospitals and medical schools should be headed up by medical personnel...doctors. (Kohler was an endocrinologist.) These doctors are all too often piss-poor managers. Consequently, every time a medical type is placed in a position of responsibility, they hire a professional manager to handle the administrative and personnel details. Then, when those adminstrators decide that they don't like dealing with the hoi polloi grunt employees, they then hire yet other, lower level, managers. The result is endemic empire building.

Then, the current administration is engaged in all sorts of hypocritical propaganda meaures with their employees. The latest "Nine Principles of Integrity", with it's admonitions to "act honestly, speak truthfully, be trustworthy", "treat everyone with respect, regardless of their role", and "do the right thing, even if no one is watching" are all admireable traits, but when the representatives of the institution publicly violate these very admonitions on behalf of the institution (the damn tram, liability avoidance, billing anomalies which brought down the hammer of the Feds, not to mention the countless CYA actions), the hypocrisy is glaringly evident and the respect of the employees concomitantly low to non-existant.

All this, combined with OHSU's "poor sister" routine every time they go into labor negotiations, which flies in the face of it's obvious commitment to an "Edifice Complex", has led OHSU administrators to lie to their own employees. This ongoing show by upper management has set the tone for the employees of OHSU, and I'm not surprised that many of the disenchanted and demoralized employees could care much at all. They're just following the role expectations set by their supervisors.


"$1,700,000 divided by XX number of riders in 2007 = $$ per rider."

Do it this way: $1,700,000 divided by $4 = 425,000 paying riders to cover the currently estimated costs. Heck, that's only 1400 or so (twice that many one way trips, of course) a day. Once the downhill ski run is built, it won't be a problem.

I seem to recall Steve Stadum saying in the early, early days that they do "these things" in Europe for $3-5 million.

Let's pull out the Connector Study and see what the first pen-to-paper projections were ...

Don't forget, our vital underpants slash world class tourist attraction will be closed on Sundays and holiday.

Tram Adams must not talk too much to POVA.

Evidently, it's been inoperable quite often in the past two weeks. It turns out that 40 mph gusts aren't all that rare.

Yes, they shut down for high winds. And I thought they just scoffed at that stuff. So much for all-weather reliability.

It appears they don't have any exterior lighting (or they're running dark). Wouldn't some purple neon have made it more of a tourist draw?

No Heating.

No Air Conditioning.

No windshield wipers.

No entertainment system.

Limited seating.

No rescue trolley/roof rescue option.

It's a good thing they didn't buy the base model.

B!x, another point about Sarah Graham and the architectural competition was that all the competing firms were told the budget was $15M, up from the intial $8.5M that competitors stated was too low. But what is shameful about the competition is that all the competitors were judged on meeting the $15M figure and their designs were based on that number. It is unfair that projects are evaluated on the cost basis as well as supposedly good design, then the project that exceeds the budget is awarded the contract.

Graham stated very early after the design competition evaluators indicated that the Graham design was their first choice, that the budget could not be met. The design committee should have then awarded the design contract to a design firm that could meet the budget, or start over.

Got logic; the projected ridership by PDOT/Matt Brown and OHSU was 1800 trips for 18 hrs of operation, seven days a week.

Morgan, the projected use of the tram agreed to by OHSU and PDOT over a year ago has been 85% OHSU, 15% public. That is the figure used in the operating agreement until an audit is performed after a year of use.

My question is why aren't all users (OHSU and public) charged the same amount of $1.85 per trip and connected to Tri-Met. The public has invested much more than the projected 15% public use if all true costs are added up-so why should the public pay more than OSHU users?

What the public also doesn't realize is that PDC allowed OHSU to form a Local Improvement District for their portion of the tram costs which allows OHSU to borrow funds (bonds) at a very low discounted rate on the taxpayers credit that benefits them by over an additional $5M. Nigel Jacquis mentioned this in one of his article on the tram.

Adding this to the $8.5M taxpayers gave directly to the tram; the LID of the property owners in SoWhat; plus federal funds sneaked to the tram; plus all the "gimmies" of Amendment 8(taxpayer dollars) given to OHSU; plus the design competition costs; plus PDOT, PDC, city staff time/costs; the taxpayers costs easily approaches $23M. But remember you should pay $4 to ride it. A deal.

Anton Vetterlein's commentary in today's O is correct. The tram was sold as "public transportation" and just the fare issue is another long line of "bait and switch" for the tram. Gotcha.

Did I hear someone say... "RECALL" or was it my imagination. Honestly, are there any elected officials in CoP who can be trusted when their lips move?

Fact: CoP leadership lied to us about the projected cost of construction and continue to lie about those costs. Within a year we will have reputable and accepted sources who will present evidence for a TRUE COST between $62 to $65 million.

Fact: CoP leadership lied to us about the projected cost of operation. I'm certain that base costs were available from many of the other users of gondolas, manufactured by Dopplemayr (www.doppelmayr.com), located around the world.

Did I hear someone say... "CHARACTER COUNTS"? Probably not, but we better keep the pressure up on the CoP leadership as they look at so many other ways of misusing public funds.

How about asking them to go visit a Sister City for a month or so, then we can all take a break.

What, no drop down oxygen masks in case of loss of cabin pressure?

1800 trips/day at 7 days a week (source: Matt Brown, OHSU; see post by Jerry) is 54,000 passengers a month.

Compare this to actual Nov 2006 Port of Portland arrival/departure stats:


Apparantly, the tram will carry more in a month (54,000) than the following airlines did in/out of PDX in Nov 2006:

America West Airlines 49,691
American Airlines 50,421
ASA - Atlantic Southeast Airlines 2,348
Big Sky Airlines 697
Continental Airlines 39,835
Frontier Airlines 22,720
Hawaiian Airlines 27,900
JetBlue 6,939
Lufthansa 9,160
Mesa Airlines 3,969
Mexicana Airlines 4,649
MN Airlines 163
SkyWest Airlines 38,590

It's going to be hard for them to doctor up the ridership stats on the tram [rim shot], just as the fond hope that the tram will "just fade into the background now" will never come true. The stupid Kohler Coaster is simply much too visible.

making cost comparisons to other modes

What I find hysterically funny --OK, maybe I'm easily amused-- is that all this talk of tram versus shuttle buses...there will still be shuttle buses! Only now they're taking people from the Schnitzer Parking Lot to the tram!

Yes folks, South Waterfront now has massive surface parking lots under construction for OHSU, and since there's no streetcar stop for them, and no sidewalks to safely walk to the tram...OHSU will be using shuttle buses to get people to the tram.

We're talking THOUSANDS of parking spaces --well over the limit in the "plan"-- to create the World's Most Expensive Park-N-Ride!

Now it won't run on Sunday. So much for "public transportation." So much for "tourist attraction." You know it's bad when even the O editorial board says, as it does today: "Many disappointments have been associated with the tram."

But in their view, it was a real "profile in courage" to go along with the stupidity-cum-swindle and vote public money for it. Only in "the City That Hallucinates."

Got Logic,

From the "O"'s Editorial

"The operating assumptions envisioned a seamless system and that's important to maximize ridership. The easier the system is to navigate, the more likely people will get into the habit of riding -- and the more sense the tram makes. Since the tram opened in December to OHSU employees, it's already exceeded initial ridership projections, carrying 1,600 people each weekday. But there's plenty of room for more; it was designed with a capacity of 16,000."

So the math is assuming it does not run on Sunday's or Holidays and not taking into account depreciation and bond finance costs which would probably double or triple it. The simple math turns out for $1.7 million a year operating costs.

$3.51/rider at 1600 people per weekday

and $.35 cents/rider at 16000 per weekday

I don't know where the $4 logic came from.

You know, I thought the original reasoning for the tram was to connect different OHSU services/depts/etc. I thought I remembered a city official explicitly stating that it wasn't intended to be used as a Park and Ride commuter system. Anyone else remembering that as well or am I off base?

You don't think they would have lied to get that thing built, do you?

So, Swimmer, how long would it take to retire the capital debt at $.49 a rider?

The higher cost per ride must also take into consideration capital debt retirement, don't you think?

Larry K: you are right, PDOT, OHSU, PDC and City Council did say that SoWhat would not be used as a park and ride. Who would take prime riverfront property and use it as a parking lot? Besides it is in violation of the state and Portland's Greenway Zoning statutes.

Also, many times at all kinds of various meetings beginning back in 2001, citizens made comments that if you have a "fixed system" like the tram, you have a dispersal problem at each end. SoWhat is over a mile long by 1/2 mile across while OHSU and the VA has walking times of over 20 minutes to reach the far-flung facilities. So using the tram for many does not cut down of "travel time" if you take into account the "dispersal time" at each end. Of course, what did the citizens know, the decision had already been made by Neil and Vera-the tram.

The shuttle bus system would allow for the dispersal of users at each end, plus it would have allowed for additional users to use the buses along the way; like picking up tri-met bus riders using Barbur or Macadam, whereby OHSU employees and even neighborhood citizens could have connected to OHSU or SoWhat. That would be too simple.

Jerry - I suspect that all those agencies and institutions could continue to repeat that "SoWhat will not be used as a park and ride" because the Schnitzer donation (now being called the "Schnitzer Campus" at OHSU)is not considered part of the South Waterfront development.

It's my understanding that the CHH (Center for Health and Healing, OHSU's SoWhat facility) is located at the north end of the South Waterfront improvement district. The parking area from which people are being shuttled is between the Ross Island and Marquam bridges (I assume, I haven't seen this yet), which is NOT part of the SoWhat development.

You know, of course, that this means future build-out of OHSU facilities (including lots of parking) in to that area - at who knows what cost to the public.

Then, that whole area is a brownfield. Yes, it's toxic. I wonder that the state (which has ultimate control of OHSU) has allowed one of its agencies to expose their employees to such intensities of potential carcinogens. Maybe they're working on building future business?

Also, I've been informed that the shuttles being used for shuttling riders from the Schnitzer parking area to the lower tram *rimshot* station will be terminated on Friday, January 26, the day before the general public is allowed on. I guess they don't feel comfortable exposing the general public to the carcinogens in the Schnitzer parking area.

Oh... I got the notice today from OHSU admins. The water main leak affected the bottom five floors of OHSU Hospital.

Larry K: I thought I remembered a city official explicitly stating that it wasn't intended to be used as a Park and Ride commuter system.

Oregonian, January 12, 2006:
Art Pearce, assistant project manager for the Portland Office of Transportation, says the temporary parking eventually will be absorbed by new OHSU buildings. "There is no intention of creating a park and ride for the tram," he says.


Jerry:B!x, another point about Sarah Graham and the architectural competition was that all the competing firms were told the budget was $15M, up from the intial $8.5M that competitors stated was too low.
JK:Betcha didn’t know that there was an earlier estimate of $3-5 million (Oregonian, June 15, 1998) followed by this “Gordon Davis, a consultant to the university working with engineers on a preliminary study, said estimates show $9 million for design and construction (Oregonian, March 1, 2001)

See DebunkingPortland.com


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