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Monday, February 16, 2009

The untouchables

While Portland buzzes about impending Tri-Met service cuts to this part of town and that, a reader writes in to remind us that a good number of the transit agency's routing decisions have to do with extending its tentacles around local businesses to exact its dreaded payroll and self-employment taxes, which just increased to a record-high 0.6718 percent of wages or self-employment income. When the payroll tax was first enacted, it applied to any employer in the tri-county area -- Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington -- but many businesses complained that they got no benefit out of their tax dollars. It was pointed out that the summit of Mount Hood was in the Tri-Met taxing district, and there was no bus up there.

The state changed the rules so that nowadays, the Tri-Met territory includes only two components: (1) all territory located within the boundaries of the Metropolitan Service District, and (2) any territory located within 2½ miles of a bus or train route. If you look at the Tri-Met service map and compare it to the Metro district map, you see a few bus routes that run waaaaaay out into the boonies, even beyond where Metro has jurisdiction. Check out that beauty in the southeast running all the way down to Estacada, for example -- I believe it's the 31. On either side of that bus line -- including on the other side of the Clackamas River -- Tri-Met gets payroll and self-employment taxes for 2½ miles.

And so when it comes time to cancel bus lines, you know for darn sure a few lines that they won't be cutting, no matter how wimpy the ridership. As our reader tells it:

Attached is part of the bus schedule for the Number 84 bus that comes within two blocks of my home. If I were to use this bus to catch MAX to go downtown everyday, I would have to catch it at 5:37am and return at either 3:15pm or 6:20pm. There is no service on the weekend.

I would like to say, I have never seen anyone ride this bus, but the truth is, I have never even seen the bus in my area. If any route should be cut, this one stands out to me.

I think the only reason Tri-Met keeps this line is to extend the Tri-Met boundary to catch some additional payroll tax for the businesses in my area. Since I work out of my home, I am within the range of the boundary and have to pay the self-employment tax to Tri-Met. Actually, I would still have to pay the tax even it this particular line were to go away, since the Number 80 bus has a stop about a mile away....

I should let you know that I am a frequent MAX rider. I usually drive to the Gresham park-and-ride stop where a gentlemen about my age was severely beaten last summer. For the most part, I have not had many problems on MAX except for the all too common rude language and the music you can almost hear (but not quite) from the iPods.

Comments (12)

I wonder whatever happened to Trimet building a fence at the Gresham Transit center, that would make people pay before they got on Max ???? The Gresham mayor was all over this project.

They can't put in a secure fare collection system. If they did, they'd have to quit fudging the ridership numbers.

Gawd forbid 3met would actually have run their organization on "real" numbers....

I like Trimet. I wish the downturn would make them have to innovate like all other businesses have to during economic down turns.

I can't believe they would even consider ending bus service on NE Fremont. I ride the 33 between 10 and 15 times a week, and if they yank this, I will be returning to driving.

What a perfect demonstration of how TriMet has become a scourge of a goverment agency.
That operation is disingenuous and many of the Synonyms.
and deceitful

I'll bet they won't adjust their territory regardless of how service is cut.

Yet another example of the power of a monopoly. Open up and let free enterprise reign Mr Hansen!

They desperately need new management.

And to think that jitneys are prohibited here.


A dollar van (also known as commuter van or jitney) is a privately owned transportation vehicle used to carry passengers. Dollar vans typically operate in neighborhoods within a city, such as New York, that are under-served by public mass transit or taxis. Passengers may board them at designated stops along their route or hail them as share taxis The vehicles used range from 15-seat Ford Econolines to 29-seat minibuses.
During periods when even limited public mass transit is unavailable, such as the January 2005 Green Bus Lines and Command Bus Company strike or the December 2005 New York City transit strike, dollar vans may become the only feasible method of transportation for many commuters.


The TriMet monopoly can now be challenged. SB 535 was just printed af few days ago in the state legislature, introduced by the Senate Committee on Business and Transportation. If enacted, it would deregulate the local taxi cartel and the TriMet transit monopoly by allowing open entry by other for-profit businesses. Anyone interested should keep an eye on the hearings schedule of the Senate committee.

Very interesting indeed!

Competition would force Tri-Met to shape up in order to compete but unfortunately it already has a huge advantage over any challenger with its existing infrastructure and deals with the city re. taxes, etc.

All challengers can hope to do is serve areas abandoned by Tri-Met service or work on a contract basis for neighborhoods, collective commuters or businesses. Whatever they do, they should also be able to apply for assistance as Tri-Met does at least for their first two years when it will be known if they can sink or swim.

I think that the City should sub-contract the Streetcar to someone who can run it effectively and solve the empty farebox problem. Tri-Met obviously can't do the job. I always feel like a chump when I pay to ride the streetcar. Almost every time I am the only person who goes anywhere near the fare box. Sure, a couple of the riders might have passes but I'd bet that most of them do not. They're riding for free and laughing up their sleeves at anybody who actually pays. I watched them bolt out the doors like roaches on the one occasion when the very obvious fare inspector with a clipboard boarded.

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