November 30, 2010
BTA's 2011 legislative agenda reviewed, plus 2 small bike businesses staying alive in the recession.
11AM-Noon, Wednesday, December 1st
KBOO FM 90.7
Streamed live at KBOO.fm
Podcast here later that day
November 29, 2010
Tuesday's edition of Think Out Loud, a public-affairs program produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting, will be all about TriMet and the recent debate concerning its budget and its choices regarding bus and rail service. The panel will feature the following guests (list cribbed from OPB website)
- Neil McFarlane: TriMet General Manager
- Michael Anderson: Editor of Portland Afoot
- Carlotta Collette: Interim Metro President, District 2 councilor and lead councilor on the High Capacity Transit System Plan
- Jon Ostar: Environmental law attorney and co-director of OPAL
- Andy Vobora: Director of service planning, accessibility and marketing for the Lane Transit District
The show will be broadcast Tuesday, November 30 from 9-10 on KOPB 91.5 FM, and rebroadcast at 9 that evening; after broadcast the show will be made available online at OPB's archives.
Metro, along with the cities of Portland and Lake Oswego, Multnomah and Clackamas counties, TriMet and ODOT, have studied transit alternatives to connect Lake Oswego with downtown Portland. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) examines potential impacts and benefits associated with an enhanced bus alternative, streetcar alternative and a no-build alternative where existing transit service is maintained. This document will be released for public review in December.
You are invited to review the DEIS and help decision-makers as they weigh trade-offs to meet future travel demand while protecting neighborhood characteristics in the corridor. Visit an open house or attend the public hearing to learn more and share your thoughts. Comments will be accepted for 60 days after the DEIS is published (between December 3, 2010 and January 31, 2011).Open house 4-7 p.m.
Thursday Dec. 9th
PBS Conference Center
4343 Corbett Ave., Portland
Open house 4-7 p.m.
Thursday Dec. 16
Lakewood Center for the Arts
368 S. State Street, Lake Oswego
Visit www.oregonmetro.gov/lakeoswego to learn more, comment online, find the
public hearing date or final day of the public comment period, or to see other ways to
Email email@example.com for reminders of these events and other project updates.
November 24, 2010
The appliance will be beaming bus and MAX arrivals for several blocks surrounding the building into the lobby (you can see below what it sees). Hopefully this is the second of many to come...
By the way, Best Buy has dropped the price of the Infocast unit to $129.99 for the holidays. Something else to be thankful for!
I ran across an interesting pair of blog posts last week on the "Reinventing Parking" blog.
One asks whether government could tone down the idea of "parking minimums" (parking that is required to be built as part of a new development) by requiring instead that developers simply identify features of their project that could be converted to parking if the demand requires it. The requirement would be shifted from a "parking minimum" to "potential parking".
The second idea is the converse of this, which is that when building new parking, there should be an identified plan for how it could be turned into something else.
Portland is pretty aggressive about having low parking minimums (zero if you're close to transit) but even here as we think about how we allocate space while planning for a future forseen by our Climate Action Plan where there will be a lot less driving, I wonder if these wouldn't be interesting tools to bake into the Portland Plan.
November 23, 2010
This has already been noted on the open thread, but here's the official notice:
DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT AND PRELIMINARY SECTION 4(F) ASSESSMENT AVAILABLE; COMMENT DEC. 3, 2010 TO JAN. 31, 2011
What kind of transit might connect the downtown of Lake Oswego and Portland in the future? Find out the alternatives and offer your comments.
Metro, along with the cities of Portland and Lake Oswego, Multnomah and Clackamas counties, TriMet and ODOT, have studied transit alternatives to connect Lake Oswego with downtown Portland. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), including the preliminary Section 4(f) assessment with preliminary findings of de minimis impacts to public parks, examines potential impacts and benefits associated with enhanced bus, streetcar and a no-build alternative, where existing transit service is maintained. The DEIS provides information the future effects that each alternative would have on communities, traffic, travel options and the natural environment.
The DEIS is now posted on the project website, www.oregonmetro.gov/lakeoswego, and contains the same information as a CD version or hard copy of the DEIS. With this email, you have received access to the DEIS and can begin your review. Comments will be received beginning Dec. 3, 2010 through Jan. 31, 2011. The Federal Transit Administration, Metro and TriMet have issued the DEIS under the National Environmental Policy Act for the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit Project. Cooperating agencies are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration.
You are invited to review the DEIS and help decision-makers as they weigh trade-offs to meet future travel demand while protecting neighborhood characteristics in the corridor.
• Open house, 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday Dec. 9 | PBS Conference Center, 4343 Corbett Ave., Portland
• Open house, 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday Dec. 16 |Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State St., Lake Oswego
• Public hearing, 5 to 8 p.m. Monday Jan. 24 | Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State St., Lake Oswego
Comments will be accepted during the 60-day comment period, Dec. 3, 2010 to Jan. 31, 2011.
• Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Submit online at www.oregonmetro.gov/lakeoswego, available Dec. 3.
• Mail to Lake Oswego to Portland Transit Project, 600 NE Grand Ave., Portland, OR 97232.
• Fill out a comment card at an open house.
• Testify at the public hearing.
November 22, 2010
They'll even take your pictures or video on their 'iReporter' site.
Could Portland Transport be the catalyst for organizing an ecosystem around Transit Appliances?
I don't know, but we're going to give it a try. We're launching TransitAppliance.org as a site for coordinating an open source ecosystem for the development of browser-based transit information displays.
All you software developers, information architects and web designers, please come join the party! The rest of you are welcome to watch our progress and consume the fruits of our labors...
November 20, 2010
There has been much public discussion of the various cuts to benefits that TriMet is asking its operators' union, (Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757) to make--and to what extent TriMet's management and non-union staff has been asked to sacrifice as well. A email, from one Josh Collins, a TriMet communications manager, has been forwarded to portlandtransport.com, and contains a list of concessions made over the past decade or so by TriMet's non-union workforce. All of the items on this list, including editorial comments, are taken verbatim from the email.
- In FY2003 management health benefits changed. Employees enrolled in the PPO medical/dental plans pay an annual deductible co-insurance for most services with higher co-insurance for prescription drugs and premium cost sharing to cover dependents. This reduced costs and cost growth. Between 2003-2010, management health benefit costs per employee have increased at an annual rate of 5.8 percent, while per employee unionhealth benefits costs have increased 11.6 percent per year. In FY11 the management increase in the monthly contribution to health care premium basically doubled. Management now pays six percent of premium costs and single employees, who used to pay nothing, now pay six percent.
- In FY2003 the management defined benefit pension plan closed to new employees. New employees participate in a defined contribution plan and TriMet contributes eight percent of the employee's salary to the plan. This limits TriMet's pension obligation to eight percent of salary, which is more comparable to private sector retirement benefits.
- In FY2009 new non-union employees with 10 years of service are eligible for retiree health benefits but must pay the full cost. More comparable to private sector.
- In FY10 and FY11, management received no wage increases.
- FY11 increase in management monthly contribution to health care premium.
- Between FY01-FY11 management staff was reduced by 10%.
- TriMet implemented a hiring freeze, we have laid off non-union employees and reduced the hours of others.
- TriMet discontinued tuition reimbursement for all employees for FY10 and FY11
Many of these items are already public knowledge (recent changes to benefit plans for all classes of employee are described in the annual report, for instance). Others are non-material items which I haven't seen publicly documented elsewhere. Some of the items on the list are limited in scope to "management" (whether that includes only senior managers, or anyone who has direct reports; I do not know). Others refer to "employees" generally (or "non-union employees"), classes which may or may not include management.
And some of the indicated cuts do apply to TriMet's union workforce--while the agency hasn't laid off any union employees yet, it has cut hours. After all, service hours have been reduced--if you reduce service hours (and thus payroll hours) without reducing headcount, the only way to do that is by having your employees work less. My assumption is that overtime hours are being cut, and that full-time employees are not being asked to work less than full-time hours. This seems to be the preference of the union, which sees excessive overtime as dangerous (and understandably so), and probably would prefer to avoid layoffs. An interesting question: Would it be more cost-effective for TriMet to lay off employees instead of cutting overtime--given that escalating healthcare costs (which TriMet must pay on a per-employee rather than per-hour basis) almost certainly exceed the cost of overtime wages? Given the safety concerns of overtime, and the human cost of firing people, I'm actually glad the agency hasn't done this; though I'm sure it's crossed the mind of people both at TriMet and at the union.
In several key areas, however, TriMet's union employees do get a "better deal" than its non-union employees are currently getting--particularly in the area of healthcare and pension benefits. New non-union employees are on a defined-contribution plan (similar to a 401(k), I suppose), an arrangement where the employee assumes much more financial risk; whereas union members continue with defined-benefit plans (where TriMet assumes the risk). And as has been noted, union employees currently do not contribute to healthcare benefits, whereas the non-union employees must do so.
The interesting question, of course, is what is fair--and what is not.
ATU 757 members (both regulars on this blog, and anyone else who cares to comment) are encouraged to respond to this posting; and/or to refer to commentary on this issue posted elsewhere. (Though as always, keep it civil--this applies to everybody). We are also inviting representatives of the union (an email will be sent to union representatives), should they wish, to submit material for rebuttal--either as a guest column, or as material we can incorporate into a follow-up article. We realize this article contains mainly "management" talking points, and are more than willing give ATU757 equal time in this important debate.
[edited for grammar]
November 18, 2010
I greeted "Transit Score" with some interest, and am using it as the basis for our Transit Equity project.
But another recently released tool called Mapnificent gives a more visual way to look at how good transit service is for a given location, it shows a map of how far you can get under an adjustable set of conditions.
Jarrett has a great rundown over on Human Transit.
November 17, 2010
A press event coming up from our friends at the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition:
Getting Around on Foot:
New Report on Pedestrian Safety Needs and Call to Action for Better Walking Conditions Regionally
The Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) will soon release its Getting Around on Foot Action Plan, a study and report which identifies pedestrian needs and priorities for making walking conditions safer and more convenient throughout the Portland metropolitan region. Getting Around on Foot Action Plan draws on survey responses from residents and neighborhoods region-wide, interviews with regional planners, reviews of cities and counties' current transportation plans, and case studies of eight different local walking environments. The Action Plan includes twelve Key Findings of needs and describes ten Actions that the WPC calls on local decision-makers and planners to take in order to improve walking conditions for everyone.
The sheer number of serious collisions between people driving and walking demonstrates that our traffic system and culture need to profoundly change. Our region continues to grapple with broad-spectrum road safety issues. We need to invest in developing a network of streets that allow people to walk where they want to go safely and conveniently.
- Jonathan Nicholas, Chair, Metro Executive Council for Active Transportation
- Neil McFarlane, General Manager, TriMet
- Andrew Singelakis, Director, Washington County Land Use and Transportation
Thursday, 18 November 2010
SW Watson and SW Broadway, Beaverton, Pocket park
November 16, 2010
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Fall 2010 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Jason Ideker, Assistant Professor and Kearney Faculty Scholar, School of Civil & Construction Engineering, Oregon State University
Topic: Our Aging Transportation Infrastructure: A Concrete Perspective
When: Friday, November 19, 2010, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
November 15, 2010
I've been banging the transit equity drum quite a bit lately, so I probably owe it to folks to open a discussion about some of the equity issues we need to sort out as we prepare to open the Streetcar Loop in a couple of years. These are issues that are beginning to be discussed at the Streetcar Board and CAC and will have quite a bit of public discussion, probably for much of 2011.
The first and most obvious issue will NOT be the subject of this post - that's fare policy. A goal of Streetcar has been to seamlessly integrate with TriMet's fare system. But doing so would keep most of the west side of the Loop free, while charging $2.05 on the east side. Definitely NOT equitable - but a topic for another day.
Today's topic is service configuration. First, some definitions. For purposes of discussion, we're designating the Loop as "Line A" since it was the original proposal for a central city circulator by then-Commissioner Earl Blumenauer. Our current NW to SoWa line is designated "Line B".
We currently run Line B at 12 minute frequencies by deploying 7 vehicles during most of the day. The current thinking is to open Line A running from OMSI to Market St. (avoiding the need for a transfer in the Pearl District). OMSI to Market St. would have a 90-minute cycle time, so if we match the 12 minute headways, we'll need 7 trains for each line, like so:
Now, there are a couple of challenges to that. We may not have enough vehicles at opening to support 14-vehicle operation (we'll have staggered delivery of the vehicles and we need to have several spares at any given time). More significantly, the operating budget commitments made by TriMet and the City with the Federal application only support a 12-vehicle operation in the first year.
So what can we do with 12 vehicles? We could run seven on the west side and five on the east with a transfer in the Pearl - maintaining 12 minute frequencies.
Or we could run Line A to Market St. by running 15 minute frequencies on both lines:
While we shouldn't give up on attracting some additional operating funding before opening, let's look at the equity considerations for a 6 and 6 configuration. Here are the winners and losers:
- East side: winner - new service all the way to Market St., frequencies the same as west side.
- Pearl to Market - big winners, trains every 7-8 minutes! (double frequency here was always part of the plan for the full Loop, it's the most heavily traveled part of the system)
- NW and SoWa - losers, service reduced from 12 minute to 15 minute frequencies
So, is it fair to reduce frequency in NW and SoWa for the benefit of the system? Would requiring transfers be more equitable (everyone who has to transfer is a loser)?
What do you think? Do you have a better idea for how to configure service.
As food for thought, here are the configurations for full completion of the Loop at either 12- or 15-minute frequencies:
November 13, 2010
Better late than never.
This article was supposed to be part 3--but I decided to postpone it until after the election, to simplify the analysis; and then a few other post-election issues took center stage.
In the article TriMet and the Trust Gap, we looked at the phenomenon of an apparent lack of confidence in TriMet, particularly on the part of some system patrons who had expressed skepticism of Ballot Measure 26-119, the $125 million bond measure which failed in the November 2010 elections. In Part 2 of the series, more focus a bit more on TriMet's governance, particularly on the belief that the agency exhibits a "bunker mentality". Part 3 covered TriMet's role in the planning process, and Part 4 covered the agency's relationship with its workforce, and the general question of who should suffer (or benefit) when times are bad (or good).
Today, we look at an important issue which was omitted from the discussion of the first two articles (though conspicuous in the comments): the present state of TriMet's finances. We'll start with factors other than the pension issue, and then move on to that.
The perfect storm
The past several years have been a "perfect storm" for transit agencies around the country, including TriMet. A handful have shut down altogether, and quite a few more have experienced service cuts fare more serious than TriMet has made. Even those agencies which didn't engage in any significant management missteps have been buffeted by a combination of high fuel prices leading up to 2007 or so, followed by the Great Recession. Most transit agencies have operations funded by a combination of fares and a volatile tax source, such as income/payroll or sales taxes. When a recession occurs, the economic activity on which the tax is based goes down, and fewer commuters use transit to get to work, as many of them have lost their jobs (and quite a few of the remainder switch to driving as congestion goes down and parking becomes more available). In addition, the rising cost of healthcare is another serious factor.
Unfortunately, TriMet has made a series of unforced errors compounding the problem. In response to the fuel crisis, TriMet entered into hedge agreements to protect it from further rising prices--right before the recession hit and oil prices went down, forcing the agency to pay above-market prices for diesel. While use of short-term futures contracts is probably a good idea for TriMet (to make the cost of fuel more predictable over a budget cycle), hedging against moves in the price of petroleum is not. Transit agencies already have a built-in hedge against fuel prices: higher fuel prices boost ridership (and lower prices have the opposite effect).
And the WES project... has been a disaster for the agency. Ridership is well below projections (though it has been improving somewhat); and the operational costs of the line are ridiculous. And this past Friday, TriMet suffered an additional $3.1 million setback, when a judge ruled that TriMet was not legally entitled to collect on a letter of credit issued on behalf of Colorado Railcar (to indemnify TriMet should CR default, which it did), and ordered the agency to refund the money to investors. (TriMet plans to appeal, though as the case was decided on summary judgment--legal-speak for "laughed out of court"--prospects for an appeal seem dim).
In short, the past few years have not been good to the agency; and a fair bit of that is TriMet's own doing. And that's not considering the elephant in the room--the pension situation.
Meet the elephant
TriMet recently issued its FY2010 auditor's report concerning their financial statements, and it contains some rather ugly numbers: over $800 million in unfunded liabilities related to pensions and Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB, in much of the literature). That TriMet has large unfunded liabilities is not a surprise; but the scope of the debt is. Much of the debt is due--again--to unexpected rises in healthcare costs, which TriMet is on the hook for.
Many of TriMet's critics have pounced (here's Wendell Cox, for instance), and GM Neil McFarlane served up a tone-deaf remarkto KATU, giving out a recipe for the healthy dessert mentioned in the title of this post (though those on cholesterol medication may want to skip the grapefruit), and providing transit opponents with a juicy soundbite. (Pun intended. Naturally).
A common narrative that has arisen is that this issue trumps all others facing the agency, and any future expansions of the system, particularly those that involve borrowing money, ought to be put on hold until the issue is resolved.
Just how bad is it, anyway?
$800 million is not a small number--especially for an agency the size of TriMet. It's in the same ballpark as TriMet's overall annual budget, and twice what the agency spends on operations each year. So it is certainly a significant problem--one which, if not dealt with, could severely impact service levels in the future.
On the other hand--this figure is an estimate of how much TriMet needs to satisfy its long-term obligations under its pension agreements. It's not a figure which needs to be coughed up in a year--it's an estimate of how much will be needed over time. (Unfortunately, with defined-benefit pensions, estimates are the best you can do; and often times are still too low--TriMet may find itself on the hook for even more, particularly if healthcare costs continue to rise). Contrary to some assertions from the peanut gallery that TriMet is nearing insolvency; TriMet has more than enough revenue from existing streams to pay off the debt as it becomes current. However, there is the definite potential for debt service to command a larger and larger share of TriMet's budget, necessitating further service cuts--service cuts which will further reduce the agency's farebox revenue. A "death spiral" of cuts and lost customers is entirely possible--either that, or the agency may be forced to signficantly raise taxes to pay off the pensions and maintain service levels--an act which may meet significant political resistance.
In short, it's probably not an existential threat in the short term--but it is definitely a quality-of-service threat in the short term. And in the long term, it could very well threaten the agency itself. And thus, it is something that needs to be taken seriously.
Counting the beans
The sudden appearance of this issue on TriMet's books, in such magnificent splendor, is in good part due to the intersection of two factors: 1) As already mentioned, rising healthcare costs, which have caused the amount TriMet must pay for retirement benefits to skyrocket well beyond what was expected, and 2) A change in pension reporting requirements promulgated by GASB (Government Accounting Standards Board, the public-sector equivalent of FASB) which required that government employers make and report sound actuarial estimates of their post-employment benefits. Prior to 2008, TriMet reported retirement expenses on a "pay-as-you-go" basis--recording such expenses on the books as incurred--but GASB 45 now requires that the total liability be estimated and reported.
Public agencies are still permitted to pay such liabilities on an unfunded basis--in other words, not setting aside reserves to pay for the liabilities, and instead paying for them out of the general fund as needed. Unlike the private sector (where retirement funds must be funded and separately administered, to protect retirees from fraud or bankruptcy of the employer), the risk of public-sector default on retirement benefits has traditionally been very low--as public agencies generally don't "go out of business" and have taxing authority which can be used to repay debts if a default does occur.
However, recent events throughout the US suggest that pay-as-you-go accounting for such benefits is just as foolish in the public sector as it is in the private. Just as the federal government is fond of borrowing money to provide politically-popular goodies to the public in the absence of taxation to pay for them; so are local governments. While local governments can't borrow money like the Feds can--one way they can get away with buy-now-pay-later budgeting is through off-books deferred compensation to public employees. And governments all across the board have been doing just that.
And now, it appears that the bills are coming due.
When sorrows come, they come not as single spies...
A battalion of other bad news has stormed the agency's gates in the past years. As mentioned above, Measure 26-119, which would have financed certain capital investments (and freed up operating money for other purposes) was soundly defeated. While some objected to the agency taking on more debt--this was debt that would have come with its own funding source, and could have helped the agency improve its operating base in several ways. (The money was limited to capital improvements, and could not directly have been used to restore service or fund pensions, but it could have freed up other general-fund dollars earmarked for capital expenditures).
One other piece of bad "news" which came over the summer--news is in quotes because a good argument can be made that it should not have come as a surprise to TriMet, and the agency failed to adequately prepare for the contingency--was the announcement that Uncle Sam would only be picking up (at most) 50% of the tab for Milwaukie MAX, not the 60% match which the New Starts program commonly does for smaller projects. This prompted the agency to go hit up its partners for more cash, which it has secured (subject to some popular objection in Milwaukie), and to trim the project's scope a bit.
And then there's the matter of TriMet and its relations with the transit union (ATU local 757). In years past, the agency was frequently criticized for failing to bargain hard with the union (the 1994 contract negotiations spearheaded by then-GM
TimTom Walsh have long been targets of criticism, under the grounds that Walsh "caved" to ATU). At any rate, the agency is playing hardball now--demanding, essentially, that workers now contribute to their own health insurance premiums (presently all costs are paid by the agency). Last summer, the two sides reached an impasse in their talks, forcing the matter to arbitration. In addition to that, a freeze on salary and benefits imposed by TriMet for next year has drawn a few unfair labor practice complaints from ATU, and the agency and the union have been engaging in heated war of words in the media.
This is a gambit, however, which may backfire. Arbitration cannot start until the ULP compaints are resolved, at which point each side submits a "last, best offer"--and the arbitrator(s) are required to choose one package or the other. The risk to the agency is that if they were to be too aggressive in their demands, ATU could "win" the arbitration, resulting in little or no concessions--a prospect which would both likely aggravate service cuts in the near term, and the pension crisis in the long term.
So what to do about all of this?
Much of the debate around the state around TriMet's finances seems to resolve around the controversial Milwaukie Light Rail project. TriMet continues to support the project, but many critics have called for its postponement or outright cancellation--and a few have gone further, and have called for TriMet to shut down its capital projects division altogether (laying off the planning staff and putting a stopper in future projects coming down the pipe) and divert the division's $20 million annual budget to helping plug the agency's overall budget hole. An interesting question is whether the project can be "postponed" (and for how long) without jeopardizing the funding commitments or requiring that the recently-completed EIS be redone. I personally consider the project important and useful from a transit perspective, but share many of the concerns about its funding--particularly the bonding of operational dollars and the overuse of urban renewal districts.
However, and this is an important point--canceling MLR would not solve all of TriMet's problems. Even if MLR were to be stopped, there's still a worst case scenario that needs to be addressed: If TriMet loses in its arbitration with the union, if the economy continues to stagnate, if healthcare costs continue to rise--what happens? Could we end up in a situation where the bulk of operating dollars are used to pay the bills of the past rather than the bills of the present? Could we end in a situation where the service cuts necessary become so severe, that the future of the agency--or of public transit in the metro area--is threatened?
Given all that, what should TriMet do to get on a sound(er) financial footing? Milwaukie MAX and relations with the union have already been extensively discussed here; feel free to comment on these but I'm also looking for other ideas beyond these two topics. Should the funding arrangements for TriMet be altered? Is a single regional transportation agency a bad idea? Where should TriMet focus the service dollars it has? And--what should TriMet's overall mission be? Is trying to build a comprehensive transit system an unwise idea--or is failing to do so what is unwise, given concerns about peak oil and the environment?
November 12, 2010
Thanks to Doug K in the comments. Bob Stacey has conceded the race to Tom Hughes. It's over.
UPDATE 6: Bob Stacey does better today, netting almost 100 votes, but still trails Tom Hughes by 1017 votes.
|County||Tom Hughes||Bob Stacey||Other (write-in)|
UPDATE 5: Tim Hibbits of the Portland Tribune has called the race for Hughes. Hat tip to RA Fontes in the comments.
UPDATE 3 & 4: 11/10/10 results
Washington County updates its results (3:00). Multnomah County updates its results (4:30).
|County||Tom Hughes||Bob Stacey||Other (write-in)|
Hughes widens his lead to 1106 votes. He gained several votes from Washington County, though Stacey offset this somewhat with a net gain of 16 from Multnomah. Don't know if Clackamas County will publish any updates today.
(Note: See UPDATE below).
It's been nearly a week since the general election. We know who the next governor of Oregon will be (Kitz), and whether or not TriMet will have some extra money to play with (no). What we don't know, still, is who the next Metro president will be.
As of yesterday, the race stood as follows:
|County||Tom Hughes||Bob Stacey||Other (write-in)|
As you can see, Hughes as a small lead (of about 1000 votes, or about 0.25% of the electorate); but so far, no election analysts have called the race; nor has either of the candidates conceded. Multnomah County, whose vote has favored Stacey, is still counting ballots (1000 ballots were added to the total yesterday); whether there are enough remaining votes to permit Stacey to overtake Hughes is an open question.
Actually, two things surprise me: 1) That Clackamas County is so close, given that is probably the "reddest" county within Metro's boundary, and the county which most decisively voted no on Measure 26-119; and 2) that Tom Hughes is doing as well as he is in Multnomah County. It's not surprising that Hughes is dominating in Washington County, where he hails from.
It's also interesting to note that like the governor's race; the "other" vote (all write-ins, as no other candidate was listed on the ballot) will likely exceed the margin of victory between the two leading candidates. Should there be a recount, this may complicate things, as these write-in ballots may need to be scrutinized more carefully.
This article will be updated as new information comes in.
Today's release of updated Multnomah County numbers does not bode well for Bob Stacey.
|County||Tom Hughes||Bob Stacey||Other (write-in)|
Today, 423 more votes for Hughes were tabluated, vs 413 for Stacey--resulting in Tom Hughes increasing his lead by 10 votes. Stacey now has an overall deficit of 1048 votes. Neither Washington nor Clackamas counties have updated their ballot counts as of this afternoon. Washington County indicates their next update will be tomorrow (the 10th); Clackamas County has not indicated when the next update (if any) will be published.
Given that Multnomah County is supposedly "Stacey territory", his losing ten votes in the county is not a good sign for his candidacy. It's not known how many ballots remain--at this point, the county is likely hand-investigating overvotes and undervotes to see if voter intent can be discerned, a process which explains the slow pace. Election results need to be certified by the 22nd.
One more bit of info. oregonlive's tabulation gives Hughes a total of 196,671 votes vs 195,596 for Stacey; I'm not sure where the additional 27 votes come from. Still not good for Stacey.
I discovered the source of the discrepancy; I had written down 72,047 votes for Hughes in Washington County, the correct total is 72,074. The above charts are now updated and agree with oregonlive's tabulation.
It's sitting on my kitchen counter (in front of a mini-food processor) running the Transit Board™ display.
It's not actually useful, I need my reading glasses to see it (it would probably work better with a UI that showed one arrival at a time, in much larger fonts) but it demonstrates that we can get all the needed connectivity and processing power for a transit appliance for under $100 retail ($99.99).
I have a little more hope for a $99.99 Android device that UPS is supposed to deliver next week. It will be my first attempt to run a transit UI on an Android device.
November 11, 2010
Our census block groups map for our equity project is now fully scored:
It contains the same browser feature as the tract map, you can click on a block group to see its score, then click through to a map of the block group and the sample points.
At this level I think some patterns begin to be discernible. Outside of the central city the only areas with really excellent service (consistently 70 or above) are along the Banfield LRT corridor. Living on three light rail lines appears to have its advantages.
But the "brighter green" (50 and above) seems to pretty well map to areas covered by frequent service routes and other light rail lines.
There is still opportunity for considerable variation within a block group. My own block group in NW Portland runs from Burnside to Thurman and has scores from the mid-fifties up to ninety.
I'm not likely to have time to match this to demographics until the end of the month, so please be patient...
November 10, 2010
It's my fault, I buried the lead. In yesterday's post, I laid out what I think are four legitimate policy questions about how we manage our transit system. And I saved what I thought was the best for last.
Apparently, no one could get past the first one, as that was the focus of all the comments. So let me call out the one that I think is significant. My hypothesis is that the correct debate is NOT bus vs. rail, but rather:
Is it good policy to focus the overwhelming portion of new available service hours in one new corridor every few years, versus spreading it through the system?
That's really the issue, it's not train versus bus. Essentially TriMet saves up most of its growth in available service hours and spends it in one big blow-out a few times per decade. I think a policy debate around that pattern would be a very good thing!
What that pattern does for the overall equity of service delivery in the region is one of the things I hope our equity analysis will shed light on.
November 9, 2010
Our block group map is filling in! I thought that was a good opportunity to reflect on the way our debates around transit service get framed.
As the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line struggles to close its funding gap, the political debate (at least in transportation geek circles) continues to boil. The debate tends to get expressed in a couple of forms:
- This is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a transit line
- Light rail is being built at the expense of bus riders
I'd like to suggest that neither of these represents a useful policy debate, but that in fact there are a number of policy debates underneath that are useful to talk about, so I'd like to outline a few:
- What kind of region do we want to live in for our future?
Often folks like me get tagged with pejoratives like 'railfan'. In fact, what I believe most of my fellow travelers are working towards is a vision of a region that is significantly less auto-dependent. That in turn requires capacity for large amounts of mobility in non-auto forms, and Light Rail is the current delivery technology for that mobility (it could be done with BRT - but I don't think the LRT versus BRT debate is the rail versus bus debate we're having right now). There's no question this exercise is expensive, but in real dollar terms it's not out of scale with our freeway investments (now or in the past).
- Do we have the right funding mix for alternatives to the automobile?
Personally I think the answer here is definitely not. If we did, we'd be building out our bicycle network much more quickly and finding a way to get the gaps in our sidewalk system filled. Maybe we can get a Federal Bicycle Administration or a Federal Sidewalk Administration on a par with the Federal Transit Administration (or even better the Federal Highway Administration). But even so, that doesn't make building LRT a bad idea.
- Are we allocating our transit revenues appropriately?
This is the one I've been banging on, suggesting that in an era where we have real shortages in operating revenue, we should not be diverting funding that could be used for operations to capital. But while I feel strongly about this, I could argue the other side too: only about 5% of revenue that could be used for operations is going towards capital. And other regions have to deal with this policy decision all the time: Salt Lake City has one tax base (I forget if it's a sales tax or a property tax) for transit and they have to decide how to split it between operations and expansion. We're someone unique in having local match for capital come mainly from sources that are not dedicated to transit.
- And finally, what I think is the REAL equity question, and the one that our transit equity project is trying to help inform: is it good policy to focus the overwhelming portion of new available service hours in one new corridor every 5-6 years, versus spreading it through the system?
That's really the issue, it's not train versus bus. Essentially TriMet saves up all its growth in available service hours and spends it in one big blow-out a couple of times per decade. I think a policy debate around that pattern would be a very good thing!
November 8, 2010
From our friends at the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition:
TALKING ABOUT A GROWING MOVEMENT FOR WALKING . . .
Local Pedestrian Advocacy Group Presents on Feet as Traffic
PORTLAND, Ore., Nov. 5, 2010 - Next Tuesday evening 7:30-9:00pm at Full Life Café, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) will host a presentation and discussion called "On Walking: Growing a Local and National Movement." This event is free and open to the public.
Everyone is a pedestrian at some point in the day, so why is it such a challenge to walk in some neighborhoods and business districts? With so much energy and excitement about bicycling, who is advocating for walking? How can our region better serve the transportation needs of an aging population, children who want to walk to school, and people who need to access transit?
Our national and local walking movements are growing. Walking is a cheap, healthy and accessible form of transportation for everyone. Safer streets, better sidewalks and crossings, more public transit, and a growing walking advocacy movement together are a cure for childhood obesity and dangerous traffic. We will discuss how the modes of cycling and walking are similar, how they are synergistic, and how they are different. We will also discuss the importance of transit, walkable neighborhoods, and public spaces for walking.
Steph Routh, Director of WPC, will relay what she learned at the recent Pro Walk Pro Bike Conference as well as America Walks' first-ever Equal Footing Summit in Chattanooga, TN last month. Coffee and light snacks will be served.
"On Walking: Growing a Local and National Movement"
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Full Life Coffee House
3301 N.E. Sandy Blvd.
Full Life is ADA accessible and located along the #12 bus
For more information, please contact Steph Routh at email@example.com.
I'm working on a post to talk about some the issues around how we allocate service to the new Streetcar Loop line. While I'm working on that, here's info on the cycle times for the various segments of the Loop (I've been asked about this here before and didn't have easy access to the numbers):
November 6, 2010
OK, the finance question will be part five. This week's thread on the failure of 26-119 brought up some interesting (and heated) debate, which deserves its own article.
Chris has been doing a series on mapping service equity--examining the correlation between transit service, income levels, and population density in different census tracts. It's a useful exercise to see how well different communities are being served by transit--there are many parts of the metro area which are poorly served (and some not at all), but in many cases service to these areas is difficult to provide.
This post looks at equity at a higher level, however. Rather than focusing on transit riders, this looks at the tradeoffs involved between riders and two other constituencies with dogs in the proverbial fight.
The three constituencies
There are several constituencies which have a stake in the transit discussion. The first group to consider, of course, is riders--those who do, or may, use the system. Given that public transit in the US is invariably subsidized, a second constituency is taxpayers, who provide funding for the construction and maintenance of the system, on the theory that public transit provides a social benefit. (Whether it is worth the cost is part of the debate; my personal opinion is that the public value of transit is quite significant). The third group we will consider is labor--the transit agency's employees.
There are other constituencies that might be said to have a skin in the game, such as development interests, politicians, agency management, etc.--and a frequent criticism is that these groups have too much influence on the decision-making process. My suspicion is that few people would publicly endorse the notion that transit ought to be implemented (using public funds) for the benefit of property owners (regardless of what goes on behind the scenes), so they're not included in the Big Three.
The shrinking pie
The reason this question is so important--is what happens when the pie shrinks. TriMet's pie has been shrinking for the past few years--in this thread, I'm asking readers to ignore the questions of why (economic conditions, agency mismanagement) and instead focus on how the pain should be distributed. (This discussion is also useful for when the pie grows--and maybe even more important to consider in good times, given that unwise choices often get made during a boom that only have consequences in the following bust).
One practical reality is that in a democracy, the group that is often best able to protect its slice is the taxpayers. We just saw this with 26-119; TriMet asked taxpayers to provide some additional funds to help with budget shortfalls; the voters said no. TriMet cannot, in general, unilaterally impose tax increases--which have to be approved by either the voters or the legislature. As a result, lean times often produce arguments between riders and labor, over which should bear the brunt of budget shortfalls.
Dueling progressives at ten paces
This argument turned heated in the prior thread. One commenter, a long-time transit activist in town, wrote:
The real reason the bus measure lost (but not in Multnomah county where 9 of the 11 MLR stations are located) is TriMet's too generous benefits package for its union workers. Riders are paying more and getting less, are Ops and Mechanics ready to share the pain?
Which prompted the following response from another frequent commenter, who is employed as a TriMet bus driver:
I never thought I would see the day when [first poster] would support the cascade policy institute in its quest to deny American citizens livable wage jobs with real benefits.
Both posters have extensive progressive credentials; neither would ever be confused with a conservative. Nor would the first poster, a dedicated transit supporter, have anything to do with a right-wing (and frequently anti-transit) organization such as Cascade Policy Insitute. But the second poster's frustration is perfectly understandable--he sees his livelihood as under attack, and not just from the usual suspects on the political right, but from groups on the left as well, who long had been allied with labor.
This is a particularly nasty fault line in progressive politics in the US--there seems to be a growing rift between many social service advocates and public employee unions. I can think of quite a few well-known transit bloggers and writers, dedicated progressives all of them--who loathe their local transit union. (One of these activists made an interesting observation--the cities with the best transit tend to have the strongest transit unions; whereas the cities which only run low-quality social service transit are more likely to have outsourced their operations, often to non-union operators). And as more and more private-sector jobs are outsourced and more private-sector unions busted, public employee unions are finding themselves more and more isolated--whereas in the past, the passengers on the bus were often union workers as well; a larger share of bus and train passengers are non-union white-collar or service workers.
A similar situation plays out in public education--where one finds progressive community activists increasingly willing to take on education unions. The solidarity which once existed between labor and social service is rapidly eroding as the two groups are more and more forced to compete for crumbs of an ever-shrinking pie--a state of affairs which weakens both of them (and only benefits interests who are opposed to both quality transit and a robust labor market). Unfortunately, I suspect this will worsen before it gets better.
So the important question is: When the pie shrinks, what should happen to the various pieces? How ought we balance things like fare hikes/service cuts, wage and benefit reductions, and tax increases? And what if the last of these is not possible--who should suffer the most? The guy at the front of the bus or those in the back? And is there a satisfactory answer to this question that might heal the rift between labor and riders--something that if done, might increase their ability to jointly protect their interests? And how was this question answered during the boom years of the 1990s--should the groups which benefited the most during good times be asked to bear the brunt of the pain in bad times?
This is a difficult topic, I realize--both riders and drivers have their livelihoods at stake. (As do many taxpayers, who are seeing their paychecks go down, but public agencies asking for more and more money). But please remember--no personal attacks or uncivil commentary.
November 5, 2010
I'll be at the Civicwebs Hackathon Sunday (starting about noon). This is a gathering of coders to produce applications in the civic realm using open data provided by local governments (or others).
I'm hoping to get some help developing a configuration tool for our Transit Appliance. This would be a simple web-based user interface that would allow someone to select the transit stops and transit lines they want to display on the appliance.
If you're a coder, come out and join us!
November 4, 2010
I haven't forgotten our transit equity project, although the Transit Appliance has definitely soaked up a lot of time!
I have built the set of Census Block Groups (3 or 4 to each Census Tract) that fit the TriMet service district. Unlike our previous tract-level analysis, I eliminated (visually) all the block groups that were not primarily inside the district boundaries.
View Larger Map
I've begun to generate new sample points at a somewhat denser scale (I hope to have 10+ points for each block group) than I did for tracts and have begun scoring them. This map will fill in as we progress. Stay tuned!
November 3, 2010
UPDATE: KPTV projects that Kitzhaber will win.
As you probably have heard, Ballot Measure 26-119 has been defeated, 54-46%. It passed in Multnomah County, but failed in Washington and Clackamas Counties.
In other races, Tom Hughes leads Bob Stacey by a narrow margin (51%-49%); though no media organizations have called the race. And Chris Dudley leads John Kitzhaber by a narrow margin with about 3/4 of the votes counted.
One other major decision affecting TriMet, but one which isn't forthcoming for a while, will be the arbitrator's ruling in the labor dispute. A ruling against the union would help stem the bleeding at the agency; a ruling against the agency would likely mean another round of service cuts.
Have at it...
Listen to the show (mp3, 26.2MB)
Tori and guest host Jessica Roberts talk with Ian Stude about the Bike Hub at PSU and other cycling and transportation programs at the University. Colin Mahar from TriMet talks about the new Sunset bike park and ride, and about bikes on TriMet vehicles.
OK, I'm a geek, but it's exciting. They are also available in KML format for you Google Maps freeks.
And TriMet also has a new web service to quickly locate stops near you. Start beefing up your apps now.
November 2, 2010
Great piece on Streetfilms outlining how lighter traffic streets have much greater social cohesion and perceived neighborhood character than heavy traffic streets.
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Fall 2010 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Andree Tremoulet, Institute on Aging, Portland State University; Vince Chiotti, Regional Advisor, Oregon Housing and Community Services
Topic: Housing 101: Demystifying the Subsidized Housing System for Transportation Planners
When: Friday, November 5, 2010, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
November 1, 2010
TriMet and Metro will be hiring several interns/students to improve Open Street Map in the Portland Metro area for applications such as OpenTripPlanner.org.
More information and application here:
- On Nov 3rd the Columbia River Crossing project convenes an expert panel to look at bridge types and configurations. Details here.
- On November 15th, the Portland Monthly/City Club "Bright Lights" series (Jimmy Mak's, 6pm) will host a CRC alternatives discussion with George Crandall, urban designer; Bill Scott, general manager of Zipcar; and Joe Cortright, economist.