TriMet’s bizarro fare enforcement policy

TriMet’s broken fare enforcement policy for its busses.
I mentioned it in the open thread, but I will repeat it here. Before you go read the rest of this article, go read Michael Anderson’s excellent report on fare enforcement on TriMet. Go read it now, and come back and click through when you are done.
As Michael notes, TriMet let go of nearly 3/4 of its fare enforcement staff last September. And as expected, fare evasion has shot up considerably. What the optimum number of fare inspectors is, I don’t know–but as indicated in the report, TriMet has seven full-time inspectors covering 1500 miles of lines (bus and MAX; WES has onboard conductors so in theory does not need separate fare enforcement).

The need for fare inspectors on MAX, a service which openly operates on the proof-of-payment system, is obvious. But there’s only 50-odd miles of MAX tracks, not 1500. So what gives?

Types of fare enforcement

Ignoring systems which don’t have fares, there are essentially three types of fare enforcement systems:

  • Secure platform: In a secure platform system, all places at which one can board a transit system are secured–entry into stations or platforms requires proof of payment of fare. Such systems are commonly referred to as “turnstiles” or “fare gates” in the trade, and many such systems also require proof of payment on exiting, to support enforcement of variable fare policies. There are a few MAX stations secured in this manner, but in general, TriMet doesn’t operate on this principle. This is generally found with grade-separated metros where access to stations can be easily controlled; surface light rail and local bus service is incompatible with this.
  • Secure vehicle: In a secure vehicle system, often called “pay the driver” or “pay as you board”, proof of payment must be presented in order to board a vehicle. Generally, technical barriers like turnstiles are not possible on board, so enforcement is by humans–the driver or an onboard conductor.
  • Neither. The third choice is to secure neither vehicles nor platforms. When doing this, either fare enforcement is not done (“the honor system”) or random inspection of passengers is done, who must possess proof of payment and show it to inspectors on demand (thus, “proof of payment”). This is the least intrusive and most flexible system, as it permits things like all-door boarding, street-level boarding, and other niceties. The problem, though, is it is the easiest system for scofflaws to abuse.

MAX, as mentioned above, uses proof-of-payment, with a few secure platforms located in neighborhoods where fare-jumpers are known to originate. The Portland Streetcar uses proof-of-payment as well. WES, with onboard conductors, is essentially secure-vehicle.

But what about the busses?

The dirty little secret

A not-very-well-kept-secret about the busses is that they essentially operate on proof-of-payment as well. But many people think that busses operate on the pay-as-you-board principle.

And it sure looks like it.

When you step on a TriMet bus, the driver generally asks to see proof of payment–either a pass, or a valid transfer or rail ticket, or two-bucks-and-change dropped into the hopper. And you only get to board at the front door–the back door is for egress only. But a subtle thing happens if you pay cash, that ought to tip you off: the driver hands you a transfer slip, whether you ask or not.

Normally, transit agencies which operate on pay-the-driver only issue transfer slips to those passengers who request one–typically, those passengers who actually have to transfer to another vehicle to complete a journey. After all, transfer slips can be used by scofflaws to avoid fares on subsequent trips–even if drivers are thorough about ensuring they are unexpired, they can be passed from one passenger to another. And once a passenger has got past the driver, she’s presumed to be on board lawfully, so no reason to hand her a piece of litter.

But on TriMet, everyone who doesn’t already have a fare instrument in their possession when they hop on the bus, gets handed a transfer slip. And what’s more, as Michael notes–passengers who refuse to either pay or show a valid pass, are still let on board–fare enforcement isn’t really part of the driver’s job. You’re handed that transfer for a reason–a fare inspector just might ask to see it.

The worst of both worlds

What is the point of this bizarro fare enforcement policy? Were I to hazard a guess, it’s that TriMet wants the flexibility of proof-of-payment without the enforcement cost. Proof-of-payment has numerous advantages over pay-as-you-board: Transfers are easier to deal with, it’s easier to implement such things as zone-based systems and time-based ticketing, and fare enforcement is a pain for drivers–especially when it involves dealing with irate or uncooperative passengers. But for it to work, you need to have a corps of fare inspectors to keep things honest. TriMet has demonstrated that this is not a budget priority, even before the recent cutbacks–so many of the trappings of pay-as-you-board are in places, in order to convince the deadbeats out there that drivers were guarding their busses. It appears that the drivers are the gatekeepers to the busses, but in reality, that’s not true. Fareless Square was a big gaping hole in this arrangement–people knew that they could board a bus downtown, say “fareless”, and chances are nobody would bother them as they rode out to Gresham, which is one reason I suspect it was moved to rail-only–but the system is there nonetheless.

But it sounds like word may well be getting out (and I realize that this article may advance this knowledge–it’s not my job to keep TriMet’s secrets secret), that drivers don’t enforce fares at all. And given the present labor dispute, it’s unlikely this will change.

But here’s the problem. This system gives us the worst of both worlds as far as the fare policies are concerned. Fare evasion is still a big problem. But the need to file past the driver increases dwell time at stops, especially for cash passengers trying to jam wrinkled bills into the bill-acceptor. And the driver still has to check passes and transfers, and issue transfers to cash passengers, many of who wonder why TriMet is wasting money handing them litter in a budget crisis.

So why not simply bite the bullet and switch to explicit proof of payment?

Staging the transition

The transition could be staged, of course–the lines on which proof of payment is most likely to be useful are the busiest and most frequent ones. The designated (and future) frequent service lines would be excellent places to start–on these lines, make it known to the public that boarding through any door is permitted (cash fares can still board at the front and receive a transfer), and that fares will be enforced by random inspection. The hard part, of course, is actually doing the enforcement–TriMet seems to have trouble policing the lines as it is; could it handle an open PoP strategy on a larger part of its network?

A second possibility would be to switch to real pay-the-driver on the less-used “social service” routes–the ones that frequently run empty and seldom run full, and which could be replaced with minibusses were TriMet to decide to do so. On a service with few passengers boarding, drivers could check for fares more reliably and without causing service delays–particularly for those routes that don’t cross fare zone boundaries. Differences in nomenclature or livery could be used to tell the two types of busses apart if some bus lines are PoP and others are pay-the-driver. And of course, if a line has true pay-the-driver fare policy, it need not be subjected to random fare inspection–the inspectors could be sent to those parts of the system where they are really needed.

88 Comments

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88 Responses to TriMet’s bizarro fare enforcement policy

  1. Juke
    March 11, 2011 at 1:08 am Link

    Here’s a question I’ve had for some time now: What percentage of trips would need to have a fare inspector for fare evasion to not be worth the risk? As an extreme example, if 50% of all trips a given person took on TriMet involved a fare inspection, it wouldn’t make sense for person to attempt to board illegally: the risk of being zinged would be too great.

    Am I making any sense?

  2. Bob R.
    March 11, 2011 at 1:10 am Link

    While there is a pure cost-benefit ratio that can determine the optimum number of fare inspectors you need to hire to maximize revenues vs. the cost of enforcement, this overlooks an important issue:

    The process of fare inspection also serves as a process of rooting out bad behavior, and also increases customer confidence irrespective of actual behavior.

    In the first case, for whatever reason, some subset of the population which seeks to be disruptive on trains intersects with a subset which seeks to avoid paying a fare. Discouragement of such (intersected) persons from riding improves the ride experience for everyone else.

    In the second case, paying passengers like to know that their compliance isn’t in vain — they want to know that because they had to pay, someone else has to pay as well. You can see this sentiment echoed in the frequently-voiced (but usually mistaken) opinion that “most” people get on MAX without paying. What is actually being witnessed is people with passes, who don’t need to use ticket machines, simply board without a problem. But frequent fare enforcement allows all passengers to see what the real proportions are.

    A few years ago, Al M. (frequent PT commenter and well-known bus driver/blogger) and I produced a hidden camera video called “the late night MAX experience”. At one point in the video, two Portland Police officers (one a friend of mine) board the train and do a fare inspection of all passengers on the car. To everyone’s surprise, the passengers, me, and Al, there is 100% fare compliance. Everyone had a valid fare instrument.

    My contention is that more frequent fare inspections (coupled, by the way, with better fare payment systems and more sensible rules — see numerous other threads) leads not only to increased compliance, but a decrease in real disruptions problems AND a decrease in _perceptions_ of problems, which in the long run leads to increased patronage from so-called “choice” riders.

    All that said, what I think is missing from the (very informative) Portland Afoot article is a bit of history… Before the September cuts, TriMet had beefed up fare inspections as part of a push for increased security following several incidents. But before that, presumably, fare inspections were lower. So, over a longer period, what is the level of fare inspection today over what it was 5 or 10 years ago?

    PS… Yes, Juke, you are making sense!

  3. Juke
    March 11, 2011 at 1:36 am Link

    Thanks for the info. I was more thinking along the lines of the evader’s perception of being caught, not so much the cost/benefit ration to TriMet and its riders.

    Put it this way: because fare checks are so uncommon, it’s easy for a person to think “You know, I will probably get away with it.” But if they thought that there was a reasonable chance (say 30%) that they would be caught and levied a $175 fine, I’m guessing most potential fare evaders wouldn’t bother, and we wouldn’t need to be much more thorough. Obviously there would still be some dedicated cheaters, but the majority of people would be weeded out.

    So my question is, what is that minimum probability of being inspected that would deter most riders? We might not have the funds to maintain that yet, but it’s a target.

  4. Michael, Portland Afoot
    March 11, 2011 at 8:46 am Link

    Thanks so much for the nice words, Scotty! I’m glad to have inspired such a thoughtful exploration.

    One correction for your second graf: To my knowledge, there’s no evidence that fare *evasion* is up (yet). The figures we reported show only that fare enforcement (and especially fare citations, as opposed to warnings) is down.

    Bob, history is Portland Afoot’s biggest weakness. How long ago was that bump in fare enforcement that you mention? The data I was looking at goes back to early 2009.

    Also, I think the 2008 beefing-up of the transit police force could actually be seen as a contributor to the current shortage of fare inspectors, since it created an expensive drain on an adjacent part of TriMet’s operations budget.

    Juke, a penalty costs twice as much as a monthly pass, right? So someone could argue that you’d need a 50% probability of being inspected in a given month for a monthly pass to be worthwhile.

    But that’s too simple, of course: I personally get satisfaction out of knowing that I’m a generally law-abiding citizen. Even if I didn’t, I’d be willing to pay a bit extra for the ability to predict that $87 expense rather than facing the risk of a $175 expense. So the optimal inspection rate is probably way lower than 50%.

    I ride MAX most days and I’ve been inspected twice in the last year, IIRC. So maybe there’s a 17% chance of getting inspected in a given month. (At the current staffing levels, I think this is high.)

    For occasional riders and people who never have enough cash at once to buy a monthly pass, though, the formula is different. A single fare is 1/85 of a penalty. So (again, theoretically) there would need to be a 1% chance of being inspected on any given trip for the pass to be worth the risk. Right?

  5. joshuadf
    March 11, 2011 at 9:24 am Link

    SF Muni switched to explicit proof of payment, I think when they did the Clipper (formerly TransLink) smart card system. There are smart card readers on all doors on buses and light rail. To pay cash on light rail you actually pay the train operator, here’s a picture:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshuadf/5517303535/

  6. Keith
    March 11, 2011 at 9:32 am Link

    If the number and location of fare cheats is tracked, I’m guessing time of day is captured as well. That should allow inspectors to more precisely target the problem locations or lines.

  7. Chris I
    March 11, 2011 at 10:20 am Link

    Trimet should look at moving to an RFID proof of payment system, similar to the ORCA cards up in Puget Sound, or the Oyster cards in London. We used the Oyster card on our last trip around London; it was great. Just buy a card at the start of the trip, do your travel, then turn it in at the end, they refund the remainder.

    Once every bus and MAX has a reader (let’s call them “Rose” cards, for now). You scan your Rose Card when boarding and when leaving. Reload your cards at a machine, or perhaps at stores where they currently sell monthly passes.

    You create two pricing structures: keep the current prices for Rose Card users, and make a 2nd set of higher prices for cash/card payments. This will encourage users to move over to the new system. Monthly passes can also be done with the new cards.

    This system can also be used to solve some of the zone issues we have, which were discussed just last week on PT.

  8. Carter
    March 11, 2011 at 10:22 am Link

    The plural of bus is buses.

  9. EngineerScotty
    March 11, 2011 at 10:24 am Link

    One thing I forgot to include: TriMet’s instructions on how to pay fares on TriMet, a document which also includes the Streetcar.

    At any rate, proof-of-payment on busses is commonplace in many parts of the world.

  10. AL M
    March 11, 2011 at 10:25 am Link

    If you want drivers to actually try to enforce fares you have to make the system “enforceable”.

    The way things are now, tickets look like passes,there are so many variations of yearly passes who knows what they are and you can’t really see what the transfers say unless you take a “hard” look at them, (correct zone, correct issue correct time, correct code), FORGETTABOUT IT!

    The paper transfer system is a broken down remnant of history, Trimet is one of the few places that still uses it.

    Virtually all operator assaults are over fare disputes, I have no intention of getting assaulted over a $2.05 fare from many people who are not exactly “rich” anyway.

    And I got news for ya, at least on the West Side, almost everyone has paid some sort of fare that day, maybe its a little expired, but most people have paid into the system. Bob R addressed that during our ride on the MAX.

    There are a hand full of people who like to “con” us, I figure they need a free ride.

    But the fault for this broken down mess is Trimet management, who has seen fit to hire all sorts of bureaucrats while the rest of the system gets cut to pieces.

    The only thing Trimet cares about these days is getting federal money in here to keep lining the pockets of those in power.

    They have a board of directors that are nothing but sock puppets, never disagree with the general manager.

    The rest of us can be damned.

    The only thing they really do right, is the TRIMET MINISTRY OF PROPAGANDA, they spend lots of money on it too!

    Trimet is a capital projects company now, corporate in nature, you think anybody cares about the fares, that’s chump change compared with the capital projects grants from the feds!

    They want “boarding rides” more than they want fares. Actually enforcing fares might decrease that number, could take away our standing as most boarding rides per capita city in the USA. (Just an Al M theory btw)

  11. EngineerScotty
    March 11, 2011 at 10:37 am Link

    Al: Virtually all operator assaults are over fare disputes, I have no intention of getting assaulted over a $2.05 fare from many people who are not exactly “rich” anyway.

    [snip]

    Al: They want “boarding rides” more than they want fares. Actually enforcing fares might decrease that number, could take away our standing as most boarding rides per capita city in the USA.

    Sounds to me like you and TriMet agree on something! :)

  12. EngineerScotty
    March 11, 2011 at 10:56 am Link

    Actually, every dictionary I’ve consulted informs me that either “busses” or “buses” is correct. The former looks like it’s pronounced, although has the disadvantage of being confused with the plural of “buss”. The later looks like it ought to rhyme with “fuses”, although “buse” is not a word.

    That said, I realize that “busses” seems to be the minority spelling.

  13. nuovorecord
    March 11, 2011 at 11:18 am Link

    I recall a rush-hour trip on the 14 a few years back. SRO. The driver announces as we leave downtown that we’re leaving Fareless Square and everyone needs to pay if they haven’t. He’s got one guy in particular singled out. Driver pulls the bus over a the next stop (mid bridge) and orders the guy to pay or deboard. Confrontation ensues, but eventually the entire busload of passengers turns against the driver because he’s keeping 60+ people from getting home. Driver caves and continues on the route, tail between legs.

    So yeah, I can totally understand why bus drivers aren’t too vigilant on fare collection. I often see people board without showing a pass, transfer or paying.

  14. Michael, Portland Afoot
    March 11, 2011 at 11:31 am Link

    @Keith, you’re correct: TriMet does track times, too. FWIW, here’s the chart on when fares are jumped on buses.

    You might say the 5 pm peak is the evening rush hour, but given the subject matter and the suspiciously small number of morning fare-jumpers, it might be better described as “beer o’clock.”

  15. Flaneur
    March 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm Link

    Judging by San Diego’s experience, fare evasion rates are profoundly affected by aggressive enforcement efforts. For 2007, the fare evasion rate in San Diego was 1.6% ['Serious crime up slightly on trolley', Steve Schmidt, San Diego Union-Tribune, April 2, 2007; phone conversation with Bill Burke, Director of Transit System Security, San Diego Trolley, 1/7/2008]. [Sorry not to have 2011 data, but I last looked into this when TriMet undertook its campaign to change Fareless Square operations.] This low rate–lower than on many closed systems–was achieved through strong, consistent enforcement of proof-of-purchase. In 2007, San Diego had 34 million riders, of whom 11 million were challenged to show proof-of-purchase. San Diego riders are asked to show their tickets on almost a third of their trips. Furthermore, San Diego has been committed to the proposition that, as ridership grows, fare enforcement efforts must increase to keep pace. I’m not sure if there have been cuts since then, but in 2008, the San Diego Trolley employed 45 full-time fare inspectors [Phone conversation with Bill Burke, Director of Transit System Security, San Diego Trolley, 1/7/2008].

  16. some body
    March 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm Link

    TriMet tried full proof-of-payment in the 80’s and it didn’t work out:

    http://oscdl.research.pdx.edu/resources/20060601/1149186431PZBBXOT.pdf

  17. EngineerScotty
    March 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm Link

    I do remember the whole “fastest busses in America” shtick, complete with TV commercials showing how much faster a busy bus can board with all-door boarding. And yes, the experiment did “fail”, in that TriMet abandoned the project and went back to pay-as-you-board.

    However, a few things to note when perusing the report:
    * Law enforcement was generally hostile to the project. For PoP to work, the penalty for fare evasion has to be greater than simple removal from the bus–i.e. fines or worse. The courts, understandably, resisted a whole pile of fare-evasion cases on their docket; likewise, the police made it clear they had better things to do with their time than haul fair deadbeats off to jail. Many deadbeats found that they could “beat the system” by simply refusing to show (or carry) identification–at which point the only way TriMet could pursue a case against them would be to call the police and have them arrested, and the cops generally resisted that chore.

    * The penalty schedule which was implemented was similar to parking tickets–it was a civil infraction of a small amount. However, with parking enforcement, there’s a way to ensure that scofflaws actually pay their fines–those who do not, or who collect multiple delinquent tickets, may have their cars towed or booted. There isn’t any corresponding way to “up the anti” on transit scofflaws.

    * The issue of paper tickets is a big one–it greatly lowers the speed at which inspections can be carried out. On a modern line with modern electronic ticketing, handheld readers can scan electronic fare media and validate it instantly; a team of fare inspectors can inspect an entire bus or LRT car in a manner of minutes. The report also indicates that the fare inspection equipment had serious reliability problems.

    * PoP was implemented on the entirety of the system, including numerous suburban social service routes, on which fare inspectors spent a significant amount of time waiting for passengers to board and inspect. Fare inspection works best on busy, dense corridors, when inspectors can board at a stop, check a vehicle-full of passengers, get off at the next stop, and catch another vehicle–perhaps the same route in the opposite direction–as soon as possible.

    * WRT all-door boarding, one issue is that it may require wider doors than currently found on TriMet’s busses. It works fine on MAX, with wide doors permitting simultaneous entry and exit; it works fine on BRT systems designed for it. And for the dwell-time savings to be a big factor, it has to be multiplied by a large number of passengers–saving a few seconds per stop on a lightly-used line probably doesn’t buy you anything.

  18. bjcefola
    March 11, 2011 at 6:52 pm Link

    I second the comments about RFID. I was in Chicago recently, even though you do a fare check either when you board or at the station it is faster then having to buy a ticket every time you ride.

  19. Erik H.
    March 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm Link

    A second possibility would be to switch to real pay-the-driver on the less-used “social service” routes–the ones that frequently run empty and seldom run full, and which could be replaced with minibusses were TriMet to decide to do so. On a service with few passengers boarding, drivers could check for fares more reliably and without causing service delays–particularly for those routes that don’t cross fare zone boundaries

    There’s virtually no reason – the current, less used TriMet buses – don’t have the fare evasion problems that the long-haul buses do. The Operators generally know the riders and vice-versa, there’s more slack in the schedule, and riders know that if they abuse the privilege, they won’t be riding that bus again (because the Operator will call them out the next day…and if it becomes an issue – a Fare Inspector or Supervisor will be on the route looking for the repeat offender.)

    On the other hand, since the Operators know the riders, a rider who forgot their pass one day will usually get a free pass from the Operator because the Operator knows that they have a pass.

    WRT all-door boarding, one issue is that it may require wider doors than currently found on TriMet’s busses. It works fine on MAX, with wide doors permitting simultaneous entry and exit; it works fine on BRT systems designed for it

    It has also worked fine for decades in Seattle sans BRT. The New Flyer D60LF/DE60LF bus (which is also used in Eugene on non-EmX routes) has great access for multiple door boarding.

    Likewise, San Francisco’s Boeing LRVs would not work for it, since the LRV operator still had to handle fares just like a bus driver.

  20. AL M
    March 11, 2011 at 10:31 pm Link

    BTW-
    This was Josh Collins last day at Trimet.
    He was one of the good guys, I’m gonna miss him.

  21. GregT
    March 12, 2011 at 12:30 am Link

    I think their fare collection system is so antiquated and haphazard. Why not completely ditch the paper based system for non pass holders? I would bet the majority of riders have cell phones perhaps even many with so called smart phones …… We could buy our tickets with those devices have the “app” generate a random code , which would serve as the ticket, then a pin pad like the grocery store placed at each entrance where you could punch in your ticket #. On smart phones it could even more “high tech” like a 2D Q R code that could we waved under a scanner. Then arm the fare inspectors with tablets to check for enforcement and write citations with little ticket printers. As a side benefit I’d make wifi available system wide to support the system and so we could use wifi at max stops and aboard buses and trains. Then eliminate those flakey and prone to vandalism ticket machines and encourage people to get their tickets online via phone or last option from the operator, driver or fare enforcement. Would this work?

  22. EngineerScotty
    March 12, 2011 at 10:36 am Link

    My preference would be for TriMet to use established technology for this purpose, not to try and (re)invent their own wheel. But yes, there’s lots of ways to record fare purchases, including with smartphones.

  23. Aaron
    March 12, 2011 at 11:15 am Link

    Reading a QR code off of a variety of shiny LCD screens optically is probably not going to be super reliable. The correct technology to use would be Near Field Communication, which is pretty much an RF thing that does what it sounds like. It’s big on phones in Japan. Used for all sorts of cool things.

  24. ws
    March 12, 2011 at 11:17 am Link

    “Most of the expense of enforcing fares on TriMet comes from the fare inspector’s pay. TriMet pays inspectors, who are unionized, earn a $67,000 annual wage plus health and pension benefits. As of 2011, their hourly wage starts at $32.54, for a total cost of $46.93 as TriMet calculates their benefits.”

    Nice salary. Cut pay and hire more fare inspectors. We’re in one of the blackest time in Oregon’s economic history and a fare inspector gets paid that much?

    And I was complaining about bus driver pay…

    7 full time inspectors for the entire system? A complete lack of responsibility in enforcing basic rules and laws on public transportation.

    There’s no excuse for this.

    So easy but so difficult for TriMet to understand.

    Why?

  25. Bob R.
    March 12, 2011 at 11:25 am Link

    We’re in one of the blackest time in Oregon’s economic history and a fare inspector gets paid that much?

    We’re in a demand-driven recession which also serves to reduce tax revenues, and you want to cut people’s pay to get out of it?

    That’s precisely the wrong approach. So easy but so difficult for people to understand.

  26. EngineerScotty
    March 12, 2011 at 11:35 am Link

    Why is there this constant assumption that the guy making $100 million per year likely “earned” every dime, but the guy making $70k/year is overpaid?

    Of course, the guy making $100 million year isn’t probably on the public payroll–at least not directly. (Chances are, his company is doing business with the government, and in many cases, on terms unfavorable to the public purse). But if you’re going to make arguments along the lines of “if we cut the salaries of person X, agency Y can provide more or better products or services”, why not apply it to corporation Z’s officers, as well?

    You’re complaining that the manure shed has dirty windows, ws.

  27. ws
    March 12, 2011 at 11:37 am Link

    I never said I want to cut people’s current pay.

    The starting salary for such a position is $32/hour before benefits.

    It’s a matter of acknowledgement that economic times are tough, tax receipts are down. You know, basic awareness that pay increases are not possible as some are arguing for.

    Drop the platitudes. Be objective. $32/hour is a huge salary for such a position.

    What does a police officer make starting wage?

  28. ws
    March 12, 2011 at 11:52 am Link

    EngineerScotty:“Why is there this constant assumption that the guy making $100 million per year likely “earned” every dime, but the guy making $70k/year is overpaid?”

    For the absolute engraved in stone record, I’ve got huge problems with the gov’t subsidized millionaires too (who can also pay their accountants to reduce their effective marginal rates).

    We are not talking about them. We are talking about Tri-Met fare inspectors. We are talking about their salaries.

    Stop the smoke and mirrors. Address the issue at hand.

    A fare inspector is not worth $32/hour. I don’t even need to make arguments about “on the public dime”, even though I could.

    Labor costs are too high. This is the smoking gun. We could employ more people (you know, reduce Oregon’s too high of an unemployment rate) and still pay people a decent salary commensurate for the job at hand.

    I’m not some Fascist Repubugnican who defends his guilded class on the backs of good people. Don’t treat me as such.

    I’m a moderate Independent. I make objective arguments. I am beholden to no party except logic.

    For the record, I voted for Obama and Kitzhaber, if people are wondering. I am also not an anti-union guy for dangerous jobs like Police, Fire and Transit.

    Care to compare starting salaries for a unionized Portland Police Officer to that of a Tri-Met unionized fare inspector?

  29. EngineerScotty
    March 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm Link

    WS: For the absolute engraved in stone record, I’ve got huge problems with the gov’t subsidized millionaires too (who can also pay their accountants to reduce their effective marginal rates). We are not talking about them. We are talking about Tri-Met fare inspectors. We are talking about their salaries. Stop the smoke and mirrors. Address the issue at hand.

    It seems to me to be manifestly unjust to only consider public employees for such actions.

    Obviously the thread focuses on fare inspectors, who (currently) are public employees–and I don’t know offhand what qualifications are necessary for the job, so I don’t have an informed opinion as to their salaries compares to other professionals with similar levels of training and education.

    But the “we can have more if we cut people’s salary” line works everywhere–it may well be the case that your boss could increase productivity by forcing you to take a pay cut, and rationalize this by claiming that lots of folks out there would be happy to to your job for less. Obviously, I do not know what you do or how much you make (feel free to divulge all or none of that information as you see fit), but I’m sure your boss (assuming you aren’t self-employed) would happily pay you less.

    Nobody is calling you a “fascist” anything–such terms of abuse are unwelcome here, after all. But concern for the well-being of the middle class is not consistent with asking a big chunk of ‘em to take paycuts.

    WS: Labor costs are too high. This is the smoking gun. We could employ more people (you know, reduce Oregon’s too high of an unemployment rate) and still pay people a decent salary commensurate for the job at hand.

    We could also employ more people by reducing management’s share of the surplus. Right now, this is assumed to be Not An Option due to the high mobility of capital–the constant argument is that the middle class has no choice but to accept a lower standard of living; either capital gets a better deal (lower taxes, lower wages and worse working conditions), or capital simply packs up and goes somewhere else (resulting in higher unemployment). But those aren’t the only two choices available.

  30. GregT
    March 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm Link

    Fare inspectors could get $8.40 an hour and then they would be able to hire a lot more of them than if they are making 10x that amount.

  31. Aaron
    March 12, 2011 at 4:40 pm Link

    Isn’t there kind of a false dichotomy here? Isn’t is possible that maybe some unions have managed to get deals that are unjustifiably generous, and many very rich folks are screwing over the underclasses?

    I’m doing four years of school (ok, more like five and a half…), racking up debt, working my ass off on learning specialized, in-demand skills and new things every day, and when I’m out of here (and even freelancing now), I can expect a wage that is fairly calibrated to that.

    All I can say is I feel some of ws’s pain and that some of these starting wages for employees (and managers) at TriMet and elsewhere do seem to be a bit out of whack. I feel like a horrible jerk just pointing it out, but it feels to me that some of these are jobs a large number of people without anything more than a GED could excel at given the chance. And at a lower (and completely livable) wage, without the public being limited to lousy workers.

    I like unions, I just don’t understand how a two-way bargaining process should result in some of these discrepancies, unless one side isn’t trying hard enough.

  32. J
    March 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm Link

    But the starting salary for fare inspectors isn’t $32, it’s $23.79. And it’s not an entry level position, all fare inspectors have at least 2 years full-time experience as a bus or rail operator, and none of those are entry-level jobs. The entry level job for that career path is a part time bus driver, the starting salary of which is $13.83, and goes up to $25.13. It takes a while for a part time bus driver to go full-time (someone like Al M would know better than me how long it’s been since part timers were given the opportunity to go full-time), so let’s assume 2 years at part-time wages, then they have to have at least 2 years of full time driving, so by that point they’ve been in the company for about 4 years. $23.79 after 4 years in a company doesn’t seem unreasonable.

    Plus as far as I know fare inspectors aren’t armed but they do get threatened since unlike bus drivers they can’t pick and choose what battles they want to fight over fare. A few years ago one was assaulted by a passenger who broke his collarbone. A starting salary of ~$24 to deal with that crap seems about right.

    (all information obtained from TriMet’s job description for fare inspector)

  33. Bob R.
    March 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm Link

    Fare inspectors could get $8.40 an hour and then they would be able to hire a lot more of them than if they are making 10x that amount.

    Where does this stuff keep coming from? 10X that amount, assuming 40-hour weeks, 48 weeks a year, would be over $160K. Show me the $160K fare inspector (who doesn’t have other significant duties or overtime).

    Now we’ve gone from the myth of “average” $90K+ bus drivers to the complete fabrication of $160K+ fare inspectors. Sheesh.

  34. Dave H
    March 12, 2011 at 7:43 pm Link

    I’ve never been through a fare inspection in Oregon. In San Francisco or San Diego it seemed to be about 1/4 trips I was checked, but in at least 100 trips on Streetcar and MAX here, I’ve never been asked to show a transfer once other than getting on a bus.

    I don’t commute on any form of rail, but I use it at least a few times a month at all kinds of random hours, and have never seen a fare inspector. Maybe we have a high enough payment rate it doesn’t matter, but that seems unlikely to me.

  35. ws
    March 12, 2011 at 8:36 pm Link

    Bob R:“Now we’ve gone from the myth of “average” $90K+ bus drivers to the complete fabrication of $160K+ fare inspectors. Sheesh.”

    A) Who said 90k was the average pay for a bus driver?

    B) Greg was using a hyperbole.

    @J:

    Please look at the real salaries of full-time fare inspectors:

    http://oregoncapitolnews.com/govdocs/metro/trimet-salaries/?organization=&job=0342%257CFare%2BInspector&like-first_name=&like-last_name=&total=&campaign=1&page=1

    23/hr is still 45k a year before benefits.

    Averages about 63k a year (pre-benefits) deducting the outlier.

    @Aaron:

    Thank you for coming to my defense. You have made the most salient point of all. Where is the incentive to go to school? I’d say just get good at driving a large vehicle, party hard in high school, get your GED, and become a Tri-Met employee (an obvious hyperbole, for the record).

    For my story, I have more than 4 years of college education w/ a specialized degree, I am closer to my 30’s than 20’s and STILL live with my parents.

    Maybe you know why people get mad when they see others succeed on the the public’s dime?

    It’s all about perspective.

  36. J
    March 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm Link

    How long were those fare inspectors in that position though? $23 was the starting salary, $31.72 was the top salary. If all of those fare inspectors have been doing that job for years on top of however long they were a bus driver and therefore they were making the top of the scale, then the numbers make sense. I don’t know, I guess I don’t have a problem with someone with many years of experience on the job being paid for it.

    And what’s with the education snobbery? If people want to go to college or beyond, good for them. If other people choose skilled labor or a trade or even being a professional driver, good for them. They made their choices, you made yours… why should they have to suffer pay cuts because the job market sucks in your field right now? What would that do to help you?

    Given that this seems to be a sensitive issue for you, did you apply to be a bus driver at TriMet when they were hiring a month or so ago to get in on some of this yourself?

  37. Juke
    March 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm Link

    I should add that many people work many years for many more than 4 years and won’t see any pay increase, and many people would love nothing more than to go to college, but cannot afford. Public colleges and scholarships level the playing field a bit, but it’s not enough for people at the lowest income levels.

  38. Aaron
    March 13, 2011 at 12:04 am Link

    Well, I did feel bad about the snobbery, but one point I was trying to make was that my job market doesn’t suck right now and that the pay is fair, and I feel bad for saying it but I thought the wages mentioned are a little too high for number of people able to do the job. Perhaps that $23 should be $18 and that $31 more like $25. They get great benefits.

  39. J
    March 13, 2011 at 12:46 am Link

    @ Juke – that’s actually one of the reasons I have no problem with what Trimet pays drivers (and by extension fare inspectors and any other position in that area that starts off as being a bus driver), since it’s an opportunity for people who can’t afford college to get a decent wage/provide for themselves/family.

    @ Aaron – but where do you draw the line? As EngineerScotty already said above, I don’t know what your job is or how hard it is to find someone qualified to do it, but what if I was willing to do it for $12k less per year (which would be the pay cut from $31/hr to $25/hr). Does that mean your employer should cut your salary by that amount?

    Here’s my full disclosure – I have a masters & have nearly completed a PhD. My current job (which is in my field) pays me about $34k annually, no benefits. Yeah, that kind of sucks for the amount of time I spent in school but that’s the job market for me at the moment. Should I have applied to be a bus driver since that seems to have higher earning potential? Maybe. But as it stands now, even if we stripped all of the bus drivers/fare inspectors of their benefits and halved their salaries, it’s still not going to make my employer give ME any sort of benefits, so I don’t see this point of “I’m not being fairly compensated, therefore no one should be.”

  40. Aaron
    March 13, 2011 at 3:25 am Link

    but what if I was willing to do it for $12k less per year (which would be the pay cut from $31/hr to $25/hr). Does that mean your employer should cut your salary by that amount?

    No, it means maybe he should hire you and deal with the consequences. :) I’d dare anybody to do as good a job as me at a lower price. I’m a very good value to the people I work for.

    I’m subject to market pressures right now, as a 1099er without a contract that can be dropped like it’s nothing. I’m not unfairly compensated and I don’t think I could be easily undercut by more than I could handle. This might be somewhat rare, I don’t know — I just think some union wages are simply higher than they warrant irrespective of my situation. Like I said, I’m for unions and I don’t think they should be forced to work it at minimum wage just because there might be a few people more desperate. I simply think things need a little adjustment.

    I work in web development and IT.

  41. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 10:58 am Link

    J:“And what’s with the education snobbery? If people want to go to college or beyond, good for them.”

    It’s not about snobbery. It’s about meritocracy and incentive. You have to earn your stripes in life. The education system and its lack of access to less fortunate is something of great concern to me. That I agree with.

    Regarding reducing employee compensation:

    It’s not about increasing MY pay or reducing other people’s pay. It’s not about ME. I only use myself as an example. Sorry to give off that notion.

    The issue at hand is that (public) salaries need to be in line with reality for what the job is worth. Many fare inspectors are paid more than police officers.

    That is a cogent argument to me.

    Here’s income levels of Portland’s (UA):

    http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ADPTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=40000US71317&-qr_name=ACS_2009_5YR_G00_DP5YR3&-context=adp&-ds_name=&-tree_id=5309&-_lang=en&-redoLog=false&-format=

    Non-family median income in our area is $36,000 for some perspective.

  42. EngineerScotty
    March 13, 2011 at 11:43 am Link

    WS: The issue at hand is that (public) salaries need to be in line with reality for what the job is worth. Many fare inspectors are paid more than police officers.

    Why stop at “public” salaries?

    To me, it ought to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If government is going to be doing things like Wisconsin (and other states) have done, and take steps to limit the bargaining power and/or wages of government workers, it ought to be simultaneously taking steps to attack the wages of CEOs and the like. Note that the new law in Wisconsin is a legislative act, not simply a hard-line stance at the bargaining table, so the public/private distinction (“it’s the public’s business what government employees make, but not what private employees”) make has already been breeched.

  43. Juke
    March 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm Link

    ws: It’s about meritocracy and incentive. You have to earn your stripes in life. The education system and its lack of access to less fortunate is something of great concern to me. That I agree with.

    Right…but why has someone who slaved away at school “earned” their stripes” more than someone who slaved away at some dead-end job? Why is education more valuable? You are concerned about the lack of access to education for lower income residents. It should follow from this that you recognize the problems with valuing educational labor more than blue-collar labor, which is what you do when you say that someone who works a blue-collar job shouldn’t be making as much as someone who went through high-school.

    As an aside, I love the idea of a meritocracy, but we don’t live in one. Not even close. There are multiple factors that influence access to a job and wealth: class, race, sex, sexuality, gender identity, disability, religion, etc.

  44. J
    March 13, 2011 at 1:25 pm Link

    “It’s not about snobbery. It’s about meritocracy and incentive. You have to earn your stripes in life.”

    Okay… but I still don’t see why someone who decides to go to college for 4 years is somehow “earning their stripes” more than someone who pretty much spends the equivalent amount of time developing a non-academic skill such as driving a bus.

    And I think another two things that are contributing to this are that these positions aren’t salaried, they’re hourly, and they are eligible for overtime. @ws, I saw in the open thread that you disagreed with a bus driver being able to make $100k in a year. But if a bus driver puts in 1350 hours of overtime, what is his employer supposed to do? They’re required by law to pay time and a half for every hour of overtime. Assuming he’s at the top of his payscale, that time and a half works out to about $50k. That says to me more that they need to be hiring more new drivers than anything about that guy being overpaid. A new driver at the bottom of the payscale working those 1350 hours instead would have cost $18,670. But for whatever reason TriMet chose to have plenty of overtime available rather than hire new drivers… I can’t bring myself to blame the bus driver who took advantage of what was available.

    Fare inspectors are also eligible for overtime, and I’m going to make a reasonable guess that since the number of fare inspectors went from 24 to 7 (according to the Portland Afoot article), those 7 have a lot of overtime to soak up to try to cover the work of the 17 who were eliminated. That, in turn, is going to make their salaries look inflated. Is that somehow their fault? I don’t think it is.

  45. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm Link

    EngineerScotty:“To me, it ought to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If government is going to be doing things like Wisconsin (and other states) have done, and take steps to limit the bargaining power and/or wages of government workers, it ought to be simultaneously taking steps to attack the wages of CEOs and the like.

    This is a fundamentally flawed argument and a very flimsy argument at that.

    Private business is just that: private. We cannot tell a private business what it can or cannot pay its employees. What’s not to understand here?

    Now, if we’re talking about CEO pay and bonuses for companies that have not paid back their gov’t subsidies plus interest, then you have a very solid point. I agree with that as we discussed earlier, and I am not sure why you’re parroting this again.

    The wages of public employees and benefits need to come under higher scrutiny if they are known to be egregious.

    I feel ~63k a year for a fare inspector is way out of line. In the court of public opinion, many people would tend to agree. Care to take a poll?

    If the bargaining is left to the stake of just TriMet and unions as you are arguing, then whatever they agree on is fine with you, regardless of the pay? That is what I gather. Or is there a line that is drawn? What’s the criteria for that line? What’s the maximum a fare inspector can be paid before you say, “wait a minute, their pay is too high”?

    My line is drawn at comparing what they appear to do vs. other semi-similar professions like police. Hell, I could compare wages of people who hand out parking tickets and make the fare inspectors look outright rich. People who hand out parking tickets can be in as much danger as fare inspectors.

    Why can an at large public (who pays the direct and indirect taxes to TriMet) not have a voice at the bargaining table? Businesses pay TriMet taxes and they have absolutely NO democratically elected direct representation.

    Maybe we need to do away with the appointed positions for TriMet and give a part of the voice back to the people through direct representation?

    The voters will vote for TriMet’s board. The voters will have representation behind the elected board and the workers will have representation behind the unions.

    At least then people will feel less screwed.

    Taxpayers have zero voice right now. It’s unfair.

  46. Bob R.
    March 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm Link

    Private business is just that: private. We cannot tell a private business what it can or cannot pay its employees. What’s not to understand here?

    But we can. Take the minimum wage, for example, or overtime laws. We can also decide how to count tips.

    You may want to argue from a libertarian perspective that we _shouldn’t_ regulate such things, but was to whether we _can_, that’s been pretty well-established.

    Care to take a poll?

    This is precisely the reason why public employees need unions. These are regular people who have been hired to do a job. They have lives, they have families, just like everyone else. Their compensation and work rules shouldn’t be subject to swings in public whims. There should be procedures for layoffs, downsizing, and there should be negotiations over pay and benefits in hard times.

    If you think that TriMet hasn’t been a particularly good negotiator or hasn’t worked within the rules to cut costs (such as too much available overtime rather than new hires, as someone suggested), then that’s an area to lobby for improvement.

    But you’ve asked me (and others) to repeatedly take issue with a specific rate of pay for TriMet employees. That’s primarily for TriMet and the union to hash out, not for polls and not for quickly-pronounced opinions from bloggers.

    You really seem to be of the opinion that the union has gotten away with something egregious here.

    But perhaps the question to ask is, “If public sector unions get such good deals for employees, why can’t we have more private sector unions?”.

    You may also want to ask yourself why the “compensation committees” of very large corporations, the ones who establish CEO salaries, are made up primarily of CEOs from other large corporations, and not necessarily made up of shareholders.

  47. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm Link

    J:“Okay… but I still don’t see why someone who decides to go to college for 4 years is somehow “earning their stripes” more than someone who pretty much spends the equivalent amount of time developing a non-academic skill such as driving a bus.”

    You’re absolutely right. Trades are just as important as going to school. I think learning a trade is just as important as going to school if one chooses. Is handing out tickets a trade these days?

    I am only speaking of generalities in regards to meritocracy in America.

    I am purely attacking what appears to be a high wage for someone handing out tickets.

    J:I saw in the open thread that you disagreed with a bus driver being able to make $100k in a year. But if a bus driver puts in 1350 hours of overtime, what is his employer supposed to do?

    1) Disallow overtime unless necessary (which is paid at time and a half) and hire more part-time bus drivers.

    2) You assume their high salaries are due to overtime. I don’t know, but their pay scale falls between the 23-32/hr range, so I am going to assume it’s not.

    3) I am not blaming the bus driver or fare inspector. Good for them if they have a good job.

    4) I think a starting wage of $13 dollars is too low for a bus driver. Bump it up but cap the salary of a bus driver to something more reasonable. You can only learn so much about being a bus driver. It’s a vastly different profession that others.

    I don’t ride a bus or transit anymore because TriMet is broke apparently and cut my service where it takes forever to go where I need to. Then I see TriMet pays for a measly 7 fare inspectors at 63k a piece. I’ve been fare inspected maybe once in a three months when riding the MAX everyday.

    Put yourself in the riders’ shoes. Little if any fare inspection, cut service, and fare inspectors that appear to make damn good money.

    Perspective, perspective, perspective…TriMet just does not get it.

    And after random discussions on this blog, I wonder if those in the transit community get it either.

    Maybe I’m just the minority pro-transit guy who thinks accountability is a dying art-form.

  48. Bob R.
    March 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm Link

    I am only speaking of generalities in regards to meritocracy in America.

    If you place a high value on meritocracy, I hope that you’re involved in efforts to prevent the repeal/reduction of the estate tax.

    There is no single threat to the idea of a meritocracy greater than that of a self-perpetuating generational aristocracy.

  49. Bob R.
    March 13, 2011 at 2:13 pm Link

    PS…

    I agree that the TriMet board should be more accountable and there should be more local voices controlling TriMet. (It has been suggested before that Metro, were it so inclined, could take over authority for TriMet from the state. But perhaps there could be other options?).

    We have elected school boards, so I don’t have a problem per se with elected transit boards. (Although in some locals school board politics can get quite loopy.)

    Perhaps we can get a series of elected ODOT boards with control over projects and practices in several regions of the state while we’re at it.

    Oh, and in case you’re wondering about businesses writing checks to TriMet… I write all the checks for my small business and I’m well aware of what I pay TriMet, and I still don’t think that bus drivers are necessarily overpaid.

  50. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm Link

    Bob R:“If you place a high value on meritocracy, I hope that you’re involved in efforts to prevent the repeal/reduction of the estate tax”

    When I speak of meritocracy, I use it in the term of someone having ample opportunities to succeed in life and that their successes are predominantly defined by their abilities.

    Life ain’t fair and it is never going to be fair. This is capitalism. The wise and level-headed Charlie Sheen once said there’s winning and losing. There is and will always be an aristocracy despite any form of estate tax.

    I may have used meritocracy erroneously, however.

    Substitute it with “opportunities” if you must. And by in large, Americans have quality opportunities at hand to succeed. I did not take advantage of opportunities that I have in high school. I regret it greatly and it is my fault for not taking advantage of them.

    Regarding overall taxation:

    I believe in taxing people for services used. There is no service being used in regards to estate taxes. It is an arbitrary form of tax.

    Income taxes are paid by people who are using (i.e. living) services, even though on finer points of taxation, I think it is an over-relied upon tax in Oregon.

    Washington seems to be doing fine without an income tax and have a much broader economy than we do — despite that a sales tax is supposedly “regressive” (even though Washington has fewer hungry people and homeless people than Oregon, so it’s just platitudes imo).

    Maybe then we can start taxing products like soda for the negative externality they place on society and their inclination to increase health care costs for everybody? Makes sense to me.

    And I have digressed…my apologies.

  51. Bob R.
    March 13, 2011 at 3:35 pm Link

    Whether or not a tax is regressive or progressive is a matter of mathematics, not “platitudes”.

    Fortunately, a study has been done:
    Study: Washington state has USA’s most regressive taxes

  52. bjcefola
    March 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm Link

    “… the starting salary for fare inspectors isn’t $32, it’s $23.79. And it’s not an entry level position, all fare inspectors have at least 2 years full-time experience as a bus or rail operator, and none of those are entry-level jobs.

    $23.79 after 4 years in a company doesn’t seem unreasonable.”

    Instead of haggling over whether they’re overpaid for their qualifications, maybe we should question the qualifications? Does it take 4 years to become a cop?

  53. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm Link

    The report you mention includes taxes like excise taxes. Yay, Washington has high cigarette taxes and alcohol taxes. Superfluous items that don’t matter if they’re taxed high because they are not necessary to live, in fact they are bad for people.

    Washington’s sales tax is average and its property taxes are average too. So, I don’t know what to say after reading the report.

    When one looks at the numbers, people in Washington earn more than people in Oregon, they have less overall poverty, less homelessness, and less hunger. Washington also has better Universities than Oregon.

    The numbers don’t lie.

    So, whats’s the explanation here?

    Regarding sales taxes, they should not be levied on healthy or whole foods to promote healthy eating. This will make up for any regressive aspects they have on lower income people.

    I don’t feel bad for low income people who spend their money on cigarettes or booze. Do you?

  54. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 4:25 pm Link

    PS:

    Washington does not levy general sales taxes on groceries or prescription drugs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sales_taxes_in_the_United_States

  55. AL M
    March 13, 2011 at 4:42 pm Link

    Nice salary. Cut pay and hire more fare inspectors. We’re in one of the blackest time in Oregon’s economic history and a fare inspector gets paid that much?

    ~~~>I got a much better idea, cut THESE folks paycheck, since all of them actually don’t do anything for the public, hire more personnel that do work for the public providing transit!

    Why is there this constant assumption that the guy making $100 million per year likely “earned” every dime, but the guy making $70k/year is overpaid?

    ~~~>The reality is that the great bulk of wealth is actually inherited, the truly wealthy make money by capital gains, which produces ZERO in terms of actually productivity to the world.

    It’s a matter of acknowledgement that economic times are tough, tax receipts are down

    ~~~>Your wrong again! Economic times are not tough for the top 2% of Americans. As a matter of fact they have never seen such wealth! They have made the American dream and multiplied it by 100!
    Tax receipts are down because of tax credits to big corporations! And the big corporations have moved our jobs to Asia, among other places. You have bought the entire propaganda picture, congratulations!

    Be objective. $32/hour is a huge salary for such a position.

    ~~~>Compared to what? Minimum wage yes, Trimet general manager no.

    But the “we can have more if we cut people’s salary” line works everywhere–it may well be the case that your boss could increase productivity by forcing you to take a pay cut, and rationalize this by claiming that lots of folks out there would be happy to to your job for less. Obviously, I do not know what you do or how much you make (feel free to divulge all or none of that information as you see fit), but I’m sure your boss (assuming you aren’t self-employed) would happily pay you less.

    BRAVO! BRAVO!

    but it feels to me that some of these are jobs a large number of people without anything more than a GED could excel at given the chance. And at a lower (and completely livable) wage, without the public being limited to lousy workers.

    ~~~>Excuse me but I have six years of college, a masters and bachelors degree.

    so let’s assume 2 years at part-time wages, then they have to have at least 2 years of full time driving, so by that point they’ve been in the company for about 4 years. $23.79 after 4 years in a company doesn’t seem unreasonable.

    ~~~>Correct, however part time wages and full time wages are the same, the difference is full timers get full family medical, part timers don’t. And part timers cant do overtime either.

    Maybe you know why people get mad when they see others succeed on the the public’s dime?

    ~~~>It’s really disappointing to me to have to bear witness to how many of you have bought the propaganda hook line and sinker. I got news for you, we pay taxes too! Ever given any consideration for America to stop its empire building and spending trillions of YOUR tax dollars overseas? Or you’re just pissed to see somebody who you basically look down on (a bus driver) is doing better financially than you are?

    I have a masters & have nearly completed a PhD. My current job (which is in my field) pays me about $34k annually, no benefits. Yeah, that kind of sucks for the amount of time I spent in school but that’s the job market for me at the moment. Should I have applied to be a bus driver since that seems to have higher earning potential? Maybe.

    ~~~>If you can tolerate this line of work and money is your only goal in life than maybe you should be a bus driver. I posted something here about the wonderful nature of our jobs, all the stuff that happens to you out here never mind the fact that bus drivers are proven to die younger and get sicker than the general population. Live a couple of days in Sandi Day’s shoes and see how being a bus driver was for her!

    I’m subject to market pressures right now, as a 1099er without a contract that can be dropped like it’s nothing.

    ~~~> Ah the market, the “free” market, you can see just how wonderful that market is don’t ya! It’s basically a system of slavery without chains.
    And the people that control that “free” market have decided that everyone is going to get paid less because they screwed up the banking system with their endless greed.

    To me, it ought to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If government is going to be doing things like Wisconsin (and other states) have done, and take steps to limit the bargaining power and/or wages of government workers, it ought to be simultaneously taking steps to attack the wages of CEOs and the like.

    YOU GOT IT! DOUBLE STANDARDS MAYBE?

    I can’t go on with this discussion because I’ve had it a couple dozen times already.

    Let me wrap this up by saying it is truly disappointing to have to read the comments by so many people who sit in judgment of who is worth pay and who is not worth pay.

    You all want the race to the bottom, people like me want a race to the top. American’s fighting with other Americans over who is better than who is exactly what the elite of the world want. They sit back and enjoy watching the population tearing themselves to shreds. And the elite are the only ones to come out on top in this. I just don’t understand why so many people are so misinformed about the nature of this “economic crisis”.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

    Woe is us as a country when one half wants to destroy the other half!

    Don’t forget, lots of people (especially many elites) thought it was ok to use slavery so they could make profit, what we are seeing now is just another version of that.

    A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

  56. Bob R.
    March 13, 2011 at 4:45 pm Link

    I don’t feel bad for low income people who spend their money on cigarettes or booze. Do you?

    And yet based on your statements it seems that you do feel it’s an imposition to tax the wealthy at rates which were customary in the 1990’s, and that the generational transfer of wealth without taxation is OK because “life isn’t fair”, and you’re very concerned with how much hard-working bus drivers who put in hundreds of hours of overtime earn.

    I suggest, again, that your priorities are misdirected.

    Our country is facing a revenue problem far more than it is facing a spending problem.

    And regardless of groceries or cigarettes, sales taxes are regressive because a middle-class person buying a $15,000 car pays a higher effective share of their income in taxes than a rich person buying a $30,000 car. A middle-class person buying a $500 PC for their kid’s education pays a higher effective share of their income in taxes than a rich person buying $2,500 in high-end PC equipment for their kid, and so on, and so on.

    There are more things which are “necessities” for full participation in the modern economy than just food. It certainly does help to exempt food and drugs from sales taxes, but on the whole they’re still regressive.

  57. J
    March 13, 2011 at 5:03 pm Link

    You’re absolutely right. Trades are just as important as going to school. I think learning a trade is just as important as going to school if one chooses. Is handing out tickets a trade these days?

    If I’m absolutely right, then why are you disagreeing with me about the importance of developing a nonacademic skill such as driving a bus? Keeping in mind that all fare inspectors have to have worked as bus drivers and then done whatever additional training was required to be a fare inspector, it makes sense that a fare inspector’s pay is higher than a bus driver’s since they’re qualified to do both jobs.

    Maybe you want to make the argument that fare inspection shouldn’t require 2 years fulltime bus or rail driving experience. I don’t know enough about the job to know if there’s a reason why they require that. A question for Neil or the TriMet board perhaps?

    And I already am a rider, so I don’t have to do much to put myself in riders’ shoes. I have no weekend service where I live anymore, and my weekday service has gone from all-day to one bus that runs only during rush hour and another that runs once an hour. I don’t blame fare inspectors for that as much as I blame TriMet diverting money from operations into building a redundant rail line to Milwaukie, which incidentally costs a lot more than the combined salary & benefits packages of the fare inspectors.

  58. AL M
    March 13, 2011 at 5:11 pm Link

    “I don’t blame fare inspectors for that as much as I blame TriMet diverting money from operations into building a redundant rail line to Milwaukie, which incidentally costs a lot more than the combined salary & benefits packages of the fare inspectors.”

    ~~~>There ya go! Now your understanding where the problem really is in this country. There IS PLENTY of money out there, but “they” only use it where “they” see fit!

  59. AL M
    March 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm Link

    BTW- In this discussion about fare collection, I wonder just how much money is lost because of broken down fare boxes.

    I know there is plenty of fare boxes that don’t work at any given time and TRIMETS official policy is “let em ride free” (obviously they don’t trust us I guess).

    I would imagine that that adds up to quite a few dollars over the course of a year, Tens of thousands at least. Maybe hundreds of thousands.

    It’s one of those things that very few people are aware of.

  60. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm Link

    Bob R:

    I am okay with taxing the wealthy at progressive rates. It’s unpalatable to rely so much on income taxes as we have in Oregon. Colorado has all forms of taxation but it keeps them modest.

    An Oregon resident pays 9.8% of their income to the state. A Washington resident pays 9.3% of their income to the state.

    http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/topic/65.html

    Why is it Washington has less apparent problems than Oregon in regards to economic prosperity, homelessness, hunger, etc. and pay less of their total incomes to the state (albeit marginally better)?

    It’s a regressive hell-hole, apparently, but it’s outperforming us in real world statistics. I don’t care about social science economic theory here, I care about results.

    Why?

  61. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 5:34 pm Link

    J: “If I’m absolutely right, then why are you disagreeing with me about the importance of developing a nonacademic skill such as driving a bus?”

    When did I disagree with you on this?

    Regarding going to college or becoming a fare inspector, it is, again about incentive.

    I still stick to the fact that it’s an overpaid position. What’s not to understand how frustrating it is for those who did go to college when they could just learn to drive a bus instead and have less debt.

    I think I have been clear.

    In this thread I’ve even advocated that the minimum bus wage is too low, yet I am getting flack that I somehow do not recognize the difficult nature of driving a bus. Can’t a guy catch a break here?

    Driving a bus is difficult. How is paying someone more going to make it any less difficult?

    Or maybe we can address the problems that make it difficult in the first place instead like increasing safety and collecting fares 100% of the time.

  62. J
    March 13, 2011 at 5:40 pm Link

    @ws – you seem to think college or trades are important, but didn’t seem to be willing to extend that same level of importance to fare inspection or bus driving. Am I misinterpreting you?

    And sure, it can be frustrating to realize that people who made different career choices than you seem to have it better than you. I’ll ask again – when TriMet was hiring part time bus drivers a month ago, did you apply? If not, why not?

  63. AL M
    March 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm Link

    I still stick to the fact that it’s an overpaid position. What’s not to understand how frustrating it is for those who did go to college when they could just learn to drive a bus instead and have less debt.

    ~~~>Your entitled to your opinion. That and a buck might buy you a cup of coffee somewhere.

    Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
    “Mark Twain”

  64. Aaron
    March 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm Link

    Why should a fare inspector need to know how to drive a bus? Why waste the time and money training someone to be a bus driver just so they can become a fare inspector? Maybe that’s a problem.

  65. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 6:16 pm Link

    @J:

    I knew my career choice, which required more education than a typical degree, would not bring me the riches of the world. I have been unable to even break into my profession due to the economy for a few years now.

    I see doctors who had a different career choice than me making more money than I am. I see years of school, debt, and hard work that got them there. Good for them.

    The difference is that I feel fare inspector is not worth that much money that they are making. Nobody has been able to prove otherwise. Nobody has been able to prove that a bus driver is worth 100k even if they work x amount of overtime.

    This has never been about me other than I bring myself up as an example to illustrate a point.

    I did not apply to be a bus driver. I do not want to be a bus driver. My passion is other places.

    Plus, I believe in “right to work”. Wouldn’t that make me hypocritical to join TriMet?

    Speaking of labor and capital expenditures (you mentioned Milwaukie line, which I’m not thrilled about either). Labor still cost more than capital expenditures in 2009:

    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/top_profiles/2009/agency_profiles/0008.pdf

  66. AL M
    March 13, 2011 at 6:28 pm Link

    The difference is that I feel fare inspector is not worth that much money that they are making. Nobody has been able to prove otherwise. Nobody has been able to prove that a bus driver is worth 100k even if they work x amount of overtime.

    As I said, you are entitled to your opinion

    And my opinion is that somebody that wipes up people in nursing homes in the last days of their lives is worth a hell of a lot more than $8.50 an hour and an actor who is useless to society as a whole is worth a lot less than $1.5 million per episode for a stupid show on prime time TV!

  67. J
    March 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm Link

    @ws “The difference is that I feel fare inspector is not worth that much money that they are making. Nobody has been able to prove otherwise.”

    On the contrary, a number of reasons have been put forward why fare inspectors make the money they do. If you choose not to acknowledge that and hold to your opinion that they’re overpaid (it is your opinion that they are overpaid, not a fact), that’s on you, not the people explaining how their salaries are derived.

    “Nobody has been able to prove that a bus driver is worth 100k even if they work x amount of overtime.”

    Actually I did prove that. It’s basic math – at the top wage for bus drivers (~$25/hr), that extra 1350 hours of overtime is an extra $51k in pay. An average of 10.25 hours per day, 6.5 days a week? The man was essentially working two jobs, so yeah, he gets compensated for that – he had almost a 70 hour workweek!

    But okay, just for kicks, let’s go with the number that you decided would be a fair salary for a bus driver: $38k/year. Assuming 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, that works out to $18.27 an hour. Time and a half of that would be $27.41. 1350 hours of overtime at $27.41 is about $37k. Add that to his straight time salary and that’s about $75k annually. You had a problem with a driver making $100k… do you feel the same about $75k? That’s more than those fare inspectors are making..

  68. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm Link

    “On the contrary, a number of reasons have been put forward why fare inspectors make the money they do.”

    What were the reasons again? I can’t find it on the thread. Other than the possibility of OT being the reason, which I disagree with because the incomes of the individuals fall between $23-32/hr. meaning they more than likely did not have a lot of overtime hours.

    “But okay, just for kicks, let’s go with the number that you decided would be a fair salary for a bus driver: $38k/year.”

    I’ve stated numerous times overtime should be restricted and only used when necessary. Lots of people would kill for some overtime, but their employer won’t let them due to it being cost prohibitive.

    It’s dangerous for bus drivers to be doing overtime.

  69. some body
    March 13, 2011 at 7:09 pm Link

    Regarding overtime, the problem is that with the employer having to pay for health care and other expenses, additional employees can be more expensive.

  70. J
    March 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm Link

    Fare inspectors would’ve been in the company 4 years at a minimum, so for one, it’s not an entry-level position. A higher wage for a higher-level position is standard regardless of industry.

    Fare inspectors are certified/qualified bus drivers, so it stands to reason that their pay should be higher than a bus driver’s since they are qualified to do that job and then whatever additional training/requirements are necessary to be a fare inspector. (Now whether or not you need to know how to drive a bus to be a fare inspector is something I don’t know enough to answer, but again, if that bothers you that could be something you submit as a question to Neil McFarlane).

    Fare inspectors are also eligible for overtime pay. Even if it’s only a few hours per week or whatever (I have no idea what a fare inspector’s schedule is like), time and a half will add up and make their annual salary higher.

    As Al M said above, a bus driver is probably not going to want to engage in a fight with someone over $2.05. A fare inspector by the virtue of what their job is doesn’t really have the option to let it slide if they feel someone is going to get threatening over a fare (as evidenced by the fare inspector with the broken collarbone).

    Regarding overtime, I don’t think there are enough bus drivers if overtime is that plentiful. If it’s a choice between a bus driver making a few extra hours of overtime per shift (or working their day off for an entire shift of overtime) and my bus being cancelled because there are no drivers? I’ll pick the bus driver getting overtime every time. TriMet is going to be governed by hours of service laws limiting the number of hours a driver can work in a day or the number of consecutive days they can work, so as long as that’s being adhered do I don’t think overtime is inherently dangerous.

  71. J
    March 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm Link

    To add to what I wrote above, two more things.

    I saw this on a link that Juke posted in the open thread – http://maxfaqs.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/2chx3k1.png – it’s a chart showing the top bus driver salaries at various national transit companies. TriMet is somewhere between 12 & 64, but since they didn’t show the full list I don’t know exactly where. But that does show that what bus drivers make here isn’t out of line compared to other transit districts.

    And then back to the fare inspector job description, I just noticed that it says some college education is preferred – that additional statement over what’s required/preferred for bus drivers can also be a factor as to why fare inspectors make more.

  72. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 8:21 pm Link

    The cost of living is a bit lower in Portland than a lot of those cities. DC, LA, NYC, Boston…all expensive cities.

  73. AL M
    March 13, 2011 at 8:24 pm Link

    You are making a fatal flaw in your assumptions.

    Making my wages and benefits lower will not, repeat, NOT cause your wages and benefits to increase.

    On the contrary, every devaluation within the workforce creates a situation were every job is worth less and less.

    Your actually advocating for your own demise as well as ours, but you just don’t get it.

    I said it a dozen times, the only winners in this game are the people (oligarchs) who own the capital, and that includes us, as human capital for labor.

    THE STORY OF YOUR ENSLAVEMENT

  74. ws
    March 13, 2011 at 8:38 pm Link

    Al:

    My wages and benefits should not increase. My current job does not call for it. What I do for a “living” would not warrant an increase.

    I don’t want to reduce your current wage. That would probably go against your contract.

  75. AL M
    March 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm Link

    The “current” contract doesn’t mean anything.
    Just ask Neil Macfarlane.

  76. John Charles Wilson
    March 16, 2011 at 11:09 am Link

    In Germany they aim for a 2 percent inspection (average rider gets inspected once every 50 rides) and the inspectors are plainclothes. The latter introduces the element of surprise, which enhances any enforcement effort (though maybe not if there are only 7 inspectors). At a 2 percent rate, a daily commuter should get inspected about 10 times a year on average. Someone like me who averages 4 rides a day, 7 days a week, would be inspected about 30 times a year.

  77. GregT
    March 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm Link

    (It has been suggested before that Metro, were it so inclined, could take over authority for TriMet from the state. But perhaps there could be other options?).

    Do you think it could be problematic if Metro controlled TriMet in such an instance, say, where TriMet wanted to enlarge its boundary beyond the Metro “boundary”? That may cause political problems, here’s a potential for instance. They build a MAX to Salem. People outside the Metro area could put up objections because they are anti Metro and don’t want to be absorbed into its boundaries. Privatization would overcome this issue completely!

  78. EngineerScotty
    March 25, 2011 at 4:44 pm Link

    Greg,

    1) MAX would be an inappropriate technology for a connection to Salem; a distance which is better served with commuter rail (think WES). IMHO, a big problem with WES is that it’s serving a corridor for which true mass transit (ie MAX) would be more appropriate.

    2) Regardless, TriMet has long expressed little interest in interurban transit such as rail to Salem. Some Other Agency would be better off handling that sort of transportation.

    3) The question of “privatization” is an interesting one My suspicion is that such a thing, like most infrastructure, would require a subsidy–so you have some need for state involvement. Whether or not it would make sense to privatize operations, I have no idea.

  79. al m
    January 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm Link

    Does anybody have any idea what the penalty is for NOT paying the fare evasion fines?

    What actually happens in that circumstance?

  80. Ron Swaren
    January 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm Link

    ” IMHO, a big problem with WES is that it’s serving a corridor for which true mass transit (ie MAX) would be more appropriate.”

    So only if we spend $2 billion per line can we get “true mass transit?”

  81. EngineerScotty
    January 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm Link

    So only if we spend $2 billion per line can we get “true mass transit?”

    That was the estimated cost of a dual-tracked LRT line that uses none of the existing P&W trackage. OTOH a decent BRT running down SW Hall could probably be had for a few percent of that figure.

    The operational objection to WES is not its speed or reliability (other than when it breaks down, it does good here) but to its high operating cost and to its peak-only service. “True mass transit” doesn’t necessarily mean rail, but it DOES mean something that runs at frequent intervals, and does so seven days a week and during most if not all of the service day.

  82. Nick theoldurbanist
    January 12, 2013 at 8:35 pm Link

    Sounder between Seattle and Everett is similar to WES in that it has a very high operating cost per ride.

  83. EngineerScotty
    January 12, 2013 at 10:21 pm Link

    According to some reports, WES is a bargain compared to Sounder. See for example http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/SounderNorthInput.htm.

    I won’t comment much more, as I’m not sufficiently familiar with Sounder.

  84. Chris I
    January 13, 2013 at 7:19 am Link

    Sounder North, true, but Sounder South is cheaper to operate. With commuter rail, it really comes down to ridership. Sounder North and WES are analogous to flying 747s between Portland and Seattle.

  85. Douglas K
    January 13, 2013 at 8:01 am Link

    Of course, the high operating cost for WES is due in large part to artificial constraints. Tri-Met is forced to put a completely unnecessary second employee on each train for no reason other than compliance with an arbitrary federal requirement.

  86. EngineerScotty
    January 13, 2013 at 9:56 am Link

    Of course, the high operating cost for WES is due in large part to artificial constraints. Tri-Met is forced to put a completely unnecessary second employee on each train for no reason other than compliance with an arbitrary federal requirement.

    This is generally true for commuter rail in general. Waivers can be granted for systems which have their own track (or for which there are no freight operations during the same hours as commuter operations); but the successful systems are ultimately those that can run several cars full of passengers and keep the trains full. (And on those systems, the extra employee actually is useful for reasons other than regulatory requirements). WES averages about 60 passengers per run (a very rough estimate), not enough to fill a single DMU. (I don’t know what the peak ridership is, unfortunately).

    The other thing about commuter rail systems: The vast majority in existence a) cover a longer distance, b) and charge a fare much higher than what you pay for the bus (and generally don’t permit a free transfer to the transit system). $2.50 for a ride on commuter rail is quite the good deal….

  87. Jason Barbour
    January 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm Link

    WES/Sounder comparison video (not mine, thank punkrawker4783):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B95MQhsCrn4

    Does anybody have any idea what the penalty is for NOT paying the fare evasion fines?
    What actually happens in that circumstance?

    A Joseph Rose article from 2011 discusses someone who did just that and faced a $623 collection order from the Oregon Department of Revenue:
    http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2011/11/portland_man_goes_one_max_stop.html

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