June 30, 2011
Here is the full-length video (30min) from today's TriMet press event held at OMSI, marking the official start of construction for the first new Portland-area Willamette river crossing in approx. 40 years. This video features the complete remarks, with a few occasional extra shots edited over the top.
(Updated July 5th - Original version contained a typo. If you have embedded or posted a link to the original video, please update your links. Thank you.)
Although these sorts of events tend to be scripted, there was one interesting moment where Rep. Blumenauer choked up a bit when suggesting a possible name for the structure.
There was a proliferation of the color orange at the event, flags, banners, jackets, neckties, and even cookies. TriMet did everything but come out and confirm that this will be the Orange line, but Sam Adams did it for them. But sometimes a cookie is just a cookie.
TriMet also did a "Bridge School" presentation earlier in the day which was of a more technical nature, addressing how the bridge would be constructed, and taking a few questions including addressing the issue over river clearance. That video will be posted tomorrow. (You may wish to save technical questions until tomorrow's post.)
This bridge will serve bus and light rail transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists (and eventually streetcars, too). The bridge is being constructed as part of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project.
Neil McFarlane, General Manager, TriMet
Earl Blumenauer, US Representative
Kurt Schrader, US Representative
Sam Adams, Mayor, City of Portland
Gail Achterman, Chair, Oregon Transportation Commission
Carlotta Collette, Councilor, Metro
Jim Bernard, Commissioner, Clackamas County
Deborah Kafoury, Commissioner, Multnomah County
Scott Moore, Vice President, Public Affairs, Union Pacific
June 29, 2011
Update: TriMet says they were not expecting funding in this round, and that the project is in the President's FY12 Budget, which is when they expect the first funding.
The FTA released their latest round of New Starts funding, and Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail was not on the list.
According to some sources, $200M was anticipated.
We've queried TriMet to get their take on this.
June 28, 2011
Based on the quotes in this Oregonian article, it would appear that the view is that the citizen vote in 2012 is about how to fund transit operations on the Columbia River Crossing, not whether to:
The C-Tran board of directors, which includes three Vancouver City Council representatives, has set a vote on the sales tax for August or November election in 2012. Construction on the project is slated to start in late 2013.
But Columbia River Crossing Director Nancy Boyd, who was appointed leader of the project May, said the decision to include light rail was made when a locally preferred alternative was adopted by all the project partners in 2008. If the sales tax ballot measure were to fail, she said, the project would have to work with C-Tran to come up with another plan to raise $2 to $3 million a year.
Other council members also said light rail has been part of the equation from the beginning.
"I'm sorry that it's been interpreted that the vote on light rail funding is a vote on light rail, because I know of no one who has said that specifically," Councilman Jack Burkman said.
June 23, 2011
While the CRC and its design remain a topic of hot controversy, one of the key design elements is the extension of light rail, specifically the Yellow Line, into Vancouver. Many in Portland insist on it. Many in Vancouver are just as opposed, considering light rail an expensive boondoggle.
Currently, the only through services between Portland and Vancouver are C-TRAN's 105 and 199 express lines. And Clark County (specifically the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Clark County, albeit one far less powerful than Metro) is making its own rapid transit plans based on Bus Rapid Transit, with the first proposed line along Fourth Plain Boulevard, in the planning phases.
Might a BRT connection between Portland and Vancouver, assuming suitable design modifications on the CRC (or whatever gets built), be a possibility (including in addition to the proposed MAX extension)?
Whither the Yellow?
Right now, the Yellow Line is tabbed to be the primary connector between the two downtowns; and many Vancouver-Portland travelers use it to Delta Park before transferring to one of the C-TRAN services that cross the river. The 105 and 199 also provide express service between Portland and Vancouver; whether or not these services will be maintained in a post-CRC future is an interesting question. (Anecdotally, there is a significant contingent of express riders who have reservations about using MAX, in some cases for rather retrograde social reasons; that said similar objections are commonly voiced whenever a rapid-transit line replaces an express service).
The Yellow Line has one problem, though: It's slow.
Unlike the east-west trunk line, and the soon-to-break-ground Milwaukie line, which operate in their own rights-of-way soon after leaving the downtown core, the Interstate line runs in the median of Interstate Avenue for over four miles, and is speed-limited to 35MPH. It takes 20 minutes to travel the less than six miles between the Rose Quarter and the Expo Center; while that's faster than a well-used local bus (and more reliable, given the exclusive right-of-way), it's not all that good either. The Steel Bridge bottleneck makes things worse; it takes about six minutes on average for trains to travel from the Rose Quarter to Union Station, and another five to reach Pioneer Square. If we tack another 3-5 minutes to cross the river, including a stop at Hayden Island, we're looking at a 35 minute trip between the two downtowns. It's better than the current arrangement, but it is far from ideal. And for a line which is intended to be a regional trunk, it's rather....annoying.
Interstate MAX has other issues as well, many of which commenter Jason McHuff outlines here. Some of these issues, such as I-5 acting as a barrier to the Yellow Line's catchment area, don't directly affect the issue of Portland/Vancouver trips, but many of Jason's observations point to opportunities, which we will discuss later.
Meanwhile, across the river...
..planners in Clark County are busily making plans to build bus rapid transit. Four corridors have been identified, the first of which is in the early planning phases (the other three do not yet have projects associated with them). They are:
- Fourth Plain Boulevard, between downtown Vancouver and Vancouver Mall, with a possible extension east along SR500. This is the busiest corridor in the C-TRAN system; with the 4 and 44 lines providing headways that TriMet would label frequent service (and being rather crowded to boot).
- The Highway 99 corridor north from downtown Vancouver to Salmon Creek
- A "BRT-lite" alignment along Mill Plain from downtown Vancouver to Fischer's Landing
- A "freeway bus" route along I-205 from Fischers Landing, to Gateway TC in Portland.
All of these proposed corridors, other than the I-205 one, would intersect the proposed MAX extension downtown. (The I-205 corridor running to Gateway is an improvement over the existing eastside busses which only connect to Parkrose TC; thus missing connection opportunities with the Blue and Green Lines).
I will not waste any (digital) ink condemning Clark County's preference for BRT over LRT. I'm generally mode-agnostic, density north of the Columbia is much lower than in Portland, and the political support for rail simply is not there--so a BRT solution makes a lot of sense for Vancouver. Of course, the necessity to transfer to MAX in Vancouver to reach Portland bothers me.
One interesting thing that caught my eye in the FAQ for the Fourth Plain line is this little tidbit:
How is this related to the Columbia River Crossing Project?
The Fourth Plain BRT Project is independent of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project and is not funded from the CRC project's funds. However, C-TRAN is currently working with the CRC's transit design team to determine if it is possible to run BRT buses along the same transit guideway as light rail trains (LRT) that the CRC project is planning to extend into downtown Vancouver at some point in the future. [emphasis added] C-TRAN is also working with CRC staff to ensure that both the CRC LRT and BRT projects can be accommodated in downtown Vancouver. Additionally, there is a proposed August or November 2012 ballot measure which would increase the sales tax slightly to pay for construction and operating/maintenance costs of the BRT project as well as just operating/maintenance costs for the LRT extension.
It is unclear if they simply mean dual LRT/BRT operation on the surface MAX alignment in downtown Vancouver... or if they mean dual LRT/bus operation on the CRC as well.
The latter idea has possibilities.
What if BRT were extended into Portland?
What if one (or all) of the proposed BRT lines, rather than ending in downtown The Couv, all crossed the river and provided fast, friendly service to downtown Portland? We've got a bit of BRT ourselves in the Rose City (the transit mall), even if we don't call it that; and a Salmon Creek BRT would obsolete the 199 and 105 express lines. Assuming that the transit lanes on the CRC could be configured to support busses as well as trains (there are good reasons to extend MAX into Vancouver, even in this scenario), there are several possible routes that a BRT corridor could take to reach Portland. In order to avoid duplication of service (and due to the fact that rebuilding the Yellow Line is considered out of scope in this discussion), a few possible BRT corridors come to mind:
- Portsmouth to UP to Swan Island. One option would send busses west from Delta Park up Columbia Boulevard (preferably in an exclusive-ROW, and then south along the Portsmouth Trench (or whatever its called) to UP, then along the shore to Swan Island, and then downtown. This would be the longest route, but provide good opportunities for an exclusive right of way without needing to tear down much in the way of existing urban fabric. This route could include a short "green bridge" connecting Willamette Drive south of UP to Basin Avenue, crossing over the railroad tracks, permitting other useful service reorganizations in North Portland.
- Along I-5. This routing would closely parallel MAX, but help to rectify a major sin of the Yellow Line by providing service to the east side of I-5. In many places along I-5, there's room for a busway; an I-5 routing would provide direct service to PCC-Cascade and Legacy Emanuel, two important transit destinations in North Portland which are presently not directly served by mass transit. (Also as part of a BRT line in this corridor, it would be a useful project to tear down the bulk of the obnoxious Kerby Street ramps off of the Fremont Bridge, bringing it down to surface grade at the Kerby bend--and then reconnecting Kerby Street south of the ramps to Kerby Street north. The land currently occupied by the ramps could be converted to something more useful than redundant pavement. This is probably a good idea apart from any BRT...
- Along MLK. MLK is a four-lane highway (or better) all the way from Delta Park to Broadway; which is probably two more lanes than it needs to be. Median busway (or hybrid busway-streetcar, as it's on the Streetcar System Plan) makes a lot of sense. Of course, it's still a state highway, so ODOT will probably put the kibosh on this idea, and a higher-speed surface line might not work with the neighborhood.
One other outstanding item is the bus connection from the Rose Quarter to downtown. Right now, existing busses use surface streets and the Steel Bridge (curiously, no TriMet busses use the Broadway, which I find intriguing), the outer lanes of which are shared with cars. It's tempting to want to close the Steel to through traffic altogether, but doing so probably would be disruptive (though it would be nice to do something about the horrible bottleneck on the east end where the MAX lines all come together--right in the middle of an intersection with Interstate Avenue and Multnomah Street). A better idea might be to shift many of the bus services that currently use the Steel to the Broadway, and make the outer lanes of that (where the Streetcar tracks are doing) transit-only; with autos limited to the inner two lanes, with exclusive-transit lanes continuing to Irving Street and the north end of the mall. (Another possibility would be to make the rightmost eastbound lane on the Broadway, and the rightmost westbound lane on the Steel, transit-only; and provide both with direct connections to the transit mall).
I should conclude that much of this post is probably wishful thinking. Building a rapid transit corridor in close proximity to the Yellow Line is probably not happening any time soon; and one which would be significantly for the benefit of an out-of-state transit agency is doubly problematic--especially if it doesn't have a larger multi-state project like the CRC to piggyback on. And the inter-agency cooperation issues discussed previously would be magnified (though MAX into Vancouver will likely bring these issues further into the forefront). But still--C-TRAN's forays into BRT might be useful to TriMet in the future.
June 22, 2011
Mayor Adams posted a letter on his web site today, outlining stripped down alternatives for treatment of West Burnside Street.
The focus is a much-reduced project, $18M rather than the original $80M. And it does not include streetcar:
We completed the 25-year Citywide Streetcar Strategy. It showed me the need to prioritize streetcar extensions on the east side of the Willamette River.
The primary approach is a hybrid 3/4 lane Burnside that creates more left turn opportunities and improved pedestrian crossings.
But there is also an option for a "skinny Couch" to couple with Burnside - it looks like a very heavily traffic-calmed version of the original couplet idea.
I'm looking forward to learning a lot more in the near future.
The Columbian is reporting that the three park-and-ride structures for the Light Rail component of the Columbia River Crossing will cost $158M to $178M (divide that by the 2,890 spaces to get the cost per space).
That's between 18 and 20% of the $850M cost of the Light Rail project.
"The structures themselves are literally warehouses for vehicles," said Cortright, a consultant who is on the payroll of Plaid Pantry CEO and CRC opponent Chris Girard. "They tend to create dead zones around them."
The Vancouver City Center Redevelopment Authority has also expressed its concern about the garages' design, and this spring called for the garages to do more to stimulate redevelopment. Mayor Tim Leavitt wrote in May to say the city council also wants to see the parking garages used for more than cars.
June 21, 2011
The FTA has responded to Cascade's letter, and disagrees with Cascade's contention that the MAX Green Line is out of compliance with the Full Funding Grant Agreement. The FTA's response is here. Quoting from the response:
In recent years, TriMet, like many transit agencies across the country, has been impacted by the decline in economic conditions. FTA recognizes that light rail projects are long-term investments that may experience one or more economic downturns during their lifecycle. While the duration of almost any downturn is uncertain, transit agencies are often faced with service reductions as a way to temper immediate financial impacts until conditions improve. Such temporary actions are not typically viewed by FTA as a breach of contract. Section 19(a) of the FTA FFGA discusses "default" in terms of "...substantial failure [emphasis in original] of the Grantee to complete the Project in accordance with the Application and this Agreement will be a default of this Agreement." TriMet is not in "substantial failure" of completing the project nor is it in default of the FFGA as a result of recent service reductions.
The original text of this article is after the jump.
Well, not really--but it sure seems that way.
Two weeks ago, the libertarian think tank took exception to what it believes is insufficient service hours on the federally-funded MAX Green Line, and sent a sternly worded letter to the Federal Transit Authority on the subject.
In the letter, the CPI noted that the Green Line is operating with 33% fewer service hours than originally intended; claiming this to be a violation of the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA), a contract which is negotiated between a transit agency and the FTA concerning the dispersement of federal funds. An FFGA generally specifies the terms and conditions for designing, building, and operating the project in question. An agency which violates an FFGA, by (for example) not using the funds for the stated purpose, or failing to operate the service once built, may be found in violation--and agencies which remain in violation after being notified of such, may have to forfeit or refund federal funding.
That the Cascade Policy Institute cares so much about the needs of MAX riders may come as a surprise to readers of Portland Transport--many of whom have been led to believe that CPI doesn't like light rail. But there it is, in black letters, John Charles requesting that Uncle Sam intervene on behalf of beleaguered Green Line users, who are being deprived of service hours promised by TriMet:
We ask that the FTA take steps to enforce the terms of the contract by requiring that TriMet operate the Green Line at 100% of the originally planned service levels, or pay back one-third of the total federal grant funding used for capital construction, as authorized in section 19(a) of the FFGA, as well as Chapter VI, Section 12 of FTA Circular 5010
How times change.
It was only last fall, it seems, that the Institute was busy opposing another MAX project, the Milwaukie line, in its written publications, by claiming, among other things, that it would reduce bus service. It was only last fall that we were treated to the spectacle of ATU 757 members cheering on John Charles after a rousing anti-MAX speech before the TriMet board, in which he gleefully promoted the theory that MAX epansion was a grave threat to bus operations. But here we have the CPI demanding that TriMet increase MAX service, or else be subject to what would essentially be a penalty of over $100 million--"one-third the total federal grant agreement"--either of which would require cuts in service elsewhere, likely including bus service.
Did the CPI have a change of heart? Did John Charles become a trainspotter this spring, and suddenly develop a deep love for our light rail system?
Don't be silly. However, we'll get to CPI's likely angle later. First, we shall consider a more important question:
The unanswered question
Is TriMet in violation of its promise to the FTA, as the CPA letter and press release alledge? More to the point, is TriMet in jeopardy of any penalties, including those proposed by CPI in its letter?
Portland Transport made an inquiry with TriMet as to this matter, and the agency shared with us the following memo which general manager Neil McFarlane sent out to the board of directors in response to the CPI announcement:
The Cascade Policy institute has released via press release a complaint they have filed with FTA - alleging that we are not in compliance with our Green Line Full Funding Grant Agreement - and that FTA should embargo future federal funds. I want to assure you that TriMet is in full compliance will all aspects of the FFGA for the MAX Green Line. The contention continues that since we opened the line with 33% less service than originally planned - we were not in compliance. Obviously, FTA will need to provide their own response. The initial service level has not been an issue raised by FTA. I am sure that FTA understands the long-term nature of our light rail projects (they are planned with a 20 to 25 year horizon and a 50 to 100 year life), as well as the difficult decision we and other transit providers have had to make to survive the great recession.The memo then goes on to tout increasing ridership on the Green Line--information which, while encouraging, does not address the issue of FFGA compliance (the FTA cares that about whether the trains run and how often, not so much who rides them).
TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch, in a followup, further stated:
The FFGA does not specifically describe LRT frequency levels. The document is focused on the construction of the project, schedule and costs. [...] It notes that the Grantee will operate and maintain its entire system at an adequate and efficient level of service. TriMet had intended to operate the Green Line with 10 minute frequencies during peak periods and with 15 minute frequencies during off-peak hours. Due to the deep recession affecting the Portland area, we have reduced service throughout the system and are operating the Green Line with 15 min peak and off peak service. TriMet has communicated with FTA about reductions in transit service as a reaction to the recession.
TriMet worked with community to reduce service and balance accessibility with the need for cost cutting. We believe that the temporary reductions in Green Line services are a responsible reflection of the economic realities.Fetsch also provided us a copy of the South Corridor FFGA (PDF).
Defaulting on an FFGA can be serious business, and can result in agencies being required to pay back grants. Prior to the Green Line opening, some transit users suggested that TriMet delay its operation in lieu of service cuts elsewhere--advice which, if followed, would undoubtedly constitute a FFGA violation. Likewise with the frequent calls to mothball WES (though in that case, it might come close to making financial sense... you can do the math at home).
At any rate, Neil informs his board--in plain language--that " I want to assure you that TriMet is in full compliance will all aspects of the FFGA for the MAX Green Line"--but then softens his stance by noting that the FTA will "have to provide their own response"--which is not as reassuring as his initial stance. Michael Anderson contacted the FTA and asked them for clarification of the matter; and they indicated that they would issue a response, but gave no indication of what it might be.
So is the Green Line in compliance?
As far as I can tell.... probably. But there is certainly a chance that the FTA might issue an objection.
Unpacking the FFGA?
The FFGA is a standard contract executed between the FTA and a transit agency, upon substantial completion of a project's planning and design. The process for getting federal funding is long, complex, and nasty... but the FFGA itself is mostly a standard form (a sample agreement with the variable terms left blank can be found here). CPI alleges that TriMet is violating sections 2(d) and 12(b) of the FFGA. Both sections are generic boilerplate, and read as follows:
[Pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 5309, the purposes of this Agreement are to] establish the Grantee's financial commitment to the Project including its obligation to fund the Local Share, its obligation to Complete the Project with a specified amount of Federal assistance, its obligation to achieve revenue operation of the Project by a specified date, its obligation to pay all costs necessary to Complete the Project that are in excess of the Estimated Net Project Cost, and its obligation to finance the future maintenance and operational costs of the Project;and
With the Execution of this Agreement, the Grantee assures that it has stable and dependable funding sources, sufficient in amount and in degree of commitment, to operate and maintain its entire mass transportation system at an adequate and efficient level of service, including the future operation and maintenance of the Project without additional Federal assistance beyond the amounts set forth in the Financing Plan. The foregoing assurance does not preclude the Grantee from altering service through contracts with private providers of mass transportation services.
TriMet has successfully funded the Local Share (of construction funds), and has successfully completed the project construction and opened the Green Line on schedule. CPI's accusations seem to rest on the contention that TriMet has failed to "finance the future maintenance and operational costs of the Project" and/or to maintain "stable and dependable funding sources, sufficient in amount and in degree of commitment, to operate and maintain its entire mass transportation system at an adequate and efficient level of service, including the future operation and maintenance of the Project without additional Federal assistance beyond the amounts set forth in the Financing Plan."
The FFGA does not specify minimum levels of service that TriMet is required to maintain. CPI seems to contend that since the level of service is 33% less than that contained in planning documents, this constitutes a breach. TriMet begs to differ, claiming that the service reductions are a reasonable response to economic conditions, and that the service currently provide (15-minute all-day service on weekdays, lesser service on weekends) is a reasonable amount which provides a "adequate and efficient" level of service. Recent history seems to support TriMet's version of things--I'm unaware of any instance of an FTA grant being rescinded, or the FTA ordering service increases on a project, due to service cuts that nonetheless left a viable service in place.
But what if the Green Line were in violation?
But what if the FTA were to agree with CPI, and decide that TriMet is in violation? Section 19 of the standard FFGA contract deals with breaches:
(a) Substantial failure of the Grantee to Complete the Project in accordance with the Application and this Agreement will be a default of this Agreement. In the event of default, the Government will have all remedies at law and equity, including the right to specific performance without further Federal financial assistance, and the rights to termination or suspension as provided by Section 11 of the Master Agreement, "Right of the Federal Government to Terminate." The Grantee recognizes that in the event of default, the Government may demand all Federal funds provided to the Grantee for the Project be returned to the Government. Furthermore, a default of this Agreement will be a factor considered before a decision is made with respect to the approval of future Grants requested by the Grantee.19(b) deals with nonperformance during the construction phase, and is not germane to this discussion.
(c) In the event of a breach of this Agreement by the Grantee and before the Government takes action contemplated by this Section, the Government will provide the Grantee with ninety (90) days written notice that the Government considers that such a breach has occurred and provide the Grantee a reasonable period of time to respond and to take necessary corrective action.Several things to note: First, a breach must be "substantial" for a default to occur--even if one were to conclude that the service levels stipulated into planning documents are incorporated into the FFGA and thus form a minimum baseline service which must be maintained, an argument could be made that service which isn't quite as good but which is still useful does not constitute a substantial breach. Secondly, the FTA has to notify TriMet in the event it considers the agreement breached, and give the agency 90 days to correct. TriMet has been operating at the present service levels for over a year and a half, the FTA is well aware of this (as TriMet, like all transit agencies receiving federal funding, must file regular operational reports), and they have not objected. Finally, while repayment of granted funds and exclusion from future grants are remedies which are available to the government in the event of an uncured breach, CPIs "theory of damages" (that since service hours have been reduced by 1/3 for slightly over 18 months; TriMet should remit 1/3 the capital costs) seems to have no legal basis: the Green Line is designed to operate for decades, not months or years, thus a 1/3 remittance based on a short-term service decline is not based on any reasonable damage calculation.
The worst thing that would likely happen to TriMet, as far as I can tell, is if the agency is informed if it is in violation, they would then reallocate service to bring the Green Line into compliance. This would probably result in service cuts elsewhere, and the agency and the CPI would trade a few barbs in the media, but TriMet is unlikely to permit itself to run afoul of the FTA for very long. Life will go on, at least in the short term.
But as hinted above--I suspect that this is not about Green Line service levels.
Derailing the Milwaukie line
Right after the Charles letter issues demands concerning the Green Line, it alson contains the following (emphasis in original):
We also request that until one of these actions take place, FTA withhold all capital funding for future TriMet rail projects, including but not limited to the $1.5 billion Milwaukie light rail line and the $932 million rail extension to Vancouver, WA.My suspicion is that this maneuver isn't about improving Green Line service at all (that train, after all, has already left the station), any more than CPI's habit of trying to chat up transit workers and poverty activists in opposition to MAX is about improving bus service. While CPI does sometimes offer meaningful criticism and advice for the agency, such as this comment on the proposed fare increase (I don't agree with all of it, but I consider it fair comment); CPI is organizationally opposed to publicly-subsidized and/or publicly-operated transit. Unlike OPAL or other critics of TriMet, who agree with the agency's fundamental mission but disagree with its execution of strategy, and wish to reform TriMet, CPI's CPI's stated goal is to replace public transit with a "market-based system where roads, bridges, transit and airport facilities are operated (and possibly owned) by private vendors who charge user fees that vary based on supply and demand conditions." In other words--to get rid of TriMet. This posture makes it harder to take operational criticisms of the agency seriously--especially when it takes seemingly inconsistent positions as to the mix of services the agency ought to provide.
CPI has been steadfast, however, in its opposition to the next train to leave the platform, Milwaukie MAX--or to virtually any increases in funding for the agency, seemingly for any purpose. I believe that when it comes time for the FTA to disperse funds for MLR later this year, once final engineering is complete and construction is ready to begin, CPI will be there to object--claiming that TriMet isn't sufficiently financially viable to run the project, or that the actual service levels that TriMet intends to deliver will be less than what was outlined in MLR's funding proposal. I don't suspect these endeavors to be very successful--TriMet enjoys a good reputation with the FTA overall, and transit providers all over the country have been cutting back service--but I suspect them to be tried.
The libertarian alternative?
Some libertarians may object to my dismissal of CPI's goals and concerns. "Market-based solutions" sounds good in theory, after all, and in fairness, CPI also takes positions against publicly-subsidized roads. (And bashing the gubmint is a popular pasttime, even among liberals). Some libertarians (not all) make grandiose claims about how all will work smoothly in Libertopia once the shackles of government are discarded--and consider the superiority of privatized, unsubsidized transit to be manifest and not a legitimate subject of debate. But for many, the quality of (current) public services is a secondary concern--the primary concern is reduction of government; a restructuring which is seen as an end goal in itself, not as a means to some other specific purpose. And if the "jitney" idea doesn't work out, and transit goes away altogether? Tough--if the free market can't provide a service at a profit, then obviously there is little need for it and it shouldn't be provided. If the hidden hand of capitalism smacks you on the backside, so be it.
There aren't too many examples of "market based transit" functioning in the developed world. Hong Kong has successful (and profitable) private transit operators, but the HK government is heavily involved in their finance, regulation, and operations. Routes are assigned by franchise, fares and schedules are fixed, and uniform standards of service are imposed on the franchisees. For lower-usage routes, HK does have less-regulated services which resemble jitneys; but the main trunk routes (and the bus system) are highly regulated, and there is no lawful competition there. And the government and private enterprise often gets highly entangled when it comes to new project planning, at a level which would likely be considered corruption here. Hong Kong is also insanely dense, and ownership of automobiles is highly expensive and inconvenient--it's an excellent transit market, in other words, no matter the organizational arrangements.
Of course--if you're really cynical, you might suspect that the real point of the so-called libertarian agenda (I say "so-called" because it is often supported by players who are quite clearly not libertarians) is not any sensible notion of liberty or freedom, but to shift the costs of providing public services from taxpayers, particularly the wealthy, to the working stiffs who depend on the service. A cynic might also suspect that another goal is to bust public sector unions like ATU. (Members of the union might give more careful consideration to who they shower with applause, as quite a few of CPI's backers would love nothing more than for all of you to lose your jobs). And the really cynical might even suspect the point is to kneecap a potential competitive threat to petrochemical interests. To be clear, I don't have any reason to suspect John Charles' bona fides--many libertarians I know are sincere in their beliefs and despise corporate handouts and cultural warfare (and the shooting kind as well) every bit as much as progressives do. But as far as some of the entities who provide much of the funding for libertarian think tanks are concerned, I'm nowhere near as charitable. Quite a few energy interests and moguls fund CATO, for instance. I don't know who funds CPI specifically--they do not disclose this information.
But regardless--calling for an increase in transit service is a rather interesting position for a libertarian think tank to take.
June 20, 2011
I'm happy to report that the Transit Appliance is garnering interest in the Open Source world.
I'll also be hosting a session in the Hacker Lounge (which I believe may be open to the general public without a registration fee) on Thursday evening at 8pm.
Come by and say hello and talk about further development of the Appliance!
June 19, 2011
Travelling between transit agencies, especially for trips located within a metro area, can be an inconvenient experience for many reasons. Timetables may not be aligned, fare policies may be hostile (requiring additional tickets as one crosses the agency boundary), different agencies often run vastly different equipment, and interchange points are often on the periphery of a service area.
Is it possible, even given tight budgets, to do better for the transit rider.
Presently, TriMet interchanges directly with the following other transit agencies (Portland Streetcar is considered to be part of the TriMet system for purposes of this dicsussion):
- C-TRAN (serving Clark County)
- SAM (Sandy Area Metro)
- CAT (Columbia Area Transit) serving Hood River and The Dalles
- SCTD (South Clackamas Transportation District), serving Molalla
- CAT (Canby Area Transit), serving Canby--yes, that's two transit agencies with the same acronym
- SMART (South Metro Area Rapid Transit), serving Wilsonville
- YCTA (Yamhill County Transit Area), serving Oregon's wine county
- TCTD (Tillamook County Transportation District, aka "The Wave"), serving the north-central Oregon Coast
- Ride Connection, serving rural Washington County
- CC Rider, serving Columbia County
- Skamania County Transit (serving Skamania County)
- Lower Columbia CAP (providing service to Kelso/Longview and Olympia)
Frequent commenter Jason McHuff prepared the following graphic, which illustrates the connections between TriMet and its neighboring agencies (including a few distant neighbors not mentioned in this article). Click on the picture for a larger version of the map.
While all these connections are useful, in many ways, they could be better.
One thing that is evident from the chart, is that in some cases, transit agencies do the minimum to reach another's service. TriMet presently sends zero busses north of the Columbia (more on that in a moment). TriMet sends only one peak-hour bus (the 96) and WES, a peak-hour commuter train, into SMART territory; and only the latter reaches a primary transfer point in Wilsonville. C-TRAN sends express busses into downtown Portland, and local service to connect with MAX at Delta Park and Parkrose. SMART sends a bus as far north as Capitol TC. Some of the rural transit agencies reach downtown; but others only interface to the TriMet system in places like Gresham, or Oregon City, or Hillsboro.
This state of affairs is probably the best we can hope for as far as the rural services are concerned. Many of these agencies provide only bare-bones social service transit on very tight budgets, and expecting them to provide service into downtown Portland isn't realistic. But for the neighboring urban agencies--chiefly C-TRAN, SMART, and (to a lesser extent) Cherriots, we should strive for better inter-agency linkage.
Many trips between Portland and Vancouver points, for instance, may require 3 or 4 hops. If you want to get from Beaverton to SW Washington Medical Center, for instance, and the 199 or 105 services aren't running, then you have to take MAX or the 20 from Beaverton downtown, the Yellow to Delta Park, a C-TRAN local (such as the 4 or 44) to downtown Vancouver, and the C-TRAN 37 to the medical center. Ugh. While it's too much to ask for an arbitrary trip across service boundaries to be a one-seat ride, or even 2...four different vehicles is a bit much. And the big problem is the Portland-Vancouver segment--a ten-mile trip between two major cities downtowns ought to be served by a one-seat ride, but the trip today requires a transfer (again ignoring C-TRAN's express routes, which require a more expensive fare than the rest of the system).
There is a good technical reason in this case, along with hope that the state of affairs is only temporary: MAX only extends to the Expo Center, thus any trip involving MAX will require a transfer. Running redundant frequent bus service parallel to MAX would be a bit of a waste (though more on that later). If and when the CRC opens, however, MAX will provide a one-seat ride between the downtowns, and direct transfers to far more C-TRAN services then the handful of lines which presently descend into Oregon and call at Delta Park
But a good principle that ought to be followed for adjacent transit agencies (those sharing a common border and serving the same urban agglomeration) is the following: There should be a continual, transfer-free service between key transfer points in the two systems. It's harder to do, both politically and technically, than decoupling service at a border transfer station (most of which aren't key transfer points, though some may become so), but it's far more beneficial to riders.
There are many ways to accomplish this:
- One agency can contract with the other to provide the service. This works best if it is a smaller agency interfacing with a larger one; then the often makes sense for the larger agency to operate the connecting service. In practice, however, it seems that the opposite occurs--larger agencies have larger overheads (and in some cases, attitude problems towards their neighbors), and routinely are reluctant to send busses outside of their service boundaries--or demand on levels of compensation that the smaller agency can't afford.
- Two agencies can jointly operate the service in some fashion--either both running their own branded services on the same route (offering up to double the frequency), or otherwise agree to share in the operations. (The 1X line between Wilsonville and Salem is an example of this; both SMART and Cherriots operate the service under a coordinated timetable).
Removing the arbitrary transfer at the service boundary isn't the only important consideration, though. Fare equity is another. Often times, crossing service boundaries requires paying an additional fare; those who want to cross system boundaries on a regular basis may find themselves having to purchase passes on both systems. Ideally, one system will honor the other's passes and transfers (and better yet if they share fare infrastructure); but many pretend the other does not exist. One compromise is for fare media of either system to be valid on boundary routes, even if not valid throughout the remainder of the system. Switching to distance-based fares also helps deal with the equity issue, though it may still be present if the system(s) have minimum fares that must be paid to both agencies on a cross-agency journey.
One helpful thing is that C-TRAN and TriMet are reasonably good terms with each other. Their boundary is dictated by the river and the state line; thus there's no grounds for a turf war. The same can't be said for the relationship between TriMet and SMART; the latter seceded from the former back in the 1980s, and while relations have improved, there is still a some bad blood between the agencies to this day. And while service connections have improved, particularly since WES opened, there still is a lot to be desired:
- TriMet sends no full-time services into Wilsonville; the only services which enter SMART territory are the peak-hour express 96, stopping at Commerce Circle, and WES--both of which only operate during weekday rush hour. Were the former to travel about three miles further south, it could serve Wilsonville Station, including supporting transfers to the aforementioned 1X line to Salem.
- The SMART 2X goes as far north as Capitol TC; like all of the SMART system, it does not run on Sundays.
Of course, it's probably premature to talk about improved service to Wilsonville when decent service to Tualatin, a city wholly within its service footprint, seems to be a difficult proposition for TriMet. No frequent-service lines come anywhere near Tualatin's downtown core (12 skirts the NW corner of the Tualatin city limits between Sherwood and King City, but this isn't useful for the vast majority of Tualatin residents). The 76 is often talked about as an upgrade for frequent service, and Beaverton-Tualatin is a priority corridor for future rapid transit service, but at the present time, TriMet's service south of the Tualatin River is abysmal. And east-west connections are an even bigger issue; with no direct lines connecting Tualatin with either Sherwood to the west, or West Linn to the east.
What about Cherriots?
Besides SMART and C-TRAN, Cherriots is the other urban transit agency located within 50 miles of TriMet. However, getting from downtown Salem to downtown Portland (or vice versa) is an presently an inconvenient 3-seat ride. The fastest trip between Wilsonville Town Center and downtown is often WES to Beaverton and then the Red or Blue Line downtown; this trip avoids having to pay a separate fare for WES (the journey from downtown to Wilsonville or vice versa still takes about an hour, however). As noted above, having the 96 meet the 1X in Wilsonville would make this trip more convenient, assuming coordinated schedules--but given the distance between the town centers (45 miles), Salem-Portland isn't really an appropriate trip for local transit. The distance involved is more appropriate for commuter services--and given the size and importance of the two cities, probably calls for commuter rail rather than express busses that get stuck in freeway traffic. Planners recognize the need, but at this point any such project is a long way from becoming reality.
Again, I would like to offer tremendous thanks to Jason McHuff, who not only prepared the graphics, but also previewed and proofread the article. Any errors are my responsibility, of course; not his.
June 16, 2011
So says a report from Sweden. Apparently feeling better about what you're driving might make you drive more.
June 15, 2011
Jim Karlock is often our sparring partner, but we share a core value of open public information.
Jim has filed a public records request and received a copy of the draft FEIS for the Columbia River Crossing, which he has posted on his site.
June 14, 2011
Three articles from the transit/urbanist blogosphere on a rather important topic.
Yonah at The Transport Politic on whether and to what extent the transit/urbanist community is abandoning mobility goals and social justice in search of gentrification; Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations follows up with an article comparing recent gentrifications to the great suburban exodus several generations ago, and noting that local writer Linder Baker of The Urbanista got their first.
After a recent news report addressed the issue, there has been a lot of comment in the open thread about the new TriMet bridge, which breaks ground in slightly more than two weeks, and its impacts (existing and potential) on river navigation on the Willamette. Relevant sections of the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement are here, here, and here, and an older TriMet FAQ is here.
In response to some of questions of readers, we submitted a few questions to TriMet via spokesperson Mary Fetsch. The questions, and her answers, are reproduced after the jump.
Have the necessary permits (from the USCG or any other authority) been requested? If not, when will the permit application be filed?
There are two permits outstanding for bridge construction. The US Army Corps of Engineers was submitted in July 2010. We have commented on the draft approval language and expect that this permit will be issued on Thursday June 16th. The US Coast Guard permit was applied for on July 15, 2010. We have been in contact with the US Coast Guard staff and believe that this permit will be issued on Monday June 20th or Tuesday June 21st.
Both of the permits required the issuance a 401 Water Quality Certification which requires that erosion control and water quality treatment plans be detailed. In order to issue the 401 permits, construction details needed to be developed by the Kiewit/Ty Lin our Design Build contractor. In addition, this permit required significant coordination between DEQ, TriMet, Kiewit and Zidel which is expected to start in-water soil remediation in July 2011. The 401 Water Quality Certification was issued on May 24, 2010.
If yes, have the relevant authorities provided a response? If no response has yet been received, when is one expected? Is the permitting process at this point a formality, or is there a realistic chance that the Coast Guard might deny the permit?
TriMet has closely coordinated with both regulatory agencies over the last three to four years. We don't anticipate that there any problem with securing these final permits.
Is completion of the FEIS a prerequisite to applying for the permit?
In order for these permit to be issued, we needed to have completed the FEIS and have had an Record of Decision issued for the Project (which was issued in November 2010). In addition, it is required that we complete consultation with NOAA fisheries, State Historic Preservation office, finalize the Section 401 Certification and a host of other requirements. All of these requirements have been met by the Project.
Are there any outstanding objections among river users, or does the completion and publication of the FEIS foreclose any further objection to the present design?
There is one sailboat owner who has continued to request a bridge height of 85 feet Columbia River Datum (CRD) which is approximately 7 feet higher than the proposed 77.52 CRD. With his current fleet, all vessels will be able to proceed 100% of the time under the center main span during the highest water levels. Mr. St. Clair has stated interested in purchasing vessel with a higher mast, about 2% of the trips would be limited during the high water months. The Project has carefully balanced the needs of river users, urban design, ADA needs, and costs. In order to secure the US Coast Permit, the Project must show that we have accommodated the reasonable needs of river users now and in the future.
Not only have we just released a new version of software for the Transit Appliance, but to celebrate Fathers' Day, Chumby Industries has put the Chumby 8 - the ideal platform for a countertop Transit Appliance - on sale for $149.95, $50 off its regular price.
Because we love our dads too, we'll join in the spirit. If you purchase a Chumby 8 at the sale price, we'll provide a USB drive with the configured software gratis. This offer is good anywhere in the TriMet service district. Just show us a copy of your Chumby receipt!
June 13, 2011
But we're increasingly seeing creative solutions. In many families the bakfiets has begun to play the same role as an SUV, hauling the kids to school, stocking up at the grocery store, etc.
But there has not been a bicycle analog of the pickup truck - a way to carry large, heavy or odd-sized loads. But I think one may be aborning.
Why I became entranced after the jump.
I wanted to learn more, so I contacted designer Len Rubin and met with him to get a closer look.
It's the modular nature of the trailer that appeals to the open source developer in me. There are so many ways to potentially configure the trailer, and the key is a very easy to use clip that connects the square tubes that make up the framing and extensions.
I can easily imagine 3rd parties creating additional add-ons that are compatible with the clip-in system.
I encourage as many people as possible to support the Kickstarter project. With only a week left, it may not fund on this attempt, but I'd like to see momentum build for getting this manufactured!
You can see the trailer in various states and configurations below.
June 9, 2011
Back in 2009 I griped about a Columbia River Crossing Project Sponsors Council meeting where citizens were limited to one minute of testimony and several citizens were actually ejected by a zealous security guard.
I expected better from Metro, I really did. Today the Council considered whether to deem that the project had met the conditions imposed by Metro in their 2008 Locally Preferred Alternative adoption.
I had a plan. I was going to show up early, get an early testimony slot, then go home and watch the remainder of the meeting on cable while I got some work done. I had also committed to my friend Joe Cortright that I would enter a letter from him into the record since he could not attend.
As I signed up (#1 on the stack of testimony cards) I was disappointed to see that testimony would be limited to one minute (I was told by order of President Hughes).
I was shocked when testimony began to have President Hughes say that everyone who had submitted written testimony was being moved to the end of the testifier list. And I found out very quickly that Joe's letter, submitted in advance by e-mail, put me on that list. Suddenly I was #25.
I came very close to storming out, but came to the sad realization that since testimony was capped at 1 minute, I wouldn't have to wait that long.
Now I understand the reason for the one minute limit. What's the point in taking time to listen to people you've already decided to vote against? My count is that of the 33 people who testified, 4 advocated in favor of adoption of the resolution and 6 (many from Hayden Island) indicated some level of concern about the project or its details without indicating outright opposition.
That means that 23 people, or more than 2/3rds of those testifying, expressed opposition, most in very strong terms.
Nonetheless the Council voted 5-1 to cancel its leverage over the project.
What's particularly amazing is that several Councilors voted in favor over substantial concerns. Councilor Roberts described this as "a leap of faith" and said she had "never been enthusiastic about this bridge".
Councilor Craddick is reported to have said (I have this second hand because Portland Community Media cut off the broadcast when it went past their scheduled time slot): "if I had my druthers I would like to vote no, but I don't think it's the wisest decision to make at this time."
The only wisdom I saw was from Councilor Hosticka, the lone no vote.
From The Oregonian:
The controversial, $458 million Lake Oswego to Portland streetcar project appears to be on hold to allow the project team time to respond to a series of questions and concerns from the two cities.
At the request of Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman, Clackamas County commissioners this morning postponed until early 2012 a resolution that would have offered the board's conditional support to the streetcar recommendation. Hoffman said he spoke with Portland Mayor Sam Adams earlier this morning and the two planned to send Clackamas County and other project partners a letter in coming days.
Full story here.
The Portland Tribune has an editorial on the subject of "climate change refugees", and how they might impact the local economy and population forecasts. The Trib article makes some bold predictions--painting a future in which there is a massive exodus from places such as Phoenix due to water shortages, to more water-rich areas like...here.
I don't endorse the substance of the article (nor am I stating my opposition), but found it interesting--as the possibility of a massive demographic shift to the north is one which would have profound impacts on the region.
The ground rules for debate: Climate change denial is, as always, not permitted at Portland Transport. (Nor is complaining about the policy, which is not negotiable). This is a private blog; those who object to this may start their own (http:/www.blogger.com makes it easy to set one up, and there's plenty of other free hosting providers besides Google/Blogger). However, since the subject is front and center for this thread, certain discussions that might normally be shunted aside are permitted in the comments here, including:
- Whether the climate effects posited in the article, and/or the resulting political effects or demographic shifts, are reasonable.
- Whether a massive influx of residents to Portland (or a massive migration away) are likely
- The possibility of politically-powerful desert regions diverting water from the Pacific Northwest to meet their needs (the idea of building a huge pipeline to divert flows from the Columbia to California has been proposed before)
- How Portland should (or should not) accommodate the potential for so-called "climate change refugees"
Of course, maybe the answer is for everyone to move to Canada. :)
TRIMET YOUTHPASS: CREATING OUR TRANSIT RIDERS OF THE FUTURE
Our region prides itself on sustainability, ideally a harmonious balance between economic vitality, environmental health and social equity. In order to meet our sustainability challenges for the coming decades, we need the commitment and innovation to support a permanent Youth Pass transit program for all middle and high school students throughout the tri-county region.
One of the legacies of Sisters in Action for Power, a dynamic nonprofit that empowered young women of color, was the adoption of a transit pass policy in 2000 for Portland Public School students on free- and reduced-lunch programs. By retiring its "yellow bus" fleet, PPS provided free TriMet passes to over 2,500 low-income students at a cost of approximately $800,000 per year. In 2005, the Multnomah Youth Commission advocated for the creation of YouthPass, and both Mayors Potter and Adams supported using the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program to expand the program to over 13,000 PPS high-school students.
Unfortunately, the BETC is under attack in the Oregon Legislature, and the funding source for YouthPass is almost certain to disappear. OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and the MYC are renewing community efforts to advocate for a permanent YouthPass program, and call upon the Legislature to find a stop-gap solution to ensure that the current program is preserved. From a triple-bottom line perspective, the cost of not supporting YouthPass is too great to ignore.
Economics. School districts are required to provide bus service to students living beyond 1.5 miles of their school. The Oregon Department of Education then reimburses districts for 70% of these costs from the State School Fund. It will cost PPS $6 million to provide bus service to its 7,500 high school students living more than 1.5 miles from schools, costing taxpayers $4.2 million. Under the current BETC, the public cost of providing transit passes to all 13,000 students is $3.5 million, saving taxpayers $700,000 per year. Beyond raw cost-benefit, YouthPass has positive impacts for our regional economy. It allows students to attend schools of their choosing, including community college courses, and serves as an important educational and workforce development tool. Funding YouthPass makes simple economic sense.
Environment. The Portland Metro region is facing an air toxics crisis, with many known air toxics exceeding health-based benchmarks, primarily from (on-road gasoline) transportation. It is no surprise that transportation emissions are greatest in freeway corridors where low-income families and people of color live in greater numbers, perpetuating an environmental injustice and health inequity. Transportation is also the leading cause of our state's greenhouse gas emissions. Taking yellow buses off the road and capitalizing on existing public transit will help stem the tide of air toxics. Providing youth with the necessary incentives to embrace public transit as a viable commuting and lifestyle option - creating transit riders of the future - is the type of structural shift we need to combat climate change. Funding YouthPass is critical from an environmental stewardship and health perspective.
Social Equity. YouthPass promotes equal access to opportunities for positive health outcomes for our students. Transit connects students to education, jobs, housing, healthy food options, social services and recreation. YouthPass means that, regardless of where you live, the color of your skin, or how much money your family has, you have the freedom of mobility and opportunity. According to a 2009 PPS survey, only 44% of students used TriMet to get to school prior to YouthPass, versus 80% that used TriMet frequently or everyday once the YouthPass program was established. Ridership is highest in schools serving the most low-income students of color where transit options are fewest. Funding YouthPass reinforces our commitment to social equity.
As we make difficult but necessary budget choices now and into the future, we must closely examine our values and consider the widespread benefits of YouthPass. Contact your legislators to demand that YouthPass be fully-funded. It saves the state money, it promotes environmental health and can make the difference between a student's success or failure. Contact OPAL organizer Grayce Bentley at (971) 277-9058 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved, and stay current on Youth Pass events via OPAL's website and Facebook: http://www.opalpdx.org // http://www.facebook.com/opalpdx.
OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon is a 501(c)(3) intercultural grassroots nonprofit empowering working class communities and people of color to promote environmental and social justice. Environmental justice is the equal protection and opportunity for meaningful involvement for all people, without regard to age, race, ethnicity or income, in communities where we live, work, play and pray.
The Multnomah Youth Commission is the official youth policy body for both Multnomah County and the City of Portland, consisting of a group of young people, ages 13-21, that strive to provide a youth voice in the County & City's planning and policy work.
June 8, 2011
Update: Here's Google's own post announcing this.
The Oregonian is reporting this morning that Google is adding real time transit vehicle information to Google maps.
TriMet and a handful of other cities are the first being rolled out.
A couple of stops I checked this morning are showing real-time alert information, but the actual arrivals still seem to be scheduled times.
I wonder if this means Google now has a defacto standard for arrivals feeds? Lack of such a standard has been a significant issue.
June 6, 2011
This is going to be a big week for the Columbia River Crossing. Thursday at its 2pm regular meeting the Metro Council will vote on a resolution signing off that the project has met the conditions adopted by the Council in its approval of the Locally Preferred Alternative.
To many of us, it seems manifestly clear that it has not. But there is nonetheless a significant possibility that the Council will adopt the resolution. It may not be possible to change this, but the skeptics for this vision of the project believe it is vitally important to have a strong turnout in opposition. We'd like to at least make it a close vote.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance has an action alert with all the details.
In related news, Representatives Lew Frederick and Ben Cannon have an op-ed on Oregon Live predicting dire environmental and human health impacts in North and Northeast Portland if this project is built.
If you don't believe that, and buy into the idea that reducing congestion and speeding up the traffic will reduce emissions, I heartily recommend you check out this presentation from last Friday's PSU Transportation Seminar looking at just that issue - that increased traffic volume may offset any emission savings from reducing congestion (stream the video, it's worth it to see the charts).
And on an up note, PT reader Bill Badrick had his very different vision of the CRC selected as the cover of the Urban Land Institute's annual infrastructure report.
June 4, 2011
For those who promote privatization über alles, consider the developing story in the East Coast. A wreck involving a so-called "Chinatown" bus (a private long-distance bus company which provides curbside service between major city's downtowns; often focused in Chinatowns and marketed towards Chinese communities) in Virginia resulted from driver fatigue, and the DOT ordered the bus company (which has a rather bad safety record) to suspend operations. (The driver was charged with manslaughter). Apparently, the bus operators then attempted to circumvent the DOT embargo by changing names--repainting their busses and doing business under a new name. This didn't fool the feds, who shut down the renamed operation and made it clear to the management that for now, they're out of the interstate motor transport business, under any name.
I'm not going to take advantage of this incident to claim that privatization is inherently bad. I don't believe that to be the case--there are plenty of examples of private transport companies which run safe operations (some voluntarily, and some in transportation sectors, such as air and freight rail, where government regulations are both strict and enforced). However, there are many who make claims that the private sector is inherently better.
It is often asserted that the crucible of competition will weed out the bad apples, and the heavy hand of government is not necessary. That, almost assuredly, is not the case. An all-too-common response to competitive pressures is not to improve product/service quality or operational efficiency, but instead to lower prices and cut corners. Many operations have razor-thin margins, and even a 5% drop in prices (attracting the same number of customers) can be the difference between making and losing money. And in many industries, the easiest way for a new entrant to break into the marketplace is to offer a low-cost alternative. But given that new entrants to a market often lack economies of scale that existing players have, the easy way to undercut the established competition on price (but still be profitable) is to--again--cut corners.
And a big problem with unsafe operations is that in many cases, customers don't have any way to determine whether an operation is safe. Customers can easily compare different lines' fares and fare policies, schedules, and amenities; but customers generally cannot tell when a driver has been running too long, or is improperly trained, or a vehicle isn't well-maintained--until its too late. And as this example shows, companies with poor safety practices that become public (or attract regulatory scrutiny) can often become reborn, simply with a website redesign and a new coat of paint.
In fairness, public operations can be pressured into cutting corners as well; particularly when the public simultaneously demands higher levels of service and lower taxes/fares. There are plenty of examples of public transit operators with embarrassing safety records (the Washington Metro comes to mind as an obvious example). But the point of this post isn't to bash pubic or private, its to demonstrate that elevating one above the other, as many partisans are wont to do, is often incorrect.
June 1, 2011
Listen to the show (mp3, 25.6MB)
This month's Bike Show will go behind the scenes with bike racing. Guests Rick Potestio, Tony Kic and Sue Butler talk about getting muddy building race courses, where to ride around Portland if you want to ride fast, and how to get the peloton to stop with you when you need to pee.
Updated: And a little more going on... Willamette Week's Nigel Jaquiss has a cover story "A Bridge Too False" taking apart the main arguments for the Columbia River Crossing project.
Lots going on...
- The good folks at the Sightline Institute want to know where the cars are, noting that traffic growth on the I-5 bridges seems to have stalled out, even before the economic downtown.
- Economist Joe Cortright notes the large number of park-and-ride spaces specified for Light Rail in Vancouver (2,900) and estimates a cost of up to $60M just for the parking.
- And speaking of Vancouver, the folks at couv.com are holding a public forum "Bridging the Gaps" on June 4th to discuss various topics around the project including "Spending Accountability" and "Transparency".
Another month, another open thread. A few quick items.
- Lane Transit District has appointed a new General Manager, one Ronald Kilcoyne, who will become the fifth GM in the agency's 41-year history. Rather than promoting from within, as TriMet did one year ago, LTD imported their new boss from Connecticut. He takes over at at interesting time for the agency--the first two portions of the EmX BRT line have been well-received; the proposed third segment to West Eugene is, how shall we say it, controversial. On one inauspicious note, according to the press release, Mr. Kilcoyne receives, in addition to a salary of $150k per year, a "car allowance of $4,000". OK.... at least Neil McFarlane actually bothers to ride the bus to work.
- Oregon Transportation Commission vice-chairman Michael Nelson's term on the commission expires, creating a second vacancy on the board. Will Governor Kitzhaber re-appoint him, name someone else, or leave the seat vacant for a while?
- Housing prices in Oregon continue to decline, reaching 2004 levels. One out of 500 homes in the metro area is in foreclosure or bank-owned. Housing inventories are still well above normal. Yet the cities of Tigard and Hillsboro want to expand the UGB this year; and in the case of Tigard, at least, it isn't industrial land that they want.
- Speaking of home ownership, xkcd on the perils thereof.
- Metro is seeking public comment in June for the next round of flexible funds, about $22 million dollars.
But as always, you can talk about anything (on topic) which you like!