OPAL Releases Alternative Proposal for TriMet Budget (Updated)

This post from a couple weeks ago has been updated with some new thoughts regarding the WES commuter rail service.

Only a few days after TriMet released its final budget recommendation, OPAL has released its alternative budget proposal aimed at limiting fare increases and service cuts. OPAL and its allies are adopting a smart strategy here: using clear methodology and TriMet’s own budget data they have crafted a reasonable, pragmatic alternative that the TriMet Board can take seriously as they consider the budget over the next month. While OPAL and many others have called for more sweeping changes in the future to deal with TriMet’s apparent death spiral, in the short term it makes sense to focus on the low-hanging fruit. I will offer commentary on each element of the Budget Alternative below.

Revenue-Generating Measures

$2.25 flat fare, maintain youth and honored citizen fare, 3-hour transfers, and discounted ticketbooks: $0.4 million

This is by far the biggest change, only generating $0.4 million as opposed to $6 million for TriMet’s proposal for a $2.50 flat fare. OPAL is right to focus on the regressive effects of such a large fare increase and way it is structured. The TriMet proposal explicitly puts most of the fare increase on current two-zone riders traveling short distances, riders who are more likely to be low-income and transit-dependent. While I would personally prefer a system that charges based on distance (since that is a true reflection of the cost to the agency), until TriMet moves to an electronic fare system it would be difficult to enforce. If we have to have a flat fare, $2.25 seems like a reasonable compromise precisely halfway between the two fares we have now.

I pretty much agree with the other elements as well. It certainly makes sense to keep youth fares lower since the current high school pass program will most likely expire by next year. I’m not sure the 3-hour transfer is necessary, but on the other hand it is a low-cost way to help out transit-dependent folks who use the bus for shopping or making long journeys. After successfully fighting off the threatened introduction of one-way fares, I’m sure OPAL feels emboldened to continue making the case that transit should be made more useful for daily needs rather than just commuting. Discounted ticketbooks are a no-brainer that should have been implemented long ago. Tickets save time at the farebox and are great for people who can’t afford to buy monthly passes–they should get some kind of incentive to buy them.

It would be interesting to see the economic analysis behind this proposal. At first glance, setting the fare at $2.25, extending transfers, and offering discounted tickets would seem to be revenue-neutral at best. It appears that OPAL is making one or both of two key assumptions. First, that the short-haul riders with a fare hike ($2.10 to $2.25) have relatively inelastic demand for transit. In other words, these riders are more transit-dependent and so ridership will only drop by a small amount and revenue will go up. Second, that the long-haul riders who will see a fare reduction ($2.40 to $2.25) have relatively elastic demand for transit. In other words, these “choice” riders will be lured in by the lower fare and ridership will go up by enough to increase total revenue despite the lower fare per rider.

The first assumption is well-supported by academic studies. If revenue is the goal, rather than ridership, fares can be increased by quite a lot and revenue will still increase because most riders don’t have many other choices and will come up with the additional fare. The second assumption, while it seems to make sense, is most likely incorrect. Choice riders are much more likely to use transit based on factors like access time, waiting time, travel time, the cost of parking, and road congestion, rather than the actual fare. The fare is such a tiny percentage of the actual cost of using transit that people with the means to drive are rarely swayed by a fare reduction. Still, some extra ridership can be expected and an increasing number of transit-dependent people do live on the fringe, so the math may still work out. In any case, it seems reasonable that this modest fare change, along with some added incentives like longer transfer times, could raise a modest amount of additional revenue.

Eliminate Free Rail Zone, but maintain it for riders with proof of same-day fare payment: $2 million

This rather interesting idea would generate $2 million, rather than $2.7 million from simply eliminating the FRZ entirely. The concept here is that as long as someone has contributed to TriMet in some way, they should be able to ride the train downtown as much as they want. Another way to think about it (and TriMet could market it this way) is that a day pass for Downtown-Lloyd Center-Central Eastside trains will cost $2.25, half the price of a full system day pass. That way tourists, visitors, shoppers, etc, can use the system as a Center City Circulator at a low price. Given that trains generally have excess capacity and that the marginal cost of serving one more person on a short trip is essentially zero, it makes sense to charge less. This is a great idea that at least maintains the idea of a downtown circulator system while still raising revenue. Even if Portland Streetcar still decides to go with its (very poor) decision to have a different fare from TriMet, they could still have this $2.25 day pass for MAX only.

Sell ads on TriMet website and Transit Tracker: $0.3 million

This is identical to TriMet’s proposal and I have nothing to say about it.

Charge a fee for Park and Rides: $0.1 million this year after administrative costs, up to $1 million per year thereafter

Another excellent and long-overdue idea. TriMet floated this in their original budget outreach, but quickly abandoned it, claiming that it needed more study and would cost too much to implement. I suspect it had more to do with their fear of a public backlash from suburban commuters accustomed to getting something for nothing. TriMet has spent a huge amount of money building parking lots and continues to spend money maintaining them, but refuses to charge for this valuable resource. Why? One common claim is that it will reduce ridership. Perhaps at certain low-demand lots it would not make sense to charge a fee, but at high-demand park and rides it makes sense. A park and ride only has a limited number of spaces. If they all fill up at $1 per spot, that is pure revenue gain without any loss of ridership. The price should keep going up as long as the lot is being fully utilized. The other reason given for not charging at park and rides is that people might park in surrounding neighborhoods (the “hide and ride” effect). First of all, most park and rides are nowhere any neighborhoods in walking distance. Second of all, a simple residential permit program can eliminate this issue altogether.

Cost-Saving Measures

Increase contingency fund by 50% ($5 million) rather than TriMet’s proposed 100% ($10 million): $5 million

This was a major catch by OPAL in their careful reading of TriMet’s budget proposal. The contingency fund, which is used to cover budget uncertainties like health care costs or changes in payroll tax revenue, was quietly increased from $10 million to $20 million. TriMet made no mention of this in any public outreach materials and it could have easily slipped by. While it certainly makes sense to increase the contingency this year with all the uncertainty about union arbitration, federal grants, and tax revenue, there is room for debate over whether doubling the fund is necessary. TriMet’s failure to address this is troubling. The agency has publicly stated that the current proposal for $12 million in cuts may have to increase to $17 million in the case of an unfavorable ruling in union arbitration, and yet they have a growing contingency fund meant to deal with just such an outcome. OPAL’s call for a more modest increase in the contingency fund seems reasonable, and hopefully will at least force TriMet to address the issue in public and defend their decision.

Maintain current annual operating subsidy for Portland Streetcar: $3 million

Another case of OPAL catching a detail missed by most of us. While TriMet includes a reduction of $300,000 in the streetcar subsidy as a savings in their budget proposal, OPAL realized this was only a reduction in the planned $3 million increase from the current $6.3 million subsidy. This planned increase is a result of the opening of the Eastside Streetcar later this year. OPAL makes the case that we are already spending enough precious transit dollars operating what even ardent streetcar supporters admit is more about fomenting economic development than providing mobility. I think this is a powerful case and deserves to be a public debate.

The existing streetcar at least connects an existing neighborhood (the NW) to downtown and PSU, so it provided some (extremely slow) mobility in addition to benefiting developers in the Pearl. The Eastside Streetcar, in contrast, serves virtually no useful purpose in the short term other than connecting convention-goers to OMSI. MAX already connects Lloyd Center to downtown, the number 6 bus connects Grand/MLK to downtown, and dozens of buses provide more direct connections across the river. Even when they “close the loop” in several years (still unfunded), it is hard to see the purpose of the Eastside Streetcar other than promoting residential, retail, and office development in the Central Eastside and Lloyd District. Development may be a laudable goal, but that doesn’t mean transportation dollars should be used to subsidize it when we have real mobility goals to deal with. The prime beneficiaries of the streetcar line in the short term will be current landowners along it–they are the ones who should pay for the bulk of its operation for now. Before any more public funds are potentially wasted on this poorly-conceived and badly-designed line, it should have to prove itself through actual ridership.

Internal Efficiencies: $1.2 million

This is identical to TriMet’s proposal, and I’m glad to see that OPAL avoided the temptation to try to squeeze even more savings from this area. While TriMet surely needs to cut management and staff and become more efficient, internal efficiencies can only go so far before they lead to a decline in service quality.

Reconfigure bus routes to reduce overlapping routes and improve efficiency: $0.5 million

OPAL’s proposal for a $0.5 million service cut, down from $1.1 million in the TriMet proposal, is short on details but appears to favor keeping the bus route changes but not going forward with the actual service cuts to specific routes. This is the right approach. As I have written previously, many of the route reorganizations will provide a positive improvement by creating new connections and eliminating wasted redundancies in the system. I also like the mention of efficiency. I know that TriMet planners would love to focus more on equity and efficiency and rely less on service cuts to popular routes, but they are under immense pressure from powerful interests to maintain inefficient service to affluent areas. OPAL and transit riders in general should continue to put pressure on in the opposite direction so we can focus our transit system on the neighborhoods that need it the most. Transit is actually one of the few industries in which efficiency and equity go hand in hand. Routes that connect low-income and minority neighborhoods to jobs and other destinations are consistently the most efficient and productive.

What’s Missing?

A few ideas floated by OPAL and others in the past did not make it into this budget alternative. One, to charge premium prices for premium services, is a worthy idea but unlikely to generate much revenue in the case of TriMet. The problem is there is very little in the way of “premium” service! There are only a few express buses left, WES doesn’t go directly downtown, and streetcar is really slow. It is likely that if prices were raised much on these services, ridership would drop enough that revenue would decline.

Another idea floated by many has been to simply cancel WES service entirely, and I completely agree. It is one of the worst boondoggles in Portland’s history and deserves to be scrapped at the earliest opportunity. TriMet likes to trumpet double-digit ridership growth, but it is easy to have double-digit growth when absolute number is so low to begin with. Just to offer up a few numbers courtesy of Portland Afoot and TriMet: As of September 2011 WES served about 900 people per day and seat occupancy ranged from 27% to 44%. It costs about $6 million per year to operate and costs $15.44 per boarding ride (those are one-way trips, remember) compared to $2.33 for frequent bus service and $1.66 for MAX. So we are spending over $30 per person per day on those 900 people while we have full buses all over the Portland metro that don’t have enough frequency. That said, TriMet has agreed to operate WES until at least March of 2013, so this year’s budget would be mostly unaffected. I sincerely hope this stays on the radar, though, so that next year’s budget can include permanent savings of $6 million from ceasing WES service or transferring operations to Washington County.

UPDATE:

Commenter Alexander Craghead helpfully points out a major reason why it might not make sense to cancel WES now, even if it was a mistake to build it in the first place. You see, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) contributed $58.7 million toward the $160 million capital costs for WES. The big string attached to that federal money was a requirement that TriMet operate the service for 20 years, otherwise the entire amount would have to be repaid. Given this fact, it probably makes sense to keep operating the service, even with such a high operating loss.

However, much could be done to improve the service and make it more cost-effective, especially charging higher fares during the few trips each day with high demand. Average occupancy per train on WES varies dramatically, from about 60 people on the first couple trips in the morning and afternoon to as low as 20 for later trips during each peak period. Charging a higher price for the higher-demand trips (similar to what I advocate for the TriMet system in general below) would not only raise revenue but would also help spread out demand, filling up empty trains and reducing the need to purchase more trailer cars or convert to double-deckers in the future. (By the way, increasing frequency at the peak is not an option, since the signal system was apparently built to only accommodate 30-minute headways). Unfortunately for common sense, TriMet has an agreement with Washington County to not charge premium fares on WES, but this provision could be renegotiated in the future.

One final idea that I think is worth pushing at some point is the idea of charging a higher fare during peak morning and afternoon travel periods. This is done in Seattle, where it costs 25 cents more during peak periods. This would have several benefits. First, it would encourage people with the ability to travel during non-peak times to do so, spreading out demand and reducing the need for TriMet to run so many peak-only buses. This would save money on both operations (less need for extra part-time drivers) and capital expenses (fewer extra buses needed just to handle the peak). Second, the burden of the fare increase would mostly fall on commuters who at least have a source of income. Low-income riders are less likely to work 9-5 jobs in the first place and are more likely to take off-peak trips for other purposes. Third, it would charge more to the people who most directly benefit from TriMet’s many peak-only services, which are often the most expensive bus routes to operate due to one-way demand and low densities. The downside is that it would make fares more complicated. Again, electronic fare payment would make this very easy to implement and hopefully this idea can be on the table in the future if not right now.

Conclusion

Well, there you have it. A strong counter-proposal from OPAL that purports to save the same $12 million as the TriMet proposal. Will the Board listen? Will TriMet be willing to change direction after all these months of process? Can OPAL continue assembling a broad coalition to push these ideas? Will our elected officials get involved? Only time will tell, but one thing I do know is that this is an important moment for public transit in Portland. We need to have a very loud and public debate over its present and future, otherwise it will slowly wither away instead of thriving as it should.

Zef Wagner is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at Portland State University with a specialization in transportation planning.

22 Comments

22 Responses to OPAL Releases Alternative Proposal for TriMet Budget (Updated)

  1. R A Fontes
    April 25, 2012 at 2:38 pm Link

    Yes!

    to both zefwagner and OPAL.

    Good luck!

  2. Alexander Craghead
    April 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm Link

    First, Zef, you wrote:
    “The other reason given for not charging at park and rides is that people might park in surrounding neighborhoods (the “hide and ride” effect). First of all, most park and rides are nowhere any neighborhoods in walking distance. Second of all, a simple residential permit program can eliminate this issue altogether.”

    You’re missing two key points. First, neighborhoods aren’t the only places that have parking that would be impacted. What does it matter if a park and ride is in a commercial district? it’s still shoving parking onto private lots or spaces meant for other uses. Are there things that could be done? Sure: at Sunset, the developers who own the Perekort complex could patrol their lots and tow offenders, which they likely do already. But what about P&Rs in places that are surrounded by numerous small businesses with little cooperation or communication? Enforcement would get shifted to a local jurisdiction, thus shifting cost to someone else rather than eliminating it.

    Second, enacting a residential permit system is easy to type, not easy to do. Every jurisdiction locally has severe budget cuts, and I’d like to see someone pencil out where the personnel to enforce such a project much less design and administer it are going to come from.

    All the metro area is not Portland.

    Second is the oft touted WES slam. To my understanding, TriMet has to operate WES a lot longer than 2013, and if they do not, will have to return the FTA grant to the federal government. That leaves a hole a lot larger than what we face now.

    There are also contractual obligations with SMART to provide a certain level of service.

    Should it have been built? Was it built right? Is it growing, is it not? Doesn’t matter. Horse, barn, door. TriMet is stuck with it for now. That’s why it’s not on the table.

    Reducing the contingency I cannot speak to, but I would like to speak to the streetcar reduction. Consider these observations, not value judgements.

    For a very long time, the political bargain between TriMet and Portland is that new streetcar routes will be treated the same as bus lines for TriMet’s purposes. The agency funds that portion of operations that would cover it if it were a bus route, with the additional funds coming from the City of Portland through various means.

    This does raise some very legitimate policy decisions. Is it fair? After all, are these streetcar routes going anyplace a TriMet bus would have anyway? Or do they represent new services that are not integral to mobility on TriMet?

    Eliminating the subsidy on the new east side route has some serious consequences. First, does TriMet have contractual obligations to provide this subsidy? I’m unsure, but I know that if I were PSI and I had expectations of TriMet funding part of the operation, I would have gotten a contract, just as SMART got a contract from TriMet for WES service levels to Wilsonville. If there is a contract, then there’s probably no choice here.

    The second consequence is even more dramatic. It reopens a longstanding philosophical rift between PSI and TriMet. Just what is the streetcar? Is it a toy? A luxury? A piece of transportation infrastructure? If TriMet simply cuts it out of the budget, it’s stating that it is not in TriMet’s interest to support PSI at all. It puts PSI into an even more precarious situation as it straddles roles between a development tool and a full-fledged transportation agency, and puts into question everything that went into the system plan. And if TriMet pulls the budget rug out from under the eastside loop opening, and if they cannot begin service without that subsidy, it will create a political incident that could start a major and ugly debate about the role of streetcars in Portland’s future.

  3. EngineerScotty
    April 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm Link

    The Streetcar was discussed quite a bit in the other thread. One other problem with OPAL’s proposal is it would violate the FFGA (Full Funding Grant Agreement) for the Eastside Line, on which TriMet is a signatory and in which TriMet pledges to fund Eastside Streetcar operations in the amount specified in the budget.

    OPAL has backed off on earlier opposition to Milwaukie MAX, now noting that TriMet does need to honor current commitments. A good case could be made that Streetcar funding is one of those current commitments that ought to be honored.

    At any rate, one of the reasons I like this blog so much is the diversity of opinion, even among the contributors. :)

  4. EngineerScotty
    April 25, 2012 at 3:58 pm Link

    My longstanding hope for WES is that it it one day will serve Salem (and Portland!) and provide a more useful commuter service, and that the FRA will one of these days issue new rulemaking that removes some of the forced inefficiencies from the service.

    Requiring a two-man crew makes sense for long-haul rail transportation or for commercial aviation. It doesn’t make sense for something in an urban transit role.

    There is evidence that the FRA is starting to acquire clues on these matters, though it may be a while before newer rulemaking is put forth.

  5. zefwagner
    April 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm Link

    Scotty: If that is true, why did TriMet originally propose $600,000 less in streetcar subsidy (later dropped to $300,000)? That suggests they have plenty of room to change the subsidy and are not locked in by the FFGA. Is there some minimum amount they are obligated to? It seems like they could also agree to just subsidize the eastside line, but drop all subsidy of the existing line, no?

    TriMet needs to honor current contracts and formal agreements, but I disagree they need to honor all commitments or promises given the fiscal reality. Especially on the eastside line, which is not replacing any existing bus line (the 6 is staying the same), there is little theoretical basis for the subsidy of what is purely an economic development tool.

    I think it is high time for a loud and contentious debate on the streetcar system. It is nice to have and it’s a great symbol for the city, but it fails to achieve useful mobility and primarily benefits incumbent landowners. That is a huge equity concern, given that precious transit operating dollars are being spent on it instead of on productive service in high-demand areas. I’m fine with using parking meter revenue, system development charges, local improvement districts, or urban renewal funds to build and operate streetcars, but TriMet funds are a different story.

    Saying WES is a mistake that we just have to live with is completely perverse logic. It’s like saying that a war must continue because so many lives have already been lost, or saying the CRC must happen because so much was spent already. I would love to know exactly how much TriMet would have to pay back to the feds. The whole WES cost $160 million, of which only a portion was federal money. I assume not all of it would have to be paid back, only a percentage, since it has been operating for several years. Does anyone have the agreement handy?

  6. zefwagner
    April 25, 2012 at 4:06 pm Link

    I do think commuter rail from Salem to Portland would be great, but I fail to see the demand for commuter rail from Salem to Beaverton. WES has been a very strange experiment with commuter rail from a low-density suburb to a low-density suburb, and that experiment has not been going so well. Now, if they could extend the Red Line MAX down that corridor, it would probably be very successful. That’s what we should be working towards. Salem commuter rail would be better using the existing Cascades corridor given the right agreements with freight operators. I also agree about the terrible FRA rules, although it still wouldn’t make WES that much better.

  7. R A Fontes
    April 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm Link

    On WES and 2013 – A TriMet official said that TriMet had to hold WES fares at no more than the adult 3-zone fare as long as Washington County was contributing to WES ops. The contributing period would end no later than 2013.

    The official didn’t say anything about Wilsonville, which contributes $300,000 annually.

    Any surcharge would have to be structured with at least two levels to comply with section 5307 and ORS 267.320.

    As much as parking fees and premium surcharges might be good ideas for the future, they’re not going to be able to do anything significant now.

  8. EngineerScotty
    April 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm Link

    Generally, FPGAs specify specific amounts and timetables for funding; though parties are free to try and negotiate if things change. Chris is probably better able to comment on whether the $300k reduction was a unilateral decision by TriMet, or a negotiated concession between TriMet and PSI.

    WRT to shutting down WES, most of the costs involved were a) improving and widening sections of the line to FRA standards for reasonable-speed pedestrian traffic, and b) buying one stretch of track from UPRR (or was it BNSF?) outright. Both of these things benefit Portland and Western, the shortline that operates on the tracks (and which actually crews WES).

    I’ve heard mixed things on whether P&W likes WES or not. On one hand, it’s a source of revenue for them. On the other hand, it can be disruptive of their freight business, as much of the northern part of their territory needs to use the WES tracks to get between the NW Oregon timber industry (Stimson et al) and the Port of Portland, and WES can interfere with freight schedules (and vice versa). Of particular concern is a short stretch between near Hall and Nimbus and near Greenburg and Tiedeman which is single-tracked.

  9. AL M
    April 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm Link

    TriMet needs to honor current contracts and formal agreements

    Obviously Mcfarlane does not agree with that statement.

  10. EngineerScotty
    April 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm Link

    Touche’, Al. :)

  11. Aaron
    April 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm Link

    As bad as WES is it’s not hard to imagine it being a completely different story if it connected to Portland or someday extended to Salem, especially if they could significantly cut the operations cost while they’re at it. I think you’d be looking at triple digit improvements easy. How would you practically connect to Portland from there, though? Isn’t MAX kind of in the way? Am I missing some other ROW?

    Generally, FPGAs specify specific amounts and timetables for funding

    C’mon, FPGA’s are inherently configurable in the field!

  12. EngineerScotty
    April 25, 2012 at 4:55 pm Link

    A Salem-Beaverton-Portland routing of WES wouldn’t make any sense.

    A Salem-Portland commuter line could go two routes, with mostly existing tracks.

    One is the existing UPRR mainline, which Amtrak uses. Portland-Milwaukie-Clackamas-Oregon City-Canby-Woodburn-Salem. Track is class 4 or better all the way, and connects to Salem Amtrak station. Main downside is you have to deal with UPRR, and this track is BUSY.

    The other would be Portland-Milwaukie-Lake Oswego-Tualatin-Wilsonville-West Woodburn-Keizer-Salem.

    This route would require substantial improvement in several areas. Much of the track south of Wilsonville is in poor shape; currently there’s no backtrack-free connection between the Oregon Electric line (what WES uses between Wilsonville and Beaverton, more or less) and the rail line between McMinnville and Milwaukie. The line skips downtown Woodburn, and doesn’t directly serve Salem’s Amtrak station (a spur would need to be built); instead it goes downtown. OTOH, these tracks see little traffic, and you don’t have to deal with UPRR. (If you can avoid dealing with UPRR, you’re better off).

  13. EngineerScotty
    April 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm Link

    FFGA vs FPGA

    I do work in high-tech, and while a software guy, I do have to deal with FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays). So this typo isn’t at all surprising. :)

    I’m sure the bus-vs-rail debate has some similarities somewhere with the FPGA-vs-ASIC debate….

  14. Michael, Portland Afoot
    April 25, 2012 at 5:13 pm Link

    Great post.

    On the park-and-ride question, TriMet’s internal cost estimates and analysis are linked from PA’s wiki page on Park and Rides:
    http://portlandafoot.org/w/Park_and_ride

  15. Jason McHuff
    April 25, 2012 at 6:08 pm Link

    Regarding “hide and ride”, I argue that can be a problem TODAY since the lots are filling up and, it can probably be assumed, there’s demand that’s not officially being met. So, as long as the price is kept low enough to keep the lots filling, there shouldn’t be a difference in the number of vehicles that are (and are not) being served.

    Also, Michael, the first link is wanting me to log in.

  16. Alexis
    April 25, 2012 at 7:01 pm Link

    While I would personally prefer a system that charges based on distance (since that is a true reflection of the cost to the agency)

    Actually it’s not. Distance is a proxy for cost. The true cost is the cost of the line segment you’re riding per boarding ride, as you observe with WES. Riding a low-ridership circulator in the suburbs a short distance is likely more expensive than riding the 9 from downtown to Gresham.

    Human Transit (the book) has a nice discussion of fare policy and how most “fair” (inasmuch as they charge cost-per-ride) fares are burdensome in ways that are undesirable for equity reasons. Having a sane fare policy is important, but what it mostly means is knowing who you want to subsidize whom.

  17. Alexander Craghead
    April 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm Link

    I don’t find it perverse to look at the numbers and add them up and note that it costs more to shut WES down than to operate it. I find it factual. Regretable perhaps, but factual, and in the interest of the FTA to ensure that agencies don’t do exactly what you are suggesting, Zef: take federal money and use it on things they cannot operate.

    Of the $160 million spent on WES, $58.7 million was from the FTA. It is my understanding from discussions with people who work at US-DOT that the entire federal amount would need to be returned if WES were to shut down now. That makes a $12-17m hole in TriMet’s budget a $70.7-74.7m hole. That’s not progress. And the FTA doesn’t care how much was spent on what. They just care that they want their money back if you don’t follow through on a project you asked them to fund.

    And need I point out how much harm it would do to our ability to seek further federal funds for ANYTHING, including buses, including roads, including anything from US-DOT and Congress, if we don’t follow through?

    There are possibly fixes for WES, but that’s another debate for another time. For fixing the present budget gap, it is cheaper to keep funding it even at its high cost than to shut it down. That OPAL seems to understand and respect this is, in my view, significant progress.

    As for WES fares, yes, I fully expect them to become “premium” when the Washington County subsidy expires. I was amused when OPAL used the phrase “premium fares for premium service” a few months ago… I heard it, verbatim, from more than one TriMet employee over a year prior.

    As for the debate about streetcar, I’m not against it, just observing what may happen. In fact, I’ve been on record before that the unresolved issues between PSI and TriMet service are fatal flaws in the system plan that *must* be resolved:

    http://alexcraghead.com/portland-streetcar-obamamania/

    When that went up (on the old civics21 blog that I closed) I got random complimentary emails from TriMet people about it. The issue of where streetcar lines go, who runs them, who pays for them, and who gets the revenue was not as big of an issue when the bargain could be struck that the streetcar was a central city only thing. If it grows, however, it becomes, from a budgetary perspective, a competitor to bus service. That piper has yet to be paid. And while I don’t think OPAL’s position on this issue is realistic, I do applaud them loudly broaching it. I don’t think, however, it is something that has any hope of resolution until a new mayor is seated in Portland and policy with longevity can again be set.

  18. Michael, Portland Afoot
    April 25, 2012 at 8:44 pm Link

    Oop, thanks, Jason. Here’s the correct link to TriMet’s park and ride cost/revenue estimates, which were based on Sacramento’s and apply only at Parkrose and Sunset:
    https://docs.google.com/open?id=1RN8-3v94ICgxmuApyPhUF_qqOwD-kLHTmeskyfr4Oh-S7vvsZQ5XHI-tTOET

    On Zef’s question about elasticity of demand for transit, I believe OPAL said today that they assumed a 30% factor, which they described as a compromise figure that came out of discussions with TriMet during their Campaign for a Fair Transfer process.

    Zef, what are these “affluent areas” whose bus service is protected by powerful interests? Are we talking employment or residential affluence?

    Parking meters strike me as a very equitable way to fund Streetcar service. Market-priced auto parking revenue directly reinvested in amenities that benefit land prices and retail value: Shoup-approved!

    One last thought: like all groups, OPAL’s got shortcomings, but in 10 years as a reporter, I don’t think I’ve never seen a grassroots organization submit a more thoroughly researched alternative to a policy proposal. Kudos to Zef for helping me realize the amount of work that went into this.

  19. EngineerScotty
    April 25, 2012 at 10:07 pm Link

    It’s worth remembering that the marginal cost of an additional passenger is almost nil. Assuming that the bus would run regardless, and assuming that the bus isn’t so full that passengers aren’t being left behind, the additional energy cost to transport one more human is next to nothing.

  20. Jason Barbour
    April 25, 2012 at 10:52 pm Link

    After reading the linked 2-pager, I don’t just “like” this budget proposal, I love it! (No bad puns, OK?)

    As for Salem-Portland commuter rail, I attended an open house put on IIRC by ODOT’s Rail Division in Wilsonville a few years ago High Speed Rail in Oregon, where they said such commuter rail would be a non-starter with the railroads. However if a faster passenger rail corridor could be built and service such as Cascades ran at commute-friendly times, then it could be better used by commuters.

  21. Jim Howell
    April 26, 2012 at 8:03 am Link

    You might be interested in a 2-page proposal I submitted to the TriMet Board at yesterday’s meeting.

    April 25, 2012
    An alternative to Ordinance 323 for the TriMet Board of Directors’ consideration.

    The following alternative would generate equivalent fare-box revenue, stimulate more ridership, be less complicated, facilitate easier monitoring by the operators and require no new fare equipment. It:
    1.eliminates concentric fare zones as proposed;
    2.establishes the Adult Cash Fare at $2.50 and adjusts all other fares by template;
    3.converts the “Free Rail Zone” to “Ride Rail All Day Zone” (with no time limit for valid fare);
    4.combines “Youth and Student” and “Honored Citizen” into one fare category;
    5.discounts all ticket books (offering 11 tickets for the price of 10);
    6.discounts off-peak ticket books (offering a10% discount during off-peak hours);
    7.provides daily, monthly and yearly passes; and
    8.extends the transfer window to three hours and to end of service day when purchased after 7:00 pm.

    Furthermore these changes would:
    ·make the fare system more easily understood;
    ·provide a rational system for future fare adjustments;
    ·ease change from “free” to “everyone pays something” service in downtown;
    ·reduce costs for youths, thus encouraging new ridership;
    ·extend transfer time, partially compensating for reduced service frequencies; and
    ·encourage ticket book purchases, which:
    are more affordable and flexible than passes for low income riders;
    allow faster bus boarding than cash;
    can easily be sold at many stores and other outlets; and
    stimulate off-peak ridership (which would be more economical for TriMet to provide).

    The following is an example of a Template for adjusting fares in accordance with any Adult Cash Fare. It provides a simple, consistent and equitable way to adjust all fares (rounded to the nearest $.05).

    CASH
    Adult(Proposed Adult Fare)
    Youth/Student/Honored Citizen 50% of Adult Fare

    DAY PASS
    Adult/Youth/Student/Honored Citizen 2 ½ x Cash Fare

    TICKETS (book of 11)Price of 10 (9.1% discount)
    Off-peak ticket books10% discount on peak ticket books
    Off-peak to peak ticket upgradePeak/off peak difference in adult fare

    MONTHLY PASS
    Adult36 x Adult Cash Fare
    Youth/Student/Honored Citizen28 x Y/S/HC Cash Fare

    ANNUAL PASS
    Adult/Youth/Student/Honored Citizen11 x Monthly Pass

    —————

    Recommended Fares
    Based on a $2.50 Adult Cash Fare using the Fare Template

    CASH
    Adult2.50
    Youth/Student/Honored Citizen1.25

    Day pass
    Adult6.25
    Youth/Student/Honored Citizen3.15

    TICKETS (Book of 11)
    Adult 25.00 (2.27 ea.)
    Youth/Student/Honored Citizen 12.50 (1.14 ea.)
    Adult Off-Peak 22.50 (2.04 ea.)
    Youth/Student/Honored Citizen Off-Peak 11.25 (1.02 ea.)
    Off-Peak to Peak Cash Upgrade .25

    MONTHLY PASS
    Adult 90.00
    Youth/Student/Honored Citizen 35.00

    ANNUAL PASS
    Adult 990.00
    Youth/Student/Honored Citizen 385.00

    ·Peak hours 6:00AM – 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM Mondays through Fridays

    ·Transfers and validated tickets are good for three hours or until the end of the service day when purchased after 7:00 PM.

    ·Tickets and transfers are good for the day of issue on all trains in the existing “Free Rail Zone”.

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