What TriMet Needs Now: A Really Good Audit

Full disclosure: I was one of the “stakeholders” who got briefed beforehand on the presentation TriMet GM Neil McFarlane gave to the board last week, predicting dire financial straights if TriMet’s labor agreement, particularly health benefits, is not modified.

There is clearly a messaging war going on. ATU has an “open letter” to passengers out for circulation (it was published in my neighborhood newspaper, and others), raising claims of many flavors of agency mismanagement and mis-allocation of resources.

As to TriMet’s message – this tweet I saw last week pretty much says it all:

Cue complete lack of credibility of #Trimet, again.

What’s a poor transit supporter to think? TriMet needs to show its house is in order before it can credibly ask for increases in the payroll tax – an important opportunity to restore bus service. But is the agency bloated as ATU says? Or is the labor agreement the main source of its long term woes?

It seems to me that the entire conversation would benefit from credible independent scrutiny – not just a thorough financial audit, but also benchmarking of the agency’s metrics against other well-regarded transit agencies.

But who would we call on to perform this review? The City, County and Metro all have well-respected auditors. But all of those governments, particularly the City and Metro, have strong partnerships with TriMet and may not be perceived as objective.

Would Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office be perceived as sufficiently independent? If not, who would?

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