Was Mildner talking about this group when he said, “Moreover, TriMet relies upon a public participation process — dominated by public employees and advocacy groups — that is rarely viewed as an attempt to find the truth” TRIMET’S EXPANSION PLANS Where’s the green in the new Green Line? Thursday, March 30, 2006 Gerard Mildner The escalating $55 million price tag of the OHSU aerial tram has alarmed Portland citizens and city officials. But an even greater financial debacle is unfolding in TriMet’s $550 million Green Line, which promises further damage to the region’s bus network and disruption to downtown livability. TriMet’s proposed Green Line will extend the light-rail system from Gateway Transit Center to Clackamas Town Center and create a new route down the Portland bus mall. Most of the attention so far has focused on the significant disruption of construction in downtown Portland. City transportation engineers were politically pressured to agree to this plan despite the impending traffic chaos. But an equally significant impact will be the financial waste. While inner-city bus trips cost about $2 per rider, TriMet’s proposed Green Line will cost nearly $16 per rider. Taxpayers will get practically no benefit for the extra $14. Despite carrying less than 1 percent of all mass-transit trips in the region, TriMet’s light-rail system claims 30 percent of the region’s transportation capital grants. The Green Line also will bring enormous environmental waste, requiring as much energy to construct as four years of TriMet’s entire bus and train operations. A much better environmental impact would be achieved by expanding TriMet’s bus fleet and converting it to natural gas. Instead, TriMet has steadily reduced its bus fleet and inner-city service. In the last six years, TriMet reduced its fleet from 700 to 606 buses. The remaining inner-city buses have become more crowded, leaving some riders waiting at stops during rush hour. One explanation for these changes is that TriMet receives only one-fifth of its revenue from transit customers, with the rest provided by taxpayers. As a result, the agency feels compelled to subsidize costly suburban service even when inner-city service is the better investment. In fact, many city routes are so heavily patronized that they receive no effective subsidy. TriMet needs to solve its democracy deficit, starting with a politically accountable board. How many citizens know that the governor appoints the TriMet board? How many would recognize the names of its board members? Rarely are TriMet policies debated during statewide gubernatorial elections. Since losing the last two public votes on light rail in 1996 and 1998, TriMet has operated without direct public consent, seeking taxpayer dollars from urban renewal agencies, the Port of Portland and local government. Moreover, TriMet relies upon a public participation process — dominated by public employees and advocacy groups — that is rarely viewed as an attempt to find the truth. Downtown business owners and residents are only now waking up to the future disruption of shifting 200 buses per hour from the bus mall to Third and Fourth Avenues. TriMet’s excessive spending on high-cost rail transit has contributed to the declining willingness of taxpayers to fund local government. If the city of Portland can find $30 million for North Portland light rail, $30 million for Airport MAX, $38 million for the Portland streetcar, still unknown millions for the OHSU tram and now $62 million for light rail to Clackamas Town Center, it’s no wonder city officials have a hard time finding political support for an income tax for schools. Many justify Portland’s investment in light rail as our symbol to the rest of the world, much like the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris. But Paris only built one Eiffel Tower. We should learn from Paris’ example, cancel the Green Line boondoggle, and make TriMet return to the business of providing effective, efficient and environmentally friendly transportation. Gerard Mildner is an associate professor and director of the Center for Real Estate at the Nohad Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University.