Metro President Candidates on Transit

Part Four of our series on responses to our candidate questionnaire. Please remember the ground rules on comments for this series

There are some special rules for comments on these posts. As a 501(c)(3), Portland Transport cannot and does not endorse candidates. So please no comments of the form “you should vote for _______ because he said…”. Feel free to comment on the policies, their implications and your feelings about them, but refrain from turning that into encouraging votes in a particular direction.

5. Transit:

There are competing perspectives on the priority of expanding the regional and local (e.g., streetcar) rail transit system versus investment in the bus system. One argument is that per-trip operating costs for rail are lower than for buses and that rail is more successful at attracting choice riders and supporting compact development. On the other hand, many transit-dependent families must rely on bus service which has seen level funding or cuts in recent years.

Should the current practice of allocating growth in transit operating revenue primarily to rail expansion continue?

[Burkholder] We must continue to invest in the most cost-effective transit options. Light rail provides high quality service to large numbers of users and is a good investment. I also support the focus that transit agencies have put on frequent bus lines. These create a more fiscally sound transit model and reward communities that build at the density that good transit service requires. Transit agencies, especially Tri Met, find that frequent bus service that connect to light rail is very effective. We need to better connect walking and biking to transit stops, as well, with secure, sufficient parking for bicycles.

[Stacey] No. Transit operating revenue should be applied to transit operations. There isn’t enough payroll tax and farebox revenue to maintain current transit service hours; siphoning off revenue to bond for capital expansion is a mistake.

Do you support using funds that would otherwise be available for operations to bond for capital construction?

[Burkholder] It is key that transit agencies have the resources to operate the systems that they build. I have supported bonding regional flexible transportation funds to pay for the capital costs of light rail extensions as well as streetcar matching funds. I have also advocated at the state for using ODOT’s federal flexible funds for transit funding (the Transportation Vision that formed the basis for HB2001 included state transit funding equal to 20% of the state highway budget). These are better sources than operating funds.

[Stacey] No. In addition to the “user pays” transportation funding concept I describe above, the region should consider expanded transportation system development charges on new development (also known as “transportation impact fees”) that include the cost of future transit capital improvements required to serve new development. These charges could be used to generate all or part of the local match required to obtain federal funds for transit capital.

How should equity considerations be factored into transit planning?

[Burkholder] Equity is addressed directly through performance measures in the updated RTP and shall be addressed by all transportation investment decisions, whether transit, road or other. Affordable housing must also be provided along HCT routes. Metro’s Transit Oriented Development program has helped build 800 units of affordable housing close to transit. Transportation related fees would ideally be progressive, one reason why taxes on property value or auto values are effective to address equity.

[Stacey] Every community in the region should have access to high quality, reliable transit service, with the density and frequency of service determined by the population and employment density of the service area. By the same token, every community in the region should provide access to housing and services to households at every income level. Equity of opportunity will be possible only when housing choice and transportation choice are available to all.

Is TriMet’s current governance structure with a board appointed by the Governor and State Senate appropriate and does it provide sufficient accountability to TriMet’s constituents? If not, what alternatives would you suggest?

[Burkholder] I very much respect the hard work of the Trimet Board, yet, with very little State financial contribution to this region’s transit system, it is odd that the board is not regionally appointed. That said, I would need to see significant failures in meeting regional needs to change a system that has been successful.

[Stacey] TriMet’s governance structure is essentially the same as the Port of Portland’s or the Oregon Department of Transportation: governor-appointed citizen commissions head all three. ODOT has an even larger impact on the transportation system in the metropolitan area than TriMet, and the region has less ability to influence appointments to the Transportation Commission. I would be interested in facilitating a review of the governance of the metropolitan transportation system as a whole, rather than focusing solely on TriMet.

Is transit operating funding adequate? If not, what additional sources of revenue would you propose/support?

[Burkholder] It is clear that we will need more transit service in the future (we actually could use it today). I would like to replace the Payroll tax with a Carbon tax so that we aren’t dis-incenting employment, rather encouraging lower consumption of petroleum and other fossil fuels.

[Stacey] Operating revenue is obviously not adequate: we’re cutting service on core trunk lines and MAX. Regarding revenue increases, see my discussion, above, of “user pays” funding possibilities for the transportation system generally. One specific concept that would not require constitutional changes is a per-space excise tax on business-owned parking–or that portion that is in excess of required minimum parking standards. A nickel-a-day per space fee on all parking region-wide would generate an estimated $125 million a year for transit operations.

Should TriMet have a rainy-day fund to protect operations during economic downturns? If so, how would you fund it?

[Burkholder] This is an obvious but not so easy to implement idea. As someone responsible for a large government agency’s budget, I understand how difficult it is to put aside reserves for future needs when current needs exceed revenues.

[Stacey] This is very desirable. Of course, to get there we first need an economic upturn, and then TriMet would either need new revenue sources or would have to restore or increase service less than it has during past periods of economic growth, despite urgent demands for more service. Any effort to create a reserve fund will depend on adopting new revenue sources and eliminating the practice of bonding anticipated future operating revenues to pay for capital improvements.

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