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.

17 responses to “Metro President Candidates on Transit”

  1. While I favor Stacy’s take on downsizing the CRC, I strongly believe MAX expansion is critically important. MAX must reach Vancouver, Vancouver Mall, Milwaukie, Oregon City, MHCC, Forest Grove and Tigard. Such a MAX expansion will have an ideal influence upon regional growth and necessitate reorganization of Tri-Met bus lines.

    Hayden Island community hopes Jantzen Beach will develop into a more residential, less Big Box commercial neighborhood. This favors a local bridge arrangement of the CRC to Vancouver, (or is it Fort Vancouver?) Stacy’s take on the CRC seems to me closer to ideal as long as the local bridge includes light rail.

  2. I believe that one of the most short sighted things that we can do is to use operational funds for capital projects. This reduces the base and can only amplify the relative differences between full-employment, high-ridership times with those such as we’re going through now.

    Stacey won this point.

  3. Wells:

    I disagree with this point. We are selling our transit system short and spreading it thin with “somewhat” high capacity transit that operates very slowly through downtown.

    It is further being degraded by service cuts.

    I’d argue burying some light rail lines in downtown would be the obvious choice for the blue line. It can’t hold anymore capacity as is and is not the fastest form of transportation to gain more ridership.

    That would go a LOT further regarding ridership than building a slow transit bridge across the Willamette for 1+ billion dollars to Milwaukie.

    I do not know if people are aware of recent news, but a lot of growth (urban reserves) will be occurring in Washing Co., particularly in Hillsboro area (along the blue line). We need to get more out of this rail line.

    So far it’s pretty successful, but I see so many trips taken via the automobile that would better be served by transit along this corridor.

  4. And I see light-rail to Vancouver and Milwaukie a positive thing in the future. But not at this moment, I do not.

    But I disagree completely with LR on Barbur Blvd. That would be a waste, imo.

  5. They only fund huge cost construction projects because that benefits corporate America.

    Transit users don’t count, no matter what the BULL S******S trying to get elected says.

    I’m sick of listening to talk, the only thing worth paying attention to is the record.

    Portland was supposed to be different than the rest of America when it comes to transit, complete lie, with the exception of the Portland obsession with street cars, which is certainly unique. But that’s not really about transit is it?

  6. The critical importance of light rail is guiding growth and development. No bus-based transit corridor offers as much in that regard. MAX to Vancouver and then Vancouver Mall are very productive transportation investments. Reaching first Milwaukie and then connecting to the Greenline on some route to Oregon City will spur a development boon along McLoughlin Blvd. The Oregon City paper mill could finally be demolished and the Willamette Falls at Oregon’s origins become a popular destination more than replacing the lost paper mill jobs.

    Consider a complete rebuild of Barbur south of 217 with light rail in its median. What a nightmare Barbur is there now. From there to Portland, MAX could run along I-5 in segments with bus connections to PCC Sylvania, Hillsdale, Multnomah. Extensions to MHCC and Forest Grove increase Blue Line ridership.

    My thoughts about MAX expansion are aligned with Metro and Tri-Met. Transit systems in the USA have never recovered from abandonment of streetcars and interurbans between the 1920’s-1950’s. The automobile needs to be squashed like a bug.

  7. “The critical importance of light rail is guiding growth and development.”

    The issue is we’re trying to spur new development in new areas, rather than maximize existing areas and developments. Downtown needs a higher employment concentration. That factor alone will do more to invest to our transit system, and to do so you need faster times with MAX and more capacity…to which underground lines would accomplish.

    You can guide better development through proper zoning and codes. Milwaukie has some very good infill housing in the downtown area without LR, in fact.

    At any rate, the Blue Line in Hillsboro that cuts through already existing sprawl development hasn’t done much. All I see are ugly cluster apartments, which its only attribute to the built environment is density (but at what cost?). The only bright spot is Orenco.

    And I do consider LR a good investment for getting development going, but it’s not going to be the panacea for sprawly developments in suburban la-la land.

    Will a LR line along auto-topic Barbur Blvd. really do anything to the area in regards to its land-uses and building typologies? I doubt it.

    It’s like making chicken salad out of chicken sh*t. Given the current economy, we need to re-evaluate our priorities.

  8. The automobile needs to be squashed like a bug.

    Come on, take it easy. That’s in the same ballpark as some of the anti-bike comments that are so tiresome around here.

  9. I’m kind of troubled by the Milwaukie MAX line’s costs. Its pretty much entirely an at-grade line and yet when you divide $1.4 billion into 7.3 miles you get $191 million/mile. Sure it has a bridge across the Willamette but thats only about $120 million. Where is the money going? At that price it should at least be elevated all the way. Worst of all, the brand new Canada Line cost $2 billion CAD, convert that to USD its $1.88 billion. Its 11.8 miles long, which works out to $159 million/mile USD. This is entirely grade seperated, with a downtown subway, tunnel under False Creek (which is no creek), subway under Cambie Street, 2 bridges over the Fraser River and elevated alignments into Richmond and the Airport. So an underground rapid transit line (running under a major travel corridor) is cheaper than our proposed at-grade light rail line (running through industrial land and in a no-mans land between a high speed road and rail line)!?!?! Nevermind that the Canada Line is automated and driverless so it has lower operating costs and therefore has the potential with only a few more riders to operate profitably and runs every 2-3 minutes.

  10. Central city Portland is already a high-concentration job center, ws. Making it moreso only increases travel during rush hours when MAX is overloaded and roadways are overwhelmed. The 2040 Regional Plan emphasizes suburban rather than central city development.

    Making MAX travel faster will do little to change the situation. Infill developing car-strangled Beaverton and Parking Lot-topia Hillsboro will reduce MAX overload during rush hours and increase ridership in the reverse-commute direction.

    As for Barbur Blvd through Tigard, reordering the mess of car-centric commercial drek on both sides isn’t impossible. Maybe the sidewalks could be rebuilt away from Barbur with a thick border of landscaping and return to Barbur at MAX stops and main crosswalks.

  11. “I strongly believe MAX expansion is critically important. MAX must reach Vancouver, Vancouver Mall, Milwaukie, Oregon City, MHCC, Forest Grove and Tigard. Such a MAX expansion will have an ideal influence upon regional growth and necessitate reorganization of Tri-Met bus lines.”

    >>>> Yes, as a heavy transit user, I do feel that MAX is critically important and will have an ideal influence: to screwing up the whole transit system here. Longer trip times, more transfers, and messing up bus services. Less overall potential ridership for transit in Portland.

  12. “The critical importance of light rail is guiding growth and development. No bus-based transit corridor offers as much in that regard.”

    >>>> 1) Since light rail has failed to stem congestion and increase the overall percentage of transit usage in the region, the ‘enthusiasts’ have tried to deflect the focus over to ‘growth and development.’

    2) Buses operating on private right-of-way busways, and being able to leave it and branch off can attract much more potential ridership than any MAX line ever could. Of course, this is predicated on having attractive vehicles, instead of the ‘tanks’ that Trimet is utilizing as buses.

  13. A lot depends on whether the large numbers of additional people, that have been predicted to come here…actually do. The local economy could pick up again, quality-of-live issues could continue to attract people–and being a northern climate not at sea level, Portland might see additional migration due to g****l w*****g ;), should some of the more desire predictions come to pass.

    Or the economy could stay in the tank, the city lose much of its prestige, and turn into Detroit or Duluth. In which case transit will likely contract not expand.

  14. Buses operating on private right-of-way busways

    So you want about the same construction costs for lower capacity and slower service just to avoid a transfer?

  15. Where is the money going?

    Right-of-way acquisition costs. They are condemning, what, 2 dozen businesses? 3 dozen? Whatever the number, I recall reading that it is more than for all previous transit projects combined. Buying a business and paying its relocation costs isn’t cheap.

  16. “So you want about the same construction costs for lower capacity and slower service just to avoid a transfer?”

    >>>>> So, limited-stop and express bus service on a busway is slower than all-stop MAX? Your statement does not make sense to me.

    Actually, a busway here could have higher throughput than MAX; MAX has severe design limitations, such as 2 car trains and intersecting lines.

  17. There’s been a lot written on the subject of light-rail vs open busways (the sort of system that Nick describes, where busses travel on a dedicated busway for some part of their journey and then fan out onto the street network). EmX in Eugene, the only BRT system in Oregon, is a “closed busway”; the proposed busways in Clark County also appear to be closed. In a closed busway, special-purpose vehicles travel down a fixed route, much like a light-rail line–except that the vehicles have rubber tires.

    Closed busways don’t offer any real advantage over light rail than lower capital cost–and lower operating cost if low ridership is expected (i.e. not enough riders to justify the extra capacity of a train). All the Portland MAX lines get enough ridership to at least justify the rails over a fixed-corridor bus.

    But the open busway, is a more interesting question. Of course, the “two-car” limit of MAX trains still affords a greater per-vehicle capacity than any bus you will ever find, and the particulars of the MAX route (including lack of grade-separation downtown, and yes, grade crossings of other tracks) aren’t inherent limitations of rail–a busway could be built with the same limitations, or not. The Transit Mall, after all, is essentially a busway–but an at-grade one.

    A busway COULD have higher throughput than MAX, but actually achieving such is unlikely. If you were to use 60′ articulated busses, which then impose limitations on where in the regular street network they can go (and offer a considerably worse ride than a standard bus), you’d still need three of ’em to equal the capacity of a 2-car MAX train. And the constraint on TriMet’s operations right now is not infrastructure, but its ability to pay drivers and mechanics and buy energy. Were TriMet operating a busway rather than a light rail system, it would be probably looking at more severe cutbacks than it is now.

    It’s worth noting that the city of Ottawa, which is of similar size to Portland, is replacing many of its busways with light rail due to capacity issues. (Whether or not this is necessary, or the result of a poorly-designed transit mall downtown imposing a bottleneck–the Portland mall handles a similar volume of busses with few operational problems–is an interesting debate).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *