Hansen to Leave TriMet, What Next?

The Tribune is reporting that Fred Hansen will leave TriMet this summer when his current contract ends.

This leaves me with three thoughts:

  1. Obviously Fred has had a tremendous and overwhelmingly positive impact on the region.
  2. For those of us who worry that TriMet’s agenda has become overbalanced toward Light Rail at the expense of local bus service, this would be a key opportunity to re-align the agenda.
  3. For the life of me I can’t figure out where the community would exert pressure on the process to try to push for that modified agenda.

29 responses to “Hansen to Leave TriMet, What Next?”

  1. The Oregonian is now reporting the same.

    To answer #3–one starting point might be a Metro takeover of TriMet, to at least put the agency under local control. It would be coarse-grained local control–only the Metro board would be subject to election–but the operational priorities of TriMet would become a more legit issue for such elections.

    The obvious question, which nobody has asked: Is this a voluntary move–or has he been informed that when his contract ends, he will not be re-hired?

  2. It really is a matter that someone is going to have to come in and clean up after Mr. Hansen.

    We’re in the middle of both a serious recession and a set of expensive new projects which can only exacerbate TriMet’s financial pressures. The Green Line is the only one of the group that has good prospects but even it is draining resources from the system. The Eastside streetcar loop and Milwaukie MAX are both past the point of no return. Mr. Hansen didn’t have the courage or wisdom to say “no” to WES. Will the new GM be willing and able to save TriMet money by paying the feds the penalty for ceasing WES operations?

    Will the new leader have the qualities to put the brakes on the Lake Oswego extension?

    Will that person limit TriMet’s financial commitment to Portland Streetcar which could easily triple or even quadruple from the current ~$3 million annually because of eastside and LO extensions? [TriMet’s subsidy enables Portland Streetcar to offer a $100 annual pass and $1 tickets. The best TriMet can offer its regular riders who don’t qualify for a special pass is $843 for a two-zone annual pass and $1.95 single-zone tickets. Imagine how much pass sales revenue would drop if it offered a single-zone, single-line pass equivalent to streetcar’s?]

    Will he or she have the skills to negotiate labor contracts that won’t be lightning rods for TriMet haters?

    Will TriMet’s new leader find ways to stop making bus riders and suburban transit users feel like 2nd class citizens?

    OK, so the list can go on and on. The point is that it will be years before any new chief can start filling up the huge hole that TriMet is still digging with very many, very large, preprogrammed backhoes.

  3. Whether Fred initiated his move or the Board did is just gossip. It doesn’t matter. Though I agree with Chris. Fred made this move.

    Metro taking over TM? TM is a state agency. Not likely.

  4. Metro has the legal authority to take over TriMet, and has had this authority for years.

    To this point, it hasn’t chosen to exercise it, but it could if it wanted to.

  5. RA-

    You write:

    The Green Line is the only one of the group that has good prospects but even it is draining resources from the system.

    That seems to suggest that the Green Line, somehow, is not part of the system. Perhaps the Green Line is not cost-effective (though I think that would be a difficult argument to make), or perhaps you think it duplicates existing bus service (certainly, many trips which can be made on the Green can also be made on the #9 or the #14 or what-have-you), but TriMet isn’t operating a bus system, and a train system, and a streetcar system–it’s operating a TRANSIT system.

    The bus-vs-rail mix is a good debate to have, as is the question of inner-city vs suburban service. But your framing of the issue–which seems to view bus service as the core mission of TriMet, and MAX and other rail modes as extraneous to that core mission (and possibly parasitic) is in error.

  6. Apparently I didn’t phrase my point well. Green Line is part of the system as are/will be all the other current projects. What I said about Green Line could go for new bus lines or conversion of existing bus lines to frequent service. A new bus line could be promising or it could be an obvious boondoggle. We just don’t have any major new bus services to bring into the discussion.

    The point is that since all transit services lose money, new ones bring more strain to the system and this strain must be alleviated by cutting existing services and/or raising fares.

    I believe that Green Line (along with the original Portland Streetcar) is one of the best thought out of all major transit projects and was well designed from the get-go. However, it is still losing money that would not be lost if it were not operating.

  7. RA,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Of course, the logical conclusion of noting that the Green Line is “losing money that would not be lost if it were not operating”–is that we should shut down TriMet altogether–as all routes on the system lose money.

    I know this isn’t what you are trying to say. Transit is a public service, I don’t mind that it receives a subsidy–and what you are trying to get at, I think, is that given the fact that services DO require an operational subsidy, that puts an effective limit on how much service TriMet can offer.

    Given that–the important question is: given limited tax revenues for operations, what services SHOULD TriMet offer? Should there be a bias towards any particular mode? Should there be a bias towards any particular region or corridor? Should existing services take priority over new ones?

  8. We’re pretty much in agreement, Scotty.

    Your first question is key and is probably being repeatedly asked in all concerned circles.

    The second and third ones have surprisingly complex answers and we could spend a lot of time without reaching conclusion.

    Now for #4: Decisions should have some – but not absolute – bias toward maintaining existing services. People make significant decisions (such as purchase of a home) based on transit availability. We keep running into the argument that permanent fixed guideway/rail systems give developers confidence to make major investments that regular bus lines do not.

    It is very important that we choose projects with real prospects and not those primarily based on politics. It’s also important that we learn from our mistakes. The regional HCT plan may be a little heavy with sons-of-WES type inter-suburban routes. We might be better off spending the money to bury the slowest sections of heavily used existing and planned routes. (Where did this idea come from?)

  9. The trimet ship is sinking. Captain Fred is stealing the last lifeboat and bailing before the crew makes him walk the plank.

    I wonder what adventures Neil has planned for the aging Captain in the near future?

  10. EngineerScotty: …given limited tax revenues for operations, what services SHOULD TriMet offer? Should there be a bias towards any particular mode? Should there be a bias towards any particular region or corridor? Should existing services take priority over new ones?
    JK: Trimet should strive to serve those who cannot drive and cannot afford alternatives. All other service is merely a very expensive subsidy to those who do not actually need it.

    We should be asking what is the goal of transit?
    Is it to reduce congestion?
    Is it to save money?
    Is it to save energy?
    Is it to reduce pollution?
    Is it to serve the needy in the best way possible?

    In reality it does NONE of the above. It costs 2-4 times more than driving a car, uses more energy than a small car, pollutes more than a small car and relieves congestion ONLY in central downtown. It actually increases congestion in many parts of town with bus stops in the middle of the travel lane and reduced number of lanes on some streets.

    A case can be made that the best way to serve low income people is to help them get a car.

    Few elderly can still use transit when they become so disabled that they cannot drive. See Chapter IV. Debunking the Myths of Elderly Travel Needs brookings.edu/reports/2003/07transportation_rosenbloom.aspx

    So, what is the proper role of government run mass transit?


  11. Al has some interesting thoughts/insight:

    Some people I know think that the analysis on this goes way too far, that he’s simply deciding it’s time to move on.

    I think it’s interesting that this is coming during the public comment period for the second consecutive year of massive service cuts, CRC being rammed through the process, skepticism on Milwaukie Light Rail, and now proposed light rail on Barbur Blvd. to somewhere around either Barbur TC or Tigard.

    Meanwhile, I was on the 52 yesterday, which still has the same buses on it as when I rode that route to get to where I worked 10 years ago.

    Something that concerns me is right now there’s no permanent Director of Operations and soon no permanent General Manager. Since separate nationwide searches are either going on or will start, what will the professional climate be like at TriMet if the search brings in two new people who’ve never worked together before and have different philosophies/backgrounds, yet “fit” TriMet as an organization? That’s something that can bring everything down without any intention of doing so.

  12. Good points, Mr. Barbour.

    We need someone in the top slot who has the clout and personal confidence to say “no” but without any local “dogs in the fight”….Maybe Gordon Smith or the loser of the Democratic gubernatorial primary? Another career bureaucrat would be able to walk all over the Board (who wouldn’t?) but might not have a chance against the Tom Brians and Judie Hammerstads let alone the Earl Blumenauers.

    Maybe it would be a good idea to delay the final decision on ops until we get the new GM.

  13. Thanks for posting that Jason B!
    I think that position should no be eliminated and all continued expansion halted, RIGHT NOW!

  14. And this is what I posted to bike portland:

    Fred was a very nice guy, I’ve met him and he is extremely likable.
    However, Fred was truly part of the ‘elite’.
    All he did was travel around and play politics. He had nothing to do with the actual operation; he left that to other people. Of course they all reported to Fred however, who is much more manipulative than he appears.
    All of his top staff has jumped ship, several times now, and that says something about the man.
    I also objected to Fred’s arrogance, traveling the world while bus service was being cut here at home, all the while drawing his payroll tax subsidized paycheck.
    Fred also became a millionaire while a ‘public servant’, I find that troubling.
    He mishandled funds, specifically the gas futures and the Wes, and he expanded the bureaucracy out of sight.
    The west side of the Trimet service area has suffered the most under his rule. Still riding in dilapidated non air-conditioned buses with unreliable lifts and mold infested heating systems.
    Very little attention has been paid to the long time users of the Trimet system. Fred only cared about expansion of the system.
    Fred had one goal, put in rail, period. He believed that money would flow forever apparently so there were no contingency plans for funding crisis’s like the crisis we are having now.
    Fares have gone up much higher than inflation, hurting the common rider.
    Fred has created a transit system for the elite, not for people that actually need transit.
    And now on his way out the door he is trying to break our union and screw the workers who do all the work, and that is UNFORGIVABLE.

  15. I’d also like to point out, that “he” (or they) were able to find $35,000,000 to upgrade our radios, but they apparently couldn’t do the same to keep service at the current level.

    This guy threw around money like you wouldn’t believe. Creating all sorts of pencil pushing positions when the money was flowing.

    This thing was not sustainable to use the Portland terminology, I was talking about all this coming to pass right here years ago!

    And I really do believe the S**T is gonna hit the fan, the timing of his leaving is too perplexing.
    And “they” are going to try to make up all these years of bad planning on “our” (the workers) backs. With the full complicity of the Portland media spreading distortions and lies about Trimet bus drivers!

    Well we will see how that turns out wont we!

  16. Metro Portland/Vancouver is the 25th largest market in the country with the 7th highest per capita transit ridership. That says it all about Mr. Hansen’s tenure. Outstanding.
    Commenters fail to note that politics drives transit investment: Mayor Katz pushed for Interstate MAX, the Port was the champion of Airport MAX; Clackamas county insisted on the Green Line; WES is Washington County’s baby, Streetcar originated on the streets of NW Portland, and Milwaukie MAX came back to life due to demands from SE Portland residents. And the funding for these projects are overseen the elected government at Metro. TriMet builds and operates what the region decides.
    You are welcome to try and win an election on an anti-MAX platform. Good luck…I would not waste my time if I were you.

  17. R A Fontes,

    The reason that streetcar pass is $100 per year is that about 75% of the line is in the Free Rail Zone. The zone ends at Hoyt on the north end with is well within walking distance for most of the Pearl District riders. Once the line gets west of I-405 ridership plummets because the area hasn’t been redeveloped.

    On the south end things are much the same. The RiverPlace district is within the Free Rail Zone. Only if one is riding to the waterfront redevelopment is there really any reason to pay for the streetcar.

    Except for the fifteen or twenty people who live in Northwest and work at the OHSU river facility, most streetcar users are either Pearl residents hopping downtown for shopping or a meal or people transferring to or from other transit services for which they have to pay the $900/year anyway.

    At least the streetcar pass give the people in the Pearl some incentive to pay something toward the system’s operation.

  18. Anandakos,

    I agree with everything you say. It’s just that folks in similar circumstances in TriMet zone 1 where local transit is MAX or bus do not have anything like the sweetheart $100 annual pass offered streetcar riders.

    The difference between $100 and $843 is a lot. Wouldn’t the right thing to do be for TriMet and Portland Streetcar to agree on one price for single-line service in zone 1?

    Yes, the FRZ complicates things. I’m among those who would like to see a low – even nominal – fare within it so that bus riders could participate on equal standing (or sitting) with MAX/streetcar riders. It would also enable TriMet and Portland Streetcar to unify their fare structure, help eliminate transit deficits, and do away with one of the lightning rods for those who see local transit policies as highly discriminatory.

  19. I have some comments regarding Chris’s second and third thoughts.

    The last couple of times TriMet hired a new GM, it worked like this: A head hunter went looking for candidates, brought in the usual transit executive hacks who jump jobs every five years and go to APTA conventions. Some folks who know transit forced the headhunters to invite some real transit professionals to be interviewed. The ignorant TriMet board, faced with transit pros who weren’t tied in to local politics, didn’t know what to do. Their search committee, which last time was run by Gail Achterman, former utility lawyer, Goldschmidt advisor, and now chair of the OTC, recommended going with a tested politician with no transit background who had good political connections. First we got Tom Walsh, then Fred Hansen. I am sure we could have done a lot worse.

    I do know that last time, qualified and interested candidates refused to apply because they had heard through the grapevine that “transit professionals need not apply.” I spoke with one such individual myself, before it was announced that Fred Hansen would be the new GM.

    We now have the same headhunter, Roger Pringle, as last time. The same guy who brought us (briefly) Operations Director Steve Banta. The same headhunter whose own candidates were rejected last time.

    Why would a qualified transit professional from another agency apply under these circumstances? We have a weak board, with two new members, and who knows how much longer Passadore will remain. We will have a new governor in less than a year. Tom McCall set a great example by replacing a “do nothing” board with an activist board, which subsequently got rid of a “do nothing” GM, Tom King.

    Can we get someone to come in who can plug the leaks? Postpone Milwaukie LRT, mothball the CRC, get some savings out of the radio replacement contract, chop down or delay the farebox replacement contract? There must be some payroll tax money going to those projects that can be saved for keeping bus service alive. Talk about creating jobs — hiring a new bus driver is about the cheapest way to create a new family wage job that there is.

    If we can’t get a courageous new GM now, then we should demand a caretaker from within, until we get a new Governor who can set a proper course. The economy will come back, and there will be more rail projects, but we need sharp pencils now.

  20. The economy will come back, and there will be more rail projects, but we need sharp pencils now.

    None of that helps the people who’s lives are miserable now due to the decisions of Fred or whoever is pulling the strings regarding our transit system.

    I’d like to point out that we have no director of transportation, no executive director of operations, and everything seems to be running fine.

    We don’t need another high priced political hack
    We need a board of directors that is accountable to the people.

    Portland dominates Trimet, anybody that denies that is either blind or stupid.

    We need to do something to lessen the Portland domination of Trimet.

    Wilsonville pulled out of Trimet long ago and they are doing just fine.

    And in a years time we can have a real discussion about Fred and how he did.

    It’s too soon to tell.

    I stand by my comments that he did too many things “secretly” to command my respect.

    He handled the finances very poorly. I don’t blame him for the cutbacks, but then again Trimet comes up with $30,000,000 for radios and -0- for service?

    Will somebody, preferable a Fred supporter, explain that to me.

  21. al: I don’t blame him for the cutbacks, but then again Trimet comes up with $30,000,000 for radios and -0- for service?

    I really don’t want to get into an argument with you on the topic, al, but the figure you quote is not “for radios”. Radios are part of the project, yes, and they have to be replaced because of changes in how radio frequencies are being allocated.

    The bulk of the $30M is for a replacement for the BDS, which is dangerously close to failing completely.

    Ideas and opinions expressed by Jeff F are the exclusive property of Jeff F and not of his employer, nor are they approved by said employer.

  22. “The bulk of the $30M is for a replacement for the BDS, which is dangerously close to failing completely.”

    ~~~>What’s more important Jeff, a BDS or services to the community?

    Ideas and opinions expressed by Al M are the exclusive property of Al M and WITHOUT A DOUBT not of his employer,FRED HANSEN or MARY FETSCH nor are they approved by said employer NOR HAVE THEY EVER BEEN APPROVED BY MY EMPLOYER, NOR ARE THE LIKELY TO EVER BE APPROVED BY MY EMPLOYER!


    My understanding by the way is that Fred has some very lucrative “consulting” offers coming up.
    Maintaining the finest American tradition of ex government officials getting nice fat payoff’s after handing out government contracts to the various fat cat businesses.

  24. “”The bulk of the $30M is for a replacement for the BDS, which is dangerously close to failing completely.””

    ~~~>I’d like to further remind you Jeff that we have a whole fleet of buses which are dangerously close to failing completely too!

    You just illustrated the entire problem with Trimet management today. They want fancy technology the hell with the buses and bus riders, they can have the junk, and too bad if they don’t get service on the weekends and suffer through an overcrowded system, just like NY and Chicago, wow, what an accomplishment by Fred, thank you FRed!

    Now go make some more money Fred, lots of it!

  25. My understanding by the way is that Fred has some very lucrative “consulting” offers coming up.
    JK: Let me guess: He is going to become a light rail sales sleezo, like Charlie Hales.


  26. I think many are overreacting here.

    Let’s look at TriMet from a national perspective: Great reputation, high per capita ridership, national innovator, diverse system, loyal riders, political support….

    now look at the Portland region: high quality of life, growing city, stellar repuation, a population committed to transit….

    This job is a plum. They will have plenty of qualified applicants.

    The economy is down and TriMet is suffering. Every transit system in the US is in this situation. The TriMet cutbacks are regrettable and frustrating, but are not nearly as bad as what other cities have done. Look at New York, Chicago, any other city. Find me one that has maintained service, given that the Feds have’t closed the gaps.

  27. Hales was a great Transportation Commissioner; Streetcar happened during his watch. Our loss via his defection to the private sector (For shame!!!), is many communitys’ gain as he points the way to the Streetcar in their future. Re-building cities one Streetcar and a time…many of which will be built here in Oregon.
    TriMet…to their credit or blame…was cool to Streetcar; hence its origins with PBOT and local neighorhoods. But there is no disputing its success both for moving people and money, and Charlie Hales gets a lot of the credit.

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