My Reactions to the TriMet GM Appointment

I’m getting quoted in snippets in the media, so I thought it would be useful to express my full thoughts on the appointment of Neil McFarlane as TriMet General Manager.

First, my congratulations to Neil. I’ve had the chance to work with him on the board of Portland Streetcar, Inc. He is a talented administrator and great partner. Much of the credit for the successful delivery of TriMet capital projects in the last decade is directly the result of his leadership. I have no doubt that he will be a capable and conscientious steward of TriMet in the coming years and I look forward to working with him.

You probably hear a “but” coming. As I implied in earlier posts, I’m disappointed that the selection process was completely opaque and had no opportunity for public involvement. This is further demonstration that the current board appointment process by the Governor and State Senate effectively insulates TriMet from any accountability to the local community.

In any hiring decision at this level, the critical question is probably not the qualification of the individual (and Neil is highly qualified), but their professional focus. Neil is a rail builder, and absent any other indication that signals that TriMet’s agenda for the foreseeable future is the expansion of the Light Rail network. For those of us concerned that the focus on and pace of rail expansion is choking off the bus network, this is a worry.

I think TriMet could legitimately have gone in three directions:

  • As they appear to have done, focus on continuing the rail agenda.
  • Seek someone with experience running a more balanced expansion program for both bus and rail.
  • Seek someone who sees transit as a tool to shape the community (to some degree Fred was a choice in this direction). It’s possible that Neil may have some instincts in this direction.

My complaint is not that TriMet made the wrong choice of direction, but that the process did not allow any community discussion of the direction.

An opportunity missed.

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