Video Feature – Neil McFarlane Interview – Part 2

Here is the next segment in our interview with TriMet’s new General Manager, Neil McFarlane.

[Corrected] Today’s Topic: Funding, Capital Projects and Budget Concerns.

The complete list and schedule, after the break:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Part 1:
Introduction, Safety and Priorities
Part 2:
Funding, Capital Projects and Budget Concerns
Part 3:
Health Care, LIFT Service and the Fare System
Part 4:
Mode Choice, Technology and Rider Involvement
Part 5:
Future Planning, The Big Picture, and…
21 Comments

21 Responses to Video Feature – Neil McFarlane Interview – Part 2

  1. al m
    July 20, 2010 at 10:15 am Link

    This whole series is great!
    I can’t believe you guys pulled off such a professional production!

    I think it’s completely objective.

    Neil is a politician, I said it a million times, talk is cheap, time will tell.

    But I give him an A+ for giving this interview.

    I really do like this guy from my first impressions.

    I bristle when he brings up the “great recession” baloney.

    There is no real recession, just unemployment, and that has only effected 20% or so of the population.

    Trimet’s expansion policies have unquestionably played a role in our current troubles. To deny that and place the blame on something “outside” is bull.

    You can’t keep expanding a tax supported endeavor unless you expect tax revenues to continue expanding. And that is bad public policy!

  2. EngineerScotty
    July 20, 2010 at 11:15 am Link

    If you’re unemployed, it doesn’t matter if there’s a “real recession”, or its simply the case that the rich are outsourcing jobs but still making money–you ain’t got a paycheck in either case. And for an agency that gets the bulk of its funding from either a) commuters riding to work and paying fares, or b) payroll taxes, it’s a problem.

    TriMet’s addition of service has certainly contributed to the problem–and when service gets federal funding, it often has to be preserved (meaning the cuts are disproportionally felt elsewhere)–but I generally consider additional service (whether increased frequency along existing routes, or new routes) to be a good thing, not a bad thing.

    Of course, I’m intentionally avoiding bus/rail in my comments…

  3. Steve S.
    July 20, 2010 at 11:48 am Link

    Yes, good work Bob.

    The people providing comment at the board meeting were essentially all opposed to the MLR funding for various reasons.

    The last 2 board meetings had quite a good cross section really. From the Sheriff & Fire Chief to many bus riders to other activists on the left and right.

    All critical of TriMet’s fiscal, projects and service decisions.

    Unfortunately the community spoke and the board completely ignored them.

    On the financing. MLR is not funded. TriMet should not be misleading our congressional delegation and the feds by claiming the local match has been secured. It has not.

    And with the fed portion not being secured until June of 2012 at the soonest why the rush?

    It is too bad McFarland was not asked more on the financing of MLR and the 14,000 jobs.

    Neil should also be asked about the rationale behind the taking of funding from existing job supporting revenue streams.

    Diverting revenue from other government services will mean job reductions.

    His claim that the agency is sound is also disturbing. With their $50 million per year unfunded and fringe benefit liability being off budget and not being contributed to that’s quite a stretch. Committing future operating revenue to pay MLR debt service will mean service cuts.

    Given what’s on the table today the next 10 years of cutting bus service and fare increases will be much worse.

    On WES, there is no Washington Square stop. Neil knows there isn’t.

    Neil knows the source of the Sheriff’s crime claims. It’s service and crime reports. TriMet was provided the Sheriff’s crime report study.

    It involved a comparison of the calls for service and reported crimes on Clackamas Town Center property since the Green line opened to the same time period from the previous year. The initial request came from CTC security who was trying to use the information to convince the corporate office to increase staff.

    The Sheriff office looked at September 12, 2008 to February 24, 2009 and compared it to September 12, 2009 to February 24, 2010. Those dates were chosen because the Green line opened on September 12 and because February 24th was the most current information they could get on the date of the initial study.

    Basically what was found was that calls for service were up 56.0% and reported crimes were up 31.7% at CTC (that includes inside the mall, the mall parking lot, the Green line platform and the parking structure). The thefts were separated between “thefts from vehicles” and “other thefts” at Tony’s request.

    Just one major CTC store has experienced a doubling of shoplifting arrests.

  4. R A Fontes
    July 20, 2010 at 12:33 pm Link

    It’s worth noting that the payroll tax goes up by a nominal .01% each year, or about a 1 1/3% increase annually. It’s currently at about .68% and has a statutory ceiling of .8% So in good times and bad, inflation and deflation, ridership increases and declines, TriMet’s payroll tax rate goes up. It really is as certain as death and ta…

  5. EngineerScotty
    July 20, 2010 at 1:40 pm Link

    Is there any evidence that the increased criminal behavior is due to the train–beyond the time-correlation (which could be caused by other factors?) Are perps being arrested and upon questioning, being found to have ridden light rail–perps who can’t otherwise afford to drive or take the #72?

    Are fare enforcement activities producing a larger number of instances of fare evasion than on other parts of the system? (A big part of the whole “light rail causes crime” meme rests on the assumption that miscreants are willing to abuse proof-of-payment fare collection and ride the trains for free, but aren’t willing/able to pay driver-collected busfare, or drive themselves).

    Or is increasing crime in the area attributable to other factors–the economy, recent expansions in the mall itself, etc?

    Amd finally–even if it were assumed that miscreants were abusing MAX to get around and wreak havoc–so what? Many mischief-makers have drivers licenses and drive around town (probably a good deal of them without a valid license or insurance)–yet nobody suggests that road construction causes crime, or that we shouldn’t build roads, or that we should avoid building roads to/through the seedier parts of town.

  6. Bob R.
    July 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm Link

    Regarding the Clackamas County statistics, we have been provided with those. In fact, I spent 3 hours on the Friday before the interview tracking down the right person, and we did not get the actual numbers until after our interview had already began, so it wasn’t possible to ask specific questions about them.

    Dave has taken a close look and has found the correlations difficult to pinpoint, there’s not enough information there and some of it is conflicting. I’m trying to encourage him to write up a full post about it. I suggest you all encourage him too. :-)

    We shared the documents we received with TriMet.

    And on the topic of researching this subject, let me just say that:

    1. If you’re going to have a “Public Information Officer”, post that person’s contact info (not just their name) on your web site and staff directory.

    2. Give the dispatchers the correct number, not an expired pager number. Maybe dispatchers might want to contact the public information officer too.

    3. Answering the administrative office reception phone in less than 30 minutes would be good, too!

  7. Just Saying
    July 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm Link

    I will repeat what I said on a different post. Crime data is notoriously misleading. The problem is that what is reported and what happens are different.

    As I understood the news reports, they were getting more calls to Clackamas Town Center, not the Max stop. That could reflect a real increase in crime, an increase in shoppers or it could be a change in reporting behavior.

    You would really need someone with expertise to drill down into the data. Very few police departments have, or need, that expertise. Even then, I am not sure a few month’s data is a big enough sample size to make any conclusions about the impact of transit.

  8. Dave H
    July 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm Link

    I agree with everything Just Saying said about the information released.

    One sample is reported crimes Jan-May 2009 vs Jan-May 2010 on CTC property (including the Green Line stop for 2010.) This shows a 60% decrease in assaults (from 5 to 2) and a 200% increase in drug crimes (4 to 12). They unsurprisingly went from 0 to 27 charges of interfering with public transportation which alone counts for over 10% of the increase of 211 reported crimes.

    Other big increases were criminal trespass (10 to 20), criminal mischief (4 to 20), and thefts both from vehicles (27 to 39, 44.4%) and not from vehicles (314 to 427, 36%) were most of the rest of the change.

    One problem is these are just labeled reported crimes. Are there more thefts because more people are going there? Are the vehicle thefts up because people now use it as a park and ride? Are there additional police and security in the area reporting crimes because of MAX, leading to more crime being noticed?

    The other problem is the second set of data given to us. This is dispatched calls from 9/12/08-2/24/09 and the same dates in 2009-2010. This does not count any self-initiated deputy contact, and it isn’t clear if it just includes Town Center property, or if it includes surrounding neighborhoods as well.

    This shows an increase in assaults from 8-11, so that contradicts the decrease seen in the other period. Vice, Drugs calls actually decreased from this show of data with MAX, from 10 to 6.

    This data also shows a smaller increase in thefts, from 349 (combining theft and theft, custody) to 419, only a 20% change. Incomplete 911 calls increased more than anything else, from 16 to 39, which could indicate that a lot more people are on the property as well.

    It does look like theft is up on the property, but the data they provided us doesn’t seem to prove that MAX is in any way related to the increases more than the new parking garage or any other change in the area is responsible for it.

    There’s a correlation in the data and I’m not a statistician, but it seems like the sample sizes of just mall property is fairly small, and pretty useless without knowing what the percentage change in users of the property are.

  9. Jason Barbour
    July 20, 2010 at 6:28 pm Link

    Unfortunately the community spoke and the board completely ignored them.

    Which is why I left the May Board Meeting right after the unanimous vote to axe/cut/gut service at riders’ expense. It’s very clear that the time/day of board meetings, the fact the only publicly available media is unofficial videos created by “two lonely guys in two rooms,” and all public comment is obviously taken only to comply with meeting laws, is set up so the public won’t participate in the process. TriMet could prove me wrong by expanding their website to include archives of meeting agendas and minutes, a schedule of future meetings beyond the very next meeting, and downloads of the rumored official audio recordings of meetings.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d like better transit. I think TriMet should be a leader in actual service, not just public perception of service.

    As for the interview, I really liked how he says he’d like to buy more than “80 buses every 2 years,” and he’d like service to return to where you don’t need to check a schedule or transit countdown website, you know if you’re at the stop at a certain time that service is going to be there (hint: reinstate line 74). Seriously, if there was some way Mr. McFarlane could get the resources to retire all the 1400 Gilligs and Flxibles in an expedient manner without eliminating service in the process, a lot of people (including me) would be very happy.

    The crazy thing about this video (one of my all-time favorites from one of our favorite video-operating bus operators) isn’t that it was made 2 years ago… it’s that conditions haven’t changed any! And those conditions haven’t changed from when I rode line 76 regularly 10 years ago!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kk8jdzxkRA

  10. Pliny
    July 20, 2010 at 8:24 pm Link

    I thought the problem with WES ridership was that Trimet can’t seem to go a week without a mechanical failure. Who’d want to commute to work on a vehicle that may glitch out and cost you half an hour?

  11. Steve S.
    July 20, 2010 at 9:32 pm Link

    I think some of you are missing the point about the crime issue. I see no purpose in drilling down into the data and there’s no reason to presume there’s anything “notoriously misleading”.

    The crime data is what it is. The same kind of reporting and collection of data was done for both periods. The comparison reveals a significant increase in calls for service, crimes and arrests.
    While at the same time crime went down county wide. Every year for the past 5 years.

    TriMet considers any crime not committed on the trains unrelated to MAX.

    That’s one way of looking at it.
    But it doesn’t really matter.

    Whatever the cause or source it must be addressed.
    The Sheriff is not jumping to any conclusions or making any judgement about MAX. He is simply reporting the crime statistics while working to address the increase.
    Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon has also been frustrated about the crime along Westside MAX but he also wants more cooperation and the resources to deal with it.

    Both have attempted to get additional uniforms on and around the line while facing budget contraints. Both have been seekings more cooperation from TriMet and their commissioners.

    The Clackamas County Sheriif is already losing the eqivalency of 12 deputies a year to county wide UR/TIF.
    He sees more revenue cuts as more UR is adopted.

    He recognizes that Milwaukie light rail will add to demand for service while the use of Urban Renewal/TIF will cut his budget.

    The Fire District has also seen it’s budget cut more and more by UR over the years and also anticipates additional cuts from MLR.

    They are both opposed to the MLR funding.

    That will make it impossible for the County to adopt the planned McLoughlin Area Plan if it uses UR/TIF in an attempt to fund their $30 million share of MLR.

    Similarly the TriMet share will devour future operting revenue which it cannot project will be available. That’s not funding. It’s reckless financing.

  12. EngineerScotty
    July 20, 2010 at 11:04 pm Link

    Steve,

    Suppose it were in fact the case that delinquents were using MAX to get to CTC and engaging in criminal behavior off TriMet property. The evidence put forth into the public record doesn’t demonstrate that–post hoc ergo propter hoc, and all that–but assume that the Sheriff’s office was able to prove that the MAX service was “responsible” (meaning hoods were using trains to travel around, and committing crimes at CTC).

    Other than more stringent fare enforcement(one thing that TriMet ought to do in any case) under the theory that car prowlers are likely to evade fares–what should TriMet do about it? Shut down the service altogether? Close MAX stations in “rough” neighborhoods? Ban persons convicted of criminal behavior from the service, even for crimes not occurring on TriMet property? Pay for increased security at CTC?

    And why wouldn’t any of these apply to other modes of travel?

  13. Dave H
    July 20, 2010 at 11:29 pm Link

    Ban persons convicted of criminal behavior from the service, even for crimes not occurring on TriMet property?

    Actually that’s already being done. I have a friend who was excluded until recently from using any TriMet service because of a mistake she made over ten years ago.

  14. Bob R.
    July 20, 2010 at 11:45 pm Link

    CORRECTION: The initial text for this post about today’s feature incorrectly stated the topic (Health Care, LIFT Service and the Fare System).

    The correct description is Funding, Capital Projects and Budget Concerns.

    This post has been updated, and the Health Care, etc., video will appear tomorrow morning.

    Sorry for any confusion this has caused.

  15. Steve S.
    July 21, 2010 at 9:09 am Link

    “what should TriMet do about it?”

    This is not complicated.

    Stop spending on new capital projects they can’t afford.

    The lack of funding for adequate police protection is the same as the lack of funding for a healthy bus system and the lack of funding for other committments they are making like the unfunded fringe benefits.

    But instead of prudent action to preserve the agency, bus service and safety on exisitng lines TriMet pushed forward with the worst line yet with the worst financing.

    This will assure that every current problem will get much worse.

    Law enforcement professionals have told them and TriMet knows that added uniformed police officers will provide big benefits.

    As with other things they cannot fund they cannot and will not fund adequate police presence.

    Just imagine what will be happening when additional streetcars, MAX and retireees demand new funding.

    Will any of you be shocked when it all collapses?

  16. Just Saying
    July 21, 2010 at 10:28 am Link

    “This is not complicated. ”

    Apparently it is. The crime problem seems to be at the Clackmas Town Center, not the transit center. Are you suggesting that Trimet should hire police to patrol the shopping mall?

    “Stop spending on new capital projects they can’t afford.”

    Only failing businesses stop making prudent capital investments. Most small businesses fail for exactly that reason, they don’t have the capital to continue to invest through downturns in the economy. The result is that they can’t take advantage of the upturns either.

    The fact is that past capital investments are allowing Trimet to provide far more and better service today than they would be able to provide if they relying solely on buses and un-sheltered street corner bus stops. Past investments in park and rides, transit centers, shelters and rail transit all mean better service today, despite the economic downturn.

  17. EngineerScotty
    July 21, 2010 at 10:35 am Link

    Steve,

    I was asking “what should TriMet do about it” in the context of complaints that “MAX causes crime”, not in the larger funding context… but fair enough.

    The larger funding problem is, as you note, not a transit problem–it’s a MONEY problem. Governments around the country are presently faced with rising budgetary needs, and declining revenues. I tend to be in agreement with you that UR/TIF for transit projects isn’t a great idea–these things work best when the improvements in question will either grow the tax base or shrink expenses (or some combination thereof) that compensates for the diversion of tax revenues. Cleaning up a blighted area, increasing property values and reducing the need for police service, is one example (I’ll ignore for now concerns about gentrification, and that UR simply shifts the problems of poverty elsewhere). Generic infrastructure, especially of the regional variety, not so much.

    Funding for MAX construction ought to be coming instead from road construction budgets. (And to some extent, it is–estimates I’ve seen for converting OR99E to a freeway between Portland and Milwaukie cost a lot more that the price of MLR). There’s a lack of political will to make these funding shifts explicit, or to raise additional revenues (taxes), so TIF is used instead as it’s an “easy” source of revenue which isn’t noticed every October when property tax bills are mailed out.

    At any rate, if there’s a collapse coming, TriMet will be a very small part of the equation. New transit infrastructure is pocket change compared to things like future pension liabilities, explosion of healthcare costs, deferred maintenance on existing infrastructure (primarily roads and bridges). Many are predicting deflation; the financial markets (and Congress) seem to have little stomach for additional stimulus–perhaps the “rational” thing to do is to defer spending until public-sector costs come down, which if done on a large scale, makes the deflationary spiral worse.

  18. al m
    July 21, 2010 at 10:42 am Link

    All they gotta do is close down the funding for the criminal wars that this criminal federal government is waging and all these other problems would go away as Ron Paul suggests.

    There is no problem with money, there is plenty of money, they just don’t want to use it to help any americans!

  19. Just Saying
    July 21, 2010 at 10:52 am Link

    “The same kind of reporting and collection of data was done for both periods. ”

    You don’t actually know that. You also don’t know what other changes occurred between the two periods. Which is why crime data is often misleading.

    “Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon has also been frustrated about the crime along Westside MAX but he also wants more cooperation and the resources to deal with it.

    Both have attempted to get additional uniforms on and around the line while facing budget contraints.”

    1) How many Max stops is the Washington County Sheriff responsible patrolling. I would need to look but most of the stops in Washington County are within the city limits of Beaverton and Hillsboro. Those are local police responsibilities, not the sheriff’s. This sounds like a budget argument.

    2) If Clackamas County has increased patrols around Clackamas Town Center since MAX opened, that would explain at least part of the statistical “crime wave”.

    You EXPECT more reported crime when you add more police to an area. Its not that there is more crime, its that you are catching and reporting more of them. This is true not only of drug use, but also other crimes.

  20. EngineerScotty
    July 21, 2010 at 11:05 am Link

    Ending overseas wars would help, certainly… not that the money would be shifted towards domestic spending on infrastructure, but it would make the federal books look better.

    Krugman to say things like “this is not your father’s recession (1980s)” to compare the present crisis to major recessions past. It certainly isn’t the 1980s all over again; it’s closer to the Great Depression but a few things there are different as well–most notably, far less room to maneuver on monetary policy.

    What DOES the present situation remind me of? The UK after World War II. Significant natural capital spent in war (check), huge public debt (check), rise of a competing economic power which is financing much of government operations (check), currency issues severely inhibiting exports (check), liquidity issues limiting ability to rebuild decaying/destroyed infrastructure (checkmate). The result for the UK? The loss of its empire, a decade of economic suffering, and a generation of socialism. Not the center-left policies of Obama which know-nothings on the right call socialism; I’m talking about the real thing–industries left and right seized and nationalized, punitive taxation on capital, and reorganization of the state as a provider of jobs.

    Have a nice day. :)

  21. Steve S.
    July 21, 2010 at 2:47 pm Link

    Just Saying

    I don’t know where you are going with the crime issue.

    You seem to want to simply dismiss it.

    You also keep making suggestions that law enforcement doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    The CC Sheriff’s office has professional law enforcement people who look at every angle of this problem. The are not confused or speculating.

    Law enforcement knows what to do with transit and security. TriMet is not funding it adequately. Just like bus service and fringe benefits liabilities.

    More law enforcement presence works. On board, at the stations and vicinity.

    Yes TriMet must stop spending on capital projects they can’t afford.

    Their business is failing. Not because the are not building enough.

    Few if any small busniess would ever proceed down TriMet’s path. Primarily because law prohibits it.

    You are free to have you own opinions of business and TriMet’s fiscal prcatices but you are mischaracterizing how they both operate.

    TriMet’s past capital investments are causing Trimet to risk the agency’s operation. How else would you describe holding off budget a $50 million/year liability?

    I disagree that there is more and better service today because of rail transit.

    Take away the rail and add a fraction of the enormous cost to bus service and other amenities and more people and neighborhoods would be served.

    EngineerScotty

    TriMet’s funding problems are self inflicted. The economy is making it worse but their decisions have them in crisis.

    The capital projects, now $1.5 billion for MLR, are too costly while serving too few. There is no getting around and building more without genuine funding is fiscal madness.

    Their 115% of payroll benefits package is also obviously not sustainable, period.

    What is your suggestion for fixing this problem?

    IMO the use of UR/TIF for just about anythign is inappropriate. It diverts large sums from other government services with no plan for how those services will then be funded.

    If TriMet can’t put together an authentic funding package for a capital improvement they should not be proceeding with it.

    The current MLR financing is a mess. How does TriMet possibly hink that moving forward is rudent?

    Fed funding for MAX construction does come from road “gas tax”revenue.

    There’s been too much of political will to shift funding to these rail projects. Now TriMet is facing fiscal calamity pursuing more.

    TIF has been used because public officials don’t want to rely upon voter approved tax increases.

    Is it your contention that taxes should be raised to cover all of TriMet’s costs?

    TIF is not an honest financing tool.

    Comparing the realtively short low capacity MLR to an entire freeway conversion of OR99E is hardly a justification for the cost of MLR.

    Even though a freeway has enormous capacity it’s not needed on 99 and no one is suggesting 99 be converted to a freeway. That 6.5 miles could use better bus service though.

    The collapse I was referring to was TriMet itself.

    That’s what happens when spending severely sails past revenue as it has at TriMet.

    Deferred maintenance on existing infrastructure has been an outcome of TriMet and & Metro misappropriating.

    The Sellwood bridge could use the Metro MLR share of $140 million. Those are flex funds that could be spent on any transportation project.

    Surely you know that the culture at Metro has been to use those flex funds to non road projects with the exception of green streets projects.

    The greater economy troubles is not a valid excuse for TriMet’s problems.

    TriMet cannot afford itself.

    Just Saying Says:

    “The same kind of reporting and collection of data was done for both periods. ”

    You don’t actually know that.”

    Actually I do know that.

    Have you communicated with the Sheriff’s office?

    What’s the point in your speculating about the crime reports being misleading when you have no information period?

    The increased crime is what it is and the crime rate went down county wide during the same time period.

    There’s nothing misleading at all.

    You’ve demonstrating a complete lack of familiarity with the crime issue Washington County and Clackamas County face regarding the MAX lines.

    You are free to dismiss the crime reports and problems as easily as TriMet does. But you are doing so without having ever discussed with the Sheriff’s or researched the problem at all. If you did you would know where and how they patrol the MAX lines/stations and why the crime reports are real and you wouldn’t be making all of your dismissive suggestions.

    Engineer Scotty,

    If all wars ended that would still not result in billions more towards all of the regions light rail projects.

    Any additional expansion of LR would continue to be at the expense of bus service and many other greater needs.

    Franlky I can’t imagine how Light Rail became such a priority that so many other needs can be raided to expand it.

    One thing is for sure, MLR has exposed a very troubling willingness to accept any detriment or obstacle in moving forward.

    Last week the TriMet board revealed a new price tag for Milwaukie Light Rail.
    $1.5 billion
    The added cost is supposedly from TriMet moving forward without a commitment of the fed funds which raises the interim finance costs $100 million.

    Of course if one adds up the total cost to the lottery that share would increase by $150 million more,

    the total cost to property taxes with UR/TIF would add another $100 million

    the total cost to TriMet’s operating revenue would add $30 million

    bringing the cost closer to $1.8 billion with other anticipated increases pushing it to $2 Billion.

    Suppose it were estimated to cost $4 billion? Would it still be a good investment? To shuttle riders parts or all of 6.5 miles.

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