Not a good night for TriMet (UPDATED)

November 2010 election results not good for TriMet
UPDATE: KPTV projects that Kitzhaber will win.

As you probably have heard, Ballot Measure 26-119 has been defeated, 54-46%. It passed in Multnomah County, but failed in Washington and Clackamas Counties.

In other races, Tom Hughes leads Bob Stacey by a narrow margin (51%-49%); though no media organizations have called the race. And Chris Dudley leads John Kitzhaber by a narrow margin with about 3/4 of the votes counted.

One other major decision affecting TriMet, but one which isn’t forthcoming for a while, will be the arbitrator’s ruling in the labor dispute. A ruling against the union would help stem the bleeding at the agency; a ruling against the agency would likely mean another round of service cuts.


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53 responses to “Not a good night for TriMet (UPDATED)”

  1. Bad management should not be solved on the backs of the employees

    If they stopped building light rail stuff then maybe we would have some sympathy for them.

  2. Well, mine may be one of the uncounted Kitzhaber ballots. I don’t like how the major parties function (or not), but I do like how he doesn’t dress like a politician.

  3. We both voted No on this one. And this is coming from someone who rides the bus daily M-F. Might be against our self-interests but so is spending an insane amount on the light-rail spur lines.

    Not to mention the percent of revenue spent on employee benefits and general administration.

  4. Personally, I’m sick of transit projects going south because of Clackamas or WaCo’s voting habits. It’s most of the reason the Wilsonville Evacuation Service is a giant white elephant. OK. So everyone is in a crunch and everyone needs $$. Trimet needs to adapt and it looks like cuts all around. Perhaps, the next round of massive cuts should be to Clackamas and WaCo service. After all. No one wants taxes and that’s why we can’t have nice things. It’s also how we in MultCo get the service the other two counties have and deserve.

  5. It’s interesting to watch the walls crumble that hold our opinions when election times rolls around.

    Good luck guys. I just visited your city and it was a fantastic experience; on MAX and on the bus. Hope that there is a way to preserve it.

  6. How about cutting the bureaucracy?

    That won’t happen of course, the big fish always eat the small fish no matter what the size of the pond.

    They could stop expanding?

    I keep dreaming.

    At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols.
    Aldous Huxley

  7. Yeah, but you know service in Washington County and Clackamas county is already considered pretty bad, so if Service Cuts- (I should say “when”) pass, Multnomah County’s gonna bear the brunt of something that wasn’t their fault. Oh dear, OPAL’s not gonna be happy about that. -_-

  8. It’s awfully hard to provide good service to sprawl–outside the Beaverton/Hillsboro corridor near the MAX line, which has seen quite a bit of upzoning over the years, providing good transit to the burbs is Very Hard To Do.

    But still: Where ought future cuts go? Is there any threat that any other parts of the suburbs might “pull a Wilsonville”–withdrawing from TriMet, and taking their payroll tax contributions with them?

  9. This really doesn’t have to be the end of TriMet’s world.

    The measure was for a $125-million 20-year bond, or a little over $6 million per year. TriMet’s budget is now at about $450 million annually with payroll/self employment taxes at about $210 million. The annual nominal .01% tax rate increase comes out to about a 1.5% actual increase, or roughly $3 million per year. Within two years, the agency will be getting the money anyway without a property tax.

    Obviously there are a lot of different ‘kinds’ of monies flowing in and out of TriMet. But given the relative sizes of the bond v. total budget, TriMet can integrate a full bus/lift/stop improvement program without additional service cuts providing the economy doesn’t tank further. No sure bet on either of those two.

  10. “Multnomah County’s gonna bear the brunt of something that wasn’t their fault.”

    Multnomah County bears nearly all of the blame for the state of affairs at TriMet. The chronic enabling by Multnomah county official and voters ushered along the mismanagement and reckless misappropriations as f the tooth fairy was waiting near by to bail it all out.

    The chickens are coming home to roost and it has been predicted at every step by critics. They were right and the enablers have been wrong.

    Just like when critics called BS on the claims that the Green line would spur development along 82nd.

    Now that Metro has admitted it will not spur anything along 82 is it supposed to be OK and forget about the claims.

    There are many examples of this.

    The labor dispute and unfunded liabilities will be severe problems TriMet has no answers for. The can’t afford their own bonding for MLR.

    Clackamas County is going to face a successful initiative petition that requires voter approval for Urban Renewal. Their only source for their $25 million share of Milwaukie Light Rail.

    That will be a county wide rejection of their UR plan and serve as a referendum on MLT that cannot be stopped.
    Milwaukie is going to do the same thing with their $5 million share of MLR.

    I’ll also wager Lake Oswego does the same to the Sterrtcar.

  11. From the TriMet memo, with my own emphasis:
    Although the failure of this measure means further delay of much-needed bus stop improvements and bus replacements

    NO. It should mean an immediate and indefinite suspension of Milwaukie LR, CRC LR, Barbur LR, and Lake Oswego Streetcar. People want public transit revenue service and straight answers, not rail projects, excuses, and “we have to do this.” (Again, who is “we?” What are their proper names? What does this purposely vague “we” stand to gain from this?)

    Oh dear, OPAL’s not gonna be happy about that.
    And, strictly IMO, this is one of the problems with all of the groups that pass for transit “activism” in the Portland Metro Area: They’re all Portland-proper-centric (with some heckbent on only certain areas of Portland). Most “groups” are also simply running front operations in an attempt to recruit people for other purposes.

  12. Uh – correction: Stacey by 1 vote….

    Multnomah should be close to counting all their votes by 10 tonight.

    Sorry about the previous double post.

  13. Sorry for wasting your time in the previous posts: it turns out that Washington County still has about 13% of their vote still to count.

    Final guess: Hughes should win by about 3,500 votes.

  14. [Stacey/Hughes forecasts]

    Well, I voted for Stacey but my wife voted for Hughes. Our household was a a wash, I guess. (We both voted for Kitzhaber, though…)

    Again, who is “we?” What are their proper names? What does this purposely vague “we” stand to gain from this?

    Likewise, who is “people”? :)

    I assume “we” means “the region”. There are many people who consider rapid and efficient transit a high priority. Many others do not. TriMet has experienced a helluva backlash in the past few years, roughly corresponding to the recession and the recent service cuts.

    One problem, though, and it’s something I allude to over at DHT–the MLR project is essentially at a critical phase. Were it in early in the planning phase, it would be a trivial matter to delay the project and resume it later should circumstances (such as the economy) warrant. Were MLR already under construction, there probably wouldn’t be any discussion of stopping it. But in the current project phase–killing it now would probably mean the another decade plus before it could be resumed, as most of the entire planning phase would have to be redone, as well as the entire financing. And it would probably impact any follow-on projects as well. This is strictly my opinion, but I think that this is the reason planners are running full steam ahead despite the numerous objections–stopping at this point would have consequences well beyond Milwaukie MAX. (And for some, that outcome would be desirable; for others, disastrous).

    And, strictly IMO, this is one of the problems with all of the groups that pass for transit “activism” in the Portland Metro Area: They’re all Portland-proper-centric (with some heckbent on only certain areas of Portland).

    I’ll agree with that–and further note that SOME of the anti-MAX advocacy seems to come from people upset that inner-city service is being “exchanged” for suburban service; there’s definitely a “screw the burbs” mentality in some quarters. MAX isn’t necessary to provide good transit in Portland’s core (roughly the West Hills to I-205, and Columbia Boulveard to Johnson Creek), but it is highly beneficial in attracting suburban commuters (including those commuting to jobs in Washington County).

    That said, killing MLR wouldn’t free up that much money for operations–it would free up the bonded payroll tax, and the eventual moneys needed to operate MLR (less the savings from ending redundant bus service). The rest of the funding comes from sources which simply aren’t available for operations. The biggest levers for TriMet getting bus service restored are the economy and the labor agreement.

  15. One person’s frivolous “earmarks” are another’s “very important projects”, and in any case a tiny proportion of the overall budget. We’ll see.

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    In all, Congress last year approved 9,499 earmarks for local projects worth nearly $16 billion, about 1.2% of the $1.36 trillion the government spent on all discretionary programs.

    and this gem:

    Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, himself a tough fiscal conservative, is of a different mind. He called the House Republican moratorium “fraudulent” and said he was “elated” on Thursday to see that earmarks weren’t mentioned in the House election platform. “That’s because the ban is going to go away,” he said.

    But supposing that the incoming R’s overcome Sen. Inhofe’s objections (and the objections of other longtime R’s and D’s), and eliminate the entirety of that massive 1.2% of the “discretionary” budget (without allocating those funds elsewhere), they can then move on to actual noticeable cuts and see how far that gets them.

  16. The context of my earmarks comment was clearly Trimet, not overall effect on the Federal fiscal mess.

    To clarify: how would a lack of earmarks affect hoped for funding (not necessarily published plans, yet) for CRC and maybe MLR/Oswego?


  17. “That said, killing MLR wouldn’t free up that much money for operations”


    Except that isn’t even close to being true.
    Interim finance costs are already mounting and could be truncated.
    Currently many of TriMet’s costly staff are dedicated to working on MLR and other expansions. That cost alone could be reallocated to returning bus cuts and orstabilizing the agency.
    Lottery bond revenue is being devoured that should be halted. Property aquisition could stop.
    Very shortly the new TriMet bonds will require set aside drainign more revenue from opeeration.

    The full and honest spectrum of savings from killing MLR is of course enormous.

    But the idea that it is affordable in the first place is a demonstration in fiscal madness.

    JPACT didn’t even have the descency to assess if it makes sense. Either in terms of TriMet affordability itself or if it makes sense to take millions in school dollars etc to build light rail.
    Nope. They like it, they want it and like the spoiled toddler stomp their feet and demand it even when the family is busted and the house is on fire.

  18. I have a problem with Tri-Met lift vans:

    They’re LONG OVERDUE for re-engineering.
    Seniors and disabled NEED Low-Floor entry.
    Ford and GM van chassis could accommodate
    front-wheel hybrid drivetrain.

    If Tri-Met won’t twist arms to get better lift vans, it’s best to cut off funding for obsolete models.

  19. There are some low floor model chassis, but the price point hasn’t come down enough to make them feasible for the amount of vehicles TriMet purchases, let alone affordable for the other Special Transportation programs operating locally and around the state.

    There’s also the State Price Agreement contracts which affect the vehicles that agencies are actually able to purchase with the funds that are designated specifically for E/D programs. I’m willing to guess that TriMet is able to justify their own procurement process, but I’m not privy to that process so I can’t confirm.

  20. TriMet should do the following in the wake of Tuesday’s vote:
    Put the handful of new buses to be purchased with the federal help (14?) in service on its busiest lines…72, 8, and 4.
    Move older low floor buses from those lines to other lines based on ridership and so on down the line, so that the most riders get the best vehicles.
    Move forward on MLR asap as it brings new LRT vehicles into service at lower operating cost…fewer Ops (the system’s cost center), more riders per vehicle, etc. When MLR opens, remove low floor vehicles from redundant McLaughlin lines.
    Prepare for a 2012 ballot measure to fund Barbur LRT, expansion of Yellow Line to Hayden Island and study other possible LRT expansions and purchase new buses.

  21. sounds good lenny, about that first point buy some articulated buses for those lines. i was just on a bus yesterday that wasnt one of those lines (44) and it was so packed to the gills that we werent picking up any more passengers. this is actually very common at rush hour on this line.

    and that last point as much as i think the max expansion needs to happen, maybe not quite so agressive in expansion. in a package of improvements to put before voters perhaps in addition to some rail projects, greatly build up the entire bus system with a lot more service.

  22. One can only believe about half of what’s published in The O, but the Ops and Mechanics need to start picking up some of their benefit costs and share the pain with their riders who are paying more for less service, both bus and MAX.

  23. Lenny,
    Your claims of savings with LRT is preposterous.
    What about real math?
    TriMet auditor’s math says TriMet knows today that their tomorrow, short and long term, will be far short of operating revenue, for today’s level of service, even without attempting to pay the bonded debt from MLR. Your suggestion that an unaffordable big capital project is somehow part of a remedy is without any merit at all.
    It will certainly make TriMet’s demise come sooner.
    The MLR financing plan, despite your misportrayal, is a grotesque misappropriation, at every level, which you have avoided considering.
    Your advocacy could not be more wrongheaded and reliant upon a fantasy future where TriMet’s imminent fiscal catastrophe does not appear.

    What sort of wisdom do you possess that allows you the luxury of such presumptions?

    As for why the levy failed, there’s some good posts here.

  24. Milwaukie Light Rail will be built, it will be a success with thousands of new riders. It will spur investment both public and private between OHSU and Milwaukie. It will provide more and better service at lower cost than now exists in that corridor. TriMet will be fine as the economy recovers and their employees (and all state employees) re-negotiate their deals with the public. No need to panic.
    The debate on this site should now shift to how to provide “high capacity transit” in the Barbur corridor, real BRT in its own ROW or LRT. Time to move on.

  25. Thanks for weighing in on the lift van question, Cora. I do not however agree that basic needs should remain unaffordable. Free-market ideologues go down that path, but not me.

  26. Boy are you ever a good demonstration of TriMet thinking. Ears plugged, eyes closed advocacy at it’s worst Lenny.

    And it’s not good for transit.

    Like every other line, the only thing doing any spurring will be the millions subsidizing development trying, but failing to make it all match the fanstasy. All at the expense of schools and other essential services.

    Success has been elusive as billions get spent.
    Tram, WES and then the Green Line being built in the wrong place is the latest trend of failure.

    You say move on as if they alread figured out how to build MLR.
    Not hardly.

    The ridiculous cost and short distance makes MLR
    the worst project in the history of the State.

  27. Steve, you’re getting way too personal. You’ve been warned before. Cool down, you’ve already made your points. You’re more than welcome to disagree with Lenny, but he’s not calling you “a good demonstration of anti-transit thinking” or anything counter-productive like that.

  28. Of course Bob, but Lenny’s “nothing to see here move along” declarations in place of engaging the discussions are offensive and counter to discussion and debate.

    Those comments are no better than smart ass remarks that are inflammatory and conversation killers.

  29. The other problem that nobody is mentioning is that rail projects will eventually take hypothetical people living in hypothetical transit-oriented-development to hypothetical jobs located along light rail corridors.

    The reality is real people who really need transit live in whatever they can find in whatever price range they can afford (usually spending much more than the recommended percentage that one should spend on housing) along whatever bus route runs most often, and they don’t have however many years to get there, they have to be there at 8, 7, 6, or earlier, every morning. Including weekends. If their local bus route runs every 75 minutes out of the common direction of travel to a transit center 30 minutes away where that bus misses all connecting service by 5-10 minutes, with a 20-30 (60+?!) minute wait for the next bus on those connecting routes, it’s virtually unusable unless one truly has no other option available to them.

    The kid who wrote that letter to the zero deserves a hug. IMO, the kids should have a positive experience with transit, instead of having to consistently pile onto buses much older than they are. And probably something like 99% of the time they have absolutely no choice over much of anything in their lives, they’re stuck riding buses about to fall apart while attending schools with failing structural elements and academics.

    It would be a great scientific sample survey, finding out why those who voted against 26-119 did so.

    IMO, an issue during the next Metro election cycle should be whether or not Metro should take over TriMet, and run it as a public transit revenue service department, and maybe even do some consolidation by declaring the Metro board would also serve as the TriMet Board. Now THAT would get interesting!

  30. I try not to make selfish posts on here, but anything to get 20xx series buses off of the 15/Thurman route in the morning would be f***ing awesome. I love having what’s almost front door service, but having buses that loud stopping every 30 minutes right outside my windows is getting old.

    I just hope the MLR is as good as people say, because hearing the old buses drive by that often barely feels worth it.

  31. The reality is real people who really need transit live in whatever they can find in whatever price range they can afford

    I hoped to live that reality, now I’m saving up to buy a car because my options are (1) move to Montana or (2) find a job in the Portland Metro Area without TriMet. And I really don’t want to move to Big Sky Country.

    But hey, they have jobs there.

  32. Speaking of MLR, the the bridge over the Willamette is elegant. Imagine in the background a “single-deck” replacement for the Marquam Bridge.

    Milwaukie MAX has potential – extension to Oregon City and/or connect to the Green line, rail shuttle to Lake Oswego.

    GM and Ford should produce a full-size low-floor hybrid van chassis to replace the current lift van fleet. It’s gonna happen. No excuses.

  33. A couple of macro data points:
    *TriMet serves the 25th largest market in the US; its transit ridership is 8th. Could TriMet do better? sure, but don’t forget what has been done in the last 20 years and the role MAX has played.
    *1/3 of TriMet riders are on MAX, but it consumes 1/4 of its operations budget. The order of the day in the public as wel as private sector is serve more people with better quality service at lower cost. How do we do it?
    re Milaukie Light Rail…the horse is out of the barn; is there one elected official at Metro, City of Portland, Milaukie, Multnomah county, Clackamas county who has doubts? No. Let’s move on!

  34. re Milaukie Light Rail…the horse is out of the barn; is there one elected official at Metro, City of Portland, Milaukie, Multnomah county, Clackamas county who has doubts? No. Let’s move on!

    The public seems to disagree! Clackamas County, who is getting the new max line, was the most negative towards the Trimet bond issue, no doubt as a proxy for not being able to vote on the Milwaukie line.

  35. *1/3 of TriMet riders are on MAX, but it consumes 1/4 of its operations budget.

    And leaving out capital construction costs is just plain dishonest, it’s all our tax money, the pocket it comes out of is irrelevant.

    It’s a common method government uses to justify their inexcusable spending habits.

    “Oh sorry, we could only use this money for XXXX and not YYYY.”

    Some of us just aren’t that easily fooled.

  36. One spends capital dollars to reduce operations costs and improve products. That’s what investment is; why shouldn’t TriMet do it?
    The real reason the bus measure lost (but not in Multnomah county where 9 of the 11 MLR stations are located) is TriMet’s too generous benefits package for its union workers. Riders are paying more and getting less, are Ops and Mechanics ready to share the pain?

  37. Milwaukie MAX has potential …… rail shuttle to Lake Oswego.

    Which would, IMO, be more effective than the LO Streetcar they’re proposing.

  38. I highly, highly, highly doubt that a Milwaukie-LO rail shuttle will ever happen as long as Union Pacific owns that line.

  39. Some time ago, Jim Howell called the Milwauakie/LO line “The forgotten bridge.” I’d like to hear his take. There’s not that much freight traffic using it. Why wouldn’t Union Pacific want to lease the line for a public shuttle?

  40. It seems to me that the obstacles to running a line from Milwaukie to Lake Oswego are economic, technical, and regulatory. Economic: is it worth the money to the railroad to lease track to a transit operation, and would the overall cost mean the service is economically effective (serving enough riders with a subsidy reasonably in line with the rest of Tri-Met operations)? Technical: can scheduling and signaling and double-tracking at key points allow transit operations to exist without interfering with freight movement? If those hurdles are crossed, there might still be the need for regulatory reform or waivers to let potential “outside the box” technical solutions work, but that’s really a political question.

    If there’s a valid transit basis to run service on that track (enough demand to use it), Tri-Met should talk to the railroad about how to make it work.

    I doubt there’s much merit to a shuttle from Lake Oswego to Milwaukie to serve LO commuters; the extra transfer to get to downtown Portland will probably put most of them off in favor of a single-seat ride. More likely, it would have to be a WES-like line from Beaverton TC or Tigard TC to Milwaukie or maybe even Clackamas.

  41. The last 2 1/2 pages of the original Lake Oswego to Portland Transit and Trail Study [Yes, Virginia, a trail really was part of the original project] show the original thinking on a MLR extension into LO. [See the project’s Alternatives Analysis, Evaluation Summary, at

    Three points:
    1. The study’s assumption for such an extension included three stations in Milwaukie after the departure from the main line (to Park and potential points south) and an extension south to Albertsons in LO to correspond with the streetcar terminus. This would give a very high station density, equivalent to those in suburban downtowns such as Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Gresham. Yet the area served is at the edge of a primarily residential area, at the bottom of a hill, and along the Willamette shore. There is no way that TriMet would have gone along with that many stations in the area. Area riders can’t even support weekend bus service on their main arterial, River Rd. Likewise, the extra costs to go to Albertsons aren’t justified. If anything, the line would be extended west, not south, for eventual service to Lake Grove and Tualatin or Tigard. By including these “amenities”, costs and projected trip times for the project were jacked up, appearing less competitive with streetcar.
    2. The very preliminary study for a MLR/LO extension put the capital costs for making the existing UP ROW & bridge at $140 million with the expectation that annual leasing fees would be very high. The cost for a TriMet owned separate ROW & bridge along side the existing ROW were put at $212 million.
    3. A Milwaukie/LO connection remains a 2nd tier priority in Metro’s HCT plan. If it ends up as a MLR extension, then the LO streetcar extension will have wasted an awful lot of money, not just for the costs of constructing streetcar (at least south of the Sellwood Bridge) but also for the $50 to $55 million extra it would cost to construct a needed safe pedestrian/cyclist route through the corridor. [Metro estimates construction costs for a trail at $7 million if the WSL ROW were available.]

  42. UP does not want to be involved with passenger rail. Period. They don’t want to deal with the liability issues and they don’t want to deal with the resulting scheduling problems. Case in point: when TriMet was building WES, the original plan was to lease the five mile segment between Tigard (Greton) and Beaverton from UP. UP wouldn’t allow it, and made TriMet purchase the line outright, for (IIRC) a pretty exorbitant price. Assuming they’d follow similar tactics with the line in question here, you’re talking about a huge expenditure for TriMet ($140 million, or more) – particularly when you account for the two long trestles (Kellogg Creek and the eastside approach to the Willamette) and the deteriorating Willamette bridge itself. P&W trains are currently restricted to 10-20 mph along this segment.

    jon – thanks for pointing out that article. That’s a pretty good illustration of what I’ve just said.

  43. Lenny Anderson Says:
    but the Ops and Mechanics need to start picking up some of their benefit costs and share the pain with their riders who are paying more for less service, both bus and MAX.

    I never thought I would see the day when Lenny
    Anderson would support the cascade policy institute in its quest to deny American citizens livable wage jobs with real benefits.

    We do live in strange times, Americans at each others throats, how sad for us as a culture.

  44. I think Al’s right that slashed TriMet service is a major reason the measure failed. As an unabashed TriMet supporter, I voted yes, but only after thinking hard about this vote…I’m still sore over the specific cuts TriMet made to my particular corner of the world, and wasn’t keen on “rewarding” them. I know that’s not a rational reason to vote no, so I reconsidered. But if I were just a little less pro-TriMet, I would have voted no.

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