Your Questions for Neil — The Trilogy

It’s that time of the year again–time for Portland Transport’s annual sit-down with TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane, We hosted previous interviews with Neil last spring, as well as in July 2010, right after he took office. (The results of those interviews can be seen here and here).

And now, it is time for Round 3. At this time, I would like to open the floor for proposed questions for Neil McFarlane–simply post a comment to pose a question. Anything which is relevant to transportation, mobility, and land-use is fair game, including controversial topics such as the recent fare hikes and service reductions, the ongoing labor dispute with ATU 757, or capital projects past, present, and future. Questions should be brief and to the point, and civil. Due to time constraints, not all questions may be asked; we may condense or compile the questions as necessary, but intend to ask a representative samle. The interviewer may elect to go off on tangents or pose follow-up questions as necessary.

The interview will be conducted in mid-March; Chris Smith will be conducting the interviews this time around. Bob Richardson, as always, will be behind the camera and will handle the post-production of the videos. After the interviews are conducted and edited, they will be uploaded to Youtube (broken up into manageable-sized chunks, in large part due to Youtube’s limitations on clip length), and articles linking to them will be posted here. Time permitting, we may transcribe some of the articles, for those who prefer to read or watch; we may also solicit volunteers for this as well.

The floor is now open!

21 Comments

21 Responses to Your Questions for Neil — The Trilogy

  1. Shaun Quayle
    February 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm Link

    What does Tri-Met have planned to increase the speed/travel time of existing LRT and bus service to be more competitive to auto modes and thereby justify higher/premium fares? Has skip stop service or stop consolidation been considered? I think there are opportunities to capture more choice riders if speed of service was enhanced…with real-time next stop information, less frequency but faster trips seems to be tenable from a customer perspective.

  2. Nick
    February 21, 2012 at 2:15 pm Link

    Yes! Downtown MAX speeds! I didn’t want to say it again since that’s the main thing I rant about on here. Glad someone else mentioned it. This gets my vote.

  3. al m
    February 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm Link

    Oh god, take me now!

  4. al m
    February 21, 2012 at 2:48 pm Link

    If I can get Jon Hunt to do an interview will you give him equal time?

  5. EngineerScotty
    February 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm Link

    If I can get Jon Hunt to do an interview will you give him equal time?

    Certainly! We tried to contact him last year, but weren’t able to reach him. (Admittedly, we didn’t try very hard, just a few emails to various addresses at the union). But if you could put him in touch with us, we’d be happy to give the union equal time.

  6. al m
    February 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm Link

    OK thanks…
    I’ll give it a shot…

  7. Che
    February 21, 2012 at 3:31 pm Link

    When will Tri-Met look into articulated buses?

  8. Dave H
    February 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm Link

    What is TriMet’s long term plan for next time that lean times hit? Will TriMet do something to set money aside when times are good so that less cuts will need to be made next time the payrolls in the region unexpectedly drop?

  9. EngineerScotty
    February 22, 2012 at 8:37 am Link

    When will Tri-Met look into articulated buses?

    Che,

    This topic was covered in Part 3 of last year’s interview (transcript here, search for “articulated”). Does Neil’s response last year answer your question, or is there more you would like to know?

  10. Aaron G
    February 22, 2012 at 10:34 am Link

    +1 to Shaun’s questions. I would like to hear from Neil what other kinds of changes that might speed up MAX and bus service with our existing infrastructure have been floated internally, and the rationale as to why they haven’t tried it yet or when they are planning to.

    How are the energy storage units for the 20 MAX trains coming along?

    Can anything be done to improve the MAX and bus arrival time accuracy, and/or increase GPS accuracy/polling time for buses?

  11. Aaron G
    February 22, 2012 at 10:46 am Link

    (Obviously, I meant the polling rate, decreasing the time…)

    I think focusing on this kind of boring technical stuff can do a lot to mitigate the consequences of service cuts, and shouldn’t cost much operation money.

    Drivers can get down-to-the-second traffic light data, I am jealous. In a perfect world, I’d be able to pull out my phone and see in (actual) real time where my bus is. Also, hook some sensors into the bus’s suspension system and measure the weight of all the riders so I can get an indication of how full that bus is. I can dream, can’t I?

  12. Jeff F
    February 22, 2012 at 5:12 pm Link

    Also, hook some sensors into the bus’s suspension system and measure the weight of all the riders so I can get an indication of how full that bus is. I can dream, can’t I?

    All the buses are fitted with Automatic Passenger Counters, so loads are available but not in real time. That’s something I’d love to see happen, so customers can get a clearer picture about whether to catch the 2nd bus instead of the first.

  13. EngineerScotty
    February 24, 2012 at 12:26 am Link

    I’ve avoided submitting my own questions so far–partly because I’ve been busy the past several days, and partly to not steer the discussion, but I’ve got a couple.

    1) In last year’s interview, you expressed confidence that the current labor impasse with ATU 757 would be resolved, largely in TriMet’s favor. Things obviously have not turned out that way, as the union has prevailed on several unfair labor practice complaints, several of TriMet’s cost-saving proposals have been stricken from TriMet’s arbitration offer, and the union was just recently awarded back pay. It’s been alleged that TriMet essentially botched the negotiations. Lately, it seems that TriMet has engaged in a public-relations offensive against ATU 757, and there are reports thats the agency wants the the legislature and/or the governor to intervene on its behalf. How do you see this resolved?

    2) As a follow-up question: The last time an Oregon governor got involved in a TriMet labor dispute, she (Barbara Roberts) did so on behalf of the union and not the agency, ousting former board president Loren Wyss after Mr. Wyss objected to a proposed collective bargaining agreement as too generous. Labor remains an important constituency for the state Democratic Party. Any concern that appeals to Salem for help might produce results other than that desired?

    3) Recent budget cuts have been concurrent with the opening and operation of WES and the Green Line, and the ongoing planning and construction of Milwaukie MAX, leading to some in the community to suggest that TriMet is cutting bus service in order to fund rail expansion. It is sometimes alleged that capital projects are driven by pork-barrel politics rather than transit needs. If the region hadn’t done WES or the Green Line, and the dedicated funding for these projects wasn’t available (and the related expenses not incurred), how would it have changed TriMet’s budget picture? Would the agency still be looking at severe budget cuts, and how would they compare to what is going on now?

  14. Erik H.
    February 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm Link

    All the buses are fitted with Automatic Passenger Counters

    No, they aren’t.

    And during the downtown TriMet open house, I pointed that very fact out to the “service planning” person about the cuts to the 94 bus which disproportionately operates with 1400 series buses that do not have APCs and the person confirmed that there is a possibility that TriMet’s data is wrong because of the lack of APCs on a large number of vehicles on that route.

    A very, very good number of 1700s and 1800s also lack APCs. I can’t speak for the 1600s and 1900s since I don’t ride routes that use those 30′ buses. The 2000-2900 series buses in general do have APCs, but the APCs also can underreport ridership on a crush-load bus if the bus is so crowded that there are riders standing in front of the rear APC (at the rear door).

  15. Erik H.
    February 24, 2012 at 8:57 pm Link

    If the region hadn’t done WES or the Green Line, and the dedicated funding for these projects wasn’t available (and the related expenses not incurred), how would it have changed TriMet’s budget picture?

    TriMet does not break out operating expenses per route (at least publicly) nor does it break out the maintenance expense for the Green Line.

    But it DOES for WES and that’s over $6 million per year.

    Add that to the $6 million that TriMet gives to the City of Portland each year…and you’ve just solved TriMet’s budget shortfall.

    When you count the cost TriMet incurs in operating a Capital Projects department that wouldn’t be necessary…the budget surplus just keeps growing and growing.

  16. Nick theoldurbanist
    February 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm Link

    “When you count the cost TriMet incurs in operating a Capital Projects department that wouldn’t be necessary.”

    >>>> That what I would like to know: what is the exact amount that Trimet incurs out-of-pocket for Capital Projects.

  17. EngineerScotty
    February 24, 2012 at 9:55 pm Link

    While TriMet’s public budget doesn’t contain the data, I’m sure it could be generated from the books easily enough.

  18. Dave H
    February 24, 2012 at 11:07 pm Link

    Another question: Is TriMet concerned that the new fare structure that will require a $5 fee for a two hour round trip (which, to be a round trip requires it be a fairly short trip) might discourage riders that currently use TriMet because it’s a good value? In the long term will TriMet consider an option that allows for short trips to be completed for a lower cost than a $5 all day pass?

  19. Jason McHuff
    February 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm Link

    bus arrival time accuracy, and/or increase GPS accuracy/polling time for buses?

    From what I’ve read, this is already in the works. The current data system is from the 90’s and is limited in getting position updates. However, it is currently being replaced with a whole new system which will provide more frequent updates.

    No, they aren’t.

    Enough buses are that they are able to get a good sampling of data, which is what matters.

    1400 series buses that do not have APCs

    Are you sure that none of them have them?

    TriMet does not break out operating expenses per route

    So are you saying that they don’t know how much each each costs and where the money is going?

    the $6 million that TriMet gives to the City of Portland each year

    …because the city provides transit service at no additional charge to TriMet riders. If it wasn’t for the streetcar, TriMet would have to provide more service and, moreover, some of the ridership may not happen at all.

    Moreover, at least some of the lines are supposed to be paid for with new revenues from an increase in the payroll tax rate. Which brings up what would be a good question:
    Given the economy and all, what is the revenue the district is getting from the payroll tax increase, and how does it compare with expenditures for WES/Green Line/other new service that the increase is supposed to fund?

    Capital Projects department that wouldn’t be necessary

    Are you saying they should just dump all the acquired knowledge? Do you really know what all they do?

  20. Jeff F
    February 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm Link

    Me: All the buses are fitted with Automatic Passenger Counters, so loads are available but not in real time.

    I was wrong, it’s not 100%. Apparently it is closer to 80% of vehicles in the fleet. All new buses will come with APC installed.

  21. Andrew
    March 2, 2012 at 12:54 am Link

    1. Are there any updates regarding the restoration (or even expansion) of the High Frequency network?

    2. Are there any plans ease mid-day and afternoon bus crowding? There are several lines that run out of downtown at crush-load, and it makes getting on and alighting quite difficult. Hawthorne boulevard has 14X trips during rush hours, for example. Will Trimet consider creating “X” trips for the buses on Sandy, Burnside, Belmont, Hawthorne, Division, Powell, ect?

    3. Is Trimet going to attempt once more to convince the city to allow eastbound 15 buses run on Alder so a proper couplet on Alder and Washington will be possible instead of the current arrangement?

    4. I’d also like to put my vote behind speeding up MAX trains between Goose Hallow and the Lloyd Center. That’s a really good one. Perhaps we could finally close some of the superfluous stations?

    5. In the future, would Trimet consider adding a MAX station at 28th Avenue on the Banfield Expressway (I-84) in order to fill the glaring deficit of MAX service in inner NE? Why should the Lloyd District be so well served and not the city between there and Hollywood?

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