October 2012 Open Thread

Time for another open thread:

  • Metro has a new fact sheet up for the Southwest Corridor.
  • There’s more bad blood between TriMet and ATU757. Three month’s ago, TriMet won the arbitration case which allows it to impose its last, best offer on the union–the main financial effect of which is requiring union members to contribute to their health insurance. But the decision is retroactive to 2009. If it were a decision against TriMet, it would be straightforward for the agency to cough up back pay and benefits–this sort of thing happens all the time. Instead, the ruling went against the union, and TriMet is considering demanding union members reimburse it for the premiums and such they would have paid were the agreement in effect.
    The union has provided samples of the letters that TriMet reportedly intends to send out to employees demanding reimbursement (at this point is not clear if such letters have actually been sent). The union maintains that despite winning the arbitration, TriMet is not entitled to enforce it retroactively–and the arbitrator noted that doing so might prove difficult (would TriMet be able to claw back premiums from retired operators, for instance?) As a result, ATU has advised its members to refuse to submit to any payment demands that TriMet might issue, and TriMet has responded with a complaint to the state Employee Relations Board.
  • More budget woes at TriMet–new pension reporting rules passed last summer by GASB will further highlight the woefully underfunded state of the pension and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) plans.

56 responses to “October 2012 Open Thread”

  1. For those out there that question the worth of streetcar expansion, a site called reason.com has an article asking its readers to “rethink” streetcars:

    Demand for the vehicles is driven not by the public but by the dreams of land-use planners and downtown boosters who imagine that aesthetically pleasing vehicles lumbering in slow circles through walkable areas will somehow prompt a boom in economic activity.


  2. For the average Reason reader, “rethinking” streetcars would be just the opposite of what that article is proposing.

    “Nostalgia is the main power source of the streetcar craze.”

    I’ll just stop you right there…

  3. I’m sure this has been addressed before, but I don’t remember it.

    Why is the arrival information for Portland Streetcar not available to various transit-oriented smartphone apps? PDX Transit and Portland Transit both have Streetcar in their route selections, but neither one can access arrival data.

  4. That topic also came up at yesterday’s CAC meeting.

    If I understand correctly, for a long time the issue was bureaucratic (TriMet didn’t want to be liable for restating arrival times on their own site as provided by another agency.) But whatever that hurdle was, it was overcome and for awhile the true arrival times were being passed through Transit Tracker.

    Now, with the operation of two distinct streetcar lines, the issue is apparently technical but is being worked on.

  5. I believe Douglas is asking about third-party apps and not TriMet’s own Transit Tracker. And to answer it, I’m pretty sure all apps that have included streetcar data pulled it directly from their system instead of through TriMet. Now with the new line, I’m guessing the apps need to be reprogrammed.

  6. Reason.com is a propaganda outfit which hires a lot of dishonest hacks, and it’s particularly known for hiring two famously dishonest anti-rail hacks. (Though this is a new hack, not O’Toole or Cox!) Assume anything on their website about rail is false.

    (That’s not to say reason.com is wrong about absolutely *everything*, but Radley Balko is the exception that proves the rules.)

  7. Hi folks-

    While taking the red line from the airport the other day I had a thought about 4-car trains. It seems to me like the Lloyd district superblocks mean that 4-car trains can run on-street on the east side and we only really need to modify the west side stations to be underground. I agree that we should consolidate a few of the Lloyd district stations but the larger grid could be an easy solution to the tunneling problem- we don’t need to fully tunnel. perhaps this was mentioned before somewhere

  8. Yes, the tunnel would only be needed between Goose Hollow and the Rose Quarter. The Convention Center stop could be widened to the west, eliminating the Rose Quarter stop. Lloyd could be widened to the east. The problem is that you wouldn’t be able to descent quickly enough from the convention center to get under the river. The tunnel would need to start just west of Lloyd.

  9. Or you put the tunnel entirely on the west side, with 4-car stations on 1st Avenue underneath the Burnside and Morrison Bridges. I think you could limit the to Morrison from 1st to 18th and be able to create 4-car stations on the rest of the line — albeit with really expensive renovation at Washington Park and Sunset TC.

  10. Streetcars use GPS manufactured/operated by NextBus.

    I don’t know the history of why that vendor was chosen rather than adapting Transit Tracker from buses to streetcars… anyone know if that was possible 10+ years ago?

  11. MAX is monitored through essentially the same equipment used for heavy rail using technology that has changed little over time. It was not a natural or simple fit with a desire to offer arrival information.

    Since rail moves along a fixed route, GPS wasn’t especially useful when the system was initially built. I’ve heard a figure on the cost of a retrofit and it was a monster.

  12. One would hope that the trains never go off-route…

    Though I’m told rail control has had a lot of problems with the tracking system internally (e.g. trains not showing where they actually are).

  13. I wonder, did the accuracy improvements Jeff spoke about here, by using data from track circuits instead of wayside communication ever occur? Will being forced to replace this destroyed equipment with something more modern have any advantages regarding information accuracy?

  14. Jason, nice shot. That even predates my tenure with the Mall displays; by my time they were in color! Still running on DOS, right up to the day we shut them down in 2007.

  15. Aaron, yes, those changes were made in 2010. It’s improved accuracy, but the CBD continues to be a problem. And, honestly, I have no idea what the implications are from the repair of the demolished equipment, but whatever they do is unlikely to have any effect on the system as a whole.

    Scotty, as Jason notes, the bus GPS equipment is part of the CAD/AVL system. If your point is that GPS could be added to Rail, this is true (although the tunnel would be a problem) but it would mean retrofitting the entire fleet of trains. As I understand it, this isn’t a matter of slapping a little unit on the roof; everything has to be integrated within the train’s, er, brain.

    TransitTracker has always relied on existing infrastructure, and is simply a side benefit of a more critical function–bus or Rail. Spending a lot of money on something that could be defined as an amenity doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

  16. What the HELL is going on with MAX today? Apparently there was a collision between a semi-truck and a northbound train that took out the Yellow Line, but right now the red and blue lines are using the Yellow/Green tracks downtown, which shouldn’t have anything to do with a Yellow Line accident. All Tri-Met’s web site says is “MAX Blue/Red lines station are closed between Rose Quarter and SW 3rd Ave” and that “All MAX trains in Downtown Portland are only operating along 5th and 6th avenues.” So I gather that Hillsboro-bound trains are turning around under the Morrison Bridge?

    With Transit Tracker down, all we have to go on is scheduled arrival times, which probably have zero relation to reality right now.

    At this point, I think I’ll be using buses for the rest of the day.

  17. Jason, nice shot.

    Not mine, but a person who happens to be a bus operator.

    And speaking of DOS, another TriMet DOS program.

    What the HELL is going on with MAX today?

    Besides the Yellow Line incident, a window washer’s rope got caught in a Blue Line pantograph in Old Town and shut the system down there, too.

    And when things are not running predictably (and changes being implemented on-the-fly), I’m not sure how reliable Transit Tracker would be anyways. The system (and sometimes no one) knows what the plan is and when a train is going to reach a specific station.

  18. TriMet’s official statement on the dueling pro-Palestine/pro-Israel ads.

    (Moderator note: Coverage of this issue is not an invitation to discuss the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or related topics unrelated to transportation, in this forum).

  19. Tri-Met needs to accept “all advertising regardless of content?” Really? So someone could put pornographic ads on the bus? Or ads using explicitly obscene language? Or blatant racism?

    My objection to this ad it not that it takes sides in a political dispute, but that it’s racist. If someone wanted to run an anti-Israeli ad that was blatantly anti-Semetic or even pro-Holocaust, would Tri-Met be compelled to accept it? Would they need to accept an anti-Obama ad with the president represented by a minstrel-show caricature being lynched in the middle of a watermelon patch?

    If Tri-Met has the discretion to reject commercial ads for any of the reasons I mentioned above, surely they could reject non-commercial ads on the same basis.

  20. TriMet can be a challenge, but think of having 4 or 5 different agencies providing transit in the region! What a mess.

  21. Beth Slovic excerpts part of the O’s online voters’ guide which discusses the views of Hales & Smith on using URA’s to expand streetcar.


    Hales says he doesn’t favor more expansion until ops funding is secure.

    Smith says no expansion beyond what’s currently planned in the near future. He goes on to say that “We’re spending $3.7 million in streetcars while bus service has been disproportionately cut and bus fares have increased from $2.10 to $2.50.” $3.7 million is TriMet’s contribution to streetcar ops and well under half of this year’s budget.

  22. In fairness Streetcar is transit and carries more riders than most bus lines, so a TriMet contribution is reasonable. But parking meters should fund more frequent Streetcar operations.

  23. I’m fine with parking meters funding streetcar as long as paying for parking also counts as fare to ride the streetcar

  24. I’m fine with parking meters funding streetcar as long as paying for parking also counts as fare to ride the streetcar

    I’m fine with that as long as the minimum parking fee covers the transit fare. (One obvious tie-in is that use of a parking meter would permit use of transit for the time on the meter, plus some additional time–if you get up to $5 or so, then you get to ride all day).

    And no, that doesn’t mean that your transit pass allows you to park at meters for free. :)

  25. That works for me. This is the sort of thing that Charlie Hales was talking about- along with incorporating transit passes into the price of tickets to events @ Jeld-Wen and the Rose Garden and PDX

  26. IIRC from the renewal process this year, Timbers season ticket holders get a choice of transportation options when they purchase their tickets. The majority, like me, opt for the day-of-game TriMet passes that are included as part of the ticket cost. Other options include bike parking on Morrison and parking at reserved lots close to the stadium. The parking lots cost extra. Not sure about the bike parking. I think it’s a terrific system, and I wish the Blazers and Winterhawks would do something similar.

  27. It will be interesting to see the Blazers parking situation adapt to the removal of the Free Rail Zone this season…

  28. It’s interesting, Allan.

    The Oregonian has developed quite a bit of a libertarian lean in the past year or two–in large part due to the recent change in publisher.

    But it here continues to embrace “road socialism”–endorsing requirements for private property owners to provide parking for their patrons, as though unfettered on-street parking is a God-given constitutional right.

    Many other countries get this right. You want to park a car, you have to pay to do so–it’s not the role of the government to either a) provide a glut of parking, or b) require private property owners to do so, so that the effective value of a parking space is zero.

    Certainly, if we were to require private property owners to build and maintain bus shelters on the curb that TriMet may use free of charges, we’d have people with their hair on fire.

  29. The Oregonian just panders to those that actually still buy newspapers. That population is older and generally more conservative. Editorials like this are also divisive; they help sell newspapers.

  30. But on the flip side, New York couldn’t possibly exist in anything like its current form if they had car usage anywhere near the rate of other American towns. It’s just geometrically impossible to fit that many cars in NYC, or to move them around at rush hour.

  31. And of course, climate change induced by man-made pollution, much of it from cars, only increases the probability of such storms. More (CO2-emitting) cars is not a solution to the storm problem.

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