Your Questions for Neil: The Quintet

If it is spring, it must be time for another round of Your Questions for Neil, the annual feature in which Portland Transport sits down with TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane for a chat on what interests PT readers.  This year’s interview will be Wednesday, March 26.  This time ’round, the Portland Opera has graciously made its facilities available for the interview.

Cutting and pasting from last year’s announcement:  As always, we follow the same format.  Readers are encouraged to submit questions here, and  on the 26th we’ll sit down with Neil and present a subset of the questions to him. The interview will only go for about an hour, so not all questions may be asked; in addition, the interviewer (Chris) may ask follow-ups. Tough questions are more than welcome; though all questions must be civil. Bob R. will video the interview session, and videos of the interviews will be posted here on Portland Transport. All relevant material will be kept, though some editing may be done to the video footage.  Pauses and such may be edited out, and questions may be organized into themes and presented in a different order than they actually were asked of Neil McFarlane. Time permitting, transcripts will be prepared, though we may seek volunteers for some of the transcription work, and transcripts may not be posted simultaneously with the video.

I don’t know if Neil  reads the questions posted here beforehand, but assume he does–he has every right to do so and makes no pledge otherwise. (This is one reason Chris will frequently ask follow-ups not posted here).

The floor is now open!





30 Responses to Your Questions for Neil: The Quintet

  1. Michael Wolfe
    March 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm Link

    Two questions:

    Any chance that bike/ped access to the new bridge will open in advance of the orange line beginning operation?

    Any word on orange line operations yet, vis a via through-lining with the yellow or green lines?

  2. Henry Beasley
    March 16, 2014 at 5:02 pm Link

    Why don’t you interview Bruce Hanson as well, to get both sides of the story. If not than this interview is just not credible; and is just company promotional outreach.

    • Chris Smith
      March 16, 2014 at 5:14 pm Link

      We extended an invitation to Mr. Hanson during our last round, and he declined. We’d be happy to talk with him on camera.

  3. R Whitaker
    March 16, 2014 at 5:07 pm Link

    Will you please ask Mr Mcfarlane what his expected pension will be.
    Thank you

  4. Bob Richardson
    March 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm Link

    Henry –

    (For those who don’t know the name, Bruce Hansen is the current president of the local ATU – Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents many TriMet employees.)

    We’ve repeatedly asked the ATU for a similar video interview in past years, but have received no reply. This year we haven’t asked yet, to my knowledge, but I’m not opposed to doing so again.

    You can also ask any questions here which apply to TriMet and the ATU and we’ll evaluate those for inclusion in our interview with Neil McFarlane.

    – Bob R.

    • Wells
      March 17, 2014 at 1:51 pm Link

      What exactly does the word “amalgamated” mean? Is it like “hydrogenated” vegetable oil, or, does the union use the word ‘amalgamated’ to sound British therefore smarter? (^:

      • EngineerScotty
        March 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm Link

        In the UK, labor unions (excuse me, labour unions :P ) are frequently called “amalgamations”.

  5. John Sporseen
    March 16, 2014 at 8:47 pm Link

    Please explain why the Yellow line is not expanded north to south much as the Blue line goes east to west. If it is because of anticipated higher ridership to Milwaukie this, I assume, would be primarily during rush hour. Why not run trains from Union Station to Milwaukie during peak hours and, if orange is a desired color, call them the Orange Limited, Orange Express or, what the heck, Orange Blossom Special.

    • Chris Smith
      March 16, 2014 at 9:36 pm Link

      We can revisit that, but the topic was addressed in our most recent interview and you might want to go back and see what Neil had to say then.

  6. Reza
    March 17, 2014 at 2:36 am Link

    What will it take for TriMet to make improving frequency and span of service during evenings and weekends, particularly late nights, a real priority in the future for both bus and MAX? Current off-peak headways and service spans are not sufficient for many who either live carfree or would choose to do so if inner-city transit service was improved. On a more somber note, TriMet probably does not prevent enough drunk driving incidents as it could, and arguably should because of its utter lack of useful service past 10-11PM on most lines.

  7. Reza
    March 17, 2014 at 2:42 am Link

    Has TriMet thought about how it might serve the North Pearl and the Conway area more effectively, as development permits and plans call for thousands of new residential units to be built in a part of NW Portland that is not very well-served by TriMet today (including Streetcar)? Could the 14-Hawthorne line be extended either up NW 14/16th (or NW 18/19th) to provide this service, and provide an additional useful crosstown route?

  8. charlie
    March 17, 2014 at 9:10 am Link

    Has trimet considered expanding the number of bike racks on max trains? I think theres enough room to put two side by side.

  9. charlie
    March 17, 2014 at 9:13 am Link

    Second question- I noticed that the WES posted strong ridership gains of 18% this quarter, admittedly from a low base. Do you think it will ever reach ridership levels comparable to a max line?

  10. Garlynn
    March 17, 2014 at 11:08 am Link

    What about getting Tri-Met to zero net carbon (GHG) emissions? Is this a goal that Neil is empowered to set for the agency, or would it either have to be imposed on Tri-Met from its Board or the Legislature?

    If it were to be established as an agency goal, what is the soonest that it could realistically be achieved, if work began in the next fiscal year? Would 10 years be reasonable? Or 16?

  11. Henry Beasley
    March 17, 2014 at 6:49 pm Link

    Well, my question would be, “when the non-funded obligations reached $50 mill, why did you not stop the expansion plan that the prior GM laid out?” When it reached $100 mill, why did you not stop the expansion? When it reached $200 mill, why did you not stop the expansion? When it reached $500 mill, why did you not stop the expansion? When it reached $600 mill, why did you not stop the expansion? When it reached $700 mill , why did you not stop the expansion? When it reached $900 mill, why did you not stop the expansion? Why did you not pay the entire obligation instead of using PAYGO? The company would not been in debt for obligations that they signed off on.


  12. Dave
    March 18, 2014 at 10:30 am Link

    It seems the reliability of MAX has been falling over the past year or so. Countless times I’ve been on a train that has had to be powered down and rebooted…sometimes multiple times to get the train going again. Or I have been on trains waiting behind the one that is having an issue, causing major delays.

    Is this due to the aging trains, a software issue deferred maintenance or something else? And is anything being done to improve the reliability of the vehicles?

  13. Lenny Anderson
    March 18, 2014 at 11:52 am Link

    What is TriMet’s strategy for reducing cost per ride on bus lines that are above $5 per ride?
    Has the agency explored sharing costs above that amount with local jurisdictions? Just as Portland pays for a portion of Streetcar operations (though those lines have a much lower cost per ride.)

    • Dave
      March 18, 2014 at 1:09 pm Link

      I thought Washington County and Wilsonville provide a subsidy for WES?

  14. Shaun
    March 20, 2014 at 1:57 pm Link

    What steps are being taken to capture choice riders and become more competitive travel time with autos? Skip-stop service?

  15. Evan Manvel
    March 21, 2014 at 11:21 am Link

    Given the CRC is dead, but Oregon leaders were open to going it alone instead of needing to politcally buy off Washington with a $3 billion highway expansion — what’s the next big ask out of the Federal government? A light rail only bridge to Vancouver? Something else?

    • Anandakos
      March 21, 2014 at 11:42 pm Link


      how about a bus-only bridge instead, with a station on Hayden Island adjacent to the station for an extended MAX and some sort of priority access to and from I-5 around the slough bridge. At the north end there would need to be some sort of connection to I-5 around Evergreen. This would let the express buses bypass the bridge congestion,Fourth Plain (and one can hope, other BRT lines fanning out from downtown) direct connection to MAX at Jantzen Beach.

      This would not have the same development stimulu that bringing MAX across the river would, but it would give the express buses a significant reliability advantage over private cars, because the bridge congestion will only get worse.

      For maybe $50 million we could improve the express bus experience even more by building a short bus-only connector tunnel under the 39th Street southbound on-ramp from the loop in the southbound off-ramp. Then do the same thing at Fourth Plain with a little connector between the southbound off- Ramps. Next add a bus-only bridge over Mill Plain between the southbound off- and on-ramps. Finally, create a bus-only exit from the SR14.branch of the Mill Plain southbound on-ramp to Sixth Street. For the expresses to access the bus bridge over the Columbia.

      All of these little bypasses would have to be given pre-emotion over new on-ramp meters, except 39th where there is enough room for a merge lane. nd of course they’d have to have photo enforcement with a nosebleed fine.

      Northbound the buses could acces I-5 from Evergreen with an elevated structure alongside the northbound Mill Plain/Fourth Plain off-ramp with a bridge over Mill Plain to join the northbound on-ramp.

  16. R Whitaker
    March 21, 2014 at 3:53 pm Link

    This is a vital question please make sure to ask Mr Mcfarlane.
    He has stated that services will be cut by 70% in 2013 unless the union gives up on its medical benefits.

    Here is the question.

    #1-does he still make that prediction and if the answer is yes will that prediction be moot if he wins this upcoming arbitration or will there need to be more concessions from the union after this contract is settled.

    #2-He has stated that the economy is improving better than expected so what role does that play not withstanding what occurs with the union.

    #3-Mr Mcfarlane has various projects underway like “renew the blue” “southwest corridor” “electronic fare upgrade” etc does his 70% reduction on services predicted include these projects?

    Thank you

  17. R Whitaker
    March 21, 2014 at 8:27 pm Link

    Sorry the date was supposed to read 2023 not 2013

  18. Lenny Anderson
    March 22, 2014 at 8:43 am Link

    Is TriMet willing to discuss with C-Tran a transit/bike/arterial bridge? My two cents…a transfer to MAX in downtown Vancouver makes more sense than on Hayden Island.

    • Anandakos
      March 22, 2014 at 9:05 am Link

      It certainly does, Lenny. However, it’s not politically feasible. Get a bus bridge which can accommodate LRT in the future AND gives the expresses a leg up crossing the river. They were supposed to continue in the CRC plan and without a bridge expansion will be essential to carrying the future traffic in the corridor. But they need help getting around the bridge, too.

  19. EngineerScotty
    March 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm Link

    Now that readers have set forth there questions, here are a few from me:

    1) The Westside SEP calls for quite a few service increases in the Beaverton-Hillsboro area, but no timeline (or funding) for implementation. Is there a path to get from the current levels of service, to something resembling the service levels anticipated by that planning process? Or is this a “fiscally unconstrained” scenario, a laudable goal that will not likely be reached?

    2) Speaking of the WSEP, a current and future key growth area is in South Beaverton, including the proposed South Cooper Mountain UGB expansion, as well as the existing Murrayhill and Progress Ridge developments. The area as it stands is highly walkable and dense (particularly for a suburb), but has poor bus service–it is though someone built transit-oriented development but forgot to install the transit. The WSEP suggests some improvements here, but most of the improvements are focused in the Beaverton/Hillsboro corridors. Will more attention be paid to this region in the SW SEP?

    3) Several different suburban communities, now, have adapted anti-transit ordinances or charter amendments seeking to restrict the expansion of high-capacity transit into their territories. Some of this may be right-wing political activism, but some of this may reflect a sincere belief that HCT projects are pork-barrel boondoggles, designed to enrich developers but not offering much tangible benefits to riders. And in some cases, it appears that communities want to defy regional land-use planning and policies, and maintain auto-dependent land-use patterns and upzoning and refill out. Should Metro have more teeth? Should the Oregon Legislature overrule these ordinances as contrary to the decisions of the regional planning authority?

    • EngineerScotty
      March 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm Link

      Edit: and KEEP upzoning and refill out.

  20. Bob Richardson
    March 24, 2014 at 4:44 pm Link

    And here’s a few topics I’d like to add to the mix:

    What is the current state of developing/deploying an electronic fare collection system? Will we see a pilot of this launch simultaneously with Milwaukie Light Rail?

    In recent months, MAX trains have begun sounding the loud horn when pulling in to freeway-side stations such as along I-84, rather than ringing the bell as was previous practice. Is this a new safety policy? Has there been any feedback from neighborhoods about noise?

    How are the new hybrid buses which debuted last year doing? Any plans on adopting this technology in a more widespread manner?

    • Jason McHuff
      March 27, 2014 at 12:22 am Link

      Well, the board did pass the next step of electronic fares today.

      As for sounding horns, it is the new system-wide policy (albeit different in lower-speed areas) designed to try to stop people from getting hit. There’s criticism that people will just get used to it and ignore it, and that its not going to prevent incidents from happening.

  21. Dave
    March 24, 2014 at 4:51 pm Link

    Over the past year or so, Vancouver, Tigard and Clackamas County have had transit measures presented to voters, and all of them have voted again transit. It’s very possible that if a measure was presented to voters in all of the suburbs, all of them could fail.

    Do you think at some level this is a referendum against Trimet and its service in the suburbs? Do you think Trimet could be doing something differently to attract support for future transit projects?

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