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samussas

Since I was never confronted to such cases in Europe, I've got a newbie question on the subject:

Are the transit agencies firing workers in the process of reducing services?

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Employees are losing their jobs, yes. (The usual American term for this is "laid off." "Fired" usually means dismissed for cause such as poor performance.) Most agencies have already laid off administrative staff. They will take other steps to minimize the loss, such as encouraging almost-retired staff to retire early.

But yes, these cuts are increasing unemployment in a small way, always an ironic step for an agency that depends on payroll taxes.

samussas

Of course, "layoffs"! I just couldn't find the right term anymore. Thanks for the answer Jarret.

Speak about cultural differences. I see all this as a very strange concept. Transit agencies shouldn't have to lay off their employees. Well, they also shouldn't have a to cut services because of an economic downturn. The very moment mobility becomes an even bigger issue for so many people.

EngineerScotty

The British have a rather cruel term for it, "redundancy". In many cases, workers sacked for "redundancy" are not redundant at all.

The big issue remains the Portland area economy. The area has suffered quite a bit through the last few recessions. During the early 80s, we witnessed the demise of the forest products industry. The dot-com bust in the 90s hit hard. And many local employers have taken the opportunity to outsource this time around.

The legislature did pass a recent tax increase, primarily on the "wealthy" (many who qualify don't consider them as such, obviously)--but the infrastructure improvements being paid for out of this increase are primarily roads.

Rhywun
if good transit service were really important to you, you wouldn't live there

Exactly. I'm about fed up with "subsidize this" and "hide the cost of that". I want transparency! My city has the highest farebox recovery in the US but we are constantly subjected to complaints from suburban voters who think they are subsidizing us when in fact their farebox recovery is minuscule. They aren't subjected to city income taxes like we are so I can only assume that our high state income tax is covering the lion's share of their commutes.

Transit agencies shouldn't have to lay off their employees. Well, they also shouldn't have to cut services because of an economic downturn.

Except that economic downturns lead to job losses, which leads to lower ridership. They have no choice but to pursue layoffs. If/when the economy rebounds, ridership will increase and so will transit jobs.

The Cornell Oaks deviation is a typical example of how transit agencies are forced to wear the costs of poor design, so bravo to TriMet for refusing to do it anymore.

Hear, hear. Those kinds of detours are awful. Agencies shouldn't even bother with trying to service areas that are so deliberately anti-transit.

Danny

And why haven't we raised gas taxes yet? Are we waiting for inflation to reduce our taxes to zero?

EngineerScotty

Gas taxes in Oregon are limited (by law) to road improvements and maintenance; raising them to support transit (or permitting local transit authorities to do so) would be politically difficult.

I'm all for it... but the political support probably isn't there. (The Portland metro area is only half the population of the state; the other half is largely anti-tax and anti-transit).

al m

LOL!
Ya know I am a regular driver on the 67 bus, for years now.
I bet the riders on that line would be appalled by your comments about them.
It's easy for folks like yourselves to sit behind desks with computer screens in front of you and babble on and on about the "way things should be".

It's another thing to actually know the riders that get clobbered by the people making the plans.

Jarrett, you got great technical knowledge about transit, but you forget one thing, transit is about people not density or some other abstract notion linked to statistical analysis!

I also notice that do not make one comment about the expansion plans going on in the midst of this so called worst recession since the great depression.{sic}

People sitting behind desks don't have a clue, and so the world turns, and turns, and turns.

Nothing ever changes.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

M.  I don't believe I've made comments about anyone.  I'm pointing out a problem in the development pattern.  And I'm not behind a desk!

al m

I don't believe I've made comments about anyone. I'm pointing out a problem in the development pattern. And I'm not behind a desk!

Ok, your not behind a desk, and no, you didn't make comments about anyone other than they don't deserve to have service.

You could have Fred's job, that's how he talks!

al m

I put a bunch of you tube links in for you to meet some real live people on the 67 but I guess it got spammed...

If your interested go over to Youtube and look at user "trimetlive", you can meet these people yourself.

What really galls me, is Fred standing up there talking about how "painful" these cuts will be all the while hauling in a cool $5000 a week for jet setting all over the world.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Al, I've ridden the 67, just as I've ridden buses all over the world.  I've dealt with getting around Washington County on the bus.  I know that real people ride the 67, including real people who need to get to jobs in places like Cornell Oaks.  But their problem is with their employer, who's chosen to locate in a place where efficient transit is impossible.  The appropriate remedy is for the employers in Cornell Oaks, collectively, to fund a shuttle to the 158th MAX station.  I'm not defending or attacking TriMet.  I'm just pointing out that it's wrong to blame TriMet for the transit-hostile design of the development. 

Pantheon

I recommend this blog which has very good on-the-ground reporting about TriMet.

http://punkrawker4783.blogspot.com/

In one post, the blogger makes the following observation: "Joni Earl, CEO of Sound Transit has passed on a raise of her already 23.6% lower salary at 195,467, than Fred Hansen, GM of TriMet, who makes about 256,000. The cost of living difference is about 21% more in Seattle than Portland, meaning these salaries should be swapped."

Cutting Hansen's salary to something more reasonable would not make up for these cuts, of course. But if TriMet is in such dire straits, shouldn't the CEO take a pay cut as well?

When you combine the CEO's salary with the streetcar and light rail projects that continue unabated, it shouldn't be surprising to see that people like Al are so angry. The optics are terrible, and TriMet comes off as divisive and arrogant.

(The blog also has several videos featuring a bus driver named "Al", who may or may not be our Al).

Source: http://punkrawker4783.blogspot.com/2010/01/sound-transit-one-step-better-than.html

Danny

These pay issues are present in every single transit agency in the nation. Everybody is overpaid...management, workers, even the transit manufacturers.

EngineerScotty

With regard to the Cornell Oaks development specifically; my suspicion is that the blame for its transit-hostile design probably lies with the pre-existing neighborhood around it, which I bet wanted no part of industrial or commercial traffic (or busses for that matter) rolling through their streets. SW Meadow Drive, the street from the south that ALMOST connects to the parking lot (blowing up the map will show that the connection appears to be unpaved), is residential in nature.

And Al M, a regular on portlandtransport.com, is indeed the guy who operates the blog http://rantingsofatrimetbusdriver.blogspot.com/ . He's an enjoyable bloke, even if I do tick him off sometimes. :)

Danny

http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt_and_politics/article_24af32d4-13f4-11df-86b2-001cc4c002e0.html

Well, in Madison WI, the city's highest paid worker was a bus driver. Lets hope situations like these aren't the reason why Portland's transit is seeing service cuts.

spyone

I believe the developer is still effectively to blame, but I agree that the existing neighborhood probably influenced his decision.

When I first moved to the city I'm in, I lived on a street that had until recently been a dead-end residential street off a major thoroughfare. A year or two before I arrived, the street got connected to a dead-end light industrial street off another major thoroughfare, and thus became
A) a popular short cut for people planning to turn right at the next major street.
B) a popular short cut for people who worked in that light industrial area.

End result? Too much traffic on a road with no shoulder, people afraid to let their kids play in the front yard where before they could play in the street, and ..... in a bit over 15 years, there is only one house left on that street. One entire side of it got turned into parking lot, the other redeveloped as light industrial.


However, the fact that the developer faced limitations does not mean he was forced to do what he did. Even without connecting to nearby streets, it looks like there could have been a big horseshoe road with a short cul-de-sac off of it, rather than such a long dead-end road.

(An aside on that neighborhood: I lived near the end of the residential area, and the cable company was on the corner. When they missed an installation appointment I called them up and asked if I could just come over and pick up the equipment. They asked for my address again, and I gave it and added, "I'm just around the corner. I can see your building. If I had a baseball I could be breaking windows in your parking lot." I had meant it merely to illustrate how close I was, and didn't think about how else it might be taken, but I had a Senior Repair Technician at my door in 15 minutes giving me a brand-new converter box. :) )

Pantheon

Danny,

That article should be mandatory reading for any employee who thinks that joining a union would not improve their wages. But union contracts are a separate issue from CEO pay. That bus driver earned such a high salary because of a quirk in the union contract related to overtime pay, and an explosion of overtime hours resulting from poor managerial planning.

If we take Earl's salary as the baseline (ignoring that Sound Transit is a larger agency with more complicated operations), then adjusting for cost of living, Hansen's salary should be 161k, not 256k. This means that Hansen is overpaid to the tune of almost $100,000 (or 60%) in the midst of the most severe transit crisis in generations. As noted in the post above, Trimet is under a very real threat of a downward spiral of cutbacks that will destroy the agency as we know it. And yet the CEO is partying like it's 1999. It is obscene, and it shows you how out of touch the agency is from those it presumably serves.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

@ Pantheon.  You write "(ignoring that Sound Transit is a larger agency with more complicated operations)".

Actually, Sound Transit covers a larger area, but its operations work is much simpler, because most of its services are contract-operated, often by the local transit agency in each county.  All TriMet service is still direct-operated by TriMet employees.  TriMet is thus a much larger agency in terms of total employees, and operations issues always threaten to dominate the executive's day at the expense of strategic thinking.  Sound Transit's job, by contrast, is much more focused on planning and strategy.

A better contrast would be between TriMet and King County Metro.

Pantheon

Jarett,

Ok, let's look at that contrast. As far as I can tell, King County Metro is overseen by the County Executive. When Ron Sims held this job, he was responsible for 13,500 employees and took a salary of $186,000. This is actually lower than Joni Earl's salary of $195,000. Furthermore, the new County Executive Dow Constantine has publicly stated that he is deferring 10% of his salary due to the hard times. This would make his salary $168,000.

Based on the 21% cost of living differential, this means that if Hansen is to get the same salary as Constantine, he should receive $139,000. Based on this comparison, he is overpaid by an even larger amount: $117,000 (or 84%).

Pantheon

Sorry, forgot to source my information on Sims' salary: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2008700732_simsmainbar03m.html

Pantheon

Sorry, didn't mean to misspell your name. The "R" key on my computer is rather unreliable.

Erik H.

They're also taking the opportunity to eliminate some awkward deviations caused by transit-hostile development design.

There's only a very few "deviations" in the TriMet system, and this is really the only one of its kind - the other deviations are a tail off of an existing route (the 43), or where a line splits and takes alternate routings (33 in Gladstone).

It actually has a history: When Westside MAX opened in 1998, TriMet created a series of routes known as "The Local" (which also was used for a number of Oregon City/West Linn local routes which had nothing to do with MAX). One of the new MAX shuttle routes was 50s Cornell Oaks, which ran from the 158th/Merlo MAX station to Cornell Oaks. I used to ride the 50s bus, only because it ran earlier than the 67 Jenkins/158th bus - and I was often the only person on the bus but I was also "reverse-commuting" (I lived in an apartment complex off of 158th and rode to the MAX station in the morning.)

In the early 2000s, TriMet went on one of its (now frequent) bus chopping binges, and the 50s was chopped. Probably rightfully so, but there were still a few riders who actually benefitted from having a bus to their work instead of a long walk to 158th. So the 67 started a few trips with deviations (originally, there were a handful of schedules that shortlined but those were eliminated.)

Is it "bad planning"? Well, TriMet didn't really offer much for transit here and it was certainly ripe for development - so was the land just supposed to go to waste? TriMet still has little transit here - in fact TriMet's transit planning almost dictates that if you live here, you will DRIVE to a MAX park-and-ride. Most of these roads were two and three lanes, but after Westside MAX was opened were widened to five lanes (Cornell, Baseline, Walker, and Cornelius Pass are prime examples; 158th itself was widened south of Walker over the recent, post-MAX years.)

Meanwhile: Other "transit friendly" lots are undeveloped. The land around the Beaverton Creek MAX station remains bare and untouched; a planned Kaiser Permanente hospital for the "Tek Woods" land immediately to the north of the station was planned to death thanks to politics; the Millikan Way station also is largely undeveloped and those ex-Tektronix buildings close to the station are very transit un-friendly uses, if they're even occupied at all. Beaverton Central? Completely failed to live up to any expectations. And Orenco? Most of the development for Orenco Station is actually centered along Cornell Road - NOT the MAX station (which has many vacant grassy lots north of the station).

Meanwhile, most of these buildings are occupied, developed, and attracting jobs. You can't say that about Tek Woods. And the Willow Creek/185th Station? It just, this year, opened a PCC facility (in other words, a government building that doesn't pay taxes to support the transit system.)

Jarrett


Erik.

Well, yes, Cornell Oaks is bad planning regardless of the service provided there at the time, because it's designed so that there's no way it can be served efficiently, ever. The only exception would be if you filled in all those parking lots with so much additional density that the place would support its own shuttle to MAX.

Yes, I agree that it's not unusual by Washington County standards. We can't expect everything to be at a MAX station, but we can expect major destinations to be on continuous street grids so that bus service has some options for how to flow through them while remaining reasonably direct.

nick theoldurbanist

"There's only a very few "deviations" in the TriMet system, and this is really the only one of its kind - the other deviations are a tail off of an existing route (the 43), or where a line splits and takes alternate routings (33 in Gladstone)."

>>>> Also, Erik, there are similar ones, if not exact: 1) #15 to Cherrywood Village/Adventist Hospital, 2) #16 to Evraz Steel in Rivergate, 3) #62 all the way over to Cedar Hills shopping from Murray and back to Murray, etc.

EngineerScotty


The 62 diversion also hits the Tek campus, the Millikan Way MAX station, and quite a bit of high-density (albeit low-income housing); there's nothing to stop for along Murray between Millikan and Jenkins otherwise.

I suspect many riders of the 62 are heading to one of these destinations, as opposed to through riders from Murrayhill to Cedar Mill, so this diversion is probably not as obnoxious.

A funner example is the 71--which starts at Clackamas Town Center, and ends at Lents TC, only a few stops) up the Green Line (both stops. However, it winds its way through inner east Portland up to Killingsworth, heads to Parkrose, and back down 122nd, then west on Foster to Lents--a spiral shaped route, almost. The route in its entirety, is useless, obviously--but various portions of the route are quite useful. Many TriMet routes are like that--connecting endpoints that don't make sense via a route that makes less sense. But still they get ridden.

(Of course, the horseshoe-shaped Green Line itself gets criticized--many of the busses which bisect both of its endpoints are just as fast or faster. Yet the Green attracts 17k riders per day, so it can't be completely useless...)

Pantheon

TriMet is thus a much larger agency in terms of total employees, and operations issues always threaten to dominate the executive's day at the expense of strategic thinking.

I have done a bit more research on this. Though I am quite certain your knowledge of how transit agencies operate is greatly superior to mine, I find the above statement hard to reconcile with the fact that Hansen apparently spent two full months in Australia to advise them on transit while remaining on the TriMet payroll. How exactly are operations issues dominating his day if he can find the time to do this? Also, it turns out there are actually 16 employees at Trimet who make more than the COL-adjusted salary of the County Executive for all of King county, who oversees 13,500 employees.

Source: http://bojack.org/images/trimetsalsfy09.pdf

So my question is, given that we are suffering the worst transit crisis in generations, where the very existence of TriMet as we know it is at stake, are any of these folks taking a pay cut?

bjc

Getting back to the farebox recovery death spiral, the system will always be vulnerable to the extent that funding doesn't correspond to ridership. What do people think of a large fare increase, or at least one much larger then what they've talked about (a nickel). Say on the order of a 50 cent increase. Is ridership significantly price sensitive?

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Yes, a big fare increase would probably depress ridership a lot. The agency might still come out a bit ahead in revenue terms, but it would be a big loss politically, literally reducing the political constituency for the service. Ultimately, TriMet is justified by its ridership, not by the revenue it collects in fares.

EngineerScotty

We don't expect that the fire department, or the police, or the public schools to turn a profit (or be self funding).

Why should we expect it of transit?

It's a public good.

bjc

Are there any empirical studies on price sensitivity?

That a fare is required for use indicates mass transit is not like fire, police, or education services.

I think it is a very reasonable question to ask whether a higher fare and better service is preferable to lower fares and poorer services.

I'm not suggesting self-funding, only that there is nothing magical about a nickel.

Paul K McGregor

The one thing I find interesting is that last year's short fall was $31m and this year it is $27m. The deficits continue to be large despite whatever cuts were done in the previous year. These deficits have to begin to shrink down before anything can start to improve. One question that might be asked is whether the Federal government should get back into the business of subsidizing operations expesnes. They did in the pre-Reagan years. Any discussion of that going on in the jobs bill going through Congress??

Aaron Ray

density determines ridership much more than wealth does

True. Sadly, the decisions about service cuts don't focus just on ridership -- they must devote far too much attention to the looney transit funding mechanisms that we've "built" over the years. Although TriMet has cut some low-performing routes, it's forced to continue serving some others as throw-away service, particularly in outlying areas, to preserve its service footprint, and thus its payroll tax base.

So, to save some revenue, we have to waste some money and make some decisions that are entirely contrary to our mission, and ignorant of the needs of riders in other areas of our system. It makes no sense at all.

Ben

I'm late to the discussion on this article, but one thing that really struck me as odd in Portland was that, at least in the 7 months I lived there, there was NO fare enforcement on the MAX. I never, ever saw a Trimet employee ask anyone for a ticket. My guess is that everyone else notices this too, so I wonder how many people actually pay when they ride the MAX? I'd be surprised if it was more than 50% -- probably lower. How much money is Trimet losing here?

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