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R A Fontes

Actually, there is overlap between capital and operations funding. For example, TriMet is paying for a $40 million bond for Milwaukie Light Rail construction directly out of payroll taxes [Source: TriMet Adopted Budget Summary 2010-2011, Page 7, last paragraph]. This is a major concern to many people interested in our transit future.

The payroll tax is a fairly reasonable - but far from perfect - barometer for the combination of inflation and demand for transit services. It goes up automatically with increases in employment or hikes in wages. On top of that, TriMet has statutory authority to annually raise tax rates without any referendum by a nominal .01% which is about 1.5% on the current .6818% rate. The problem is that TriMet continually makes new long term commitments which eat up the tax hikes and the agency ends up barely treading water. Examples of such commitments include the jump in operating costs which come with the opening of new services, subsidies to Portland Streetcar which are then used to undercut TriMet's fare structure, and capital projects such as Milwaukie MAX which hits TriMet's budget years before MAX carries its first paying passenger across the new bridge.

TriMet is having some success with its "It's-the-economy" mantra based PR campaign to explain the agency's financial woes. The reality is that the agency has little chance to get its financial house in order as long as it insists on spending so much money on projects [Milwaukie MAX, Lake Oswego Streetcar, Eastside Streetcar Loop, WES, etc.] which can be successful only in a highly speculative future.

Joshua Daniel Franklin

R A Fontes, the paragraph you refer to in the FY2011 TriMet Adopted Budget actually says: "TriMet plans to issue payroll tax backed revenue bonds in 2012 to provide its contribution to the project." While to explanation is given, my guess is that there was no other way to meet the statutory match for the FTA New Starts grant. Also, on the same page the budget mentions that they will increase the payroll tax to .7218%. and that "Passenger revenue is projected to cover 50% of operating costs," a lot higher than the 21% quoted above. That makes sense considering MAX has lower fuel costs and more passengers per operator than a conventional diesel bus.

That said, it would be nice to see a wider variety of funding sources used to fund service, such as property taxes or partnerships with large employers who could fund lines as an alterative to parking lots, for example. Of course all of these are likely to drop in a bad economy as well; it would also be great to see some sort of special counter-cycle transit funding from the state or federal government linked to the state of the economy.


Everyone needs to make cuts and while mass transit is very important, they need to do their part.
Unfortunately, this leaves some folks without their favorite bus.
Maybe it is time for more people to ride a bicycle.
As far as the different pools of money goes, that really makes me mad. It is all one ocean of money and we should be able to access the larger fund if times demand it.
With that said, if the overall effect of the larger Trimet projects have is positive, then good.
Hey Brian, do you have any interesting architectural projects that you can talk about? these past few posts have been bumming me out.

R A Fontes

My bad in using present tense.

The point remains valid: TriMet does mix operating and capital funding. It's the reality, not the morality, of capital funding from the general fund which is the point.

TriMet has the authority to incrementally increase the payroll tax rate to .8000%, significantly more than the .7218% increase from the current .6818%.

The lower per-passenger operating costs for MAX than buses only applies if the train is carrying more than two busloads (about 110 to 120 riders). Otherwise buses are cheaper to operate. According to TriMet's Spring 2010 route ridership report, MAX per rider ops costs range from $1.70 for the blue line weekdays to $3.60 for the yellow line on Sundays. Many bus routes beat the latter, with the cheapest being the weekday service of the #4 at $2.02.


Yes tax gas , tax it alot! We can not get to a sustainable world by wishing our over - weight couch potato neighbors will get on a bus or bike. Cars use most of the 'right of way' and create most of the pollution , and should pay for making it less pleasant to walk and bike.

Greg Moore

Tri-Met is first and foremost run more like a business than a government agency. The fact that they are engaging the community at all probably isn't required anywhere in any statute - it's being done as a courtesy. Let's not forget that public transportation isn't a right. We're very fortunate to have Tri-Met. I think they do a very good job at interfacing with the community and informing everyone of their business decisions. I ride Tri Met daily (sometimes 4 or more trips). BillB: There will always be lots of cars on the road. Traveling by bike and foot isn't possible or desirable for everyone. We all get the anti-car sentiment. Maybe in the future we can have 20-minute communities, light-rail everywhere and work from home more. Let's work towards it instead of wasting our energy ranting about those awful cars on the road. You'll make no allies for your cause.


How much was an all zones fare ten years ago? How much is it today?

How much was a gallon of gas ten years ago? How much is it today?

I hate seeing Trimet fares go up as I'm sure we all do, but I'm surprised they haven't risen higher and faster.

[name removed - spam]

First image is really impressive and useful to learn the basic concept of it.

Jeffrey Alan Smith

I am a frequent user of TriMet as I live downtown and don't own a car. I have also been TriMet's worst customer service nightmare. I have written several times about bitchy, nasty, mean drivers, citing times and numbers so they can follow up with the offensive driver.

The problem is these people are drivers who couldn't care less about customer service. Apparently, courtesy is optional. These 'bad' drivers are doing their best to destroy the TriMet brand (I define brand as what your constituencies think of you). They don't get that WE RIDERS are their CUSTOMERS. Like it or not, we pay their salaries. We are a largely captive audience, but the bad attitude of the drivers is a public relations negative.

When one of their drivers mow down and kill pedestrians then claim it was about poor visibility on the bus (And you have been working with this poor visibility for how long?), TriMet really can't expect sympathy. When they announce rate changes or disclose how much it really costs to provide bus service, and could use some support in the public dialog, a little good will could go a long way. When I recall that TriMet was named the Best Transit System in America a few years ago, I had to wonder whether anyone actually rode a bus. In my experience 8 out of 10 drivers are hostile, indifferent or mean. I always compliment the ones who are nice.

Most of the drivers only know their routes, but nothing on either side. They often give terrible directions to riders who are navigating their way around Portland. I think TriMet drivers should be informed tour guides and think of themselves as ambassadors of Portland.

Finally, we're probably stuck with this nightmare because they are unionized. There is nobody more rude than a union member who doesn't care because it's not in the job description.


@Stephen, architecture as written by Brian is certainly uplifting but it's no cakewalk these days either. /aside (and my apologies to Brian for a minor hijack)

RE: The line decreases and fare increases
I recall my introduction to Sound Transit and surprise at how cheap it was compared to our regional system (at the time $1 versus close to $2 here - a long while back). I don't know nearly enough to comment more substantially, but perhaps there is someone out there who can offer insight between these two systems and their operating models.

As far as "more people should ride bikes" mantra that I hear all the time, we would all do to remember that mass transit is for everyone - including the disabled and those who live too far away from school or work to cycle practically - and it is intended to provide an affordable and relatively quick means of travelling between places. The system routes are still inadequate compared to actual need and saturation into surrounding communities, and cutting back on routes and telling people to get on their bikes is not the way to engender a more vibrant populace. There is a vast (and growing) geographic area served by the system.

I too have experienced more than my share of surly drivers, but truly I have witnessed at least 5 horrifying passengers for every one of those. We have no protection for drivers in the form of barriers in our busses, which is inconceivable in this day and age.

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