Friday, March 30, 2012

Questions for Erik re: TriMet budget

The following essay by Jason Mchuff is part of an ongoing 'feud' between himself and Erik Halstead

These are regarding his comments on TriMet working to keep service high, cuts low:

How are you certain that there has been a focus been on bus service cuts? Have you asked about other divisions (departments) and been told that they are being spared? What about the fact that the call center will be open two less hours per day? Right or wrong, isn't that a non-service cut?

Wouldn't peak-hour fares be confusing and discourage ridership? To have it be fair, wouldn't there need to be special (higher-priced) passes for riding during that time? What about people who's job or appointment happens to start or end then and have no choice of when they travel?

Isn't it true that there are distance based fares for MAX? That a MAX rider traveling from Hillsboro to Gresham does have to have a more expensive fare than a bus rider making a short hop from Raleigh Hills to Hillsdale? And are you implying there should only be distance-based fares for MAX?

Wouldn't increasing fares for WES and (especially) eliminating transfer privileges cause a significant decrease in ridership and increase the subsidies needed to run the service? After all:
-ridership is still below capacity
-most trips involving WES require a further transfer to another mode
-the other mode may not have high-frequency service, and may require a fare
-the overall time involved in a transit trip including WES may be lengthier than driving
-most trips including WES are to places with free (100% subsidized) parking
-the parallel highway is not that congested
-the cost to run the service is essentially the same whether it's full or mostly empty

Is it really realistic to eliminate Capital Projects, Marketing and IT? Isn't it true that those divisions (departments) preform many vital functions, such as providing customer service and ensuring that employees get paid and controllers and dispatchers know where the trains and buses are?

Isn't it true that TriMet doesn't exist in a vacuum, and that what goes on in Salem and DC can have a major effect on the agency? Do you think that it would be a good idea to never meet with (lobby) the officials there or attend meetings and just hope they do whats best for the agency?

Would it really be a good idea for TriMet to drop sponsorship of all events, especially when the agency gets a benefit that offsets any costs--such as increased ridership or awareness? What about when TriMet pays with in-kind contributions (such as advertising space that might otherwise go unused) and not in cash?

Is it really prudent for TriMet to eliminate all landscape work when many jurisdictions have code requirements regarding landscaping, and unsightly grounds can discourage ridership and even encourage crime?

Wouldn't darkened stations encourage vandalism? Do you know if it's even possible to remotely power off and on the ticket machines?

Where's your evidence that "TriMet spends thousands on signage and updated schedules for MAX and WES stations"? And what about the fact that MAX stations generally serve a higher amount of passengers than an average bus stop?

Given contracts with the Federal government and other agencies that funded the lines, wouldn't eliminating WES and stopping the Green Line possibly subject TriMet to substantial liabilities? Moreover, wouldn't such moves tarnish the agency?

Let's say Tigard ran Line 45 past Washington Square. Wouldn't you expect TriMet to contribute funding to them for doing that (since it provides transit service)? How is that any different the City of Portland providing streetcar service? What about the fact that Portland Streetcar provides free service to TriMet users by accepting all TriMet fares?

Isn't it true that TriMet's contribution to streetcar operations has declined on a per-hour basis, meaning that the city is picking up a higher share of the costs? Isn't it true that the city's transportation budget is facing drastic cuts, too? Isn't it true that there's been an increase in the payroll tax rate to pay for new services like the streetcar (and MAX expansions)?

How, exactly, does the streetcar compete with TriMet given there is no TriMet service on 10th and 11th Avenues and there isn't "expansive service" to South Waterfront? Isn't it true that (because of the streetcar) TriMet did eliminate weekend Line 17 service in NW Portland (except for trips which continue beyond to St Johns and Sauvie Island) and now is proposing eliminating the rest?

Isn't it true that (most) MAX expansions do in fact allow bus service to be replaced? How many bus routes travel between Downtown Portland and Washington County with Westside MAX compared with before it opened?

How exactly does MAX get the revenue and bus get the costs?

Do Forest Grove, Sherwood and Troutdale residents really pay for Portland Streetcar service, especially given that transit is not paid for by sales or other personal taxes here?

Wasn't the union's official contract proposal the status quo?

Isn't it true that buses don't necessarily need to be replaced at 12 years of age? That TriMet considers 15-17 years as a reasonable lifespan? Didn't you say that the old buses are still safe and do the job?

How does paying for buses with bonds "free up cash for MAX"?

Isn't it true that TriMet has successfully relocated organizations whose buildings are being taken for a MAX line? Isn't it true that MAX lines generally attract more riders than bus service in the same area before it opens?

What pay increase did Neil McFarlane take besides one afforded for taking on a higher position?

How many of your proposed cuts were actually realistic and did not have downsides that were worse than the savings?

Is it really sane to fire employees just because they mention completely innocent words?

Don't articulated buses cost more to operate since they are bigger, heavier and more complex? Does the Federal government really pay for the additional cost of every hybrid bus an agency wants to order? Isn't it true that TriMet did get grants for hybrid buses, but only for a limited amount of them?

Do you really know that TriMet is going to buy Foie Gras to celebrate for the next new MAX line? Didn't sponsors pay for past opening events as a thank you to those who worked on the project?

Isn't it true that TriMet used stimulus funds to pay for a bus wash and not a "car wash", and that it replaced a facility that was about to fall down? Isn't it true that the projects would otherwise have to be paid for with the same funds that support service?


Al M said...

And since Erik made the comments you are having issues with at the TRIBUNE that is where this essay should be posted.

This blog is not the place for you to make contrary points to Erik.

Christ Jason you really do go on don't you.
Put me down 100% on the side of eliminating every single department- every single person- every single function of Trimet that does not DIRECTLY perform a service to the riders. That includes the entire office of the general manager- marketing- information technology and office of communications.

Max said...

I don't see the problem with asking Erik to back up what he has said with evidence; given his past of presenting some things as "fact" when they were not true at all.

Jason McHuff said...

I have posted the questions on the Tribune article, too.

But, with all due respect, are you really sure you want to eliminate the departments that pay you (HR) and help get you paid (IT)? Service (operations) can't exist on it's own without other departments that back it up and allow it to function.

BTW, the question format was based on your advice, Max.

Erik H. said...

Jason - it's TriMet's responsibility to justify its expenditures, and not mine. I do not work for TriMet.

As for your two specific examples:

1. Human Resources does not cut paychecks. And even that one function can be EASILY outsourced. There's dozens of companies that handle payroll on an outsourced basis. Maybe you've heard of that tiny, tiny company called ADP. Or maybe not, since you can't hold down a full-time job like so many of us do.

2. I.T. is an easily outsourcable department. Why does TriMet need a staff of programmers larger than many computer software companies? How many computers are on a bus? How many computers are at a bus stop? The majority of I.T. matters are small projects that don't need a full-time staff (for which TriMet has to provide office space and pay benefits for); they can be hired as project temps. And payroll does not need a permanent I.T. staff by any means.

If you don't like my responses, why not ask TriMet to argue against them. TriMet so far can't justify many of its expenses. TriMet can prove me wrong any day of the week. I've even told them where they can meet me to prove me wrong. The fact that they can't speaks volumes. The fact that Neil McFarlane could have told me I was wrong to my face - and he refused to - speaks volumes. The fact that I have to deal with some asshole punk that can't hold a job, defends TriMet for some unknown reason as if TriMet was a religion and Neil McFarlane (and Fred Hansen) are Gods, and thinks he is the holier-than-thou yet doesn't even hold a TriMet pass...I don't even know why I'm wasting my time justifying my DAILY experience riding TriMet to someone that rarely uses the system at all. Try riding TriMet to a real job on a daily basis and get back to me.

Jason McHuff said...

It's nice to see you respond.

Even if HR doesn't actually oversee payroll, someone has to do it. Moreover, HR does do vital functions that the agency (and any organization) cannot do without. Likewise with IT. These are basic realities that an average person should understand and not need justification of, yet you proposed total elimination of funding for these tasks.

And I have heard of ADP and even gotten checks from them for actual work. But if they are tiny, do you really think TriMet should be relying on them? In addition, I have done and am fully capable of full-time work; it's just that I seem to know how to survive regardless.

As for IT, how do you know if TriMet has more programmers than a business whose primary goal is to create programs? Do you really understand all of the IT systems that TriMet has, from desktop PCs, to servers, to databases for things like incident reports, to the bus dispatch system (which does include computers in all buses), to the rail control software, to the rail signal systems? Are you sure it would be better to outsource them, especially given that some of them can need immediate response and are pretty specialized? Is it really better to not help create stable, family-wage jobs and benefits?

Oh, and as long as payroll is computerized, it does mean an IT system to maintain and oversee.

And when you have tried to talk to TriMet, have you done it in a nice, positive way, as opposed to a negative, complaining way? When I did, I got personal responses from Neil himself, and an hour-long meeting to discuss my ideas.

The fact that I have to deal with some asshole punk that can't hold a job, defends TriMet for some unknown reason as if TriMet was a religion and Neil McFarlane (and Fred Hansen) are Gods, and thinks he is the holier-than-thou yet doesn't even hold a TriMet pass

This is a good example of a negative, complaining attitude that can discourage people from wanting to take up your issues and work with you.

And for the record, in the past I have used TriMet to get to jobs on a frequent (many days a week) basis and have had few issues. I believe one of the only times where TriMet actually caused me to be late to work was when the bus was rear-ended.

In addition, I have been getting out and about in the last few weeks, which has led me to take many rides to many different places at many different times, some when the moment arises without any prior planning. In other words, a good random test of the system. And there's often been a bus either right at the stop or in sight. Rarely have I had to wait more than 5 or 10 minutes. In fact, I've missed buses and trains because they left exactly on-time and I got there just a minute or two late.

Lastly, I don't back everything Fred and Neil have done, and think there are things that could be done differently and better, such as actually trying to solve the health care cost problems by looking for options besides Kaiser and Regence, and ways that ensure retirees get access to care but not be a TriMet liability. It's just that I don't see TriMet doing as bad as you make it out to be, or many of your arguments to be realistic.

I don't even know why I'm wasting my time justifying my DAILY experience riding TriMet to someone that rarely uses the system at all.

How about "I shouldn't see a person spending time on what seems to be a daily basis making outlandish claims and arguments, even after they've proven to be wrong or nonsensical"?

Max said...

Looks like a lot of personal attacks made by Erik.

Didn't you say that personal attacks would not be permitted, Al?

Anonymous said...

IMO, When it comes to the big picture, Jason doesn't have a clue. He therefore tries to focus on the minutiae and little personal anecdotes to try and make his points. It's not unlike Dick Cheney's daughter going around and defending the Bush-Cheney administration. Sorry Jason, you're just too much of an apologist for an executive-heavy, rail obsessed, union bashing Trimet management.