Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Portland Bus Lane Project

Recently I was added to the mailing list of the Bus Lane Project and I have been reading the material they have been publishing. It's a very impressive group of people genuinely trying to make some needed changes to the Trimet system in terms of speed and reliability. 

As we all know Trimet ridership has been in a slow decline for years now. While Mcfarlane and his overpaid minions  come up with the standard excuses  the truth is pretty simple. People don't ride Trimet because its a hassle. From overzealous fare inspectors, over crowded buses that leave you standing at the curb, buses that never show up and buses that show up 1/2 hour or more late, to the constant delay of the light rail system why would anybody take Trimet unless they were forced to. They won't. All the technocratic excuses like "gas is cheap" are fraudulent.

So what are they (Trimet and the City of Portland) doing about all this. Basically nothing. They don't have to. Trimet (and city of Portland) is a nice safe tax farm run by professional career technocrats and its board is made up of political appointees half of whom are ex career technocrats themselves.
In other words the people that run Trimet (and Portland) basically own Trimet and there is no methodology for any public input. For example there is no  citizens advisory committees and no ombudsman. They (the people running the place) can do whatever they want. And that is exactly what they do.

What's actually been happening over at Trimet since Fred Hansen (retired after 10 years with a ridiculous pension, something like $20k per month) is a transit system that has been hijacked for "economic development" purposes. This was the theory for all the light rail lines that have been installed replacing the bus lines that were serving those areas.  (as well as fueling the capital projects monster) This is the plan for Tigard. Same thing for Division Street. Property redevelopment  and 'economic growth' which enriches the developer class and increases  the tax base. "Transit oriented Development" is one of the key components of these scheme.

All the extra money that is coming into Trimet is being funneled into capital projects not direct services. Sure Trimet adds a little here and there and makes a big deal out of it but the truth is the people that 'own' Trimet really don't give a damn about ridership. Trimet's has the ability to issue bonds without voter approval and expand  its  tax base but service never gets noticeably better.

What we see at Trimet is what we see at all levels of 'our' government these days. An elite group of people hold all the power and control over the cash flows coming in from tax payers. The tax payers themselves have no opportunity to influence this system. When you watch a Trimet board meeting (or city council meeting) what you will see is a group of people "defending" themselves against "the huddled masses". The citizens are to be kept out of the process at all costs. Sure they pretend to listen to 'us' during public testimony, but we all know that goes nowhere. It's just a facade.

So that brings me to the Portland Bus Lane project. This is a group of highly educated (i know that because I have been reading their material) highly motivated, "credible" (versus me who is "not credible") individuals that are trying to make a difference. And then I read things like this:

A couple of great quotes by Mayor Wheeler:

I was pleased to see there was a consensus for the possibilities created by bus lanes 

If we're serious about this transformational approach to transit, then we need to be serious about separation

And then I become skeptical. First of all Wheeler is just another neoliberal politician who comes from the plutocratic class that basically owns everything around us including our government, but more importantly we see that the Bus Lane folks are basically in a position of "begging" Wheeler for bus lanes. And then government does what it always does, "study" the issue. Of course this will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and will take god knows how long. 

"We" need service improvements right now, not some time in the future. Nothing is stopping 'our' government 'leaders' from putting a bus lane anywhere in the city except the leaders themselves. 

At the very least why can't Trimet actually make  some of these routes "real" frequent service (every 8 minutes or less) and run service 24 hours a day. It's my opinion that all these fancy capital projects are not really necessary. If riders didn't need schedules, had some comforts associated with riding transit (not packed in like sardines) and knew they are going to get picked up in a timely fashion they would gladly give up driving.

Forget the capital projects, we can make things better right now just by adding service. But alas, we are not the ones that own the tax farm. The tax farms are carefully guarded by a plutocracy that has appointed a professional class of technocrats to make sure the public keeps away.

Hopefully the Portland Bus Lane Project can get something going. I have my doubts but of course I am an extreme skeptic.

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