Westside Commuter Rail Is a Fiscal Train Wreck

I received my copy of the TriMet monthly performance report yesterday. The most interesting news is the continued free-fall in the financial performance of the Westside Commuter Rail line (WES). Even by the low standards of TriMet, this is turning out to be a fiscal train wreck, especially when compared with bus or MAX service. The tale of the tape is below.

Operating cost per vehicle hour (May-April-March)

Bus $99 $92 $91
MAX $282 $279 $274
WES $1,408 $1,033 $875

Operating cost per vehicle mile (May-April-March)

Bus $7.56 $7.02 $6.93
MAX (car-mile) $10.27 $9.98 $9.85
WES $64.74 $47.07 $43.48

Operating cost per originating ride (May-April-March)

Bus $4.00 $3.68 $3.77
MAX $2.42 $2.45 $2.53
WES $32.74 $24.30 $21.06

While the cost per trip has increased 55% in just two months, ridership has stagnated. In February and March, the train averaged 1140 boardings per day (or 570 actual customers). In May it was only 1180, and most of those (by TriMet’s own estimate) were previous bus passengers.

TriMet’s operating deficit for WES was $336,246 in February, $373,195 in March, and $456,413 in April. Now that we know the monthly costs are skyrocketing, the deficit will go up as well. We are probably losing more than $500,000 per month on WES, of which Washington and Clackamas counties make up about $225,000 together.

There’s a reason why FTA did not want to fund this project with federal dollars. They knew it would be a financial loser. Too bad former Sen. Gordon Smith bailed it out with an earmark. Now we’re stuck with a white elephant that won’t go away.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Posted by at 12:30 | Posted in Measure 37 | 14 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • JimRay

    And this is just one small reason why we Conservatives said buh-bye to El Gordo. Don’t forget that Bruce Starr was also a MAJOR supporter of this nonsensical WASTE of taxpayer dollars.

    • Tim Lyman

      How’s Jeff Merkley working out for you?

      • JimRay

        He’s fine considering I don’t have to worry about him stabbing me in the back all the time.

        You just concern yourself with your two Bozo’s in Washington and we’ll worry ’bout Oregon. Capece?

        • Anonymous

          A perfect example of the cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face moron wing of the party. Gordon Smith was no prize, but he was infinately better than Merkley.

  • bill

    Could it be too soon to judge? Do we know anything about the upfront costs
    of advertising a new rail opportunity?
    If we were Trimet management, what other
    info would we need to decide if
    the decision is good or bad?
    Is it only a bottom line decision?
    or is there “soft” benefits that don’t
    calculate with numbers so we?

    Personally I’m not a one-issue voter
    although G. Smith has made other decisions
    I disagreed with.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    Why not have the same people who will run national health care also run the trains? It would seem saving money on trains with government efficiencies would be child’s play compared to squeezing shekels from sick.

    But maybe that’s just me?

    • valley person

      “But maybe that’s just me?”

      I agree with that. It is just you.

      • Rupert in Springfield

        You know, if I ever needed confirmation of my contention that you are a pretty weak guy Dean, you provide it with comments like this.

        Its a pathetic picture Dean – 10PM at night and you are up typing lame insults like this to me.

        Maybe you should think about that a little next time?

        • valley person

          “10PM at night and you are up typing lame insults like this to me.”

          Thanks. I learned from the insult master.

  • Bob Tiernan

    This is the kind of thing Gordo thought would make him another hatfield or Packwood
    (re-elected for decades by using your money to buy votes). Remember that
    he started this when still in the state senate when he helped push through the 1996
    North-South package in a special session (repealed in referendum). He knew his was
    going to run for the US Senate, so he used his constituents’ tax dollars (or tried, at least)
    to buy a rail project to butter up enough Portland voters (“Look, I’m not such a bad guy!”).

    Bob Tiernan
    Portland

  • Bad Boy Brown

    Oh yes Bob T. – Let’s bash Gordon Smith. Of course YOU did such a great job yourself getting re-elected didn’t you? Talk about pot calling kettle black. It’s people like you that have helped make the Republican Party in Oregon into a largely irrelevent joke.

    • Anonymous

      Are you sure you are talking to the right Bob Tiernan?
      I don’t think it is.

  • Bob Tiernan

    *Bad Boy Brown:*

    Oh yes Bob T. – Let’s bash Gordon Smith. Of course YOU did such a great job yourself getting re-elected didn’t you? Talk about pot calling kettle black. It’s people like you that have
    helped make the Republican Party in Oregon into a largely irrelevent joke.

    *Bob T:*

    You’re confusing me with someone else with the same name (he doesn’t even look like me).

    So, now that we’ve cleared that up, do you have anything intelligent to say about my
    initial comment? What I said about Gordon Smith is accurate.

    By the way, say what you want about the other Bob T, but he could have easily gone along
    to get along considering his district, and supported light rail projects no questions asked,
    and so on. Even Greg Kafoury gives him points for sticking his neck out like that.
    What you seem to want is more people like Bob Dole and Bob Michel, two go-along-
    to-get-along Republican leaders in Congress for years who did absolutely nothing gutsy
    in all their years there.

    Bob Tiernan
    Portland

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