As TriMet Sinks, Should Portland Suburbs Go Down With the Ship?


By John A. Charles, Jr.

Cascade recently released a report encouraging cities and counties to consider leaving TriMet due to its financial mismanagement.

TriMet has long admitted that its labor costs are unsustainable. In addition, the agency’s addiction to costly rail construction has cannibalized bus service, which has been cut by 14% in the past five years.

Comparison with other local transit districts paints a stark picture. The cost per mile of operation for the TriMet commuter rail line is $43.74. TriMet’s flagship service, light rail, costs $11.96 per mile. Yet, the small city of Sandy runs its own bus service for $2.57 per mile.

TriMet predicts that additional service cuts will be required by 2017 and every year thereafter to balance the budget, which essentially would shut down the agency by 2025. TriMet’s only strategy has been to seek contract concessions from the bargaining unit representing most workers, but this is unlikely to succeed. The ongoing PERS crisis shows that once management agrees to expensive fringe benefits for unionized workers, it’s almost impossible to reduce them later.

TriMet is in a death spiral of its own making. Local jurisdictions might be hoping for the best, but they should plan for the worst. Leaving TriMet is an option that needs to be on the table.

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

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Transportation, TriMet | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    The Portland area might be able to achieve significant economic efficiencies if it removed some artificial monopolies or cartels. Thinking taxi service for instance. If more entrants were allowed into the Taxi service industry with flexible rates, you might be able to get cross town taxi rates down to somewhere between $10 and $20 instead of nearly $40 presently; and even have off hour rates lower and even negotiable. You’d sharply raise the mobility of the local area and get people door to door. You’d employ more service people. But instead we are stuck in the one-size fits all rate and industry structure in a number of local services. This includes the Too-Big-To-Fail Trimet public transit monopoly which ups the payroll tax as it bleeds from continual over spending.

    Instead of encouraging the employment of more labor, our policies speed the rate of automation. Maybe within a couple of decades, driverless cars will cripple the taxi service industry as a means of employment. This is what happens when folks give too much credence to seemingly righting inequalities with government regulation, keeping folks from finding the economically optimal solutions through continual market testing.

  • james

    Get rid of the unions, that will free up most problems.

  • tevillageidiot

    Bob, too much thinking inside the box of government. Already being done in a few cities. Ride-sharing prices are lower than taxies, currently little or no regulation from the city. Makes all the Taxi companies mad and pushes them to engage in regulatory protectionism instead of competition. The Ride-sharing companies, such as Lyft (pink Mustache), Sidecar, Uberx currently operate in California and Seattle. The passenger pays and rates the experience, through smart phones, with the company and the drivers do the same rating of the passengers. This is in real time. It works and people are happy. A ride to a specific destination at a low cost. The owners of the vehicles get a little income too. Takes all the control away from the bureaucrats and puts it in the hands of the people, both riders and drivers. The bureaucrats (with the backing of taxi companies) are trying to regulate them (ride sharing) out of business and have already lost court battles (they have won some too). Ride-sharing is winning. Portland already has Zip Car, and Car to Go which cuts into taxi service. It is happening, and everybody needs to get involved. The Ride share issue is a perfect example of cronyism. industries (in this case taxi companies and drivers) using government to prevent competition.

  • Mark

    I am not sure it is wrong to pay these tri-met people a living wage. They work very hard to keep us moving about. I salute them and wish them only the best. Remember, too, that they are professionals and should be treated as such, both in wages and retirement plans.

    • .

      Mark is a dropout from canine obedience school after failing Bark 101.

    • marvinmcconoughey

      Mark, you may know what constitutes a living wage. If so, you are unique in all the universe. But…many taxpayers will feel, as I do, that we live in a mostly competitive market economy where labor should be obtained at the lowest legal costs for whatever combinations of skill and other talents are required.

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