This blog will mostly be about the random technical things that I find interesting as I study the TriMet system. But, before I get underway with that, it behooves me to jump right into the current issue surrounding what's happening with the S.O.S. that TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane sent out on Wednesday: "Save our service!"
To summarize, basically he blamed the Union for all the agency's financial problems, pinning the future of TriMet's fiscal stability on lowering the costs of employee healthcare, for both current employees and retirees.
Now, I'm not going to address the details of the Union costs right now; that's a whole 'nother issue. However, I will say that I truly feel that the Union needs to make some major concessions, especially in the retiree benefits, as those will add up over time and will cause major fiscal issues down the road.
But is the Union the source of all TriMet's issues? Well, I don't really know. Probably, not likely.
See, TriMet loves building rail lines. I think this is awesome! Rail was what got me fascinated about TriMet when I was a wee six-year-old, and I truly believe that it is one of the best means for making Portland the most livable city in the nation. Moreover, I think the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail (PMLR) project is a good thing, one that will provide major benefits to the people of Milwaukie, SE Portland, and Downtown, plus anyone who drives across the Ross Island Bridge (because, you know, the 9, 17, 19, and 66 buses and the buses to and from Center Garage will all be rerouted onto the new bridge, meaning no more buses on the Ross Island).
But now? I would recommend delaying the project until the economy is back and TriMet has the money to spend. But that's where things get tricky.
See, when the federal government awards grants for capital projects, agencies are then committed to the project and cannot delay them, because the money would then be taken away. That would mean no PMLR at all, and all the money already spent would be wasted. And as we know, it takes a lot of years of planning before the project actually gets underway. So as the PMLR planning began when TriMet was strong and so was the economy, who would have thought then that it would be a liability today?
Well, here we are, 2013 and we are stuck in a budget crisis that will not soon leave us. Is the reason the Union contract? Yes, partially. But we also know that TriMet has been spending like crazy, and although much of this spending comes from the Capital Projects bucket (not the Operations bucket), I am under the strong impression (thanks to that one good debate I had with Al) that there is other spending that creeps into the Operations budget.
But, more about that later. I hope to do a thorough investigation into this and find out where all the funding is allocated to.
But why do we need to hire a Deputy GM now? That's $100K+ that would certainly not be coming out of the Capital Project bucket!
This is a whole can of worms, one which I plan to get grubby in and get to the bottom of said can (I'm also quite punny too, if you haven't noticed). But it's safe to say that McFarlane's tactics and agendas seem more than ever to be contrary to what is really pertinent to the agency and the city.
And that is what scares me.
That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.