Tuesday, April 30, 2013

CRC Bridge Solution

Because the people we pay millions of dollars to find a solution can't find a good one, I'll just give you one for free.

Build a separate bridge. You're planning on making one alongside the highway bridge anyway. Have it run parallel to the river for awhile so it can ramp up to go across at a high level and a grade the MAX can climb. Do the opposite on the other side.

You surely have two problems with this:
   (1) This will cost more.
   (2) This will make an inconvenience for riders to
         take time to make the loop.

But I answer with these suggestions:
   (1) The longer you government people take to bicker
         about the bridge being too low, you could have
         built this by itself and be running MAX across it.
         And it would probably cost less than being tied in
         with CRC.
   (2) I ride the Blue Line around the loopty-loop at
         Sunset TC all the time. I'm used to it. We have
         another in the Red Line looping under itself at
         Gateway. I don't hear people complaining about
         either of these.

Problem solved. And you just saved millions in the planning phase by reading this here.

Like Night and Day

TriMet's wonderful! TriMet's awful! Which is correct?

Look at comments on TriMet's Facebook posts. Search for #trimet on Twitter and read the tweets that come up. Ask your friends about what they think about TriMet. It is clear that the public approval of TriMet is waning. People are getting more and more frustrated by the unreliability, the crowded trains and buses, and the other undesirable aspects that we all know so well.

But, you also see a lot of people writing about how wonderful TriMet is. These positive comments usually follow TriMet's Facebook posts and are intermixed with other people's complaints and Erik Halstead's extreme calls for radical change (which are warranted but unrealistic; but that's worthy of its own post.)

But the question remains: why the severe discrepancy in these opinions? Which is correct?

Well, both. You see, it totally depends upon the lense you are viewing it through.

We bloggers incessantly inundate you with all the things that go wrong with TriMet. I think we do this for two reasons: (1) it's fun to nitpick and get attention for it, and (2) it's true! We know this because we are experts in the field of TriMet, and it doesn't take much digging to find the dirt we uncover. Many casual riders who couldn't tell you the difference between the three definitions of 'block' are completely oblivious to the issues that go on, and are perfectly content to stay that way until their 1400-series bus breaks down going down I-5 on a 95-degree day. Then, they may get a taste of this reality.

If we know it's this bad, why are there so many people who think TriMet is the best? Either they are such optimists that they would still be smiling if an opossum pooped on their foot, or there is something else at play here. Look closely at the comments. What's the common pattern? They are comparative. Almost all of the comments are worded something like, "TriMet is SOO much better than Dallas" or Phoenix or Washington DC, or wherever. Although they don't see the problems that we who have been around Portland for awhile see, they do see all the good things that we do have, and are thankful for it.

TriMet has its problems, that is for sure. But sometimes it's easy to forget how good we have it compared to other cities. That's why I'm fighting for it, because I don't want the good in it to die at the hands of someone who doesn't have the best interests of the agency at heart. But it can be better. And I hope the trend turns in that direction soon.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hang On

Hang on, TriMet fighters. There's breakthrough is a-comin' and you don't wanna be left outside.

Change is in the air: trust me. The tide is turning, and victory is in sight.

But the war can't be won if there is division among the cavalry. Internal bickering and fighting only places power back in the hands of the very force that we're trying to disarm.

We are all people from different backgrounds. We have different tactics, different reasons for fighting, even different political views. We are motivated by different reasons. But we all have a common goal: to get our beloved transit agency back.

Believe it or not, but I have issues with all of you people. There's something about your personalities, tendencies, and/or tactics that frustrates me. HOWEVER, I'll save that until after we've won. I can look past those problems. That's because I'm looking to the goal.

Unlike TriMet, there is little that unites us. We are not being given a paycheck by the same company. The other side is very strong, because they actually have an established existence. This little club isn't even a real club; it's just a bunch of people who have a strange hobby or other connection (like former employee) that makes us all run into each other a lot on Twitter. I mean, the fact that this movement even has power is incredible.

But the reason why this is happening is because we all want the same thing. And the common goal has gotten so important that we put aside our differences (and differences of opinion) to see this through to the end. If someone has a problem with that and can't stand strong, then they won't be helpful to the cause.

I am taking a team processes class right now. Teams are made up of different people, all with different talents and skills. Some are good at standing on soapboxes. Some are good at holding signs and making posters. Some are even good at, I don't know, blogging? If we all did the same thing, it would just be a club. No one can take that club seriously.

But the fact is that cause is too important to let this slip away. I understand and respect that each of us has a part to play in this. No one is more important than another, and no one is less important because they aren't on the proverbial 'front lines.' Together, victory is sure. Separated, we are as strong as Jello.

I am the newcomer to this. It took me a long time to jump in, but I realized that instead of fighting apart I should fight with the rest of the army. Many of you know I don't support unions most of the time, but I do agree with the basic premise behind them: one employee has no voice; 200 employees have a voice. And if there is injustice, strength in numbers can fix these problems.

So, thank you for letting me in this funny little club. I hope that you all continue to work together to see this through to the end. I'll do my part.

That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

You Lost Me

TriMet, you lost me.

You lost me. Not forever, but you could have had me sooner. You missed that opportunity.

Now, I'm not one to say outright that I am something special. I am no hero, I am no genius. But I am someone who can make a huge difference at TriMet. There are few people, if any, who know more about TriMet than I (who don't already work there, and I still know more than many of them). I've had many ideas of how to improve the system, some they figured out themselves after I did (like the 48-Cornell going to Sunset). And the only activity I am more passionate about is work at my church. I love all things TriMet, I know most things TriMet (and continue to learn more).

And, I'm also close to completing my Bachelors Degree in Business Logistics & Human Resources Management. So I have that going on, too.

I once was given a tour of TriMet headquarters. I talked with many people, all of whom were supportive of me and thought I was, as many TriMet employees over the years have called me, a "shoe-in."

But you lost me. I had every intention of working out an internship this summer. I would have even taken an unpaid internship. I was hoping to get in the door as soon after I graduated in December as I could. But, due to your true lack of transparency and trustworthiness, my desire to get in the proverbial door has been somewhat squelched, enough to make me go to the PSU job fair last term. And now I intend on starting out in another logistics field.

Is this because the opportunities weren't there? No, because I truly believed (through faith in God) that the opportunity to get into TriMet would be there at the right time. But as the events over the last few months have unfolded, what I so longed for became undesirable. Why would I want to work at place that has management I don't trust? Why would I want to work at a place that has taken actions that have made me lean more toward the other side, the side working to dethrone the leaders?

So, for now, I am happy to write my blog and challenge the agency to become transparent, honest, and trustworthy. The only reason this matters to me is because I love it so much. After God and family, there is nothing that excites me more, nothing that I care about seeing thrive more than TriMet. And I will get there. Someday, when the time is right, I will walk in those doors with a TriMet employee ID badge.

But for now, you lost me, I'm sorry to say. You don't realize what you're missing. Please recognize that your actions do have consequences. Together, let's work together to do things right so that there won't be any more consequences. Because I know we both want you to be the best.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Angela Murphy

A new name appeared on the most recent press release from TriMet. Angela Murphy is now listed on the sidebar as "Communication Coordinator" under Mary and Roberta. This was her third post.

I liked her writing style. It was professional and not obtrusive, even when mentioning the labor issues. Maybe there's hope for the PR department. However, it's getting more and more confusing to figure out what each person actually does in that department based on their increasingly convoluted job titles.

I hope to have more about the most recent press release tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Now (Apparently Not Yet) Blocking Retirees

So, what looked like a blocked Twitter account appears to have been a simple Twitter glitch.

Twitter still shows Al as being followed by, and still following, TriMet, which would change if someone was being blocked. Also, TriMet took notice of this issue through viewing this blog and the corresponding tweets, taking the time to not only comment on it but also ask around in the communications department to see if anyone blocked Al.

This happens from time to time, where someone in the blogging community sees something wrong and jumps to the obvious conclusion that may not be accurate. I am guilty of this here this time as well, but you can't blame us -- it looked like the obvious answer.

I give kudos to the TriMet communication department for being so prompt in trying to help get this problem resolved. This shows that there are people in that department who are trying to do the right thing, and it also shows that the aforementioned feedback is, in fact, still being received.

However, the words I said in the prior blog entry still stand as a warning. If someone does take the action of cutting off the communication between the agency and the stakeholders, these would be the perceived results. I hope no one ever takes such rash action, as it would be a detriment to both the bloggers and the agency.

Open communication is crucial to building TriMet to be the best in the business again. Hopefully, this communication is allowed to thrive; but it is also important that both sides actually listen to what the other one is saying and take it to heart. Because, maybe, it is something that can result in benefits to everybody.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Now Blocking Retirees

TriMet's communications department went off the deep end today, by blocking Al Margulies on Twitter. This is the most ridiculous and pointless tactic the agency can use. They have missed three basic points:

1) Blocking him won't stop him from tweeting about TriMet,
2) All they're doing is depriving themselves of a valuable source of feedback and information, and
3) By blocking Al on Twitter, they are simply proving what he is saying.

Now, there was a time when I didn't listen to what Al said. I didn't like his negativity and I didn't agree with him on certain vital issues issues. But I soon found out that his voice was one of the few voices that cared so much about making sure that the agency's future is bright that he would put his back-side on the line to fight for it. And though I still don't agree with his views on things in general, I tend to agree with all his views pertaining to TriMet.

So, TriMet, I continue to call on you to prove to all your stakeholders that you are looking out for their best interests. By attempting to close off the communication between you and your strongest naysayer, you are in effect blocking out your strongest source of feedback on what's going right and what needs to change. And we both know that the goal is to be the best transit agency in America, right?

That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

New Technology

Apparently, TriMet's main computer system crashed this morning and didn't come back online until about 11am. Everybody is quick to blame the "faulty" new CAD/AVL (computer aided dispatch/automatic vehicle location) system that is nearly completely rolled out throughout the system. People say it was a $30 million waste of money.

However, the thing about the implementation of new technology in a business, especially when it is large and complex (like the CAD system), things rarely go completely smoothly at first. It takes time to get it right, but when they do get it right it will work well for a long time. So, in the context of the CAD system, just give it time: it's a good system, and once it's fully in place, it will be a great asset for the agency.

One more thing to remember: computer glitches aren't always the fault of the technology: there is the human factor, too. But we'll get to that in a later post.

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's the Bomb-Sniffing Dog All Over Again

TriMet's latest security-related email concerns the new inclusion of police in plain clothes to enforce fare and code policies on MAX. It also concerns me, as it leaves me wondering if it is really necessary. (That was a pun; I'm sorry.)

Ask me two years ago and I'd tell you it's a good idea. But now? No. And here's why.

TriMet is trying to fight the fare evasion war by attacking the evaders. Which is okay - there are plenty of people who just think they are above paying their fair-share. But it's not getting to the root of the problem.

We all know about the dreaded Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) at the rail stations. The unreliability of those devices is astounding, but TriMet's unwillingness to admit the chronic issues that exist with the machines is really what is making people mad.

The other issue has to do with public perception, which TriMet PR doesn't seem to know how to manage. Public perception is created through both words and actions, and neither that TriMet is putting out makes the average rider want to trust them. If the PR department would just admit that the TVMs are faulty and assure the public that they have every intention of fixing it, then I'd be okay with the undercover cops. But they won't admit the real state of the TVMs, and even if they did admit it and promise to make amends, I don't trust that they would actually follow through.

TriMet, please convince me that you are honest and operating in the best interest of the community. Because frankly, right now I don't trust that you are. And that's sad, given how much I love the agency.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Simple Solution

So after about five months, the ATU finally agreed to enter the negotiation process with TriMet over a new labor contract. The squabble began when the union, desiring to see more transparency and figuring it wouldn't see it without a significant change, asked TriMet to make the negotiations open to the public. TriMet refused the request, but offered to allow a few members of the media to attend the session. The ATU wasn't content with this, as they knew the members would be hand-picked by the agency and would certainly show bias toward the agency.

So, they sat at a stalemate for five months, the agency using every press release (regardless of the relevancy) to get the public on their side of the squabble and both sides throwing different laws and regulations at each other trying to convince the other that "this law proves I'm right!"

The kicker is that they took the issue before a circuit court judge to determine whose legal reasoning was valid. But, to quote ATU president Bruce Hansen, "TriMet’s process for negotiations remains murky and confusing. That confusion left the judge unable to make a decision without first obtaining additional information" (atu.org). In other words, even the judge couldn't figure out who was correct, given the facts.

While I generally don't support unions, in this situation I've been forced to agree with the ATU in most things because of TriMet's obvious errors that have significantly decreases my trust. I applaud the union for holding firm for these months, as their doubt of TriMet's honesty seems more than valid. As this is a public agency and therefore an issue that the public truly cares about, forcing the agency to be transparent would be beneficial to all parties: the union and the public for obvious reasons, but TriMet also because it would give them the chance to prove to the public that they are telling the truth.

But I also am glad that the union decided now to come to the table. It is crucially important that the bargaining process begins. The union has made their point, but TriMet's incessant and needless attacks on the union will only continue and get even more crazy if things don't get going. And who knows how many years it is going to take to come up with a contract this time.

So, here's a simple compromise: TriMet gets to handpick five members of the media, and the union can't reject anyone. The ATU gets to handpick five more members of the media, and the agency can't reject anyone. And no one can reject anything they write. Now we have accountability and it still doesn't have to be public. Both sides get what they want.

It would be good practice for coming up with a contract.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cast of Characters

This wonderful ongoing story of TriMet is made complete by the interesting and diverse characters that join me in the story.  For those of you who are new to the story, and for those of you who want a mention, I thought I'd share with you the cast before we get too deep in the story.

And yes, I'm sure you are all now sick of reading the word 'story.'

(Note: these perspectives are a combination of objectivity and my own personal views; please don't be offended if there's something you don't like, but I wrote the following in such a way as to minimize any offense.)

This cast can be broken into two parts: TriMet and the the bloggers.


Neil McFarlane: TriMet General Manager. Former Director of Capital Projects at the agency. He's very good at opening a MAX line on time and on budget, but whether he's good at running the whole agency is currently up for debate.

Mary Fetsch: Media Relations Officer at TriMet. Her press releases are notoriously very professional and highly ambiguous, leaving some people wondering what may have been purposely left out.

Roberta Altstadt: Another TriMet communications officer. Her press releases can be more informative, but are fewer in number compared to Mary's. She has been front and center lately in management's attacks on the union.

Bruce Hansen: Bruce is the current president and business representative for the Amalgamated Transit Union 757, the union that represents many of TriMet's front-line workers and maintenance personnel. He has worked as a TriMet bus operator for 20 years, and therefore he knows well what goes on inside the agency when dealing with management. His tactics appear to be non-violent but firm, and he's currently leading the union to hold their own versus management's current tactics.

Jonathan Hunt: Union vice president, Jonathan gains most of his experience from working as a TriMet mechanic.

Randy Steadman: TriMet's recently hired Director of Labor Relations. Apparently, the only "relations" he's had with unions in the past was trying to bust them. Which is odd, because why would you hire someone notorious for busting unions to deal with a union you're required by law to have?

The TriMet Board of Directors:
Bruce Warner , board president
Rev. Dr. T. Allen Bethel
Tiffany Sweitzer
Craig Prosser
Consuelo Saragoza
Travis Stovall
TriMet's Board of Directors is appointed by the Governor, with each representing a certain section of the metro area. These people are sometimes derisively called the "Board of Sock Puppets" because of their tendency to approve pretty much anything placed before them by management. And while they are highly qualified as businesspeople and community leaders, whether they truly represent their transit-riding constituents is sometimes questionable.


Al Margulies: Former bus driver at TriMet, Al has been blogging about TriMet for years, writing about the problems he saw working there on (what is now known as) Rantings of a Former TriMet Bus Driver. While I don't agree with many of his views, many a Tweet debate with him has opened my eyes to see past my optimism to see the real problems in the agency. He advocates open communication in the agency, as well as fairness to employees and retirees. (http://rantingsofatrimetbusdriver.blogspot.com/) @APMargulies

Lane Jensen: When he lost his job because of the unreliability on the 81, he set out to expose any corruption he perceived to exist. His tactics have made him a target for transit cops and fare inspectors, although he never breaks the rules. It seems he has angered someone high up in the agency, causing some to believe he's trying to be silenced. (http://portlandtransitlane.wordpress.com/) @pdxtransitlane

Jason McHuff: Jason is a scholar of TriMet's past, and also works as a sustainably-minded software designer. He used this skill to design one of the most useful transit arrival tool, TransitMapper, and well as making the TriMet radio scanner feed publicly available (with the help of Al). His views tend to be less controversial than the prior two. (http://www.rosecitytransit.org/) @rosecitytransit

Adri C: Adri is a Portland high school student who is a regular rider of the 51 and absolutely loves taking the little old 30-footers to school every day (I am being extremely sarcastic). She makes her point often via photography, which almost always speaks for itself. (http://www.trimetrider.blogspot.com/) @PDXtrimetrider

Alex Hawk: Alex is the glue that connects Adri, Lane, and Erik, although they don't always get along as a group. He maintains one personal Twitter handle and one transit-oriented one, and he just started his blog this year (being inspired by Al). One notable action Alex has taken is starting a campaign to be appointed to the TriMet board. Although almost guaranteed to be unsuccessful, just making a stand in this way is unprecedented in itself. (http://trimetug.wordpress.com/) @AJHTrimet

Erik Halstead: Erik is just an ordinary guy from Tigard who has watched his 12/94 service slowly deteriorate to the point that he now often commutes via auto. Always one of the first to criticize TriMet's postings on Facebook, I always used to argue with him supporting the agency. Well, until I realized that, although his facts are sometimes errant, his points are extremely valid. He has no TriMet blog, but is active on Twitter. @sp_redelectric

"Camelopardalis": Whether this blogging pseudonym is a derivation of this person's actual name or a nickname to shield his/her identity I do not know, but I know that s/he is a very intelligent and loyal rail operator who started the MAXFAQs blog to tell people all the interesting technical information about the rail system, especially answering questions people ask that the agency doesn't answer well, like "Why don't the MAX door buttons work?" S/he tends to understand the strategy of the agency more than the other bloggers, but though his/her blog entries are usually more technical in nature, his/her critical entries are some of the most poignant and inspiring entries in the blogging world. (http://maxfaqs.wordpress.com/) @maxfaqs

Joseph Rose: Joe writes about commuting in Portland for The Oregonian. In the past, he's been less critical and more receptive of what the agency would like him to write, but lately he has taken them less at their word and has called for the agency to do better, most recently in regard to the Hours of Service for bus operators and the "secretive" raises given to many non-union workers. Joe's blog on the Oregonian website also talks about other aspects of your Portland commute, not just TriMet. (http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/) @pdxcommute

Dan Christensen: Another of the TriMet bloggers, Dan is currently a TriMet bus operator out at Powell Garage. (http://www.rolleasyblog.com/) @dan_christensen

Michael Andersen: Michael is the lead author of Portland Afoot magazine, an online magazine about issues pertaining to a low-car use lifestyle. Therefore, transit issues are really important to him. He tends to be less critical of the agency than other bloggers, but if there's some major issue, he'll always try to be the first to report it. (http://portlandafoot.org) @portlandafoot

PLUS A FEW MORE PEOPLE, such as Adron Hall (@transitsleuth), Scott Johnson (@engineerscotty), Doctor Jeff (@doctor_jeff), Cameron Johnson (@camofportland), and Joseph Edge (@josephedge), each of whom writes or tweets about TriMet to a varying extent. OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon (@opalpdx, http://www.opalpdx.org) is a riders union that also contributes to the story by fighting for better transit service, honesty and transparency from the agencies in the local area.

AND THEN THERE'S ME, Patrick Stanley, PSU student and future TriMet manager who hopes to someday be able to make a difference from the inside. TriMet expert and scholar since I was seven years old, I am blessed with the opportunity to try to make an external impact right now. I see myself as not in either of the aforementioned groups but in both groups, as a moderator of sorts, hopefully being able to connect both sides to see what the other side has to say. Not until mutual communication exists in this environment will there be any improvement in the situation. And I hope to aid in that communication.

So what you hear from me won't be as harsh as Al's or Lane's blogs. I won't call anybody names or say anything that may jeopardize my future career. I will, however, analyze both the good and the bad, and try to keep my bias out of it. Because, if there is anything gnarly to report, it will certainly speak for itself.

So, now that we know the characters, let's start the show...

That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.