Saturday, June 21, 2014

Love Is All Around...Sure

I am so tired of writing about the battle between TriMet and the ATU. This is why I haven't said that much about it. But I have to give my two cents.

First, I must say again that I think the health care package for the Union workers is a bit higher than it should be. I think that their overall package is actually pretty balanced considering the remarkably low pension, but I think that the Union should be willing to make some consessions. Regardless of how well TriMet is managing their finances, remember that health costs are rising and will continue to rise. It won't be long until these costs do become a hindrance to TriMet's ability to put buses on the road even if all the other finances are managed perfectly.

However, why would you want to be willing to make consessions when you are always being treated like second-class citizens? I continue hearing saddening comments from reputable Union employees about how management is not really listening to them, that management's seeming obsession with safety doesn't translate into any actual improvements on the part of the driver. I've heard people say that TriMet used to be a "fun place to work" when management and Union employees were treated as equals. But things have changed and that TriMet has taken a coffee break and never came back.

It doesn't help that the only TriMet communications to the public concerning the Union, besides the Operators of the Year awards and the occasional heroics by one driver (which takes TriMet a week to even point out), is their endless quest to "beat" the Union at the bargaining table. Management has set up an environment of "them vs. us" that leads only to division and the breaking up of common ground. This isn't fair to anyone, especially the people on the front-lines who are literally risking their lives every day to get people where they need to go.

Now, unions aren't always very reputable. Some, like the Longshoremen running the terminals at the port, aren't really supporting the employees they represent but are instead supporting their agenda and their very existence. This is why I am very skeptical of unions and I am never quick to support them. Unions were very good when they started because employees were truly lacking rights and were treated very poorly. Times have changed, unions had their success, and now employees have rights and are (way) more often than not treated appropriately. I have always looked at most unions and seen people complaining that they are not getting everything they want from a corporation that has limited resources, while I watch my family's small business struggle to get by on a daily basis because of those same limited resources.

But the ATU 757 is different. The ATU division here in Oregon and SW Washington which represents employees for all Oregon transit agencies (plus C-Tran in Vancouver) has proven to me that they are much more reputable. There is one major reason: ATU leaders are current and former TriMet employees. They actually care about, understand, and have a vested interest in the success or failure of the agency itself. They get what operators and maintence workers have to deal with on a regular basis. They aren't just in it for the survival of their local union office.

Also, the ATU was quick to jump at the chance to negotiate a relatively rich healthcare package in the early 2000s when the TriMet managers at the time didn't have a firm hand on what was going on. But the ATU isn't offensive. They go about their business and try to make the city get where it's going. Then, one day, TriMet came at them, blaming them for all their budget problems that were really caused by their obsession with building light rail. It was a joke around the blogging world how predictable it was that every email would include a statement at the bottom stating that any good future events were based on victory over the Union. The Union didn't attack TriMet management; management made the Union its dartboard when anything went wrong.

TriMet fighting the Union is not like fighting an external agency; it is literally fighting your own people. No, the Union is not perfect. But they certainly have done nothing wrong to make management take it to them like they have. It's hard to bargain in good faith when you can't have faith that the other person is going to not stab you in the back.

So, TriMet, send out emails telling how much you love your operators. I won't believe it. It's going to take years to undo the damage you have already done. Please make all union and non-union employees feel appreciated and cared for, since without them the agency wouldn't be able to do anything.

Sending email bursts saying you have been victorious over the Union doesn't make me support you more. It alienates me. And it alienates them. You can't afford any of that, not now.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ellen vs. Lane

The Lane Jensen saga continues. Except that this time Lane is not the aggressor.

Meet Ellen Fox.

Ellen is a TriMet bus operator who runs the Cyber Stalking and Workplace Bullying blog. It's supposed to be a blog about TriMet, but it's actually more of a hate blog against Al M himself (hover over the link above to see the URL). She has this thing about being the victim, and is always looking for opportunities to show how one of the other bloggers or employees is out to get her.

Have you heard of her? Maybe not. You've heard of Al M and Lane Jensen. Maybe you've heard the names Jason McHuff, Erik Halstead, Alex Hawk, and others. But Ellen is always on the outside. Why? She spends more time attacking the other bloggers than she spends attacking injustice at TriMet. She keeps herself on the outside of the core blogging group. Her credibility has always been questionable, which is sad considering the impact she could have made had she sided with the rest of the blogging community instead of burning bridges from the start.

So what does Lane have anything to do with this? Well, Ellen has always disliked Lane, as Lane has also always disliked Ellen. Lane, in his lack of restraint as far as speaking his mind, used to post occasionally about Ellen and her antics. It's no surprise that Lane spoke his mind concerning Ellen, but then again everything he said about her was as reasonable as one could be considering we can't get into Ellen's mind to really understand why she does what she does.

So what happened to start this? (I know you are going to be like this when you hear this.) Lane got onto Ellen's bus. That's it. Lane got onto Ellen's bus. And Ellen told Lane that she would call the cops if he got onto her bus again.

Okay, okay. So Lane used to know exactly how to find Ellen before. But here's the thing: things have changed. Lane's actually focused more on baseball than TriMet now (that's a fact, I know 'cuz I got him into it). He wasn't trying to 'track her down,' he was just getting on her bus to go somewhere like a normal person (because, of course, he is transit dependent). And also remember, it's not her bus. It's TriMet's bus. She has authority of what goes on while driving the bus, but there's no distinction between this bus or that bus. (For the record, Lane had to actually ask someone else for information about what Ellen is currently driving so he could avoid her. He didn't have that information himself.)

Well, Lane tweeted about it. Because that's what people do. Then this shows up on Ellen's blog:
(From Al's blog here)

What is going on here? I have no idea. As a blogger, why would you even think of putting something up on the internet that is actually technically a threat? It is a mystery to me. Notice that the "tweet" in question is actually dated 1/27/14. Things have changed. The post in question lists a bunch of things Lane "did" against her, many of which were likely not necessarily against her personally.

Now TriMet has actually responded to the complaint by Lane and has taken appropriate action concerning her (see here). We'll see if there is any sort of good that comes from this.

And FYI for all potential TriMet bloggers out there: If you don't want the blogging community to alienate you, don't alienate them. We're all in this together, regardless of our personal opinions.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Positive Fare Changes

Youth fares are going down! That means, fares are going down!

The Adult and Honored Citizen fares are staying the same (i.e. they're not going up), but Youth fares are going down. And not just a few pennies. Two-hour ticket prices are being reduced by 40 cents, day passes by 80 cents, and monthly passes by $2.

Now, we would all like to see that all fares go down. But the Youth fares are probably the least used of the three types, which means the fare price can be lowered more with less financial impact on TriMet's bottom line. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some unspoken and mildly controversial reason for this change, but I'm choosing to take the high road and simply celebrate the first TriMet fare reduction in at least the last twenty years.

It will be interesting to see how the completion of the PMLR project in FY2016 affects TriMet's budget. The construction is a huge chunk of the current expenditures. Maybe when that big give-out is cleared off the books and filed to a less expensive operations budget, there may be even more fare relief then.

But I'm not keeping my hopes up. Further fare decreases are more of a pipe dream than anything, which is an even greater reason to celebrate this one now.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Shaking My Head Yet Again

I was on a bus one day recently when something ridiculous caught my eye.

Due to the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project, SE 17th Avenue has been basically rebuilt, causing delays and closures. Significantly, the northbound bridge from SE 17th to westbound SE Powell was closed for a significant period in order to rebuild it. (At one point, Powell itself was closed. What a hassle.)

From March 19 through June 9, southbound 17th between Powell Blvd. and Rhine Street has been closed, causing buses to not be able to turn from Powell onto 17th Ave. Lines 17 and 70 had to be detoured onto SE Milwaukie Ave. and SE Center St. (Inbound 17 and northbound 70 remained on 17th to Powell.) This was actually better than the northbound closure, as the turn from Center onto Milwaukie was precarious to say the least, and the opposite direction is signficantly safer.

The 17 and 70 detour route, from TriMet's Interactive Map

On Powell at Milwaukie Ave, there are two eastbound bus stops. The nearside stop is served by Lines 9, 19, and 66, while the farside stop is served by Lines 17 and 70. For the detour, Line 17 served the nearside stop and Line 70 served a temporary stop on Milwaukie Ave. just past Powell.

The nearside stop at SE Powell & Milwaukie

I was riding a bus through that area when something caught my eye. It was one of those moments when I thought I had seen something I shouldn't have seen, and it took me a second to realize what I had noticed. It was the maps in the information box on the blue bus pole. They weren't right.

The simplified maps of the lines that served SE Powell & Milwaukie during the detour (these are correct)

So I decided to drive over to the stop and actually go make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Much to my delight, I had seen it clearly. I just shook my head and said to myself, "Oh, TriMet."

As you can tell, that isn't right. It's been years since Line 9 went to 27th and Saratoga and Line 17 went to Sauvie Island. Not only that, but this is the new design of the stop information on the pole. (The old one was the blacker version with the maps in the square boxes, the original box design before the QR codes were added.) These routing changes were made years before the new design was even invented. So who made the conscious effort to take the old maps from the archives and stick them in the new info sign template?

In a similar vein, here's a stop at Barbur & Bertha eastbound. What's wrong with it.

First, it's not called "Milwaukie Transit Center" anymore. It's just "Milwaukie" or "Milwaukie City Center."

Second, Line 65 doesn't go to Milwaukie TC anymore. Actually it hasn't gone to Milwaukie since June 28, 2004 when the Sellwood Bridge has closed. In other words, this sign has been wrong for ten years.

Oh, and finally, it's going the wrong direction. The old 65 travelled from Marquam Hill down Terwilliger to Barbur and then made the loop around 19th & Spring Garden before proceeding down Taylors Ferry Rd to the Sellwood Bridge. It's the same as now: this stop has always gone to Marquam Hill.

Okay, TriMet, I give up. Makes sense why you come up with ideas like this:
"Deer Baby," via

Thursday, June 5, 2014

More and More New Buses (Update)

TriMet has released more information about the new buses coming in the next two years. This has disproved some of my assumptions in my previous post, but has validated the gist of it. Let me break it down for you.

You can read my prior post here. Note the updated information in red. Also, you can read TriMet's news release here. This is where I am sourcing most of my information.

Today, buses 3201 and 3204 began running on Line 70. These were the first two of sixty buses in the 3200-series that TriMet is currently receiving. According to the news release, and in line with prior precedent, three to five new buses will arrive from the Gillig factory each week. It will take about two weeks to prep the bus, which includes registration and DMV paperwork, installation of the CAD/AVL system at Powell Garage, and installation of the fare box at Center Garage. This process will continue throughout the summer.

The 3200s will be delivered to Center Garage (replacing the 1400s) and Merlo Garage (replacing the 1700s). Sixty new buses will be replacing about 48 old buses, meaning that there will be more buses when the 3200s are done being deployed.

The 3200s are almost identical to the 3100s. The primary difference is the reconfigured driver controls. For once, and I'm still having a hard time believing it myself, TriMet actually listened to drivers complain about not being able to reach many of the controls, primarily the CAD/AVL screen and the kneel switch. The kneel switch has been moved from next to the CAD screen to the driver's left by the door button. The CAD screen has been brought closer to the driver so they don't have to reach as far. Also, the steering wheel has been made smaller, more like the wheel found on the 2900-series New Flyer buses. For passengers, a new "porch light" is being installed by the rear door so riders can see better when they disembark.

The 3300s are in fact 40-foot buses, not 30-foot as I assumed. These 30 buses will be deployed beginning in the Fall. The reason they are a different fleet is because they are a different order from a different fiscal year (the 3200s are on the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, while the 3300s are in the FY15 budget). These buses will either replace half of the 2100-series high-floor buses or a few of those plus all 22 of the 2000-series, the first series of low-floors TriMet purchased. In early 2015, eight more of this series of buses will go into service, bringing the total to 38 (and thereby assuring that my OCD dreams will be realized: there will be a bus 3333).

There will also be four more hybrid buses arriving in 2015. These will likely be in this same series.

And here are our 30-foot buses. Twenty-two new shorty buses will go into service to replace the 1600s running out of Center (on lines 34, 39, 51 and 152) and Powell (on lines 80 and 81), and the 1900s running out of Merlo (on lines 18, 50, 59, 63, 83, and a couple of other random lines), coincidentally totaling 22. It will be interesting to see where they distribute these buses, as all three garages run lines that require their shortened length.

The reason that the news release separated the eight 40-foot buses coming next year from the 3300s listed is because these eight, the four hybrids, and the 22 3400-series shorty buses are part of the new contract with Gillig. According to this news release from last September, TriMet signed a contract with Gillig for bus deliveries every year from 2015-2019, separate from the contract that is being completed this year with the 3300s. This goes way beyond just eliminating all the old 20+ year old buses riders complain about. In 2016, another 70 buses will show up, and 60 more a year later. This will help TriMet's fleet become comparably aged in respect to similar agencies.

But let me show you what that looks like.

Figure 1 shows each year through 2019 and how many buses are being deployed each year. It also shows which buses these will be replacing (assuming TriMet doesn't do like they are doing this year and bringing in more buses than they are retiring).

   Figure 1
   TriMet Bus Purchases by Year

   40-foot Buses (incudes Hybrids)
   Year   # Buses   Buses Replaced
   2015   42        All 2000s, 20 2100s
   2016   70        45 2100s, 25 22-2300s
   2017   60        60 22-2300s
   2018   40        33 22-2300s, 7 2500s
   2019   40        40 2500s
   30-foot Buses
   Year   # Buses   Buses Replaced
   2015   22        All 1600s, All 1900s
   2016   18        N/A

As you can see, by 2019 TriMet's fleet will look significantly newer. 120 of these buses, purchased in 2016 and 2017, have an option clause to make them Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueled instead of the normal diesel bus. I do not believe TriMet will actually activate this clause, given that past experience with getting this fuel to the buses has not been that good. Fourteen of these listed, however, will be hybrid buses, and should include the "super-hybrids" TriMet ordered last year that were going to take a few years to build.

So let's jump ahead to 2019. Assuming the information I provided in Figure 1 is accurate, what will the fleet actually look like?

   Figure 2
   TriMet Fixed Route Bus Fleet, FY2019

   40-foot Buses (includes Hybrids)
   Series  No. of Buses
   2500    12
   2600    55
   2700    25
   2800    39
   2900    40
   3000    55
   3100    70
   3200    60
   3300    42
   3500    70
   3700    60
   3800    40
   3900    40
   Total  608

   30-foot Buses
   Series  No. of Buses
   3400    22
   3600    18
   Total   40

   Grand Total = 648

If you go back to earlier in this post, you see that this year, there will be 12 more new buses than buses getting retired. Therefore, we can assume that those 12 2500s will be retired in 2019 also, making the grand total 636, and causing every bus in the system to have the new blue, yellow and white color scheme.

Talk about night and day, right? This is late in coming, but at least it's coming.