Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Progress, Part 1

Ladies and gentlemen, Transit Rider PDX is back and ready to do what it was originally meant to do: disseminate interesting transit information that somebody might find fascinating. But we still won't be shying away from real issues.

This blog was originally created to just talk about interest things, technical things, that somebody might find interesting. Fleet information, route analysis, idea brainstorming, interviews, etc. Unfortunately, we got going at the wrong time. We got into the world of conspiracy theories, ethics accusations, attempted citizens' arrests and even rumors of a TriMet prostitution ring (proven simply to be someone's lost kitty cat). We got into a realm of divisions, disunity, and people fighting people to defend their position. Why did we all let it get this way? Why did TriMet end up being scandal-ridden instead of, just, ridden?

Choices. We are all humans and we make choices. These choices affect others, and sometimes we forget how they affect others. If I post something on my blog, say, that accuses a board member of not caring about his job, that choice of airing my opinion is going to hurt that board member's feelings. He might have a family situation where a child is in the hospital and he is checking his phone constantly while at the board meeting to see if there is any news. The other TriMet people will think I'm uncaring and insensitive, but other bloggers who like to find anything to complain about will praise me for "pushing for change."

If I'm a TriMet manager and I decide that my staff isn't getting paid enough to warrant them staying around and not looking for another job elsewhere, I will likely want to find a way to give them a raise so that they will continue to stay committed to the company. That's business. But if I'm going around telling the public that we're starving for money, and I give out raises totaling almost $1 million under the table, do you think people are not going to complain when they find out? Regardless of my reasoning, I am putting myself in a position of pending judgment even though I may have a valid excuse for my actions.

Well, thankfully, people change, people grow, and people move on. Nonetheless, those sour tastes in our mouth don't go away overnight. It can take years to prove yourself as having changed and grown.

But we can move on. I've always tried to take the high road with people. I'm even having a hard time rooting against Alex Rodriguez and his comeback with the Yankees. And the Yankees are my least favorite team! So that is why when I see 2 1/2 hour transfers, new 30-foot buses, few if any mentions that everything's the union's fault, and bus service improvements that had been previously promised, I feel that I am seeing the beginnings of the progress and improved integrity that I have wanted to see for years.

But where do we go from here? Well, now we have the opportunity to actually ask ourselves, "What does our preferred future look like?" We all know that the design of the TriMet system is asking for improvements. Many of the bus lines were designed twenty years ago and are so out of touch with the design of the city around them. TriMet is well aware of this, and they are already starting to propose future improvements on lines. I have reviewed their plan thoroughly, and combined with my previously designed ideas, I am in the process of proposing significant improvements to the system that are in line with both TriMet's plans and the needs of the city. (See Part 2 of this post releasing soon with detailed suggestions.)

Unfortunately, any changes or suggestions we make are going to annoy or anger someone. That's the problem with choices. If I say, for example, that a bus line that used to turn there instead will go straight, then the people who used to ride it when it turned are going to hate the idea, even if the transfer actually adds a new line with new service that's more reliable that serves more people.

Basically, if we sought to make everyone happy, we would never get anything done.

This is why agencies like TriMet are expected to pay decent money to hire the best people in the planning world to figure out what the best future is. If we can trust those people to make the right decisions, then we should let them make the decisions. Just because some people hate it, it doesn't mean we should throw the idea out. Chances are, when the people see the improvement, they may actually see why it was a good idea and thank the planners for a job well done.

But this is where trust comes in. We need to be able to trust that the people that are put in a position of decision-making are going to act in the best interest of our entire community, not just their personal interests or the interests of a select group. If, for example, they decide to make Line 8 go up NE 16th instead of NE 15th, we don't need to take it to a public vote. Hopefully, if that decision was thought through, then TriMet should be able to just decide to do it and get it done. But if we can't trust that these people are going to make the best decisions, then they need to be replaced with someone we can trust.

So, to summarize, TriMet should be able to make changes to the system. It's their system, and they are there to improve it and make it work for the people. Some people won't like the decisions, but we can't have progress if someone doesn't just turn on the new widget and watch it fly. Make the change, see how it works, and if there are any glaring issues then fix them. But if someone did their homework beforehand, there should be few glaring issues.

Stay tuned for the next post, where I lay out details about how I think the system should look, combining the ideas that TriMet has presented with tweaks and additions that I think would make the system be the best it can be for today's Portland.