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“A rough night for TriMet riders”: Reactions to transit bond failure

Posted by on November 3rd, 2010 at 11:24 am

random shots need to edit
TriMet will have to look elsewhere
to fund new buses and other upgrades.
(Photo © J. Maus)

TriMet’s ballot measure did not pass last night. The measure sought to raise funds to replace aging buses, improve 300 bus stops, upgrade their LIFT fleet (which services elderly and others unable to use standard buses), and free up money in their general fund. The measure passed in Multnomah County 54-46, but couldn’t survive losses in Washington and Clackamas Counties where it was rejected by 56 and 60 percent of voters respectively.

I asked Portland Afoot (a local news magazine about low-car living) publisher Michael Andersen and the Executive Director of the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition how they felt about the results.

Michael Andersen:

“All in all I’d call it a rough night for TriMet riders.

Most obviously, the TriMet ballot failure means the agency will be stuck with its disintegrating old buses and wheelchair-unfriendly stops, and when they are replaced it’ll probably come out of money that’s desperately needed to improve service. (I’ll never understand why TriMet didn’t make this argument part of their campaign.) TriMet’s not ready for the wave of aging boomers coming its way. Less money for TriMet could also slow or possibly even kill the Orange MAX Line to OMSI, Sellwood and Milwaukie.”

Stephanie Routh:

“We are deeply disappointed that the TriMet bond measure didn’t pass. The bond measure would have provided $20 million for bus stop improvements that would improve walking access to bus stops (4 out of 5 riders access transit by walking) and provide universal accessibility to those stops.

At a time when transit ridership is up nationwide while transit agencies across the country are facing crises (as described by Transportation for America), we need to be looking creatively at ways to fund transit equitably. The bond measure was a missed opportunity.”

I’ve asked a few other folks for reactions and will update this post when I hear from them.

Get the latest Oregon election results via The Oregonian (races for governor and Metro President still undecided as I write this!).

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  • Spiffy November 3, 2010 at 11:43 am

    I’m in Multnomah county and voted against it… and only because it’s a bond measure… if it had been for increased taxes then it would have been a yes vote for me… but I’m against borrowing money when everybody is still trying to come up with ways to make it…

    I’ll give TriMet money, but I won’t loan any to them…

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  • Velophile in Exile November 3, 2010 at 11:45 am

    I agree in principle with what Michael and Stephanie are saying, but I voted against the bond measure because I am deeply dissatisfied with how TriMet works right now and I want to see TriMet improve their operations with what resources they currently have before I give them more of my money.

    Specifically, I want TriMet to respond to my complaints when their bus drivers push me off the road or cut me off (instead of ignoring me). I want TriMet bus drivers to stop killing pedestrians and stop talking about killing bicyclists. Basically, I want TriMet to do a better job of training its drivers generally.

    I understand that probably wasn’t the sentiment behind most “no” votes, but that’s my reason, FWIW.

    And I understand that improving in the way I’ve described would be easier with more funding, but it is possible with current funding and proper service should be a minimum standard at any reasonable level of funding.

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  • Mike Fish November 3, 2010 at 11:47 am

    So why wasn’t TriMet budgeting to replace the aging buses and improving service? Why do they need bond measures to fund standard operating procedures like replacing outdated equipment? I’m very disappointed in TriMet’s management. I want new buses and better access for people with disabilities, but the fact that TriMet’s $20million short of providing these basic services sent a red flag to me – why would I want to give them my money? They mishandled the contract for those new MAX cars contract so badly that they had to take over the company that they’d hired to manufacture them. How much over-budget was that project? Until TriMet proves it’s delivering real value on the dollar I won’t vote to give it more.

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  • matt picio November 3, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Tri-Met kind of shot themselves in the foot on this one, by cutting service and raising rates. There are a lot of folks in Washington and Clackamas counties that aren’t served by Tri-Met, in some cases because the lines that once served them were cut. Also, there is a wide perception that the agency is resistant to public input, and that the average person has no say. Now, Tri-Met comes to Joe Average asking him to have a say: pay more money, or no? The public voted no.

    If Tri-Met wants to survive as an agency, then they need to increase, not decrease service, and the general manager and Tri-Met’s stakeholders need to convince the legislature to increase the Tri-Met tax and find funding. They also need to be more transparent and open themselves up more to public input.

    There will always be underutilized lines – cutting them removes potential riders permanently from the pool, as they find other means of getting to work / home / shopping or take other measures to reduce or eliminate trips. If Tri-Met continues doing business the way they always do, they’re going to die the death of a thousand cuts.

    And with the loss of Jim Oberstar and a Republican-controlled House, the odds of a favorable funding environment for the Orange Line have just been reduced significantly.

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  • Jeff Bernards November 3, 2010 at 11:54 am

    I voted no because Tri-Met has some the highest wages, benefits and healthcare costs in the country, when compared to other transit agencies. I’m not saying that just making employees pay more of there health care cost, is going to buy more buses and improve bus stops. But it sends a message that they understand how the rest of us are cutting back to make it all work. I’ve had to reduce my healthcare insurance costs just in order to afford it. When public entities start feeling how we feel, I’ll be more sympathetic to their cause, which I do support.

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  • Mike Fish November 3, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Sorry, I meant the new WES cars, not MAX cars.

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  • Brad November 3, 2010 at 11:55 am

    The previous posters hit all of the points that considered with my NO vote. In addition, Tri-Met spends entirely too much time and energy on MAX and assorted PR fluff while failing to improve and promote bus usage.

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  • GLV November 3, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I’m in Multnomah county and voted against it… and only because it’s a bond measure… if it had been for increased taxes then it would have been a yes vote for me

    TriMet would have paid off this bond using property tax revenue. Property tax rates would have gone up accordingly. This is how virtually all local option bonds work.

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  • bike/max rider November 3, 2010 at 11:59 am

    interestingly enough, the ballot stated that the funds were mostly to benefit seniors/handicap riders. not that they were replacing an aging fleet. i thought that all of the stops were already handicap friendly. guess i was wrong. i suppose i haven’t seen em’ all.

    furthermore, Trimet, i believe, is a poorly ran organization. every time i get on the max there are 8-10 bikes in one car. this causes more of a problem for other riders navigating through the max car to find a seat. then a ticket inspector gets on and kicks off all but 4 bikers even though they paid for a ticket. this is a terrible failure to adapt to the market. moreover, their ticket machines rarely work and the new machines don’t accept cash. also, the trains don’t run remotely close to the schedule unless you’re downtown. lastly the one time i had to ask a conductor/operator a question about when a train traveling the other direction would arrive, because we had been waiting in the cold and rain for 40 min, he was exceedingly rude and asked me to step away from the window so he could depart.

    survival of the fittest I suppose. i wonder if Portland could privatize the public transit portion of their business??? prob not because its mostly tax dollars paying for it anyways.

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  • Alex Reed November 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    I agree with Jeff Bernards #5. I’ve heard that benefits for many government employees are extremely expensive, and that TriMet’s are among the most expensive.

    Seems to me that TriMet has ignored the burner on in their own house for years; now that the drapes have caught fire they’re asking us to fund the fix. Sorry, TriMet.

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  • Alex Reed November 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    And I’m generally a tax-and-spend liberal.

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  • Mark C November 3, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I’m all for public transit, but I too voted no on the measure for all of the reasons articulated above.

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  • Phil B November 3, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I voted yes, because Trimet isn’t going to get better by giving them less money. Guess it doesn’t matter at this point though. I hate bus drivers nearly hitting me all the time, but if the buses go away, it will just mean more cars nearly hitting me. Overall, I just think public transit is extremely important, and while I spend a lot of time sending in complaints to Trimet, they are the only game in town when it comes to public transit.

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  • k. November 3, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    I can’t believe you’re all the same people who advocate for spending more money on bike facilities. You should listen to yourselves.

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  • k. November 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I’m going to start advocating against spending any public funds on bike facilities from now on. I see so many cyclists who are impolite and flout traffic laws. And one time a cyclist forced me off a sidewalk. Besides, the bike lanes always seem to be built on the other side of town from where I live. When ever I email the BTA, they never address my concern specifically.

    Until cyclists address these problems, I just can’t see supporting them with more money.

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  • Alexis November 3, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I voted yes, but I did so somewhat reluctantly because it’s a bond measure, and I was surprised to find out that among my friends, many of whom use Trimet, bike, and walk a lot rather than driving, there were a number of people with strong anti-Trimet sentiments similar to those articulated above.

    Trimet is failing to win the hearts and minds even of many of the people it serves — how much more so everyone else?

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  • Mike Fish November 3, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Re k.:

    Funding should be considered on a case by case basis. If there’s a project that adds a lot of value for an acceptable cost, it should be funded. In this case, I felt (and probably others) that they weren’t getting a lot of bang for their buck out of giving $ to TriMet. I feel (and probably others) differently about many, but not all, bicycle infrastructure improvements.

    I’d be interested to hear your opinion about the TriMet bond, if you have one.

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  • rider November 3, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    No doubt Tri-Met has a serious customer service problem. I hope they receive this no vote as a signal to get their sh*t together and regain public support.

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  • Susan Otcenas November 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Per Trimet’s website: Fiscal 2010 “Weekday boardings averaged 315,300.” Suppose most of those folks are round-trippers, as would be typical for commuters. That represents about 158,000 daily users of trimet.

    The measure was $125,000,000. On a per rider basis, that’s nearly $800 per person.

    When one considers the fares paid by the riders AND the trimet employment taxes paid by all employers in the tri-county area (which far exceed the ticket revenue, I believe), an additional $800 per person seems like an awful lot of money.

    It troubles me that what I consider to be a routine part of running the “business” is not something that has been budgeted for out of the money they already receive through fares and employment taxes.

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  • 9watts November 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Dan Christensen

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  • West Cougar November 3, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    +1 with Jeff B.

    The recession of the past 2 years has virtually exempted unionized public employees. How is that sustainable? The public sector is only as strong as the private sector from which they tax.

    If the public sector would take some of the benefit cuts that the private sector has made routine for 10-20 years now, there would be no need for lay-offs, service reductions, or tax increases.

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  • Andrew Seger November 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    I want a functioning public transit system and voted against the bond for all the reasons articulated above. But @9watts does bring up a good point, the more bus service gets cut the safer it is for us. It has been nice at the entrances to the Hawthorne bridge not having to worry about buses merging across the bike lane quite as often.

    Perhaps this is Trimet’s new safety policy? “No one gets hurt if there aren’t any buses!”

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  • 9watts November 3, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    My point, terse though it was, is that the many black eyes Trimet has earned recently or given itself should not be underestimated when it comes to the hearts and minds of the people in this town, whether they ride the bus or not. My eyes have been opened, mostly through Jonathan’s great reporting, about how Trimet conducts itself as an organization, and I am not impressed with what I see.

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  • k. November 3, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Mike, my 2nd posting was factitious, maybe that didn’t come through. I supported the bond measure. I’m an infrequent user of the bus, I mostly bike. But living in a decent society means supporting a lot things that fall outside our own narrow interests. Most of the comments people here made against the measure could be wholly turned on their head and used against cyclists as well. That’s what my 2nd post tried to convey. Not supporting public transit because a bus driver has been rude to you is short sighted and petty. As frequent riders and bike commuters (which I presume most here are) it’s probably in our best interests to be supporting a quality system that allows many modes of alternative travel.

    I’m a home owner in the City and although I forget the exact amount, this bond measure would have tacked on something on the order of $15 or $20 a year to my tax bill. And most of that would have been offset by an older Tri-Met bond that is sun setting.

    I just hope all these no voters think about how cyclists as a whole are perceived by the general public next time their advocating for expanded bike facilities.

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  • k. November 3, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    West Cougar, there’s a term for what you are advocating. It’s called “a race to the bottom” and is a huge factor in the ever increasing inequity of income in this country. Instead of demanding that union employees take cuts like the private sector, maybe you should be advocating that more private sector workers unionize and demand fairer wages and benefits?

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  • Manji312 November 3, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Seems to me that ‘punishing’ Trimet for a variety of reasons with this vote ultimately only punishes those who rely on the services of Trimet, our fellow citizens.

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  • Mike Fish November 3, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Re k.:

    Yes, I did get that it was facetious. However, you’re still maintaining the arguments made against this measure would be equally valid if they were used against bicycle funding measures. I strongly disagree. TriMet is responsible for all it’s employees – the bus drivers. Bicycle riders in the city are not employees of the BTA, most are not even members, and some do not support the BTA or are completely unaware of its existence.

    A lot of the arguments made here are completely valid and relate to peoples’ worries that TriMet is fiscally irresponsible and having nothing to do with bus driver politeness.

    Here’s a link that talks about some of the WES problems they had two years ago. I read a really long article in a local paper (not The Oregonian) that did a good job of presenting all the numbers and details of the crisis, and it made a huge impact on my view of TriMet. Wish I could find a link to that, but I can’t so this will have to do: http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/12/company_behind_trimet_wes_rail.html

    Read to the bottom because it has credible people saying that if TriMet had followed standard operating procedure, this wouldn’t have happened.

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  • Mike Fish November 3, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Here’s a more in-depth article on TriMet’s WES woes: http://www.oregonlive.com/special/index.ssf/2008/12/trimet.html

    This is why just handing them money doesn’t necessarily mean better service for our neighbors. It’s sometimes surprising how little can get done with large amounts of money.

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  • Alex Reed November 3, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I’d be in favor of having TriMet’s board be elected. I believe it’s appointed by the governor now, making public accountability pretty darn indirect.

    If disgruntled citizens like me could vote for new leadership of TriMet, we might have directed our concerns there. As it is though, the ballot measure is all we had a say on, and Portland area voters struck it down.

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  • Dabby November 3, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I for one am happy this did not pass.

    While raising rates and cutting relied upon routes, Tri Met is building useless Max lines in the most expensive manner.

    I could go on, but I won’t…

    I do not know why anyone would vote to approve more funds for such a money grubbing pig, as Tri Met have proven themselves repeatedly to be.

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  • michweek November 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    So I am curious about how many baby boomers voted for the transportation doom they are about to enter but are to stubborn/arrogant to know that some day they won’t be able to drive that pretty SUV all by themselves. (I’m looking at you dad.)

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  • Phil B November 3, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Dabby, I believe (and very well could be wrong) that a good deal of the money for the Max/Streetcar lines comes from the Federal Government and could not be used for buses. So, while I understand that you may prefer buses to lightrail, the choice isn’t always that easy when decided what to do.

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  • spare_wheel November 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    i vehemently agree that trimet’s leadership should be elected. its time to make trimet accountable to citizens and not real estate developers.

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  • k. November 3, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I agree that while waste in public agencies is often difficult to stomach, this measure was pretty specific about how those funds were to be used. There are probably more appropriate ways to voice concern about that. I believe that in the end, the failure of this bond will mostly punish bus users, not Tri-Met. I also don’t believe that the public would be capable of effective oversight of this agency by electing the board, although there may be more effective ways to do that.

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  • Alex Reed November 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    K., it’s true that the measure says what the money would be used for. However, TriMet could have paid for the buses using the funds they already had. They chose to give their employees extremely generous benefits instead.

    If you are aware of other effective ways to voice concern to TriMet, please tell me!

    You are right that the failure of the bond measure will hurt bus riders in the short term. But I hope that it will give TriMet management the impetus and urgency they need to get personnel costs down to a reasonable level.

    I think a publicly elected board would at least be better than the current control structure. Thank you for an interesting and civil discussion!

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  • Racer X November 3, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Chalk it up to poor budgeting. The bus replacement cost should be budgeted not bonded.

    Though many transit agencies are being slammed by the Federal ADA costs in being required to provide door to door paratransit service for cents on the dollar within set distance of a fixed route (bus or train). Up in Clark County a bus route costs about $5 per trip vs $35 per paratransit trip. (Time to privatise to taxi services for the latter.)

    To follow up on a thread in the comments… Yes public employees have solid benefits, but no one complained about them in the good times when the private sector was getting stock options, expense accounts, tax breaks, Goverment loans and above market CEO wages 2000:1 worker etc etc. Sadly the middle class still believes in the Reagan dream (he too was a union leader). It will be interesting to see what is left in 2 years. Other than driving a bus where can a high school grad make a middle class wage now that real estate and mortgage loan officer jobs are shit.

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  • Greg November 3, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Lame. I wanted the Tri-Met ballot measure to pass. I voted for it. I ride transit all the time. I hope Tri-Met figures out how to recover from this setback and continues to invest in our transit system. If asked again to support Tri-Met I would vote for it again.

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  • Red Five November 3, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Time for Trimet employees to contribute to their benefit packages the way the rest of us have to. No more free rides. And of course since this post is not a BikePortland pro-progressive stance, it more than likely will be deleted.

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  • geneb November 3, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I voted against the bond measure. TriMet built the Interstate MAX after it was defeated by the voters. Now they want to spend hundreds of millions for a bridge across the Willamette for light rail to Milwaukie that was rejected by the voters. If they need to buy new busses they have only to quit blowing their funds on unapproved pet projects.

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  • Mindful Cyclist November 4, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I went back and forth on this measure and finally decided to cast a yes vote despite all the problems I have with Trimet. One of the biggest problems I see with light rail here in Portland is just the lack of enforcement on it. Too many people are cheating on it and there is very little enforcement. I ride downtown to catch MAX on my commute (and some days just take the MAX) to avoid climbing the West Hills so I don’t make my coworkers suffer with all my sweat. I probably have had a fare inspector check me about 5 times. Even when I get checked, they are busy writing at least one ticket.

    Whether the stations become gated or there are more fare inspectors, something needs to be done to enforce the fares. The same goes for streetcar. I also wonder how many people that have caused problems on MAX had a valid fare.

    Trimet needs to quit pandering to the real estate developers so they no longer have this “Look, free rail transit” selling point. Before they cut bus lines, PDOT and Trimet need to look at how much is being spent on “cool” things like street cars.

    Also, people in this town need to get over themselves about riding a bus. Sure, light rail looks cool and feels more urbane and less like something a poor person would do. But, it is also a lot cheaper to operate and can reach a lot more places that light rail cannot.

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  • middle of the road guy November 4, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    How many of you would turn down very generous benefits?

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  • beth h November 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    It’s easier for Trimet to cry “poverty” when it comes to aging buses and inadequate stops, and also when it comes to having enough fare inspectors (I was here in the mid-80′s when they tried “self service” fares and it failed abysmally. We’ve needed fare inspectors ever since. We hadn’t needed them before. Go figure.)

    However, Trimet’s employees have some of the most generous salary and benefits packages, at a time when hourly-wage workers are evading fares because they can’t afford to pay every time.

    Forget about the whole raising fares/cutting service paradigm, and the poor record of driver/bicyclist encounters in recent months. This measure was already doomed to fail before the mailed the ballots out.

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  • JR November 5, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Hmmn.. Funny how people post about things they don’t understand or know anything about. TriMet DID budget for the bus replacements. It’s a basic order of business for a transit agency that owns and operates over 500 buses a day with a useful life of 12-18 years on average. HOWEVER, a certain economic doldrum hit the region and the country which obviously devoured those budget projections. The bus purchases had to fall out of the budget in order to minimize cuts to service – which obviously would’ve been much more severe.

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  • 9watts November 5, 2010 at 9:23 am

    JR,

    since you’re so knowledgeable about how Trimet budgets, I’d be curious to know how the costs compare of maintaining the buses in question for an extra five years vs. replacing the fleet on a shorter rotation. My assumption is that as with most equipment it can actually be maintained for a very long time if there is a will to do it, the necessary infrastructure, etc. And it may be cheaper. But you tell me.

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  • JR November 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Actually, the standard practice is to replace buses every 12-16 years, depending on amount of use. The buses in question are at 20-21 years old, and have already gone through an overhaul at this point. They are also dirty polluters being so old, and a diesel retrofit program for them was not approved by Metro a couple years ago because everyone assumed they’d be replaced soon, if not already.

    That said, there’s no reason that they can’t continue to be pressed into service. The problems that raises are more expensive annual maintenance, more frequent interruptions to service, and continued excessive air pollution.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree Trimet goofed putting out this measure, but I don’t blame them for their desperation. If I were them, I’d first focus on getting the union benefits under control before even considering asking for more money. I’ve come across all this information on their website, so it just takes a little digging.

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