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PBOT budget update: Cuts, consolidation, and no more ‘Options’

Posted by on February 17th, 2012 at 11:59 am

Behind the scenes at SmartTrips

PBOT’s SmartTrips program is
among the cuts.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland’s Transportation Options Division — the group behind such popular programs as Sunday Parkways and SmartTrips — no longer exists as a stand-alone section of PBOT. The consolidation of Options into a new “Active Transportation” group within PBOT’s org chart — and the $350,000 cut that comes with it — is just one of the steps being taken to tighten operations and cut over $15 million in their ongoing discretionary budget.

Sunday Parkways and Neighborhood Greenways are also slated for significant cuts and 27 current PBOT employees will lose their jobs (most of the positions are labor/maintenance workers).

As we’ve been reporting for months, PBOT faces an unprecedented budget crisis and Options is just one casualty of several major reforms being carried out by bureau director Tom Miller.

“We reluctantly support the adoption of this proposed budget – though we do agonize over its outcomes.”
— Letter from PBOT Budget Advisory Committee

The elimination of the Options division is coupled with a 25 percent reduction in the SmartTrips marketing program that aims to reduce drive-alone trips (it will now reach 6,000 fewer Portland households), and the elimination of 2.5 positions (1 program manager and 1.5 “transportation demand management” specialist positions).
PBOT will still do the major programs Options was responsible for, but they’ll happen with fewer staff and funding resources and they’ll happen under the new Active Transportation umbrella (which will be managed by Dan Bower, a veteran and solid PBOT staffer who understands the importance of bicycling).

PBOT’s requested budget also includes cuts in Sunday Parkways. PBOT plans to reduce the City’s investment in Sunday Parkways by $50,000 to a total of $120,000 — that’s a 38 percent decrease over last year. The five events planned for this year will cost $494,000. To make up the difference, Parkways organizers will have to rely on more private sponsorships than ever. But, according to an ominous note in the budget document, more private support might not be enough to keep the program going at its current level:

“If a greater percentage of program costs are either not available for reduction (e.g. police overtime), or picked up by private contributors, a size or scope reduction maybe necessary for the Summer 2013 program year for Sunday Parkways.”

PBOT’s vaunted Neighborhood Greenways program also didn’t survive unscathed. PBOT will cut the program to the tune of $150,000 a year. That cut amounts to a reduction of 1.5 miles of new bike boulevards each year.

But wait, there’s more.

Other cuts that will impact bicycling conditions throughout the city include a $50,000 cut in bike lane cleaning. PBOT will reduce scheduled bike lane cleaning services from 600 to 420 miles per year (and will rely citizen complaints even more than they do now). If you rely ride on the shoulders of arterial streets that don’t have bike lanes (like Sandy Blvd), PBOT is slashing the cleaning budget on those streets by $300,000.

And, for those of you that sometimes rely on sidewalks to get around the neighborhood, you’ll notice fewer ADA curb ramps being installed. To save $1,000,000, PBOT will construct 300 fewer curb ramps than they did last year (from 700 to 400 per year) and they’ll lay off six crew members.

These cuts are not pretty; but things listed above are minor when compared to the 27 current PBOT employees to who be laid-off and the ongoing uncertainty and transportation funding crisis that still looms.

In response to the bureau’s official budget request, the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee (which is made up of citizen and labor union representatives and advocates — including a rep from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) issued a letter to Mayor Adams and City Commissioners. The BAC supports the budget (except labor reps who did not sign on to the letter due to the job cuts), but does so with strong reservations. Their main critique reflects on a directive by Mayor Adams set at the outset of budget talks: That no ideas for new revenue would be entertained.

“If council is unwilling to entertain new revenue to aid PBOT,” the BAC letter reads, “we reluctantly support the adoption of this proposed budget – though we do agonize over its outcomes.”

— The budget process is far from over. The Mayor takes each bureau’s request and folds them into his own budget. There are community budget forums planned for March and you can share your feedback online.

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  • Patrick Croasdaile February 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    This is sad news. I’m sorry to hear that so many people are losing their jobs.

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  • Alexis February 17, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    That is a true bummer about Options. I know virtually all areas are being hit, but managing transportation demand is one of the key ways to save money overall, for the bureau and for Portlanders, and cutting back on programs to do that (especially such well-liked/popular ones as SmartTrips and Sunday Parkways) seems like a money- and goodwill-losing strategy in the long run. I hope that the new group will be able to support both planning and programs to continue working on mode shift over time.

    Bummer on the bike and curb cutbacks too. I don’t see how we can have the 2030 Bike Plan and contrast it with these cuts plus the larger funding picture, and still not be talking about new revenue yet.

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  • 9watts February 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    I’d love to know what Portland’s ‘share’ of the $330 million (we learned about here yesterday) that are earmarked for dealing with distracted driving is, and how that $-amount compares with some of the constructive programs being cut here.
    Eliminating ‘Options’ doesn’t just hurt certain groups disproportionately, it is also rhetorically dubious.

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  • Tigue February 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I’ve always wondered why they don’t use open market bidding for professional flagging (traffic control) services instead of what they are paying for police overtime on the Sunday Parkways. Unless they are constrained by a union contract it might very well save some money with out jeopardizing the safety of the event.

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  • kiel johnson
    kiel johnson February 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    there will always be a transportation options in my heart

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  • Gregg February 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    This is really too bad. Transportation Options makes Portland Portland.

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  • J-R February 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I’ve not been very impressed with the provable accomplishments of the Transportation Options group. I’ve read some of their reports and methodology for claimed benefits and I am very skeptical.

    I enjoy Sunday Parkways, but at $100,000 per event, it’s pretty expensive on a per participant basis. It’s $3 per person if you believe their figures, which I think are greatly overestimated.

    I’m more disturbed about the reductions in maintenance. Lest I be accused of being pro-auto, I do have a solution that I have long and publicly advocated – a much higher gas tax. That way we would not be forced into these false choices.

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    • Joseph E February 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      ” It’s $3 per person if you believe their figures, which I think are greatly overestimated.”

      Been to McDonalds, or Starbucks lately? How much can you buy for $3? How about the Zoo, or OMSI? I wonder how much the libraries cost per user visit? I know that Trimet costs $3 in subsidy for an average bus or train trip.

      At $3 a person, this was probably one of the more cost-effective family activities in the city.

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  • Steve B February 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    This is freaking awful. Are we really OK with firing 27 maintenance workers? I’m not.

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  • Kevin Wagoner February 17, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Really we have to cut ADA curb ramps? That is sad, couldn’t we cut something else?

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    • 9watts February 17, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      Sorry, there’s just no money.
      The money’s going to deal with/mitigate?/study? distracted driving, don’t you know.

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  • Rebecca February 17, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    “…a directive by Mayor Adams set at the outset of budget talks: That no ideas for new revenue would be entertained.”

    There are plenty of potential revenue sources that could have helped fill this shortfall and saved a few jobs here.

    But somebody’s planning on running for a higher office and didn’t want to close out his term on a political down note.

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  • captainkarma February 18, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Cut, cut, cut. The Ghost Of Christmas Future under a hypothetical libertarian future. As for Sunday Parkways, cut back to only a couple, but make ’em combined like NW-SW, SE-NE, or NE-NW, SE-SW.

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  • Dan February 18, 2012 at 8:24 am

    As a side-note, they are being laid-off, not fired; as union jobs with “bumping” rights, some of those laid-off can move into other positions in the city, and some may be absorbed by retirements leaving unfilled positions (which management will cut in the next budget year, never to return). The City does have significant finamcial reserves, it just doesn’t want to dip into them to protect family-wage jobs. When the infrastructure collapses, expect a refrain about how PERS and the unions drove us into a hole…

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    • random_rider February 20, 2012 at 9:53 am

      My understanding is that this number reflects the number of people who are currently working but will lose their jobs; the number of position cuts that reflects retirements and other vacancies is quite a bit higher.

      And you’re right- union jobs do have bumping rights into other bureaus in the City, which means that they wind up working jobs that could be significantly different than what they’re trained to do while the people they replace with lower tenure wind up out of work.

      Bottom line, over 2 dozen people are going to be laid off from PBOT. Other city bureaus are going through their budgeting processes and could be making cuts of their own.

      I find it frustrating that the City is willing to accept putting so many people out of work while cutting back on a number of essential functions, including an enormous backlog of already deferred maintenance, while refusing to consider any new sources of revenue. I suppose they are reflecting the perceived political reality that additional fees or taxes would be impossible to implement.

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  • Dan February 18, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Sorry, that should be financial reserves…

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson February 18, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    If the heart of Portland’s transportation strategy has been reduced auto trips, then Transportation Options should have been at the heart of the City’s Bureau of Transportation, not a step child who’s now being turned out. But some of this is a name change: Active Transportation (getting around by bike, walk, transit) is the new name for Transportation Options.
    And we need to push PBOT, ODOT and the feds to make “Active Transportation” a part of every infrastructure project.

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  • mh February 19, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    I do not understand the “no new revenue” stance. It’s right up there with extending the (federal) payroll tax cut. I’m one of the lucky ones – I’ve still got a job and while it certainly doesn’t pay much, I don’t NEED a raise that cuts into needed services. Institute a local income tax and keep the gravel and debris off my route to work. I’ll be a much more productive taxpayer if I don’t wipe out under the wheels of a truck.

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  • BURR February 20, 2012 at 11:14 am

    expanding metered parking to business districts outside of downtown is a no-brainer to raise more money.

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    • k. February 21, 2012 at 11:20 am

      I believe that’s in the works, for several districts.

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    • jim February 25, 2012 at 10:20 am

      Thats how you kill business. Can you imagine how many shoppers would be downtown if there was free parking?

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