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Portland is a PR machine for light rail & streetcar

Here are Some Facts About Portland Oregon          

“It must always be remembered how cost-effectiveness works in the public sector: the cost IS the benefit.” - author unknown

Years ago, some Portlander's obtained the details on how Tri-Met allocated costs between Bus and Light Rail. Among the documented (not well hidden) details we found:

1) The fare inspection program was allocated to overhead despite the fact that it was about 95% for Rail.

2) Similarly, the security cost (now a separate Transit Police force) was allocated to overhead despite the fact that it was about mostly for Rail.

3) The insurance cost was allocated to overhead despite the fact that it was mostly for Rail (in CA this is broken out by mode, showing the far higher insurance cost for expensive & fragile Rail equipoment).

4) The entire park-and-ride cost was was allocated to Bus, despite the fact that it was used far more intensely for Rail.

5) There was no accounting under Rail for the MAX feeder bus routes, routes almost entirely used for Rail access & the biggest losers (many with FRR under 5%) in the Tri-Met system. The cost of these MAX feeder bus routes was assigned all to Bus.

6) There was no accounting for the cost of marketing -- not just advertising but staff propagandizing, property tax abatements, use of Federal funds to build housing in "Light Rail Zones". Much of this cost is not within Tri-Met but in the City of Portland, State of Oregon, & other local agencies in the Portland area. Marketing by Tri-Met, as anyone with their ears open here, has been about 90% rail-oriented since 1984.

7) The Bus costs and revenues were distorted to downplay the high FFR on express bus routes.This was done by assuming that revenues per rider were the same for all routes. In reality suburban express routes pay a higher Zone 3 fare & have far fewer passengers using those elderly, handicapped, & student passes (prevalent on inner city Zone 1 &Zone 2 trips). Also, they assumed costs per hour or mile were the same. This is not widely amiss except that express routes tend to be less expensive because they make far fewer stops, get better fuel mileage, & operate in smoother traffic. The reason for this methodology is clear: they did not want people to see that express bus routes had a higher FRR than Light Rail. Such data has been available, by the way, from next-door CTRAN (Vancouver WA public transit) except that CTRAN has routinely told people this data does not exist (even to Vancouver City Council members). The CTRAN data, per WA state standards, is calculated correctly. Hence the need to keep it secret.

8) Apart from operational/maintenance costs, I might add that I have never seen any accounting for yet another huge but hidden cost of Light Rail: the FTA capital grants & state/local match funds used long after the system is built to redo stations, add stations, alter parking, add garages, replacing track to do utility work under the street, double-track, etc. Consultant studies routinely only look at initial capital costs of rail systems, comparing them to life cycle costs of buses & bus system components over a period of decades. What they leave out is that rail post-implementation capital costs are enormous (at least that's the Portland experience) & likely exceed most or all the alternative bus system cost.

Trimet's Strange Cost Allocations