Measure 26-119

AKA the TriMet bond measure.

And just to drive this point home:
I do not speak for TriMet. I do not represent rail operators, bus operators,  or any other TriMet employees. I speak for me. I am not now, nor have I ever been, an official spokesperson of TriMet. This has its disadvantages (in that this blog is for entertainment purposes only and should not be interpreted as official TriMet information in any capacity) but also its advantages, such as the fact that I can speak my opinions of TriMet as I see fit.

To that extent, I have been giving this bond measure a lot of thought and I have some issues with it.

What, exactly are we voting on?

Why doesn’t TriMet list the text of the measure on either trimet.org or the Yes for Transit campaign site? This just seems like such a basic thing that should be included. Don’t give me photographs of buses or senior citizens riding those buses, I’m not voting on pictures. Pictures wouldn’t be passed into law. I am voting on the text of the measure, and that’s not being provided but that’s the part that would be passed into law.

For that matter, why is the text of the measure difficult to find at all? A lot of people & news sites are talking about it, but few list the full text of what we’re actually voting on. So here, for convenience (courtesy of Multnomah County) is the measure:

TRIMET

26-119 Authorize bonds to improve transit, particularly for elderly and disabled.
Question: Shall TriMet issue $125 million bonds to improve transit services and access for elderly riders and people with disabilities?
If bonds are approved, they will be payable from taxes on property of property ownership that are not subject to the limits of Section 11 and 11b, Article XI of the Oregon Constitution.
Summary: In 1990, voters approved a $125 million TriMet bond measure. Those bonds will be retired in 2012. If approved, the estimated levy rate for the new bonds is not expected to exceed the levy rate for the old bonds and remain at approximately 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The bonds may be issued in multiple series; each series will mature in 21 years or less.
Proceeds from the bonds will be used to fund improvements to transit services, including projects that make transit more accessible for elderly and people with disabilities, such as:
• Improving safety and security at bus stops and shelters used by elderly and disabled riders.
• Replacing 20+ year old and high stair buses, which are more difficult for some riders to get on and off, with low floor buses.
• Updating technology for LIFT vans that would make service more efficient and reduce waiting times for elderly and people with disabilities.
TriMet will provide an independent financial audit and a citizens’ oversight committee will monitor expenditures.

Improve transit?

Well that’s… vague.

Please don’t get me wrong, I believe 100% that those older buses desperately need to be replaced and that there are way too many bus stops that are poorly accessible and need improvement. But nothing in the text of this measure promises that if it passes, all the money from the bond measure is going to go to ensure these problems are fixed. In fact, it pretty much says that the money is going to go to improving accessibility, but also other stuff.

Proceeds from the bonds will be used to fund improvements to transit services, including projects that make transit more accessible for elderly and people with disabilities”

I’m visualizing that like this:

Not drawn to scale, because I’m wondering, what is the scale? The text of the measure tells me that among the projects to improve transit should this measure pass are projects to improve transit for the elderly/people with disabilities. But it doesn’t answer the following questions:

1. How much of this bond measure will be dedicated to that purpose? (the green circle)

2. How much of the bond measure will be dedicated to other transit improvements? (the blue circle)

3. What are those other transit improvements?

EDIT: See comments of this post for responses to these questions courtesy of Josh Collins.

Maybe I’m just getting too cynical in my old age, but if I’m voting on something, I think it’s reasonable to expect that the answers to those questions would be clearly laid out. Because if I’m reading this right, it’s possible that $124,999,999 will go to new buses, stops, and LIFT service, and a dollar goes to other transit improvements.  Or on the flip side,  30 bucks could be put in a jar dedicated to buying new buses, update bus stops and improve LIFT service with the rest of the money going into other transit improvements, and that would fall under the letter of the law of the measure as it’s written. There’s a lot of room for swing either way.

And yes, continuing my cynical line of thought, I have to wonder if Milwaukie rail falls under the category of “transit improvement”.  We are still about $28 million short, and I don’t see anything in the measure that says the bond can’t be used for Milwaukie – TriMet’s website on the measure says that the money cannot be used to restore service, it could be used for capital expenditures only, and as far as I know Milwaukie falls under that umbrella. If Milwaukie is considered a transit improvement, then could the bond be used for that?

I’ll be honest, I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to vote on this measure. If all of the proceeds were going to replace the older buses and fix the bus stops, I’d vote yes in a heartbeat – too many operators get heat-related sickness from driving those old buses which is unhealthy for the passengers too, and those buses are not easy to board for people with mobility devices. And operators and passengers are getting injured trying to exit a bus at a stop where the ground isn’t safe for a person in a wheelchair to leave the bus. These are very real problems that TriMet needs to address regardless of whether or not the bond measure passes.

On the other hand, there have been (non-TriMet) measures in the past that I may have agreed with on principle, but voted against because the wording of the measure was ambiguous enough that what the campaign for the measure promised would not necessarily be what would happen if it passed. I suppose it comes down to how much I trust TriMet to direct this money to the elderly and disabled.

If I’m wrong in how I’m interpreting any of this, please by all means point out what I got wrong. I haven’t voted yet and would appreciate insight if I’m incorrect.

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13 responses to “Measure 26-119

  1. Here is some factual information about the measure. I am providing facts only, not suggesting that you vote one way or another.

    Josh Collins
    TriMet Operations

    —————-

    Measure Overview

    TriMet is seeking voter approval to issue $125 million in general obligation bonds for capital improvements related to operation of its fixed route bus service and LIFT service. New buses and LIFT vehicles will be purchased as well as improvements to bus stops. All expenditures of bond proceeds will be intended to make it easier for elderly and disabled riders and to use the system and to improve safety for all riders.

    Replacement of buses is typically a scheduled replacement item in the regular General Fund Budget. However, reductions in resources, particularly the employer payroll tax, have made it increasingly difficult for TriMet to budget replacement items in the regular budget. The bond measure will also allow the district to replace a large number of buses that are over 19 years old and, according to TriMet, “well beyond retirement age.”

    The Ballot Title and supporting material detail the following projects that will be funded from bond proceeds if the measure passes:

    • Replacement of at least 150 new buses. Older “high floor” buses, all over 19 years old, are not as easy for elderly and disabled passengers to use as new buses. TriMet will purchase at least 150 new buses that have low floors, making access and egress easier and more efficient. The new buses will also have automated stop announcements for the visually and hearing impaired and air conditioning. The new buses will be purchased in three orders. Buses will arrive starting in late 2011 with the final delivery scheduled for early 2013. Each new bus cost approximately $440,000. TriMet has factored in a three month delay between deliveries. New buses are less costly to maintain ($0.40 per mile versus $1.00 per mile) for parts and labor. Buses that more easily accommodate elderly and disabled passengers are also anticipated to allow more people to use bus service rather than the more expensive LIFT service. Operating costs for a bus ride is $2.75 while a LIFT service ride is $29. As the population of TriMet’s service territory ages the agency is adapting to better serve this segment of the population.

    • Replacement of up to 100 LIFT buses. LIFT buses provide “door-to-door” service for passengers who are unable, due to physical limitations, to access regular bus service. Efforts were initiated with the 2009-10 fiscal year budget to better manage which passengers are eligible to use LIFT service. Many of the LIFT buses are beyond the useful life. The fleet of vehicles will be replaced and expanded. The cost of one vehicle is approximately $85,000-$90,000 and the purchases will be spread out over a three year period. Three separate orders will be used with delivery expected in the fourth quarter of 2011, 2012, and 2013.

    • New LIFT Radio and Dispatch System. LIFT service is available on an on-call basis with buses dispatched as needed. A new radio and dispatch system will improve reliability of the system. Bond proceeds will also be used to provide mobile data terminals, similar to what is used in emergency vehicles, in each bus to facilitate dispatch communications and reduce waiting times for passengers. The system has been designed and a contract was awarded in July 2010. Completion of the project is expected in June 2012.

    • Enhancement to up to 300 Transit Stops. TriMet’s system utilizes over 7,000 transit stops throughout its system. Many of these are at locations that do not have sidewalks, curb cuts for wheelchairs, shelters, pedestrian crossings, lighting, and/or customer information. Bond proceeds will be used to upgrade up to 300 of these stops to make them safer and easier to use for elderly and disabled passengers. Locations selected for upgrades will be based on proximity to senior citizen services and housing, areas with high demand for LIFT service, stops that historically have high numbers of wheelchair ramp/lift deployments and routes where one end is accessible but the other end is not. While TriMet has identified and prioritized stops to be upgraded, final design on each project will be required. This could include construction permits from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) within existing rights-of-way or, in a limited number of cases, negotiations to acquire additional rights-of-way. Design and construction of each of the 300 transit stops to be upgraded will take three to 12 months. Matching funds will be sought from local jurisdictions of up to $7.5 million to widen the scope of improvements to be accomplished.

    According to information provided by TriMet an approximate breakdown of how the $125 million will be spent is as follows:

    Approximate Cost

    Replacement of at least 150 high floor buses: $90,000,000

    Replacement of 100 LIFT buses: $9,000,000

    LIFT Radio and Dispatch System: $4,000,000

    Enhancement of up to 300 bus stops: $21,000,000

    Issuance costs, project management, overhead: $315,000

    Contingency: $685,000

    Total: $125,000,000

    • That’s very helpful – thank you for posting it.

    • While I’m sure this is the official TriMet funding facts, legally they could use this money for “Improvements to transit services.” That is it.

      Personally, if they decided to take $28 million out for the Milwaukie LRT my feelings wouldn’t be hurt. But if I see another series 16 bus out there I’ll scream! :-)

      • I am not a lawyer so I’m sure there are legal things here over my head – but this is the same thing that’s still bugging me about this issue. The wording of the bond measure doesn’t seem to make Josh’s comment of the projected purchases/timelines/costs what would definitely happen if it passed, because what’s in that comment isn’t in the measure. I still appreciate having a public posting of the project breakdown, but I’m not sure how legally binding that particular wording is.

  2. Also, because many of those bus and LIFT replacements would eventually have to happen with or without passage, TriMet says the cost of those purchases would also reduce future pressure on the general fund. That backfilled GF money could eventually be used for, you know, whatever.

    • Right.. and I’m not extremely familiar with the legal requirements of the ADA as far as bus stops go, but I did a little bit of quick Googling out of curiosity after seeing EMS’s post about the passenger in a wheelchair who nearly got hurt leaving her bus. If TriMet has stops that are not ADA compliant (and I think some of them are, but again, I’m not at all an expert in that area) then it would seem that whether or not this bond measure passes, they’re still on the hook for fixing those.

      The passing of the bond measure would be a good source of money for making those stops ADA compliant, so then I guess the next question is if the bond doesn’t pass, what would need to be cut to channel money towards fixing the stops? Does that have to come from the general fund or elsewhere?

      • Re: accessible bus stops

        Without a funding program, it is likely that it would take significantly longer to make accessibility improvements to those bus stops. There are many stops on the system that aren’t accessible for one reason or another (no sidewalks, waiting area, safe crossing, etc.). In these areas, riders who are elderly or who have disabilities are more than likely using LIFT service because they are unable to get to a fixed route bus.

        I think it would be accurate to say that if those stops weren’t made more accessible, it would mean that those customers would continue taking LIFT than transitioning to taking some trips on fixed route buses. While shifting riders from LIFT to fixed route has an obvious benefit to TriMet from a cost-per-ride aspect, it also provides riders with more options and control over their transportation.

        Josh Collins
        TriMet Operations

        • The presentation(s) I’ve seen said that the stop improvements wouldn’t happen.

          Ideally, TriMet shouldn’t have to do sidewalks as they should be a basic thing that everybody has the ability and dignity to use, not just transit riders. Overall, LIFT usage resulting from poor pedestrian environments is really a subsidy to poor development practices.

          • Well said, Jason!

          • This might be a stupid question, but what’s the difference between sidewalks and bus stops? I know in states that get a lot of snow the owners of property that the sidewalk goes through are legally required to keep the sidewalk clear, and if someone gets hurt because the sidewalk wasn’t clear they’re liable for it. Does that work the same way with TriMet where the areas around a bus stop don’t have to be ADA accessible because they’re not TriMet property, but the bus stops still have to be? Not that it’d really do someone in a wheelchair a lot of good if they can get off the bus onto a nice level bus stop but can’t go anywhere beyond that because there’s a ditch on either side of it. Where beyond the stop itself does TriMet’s responsibility end?

            • As far as I know, TriMet is responsible for the stops themselves as far as maintenance (repairs, cleaning, etc) but not the areas adjacent to the stops that aren’t considered TriMet property. I don’t know if that applies to ADA accessibility as well. I would assume at the very least TriMet is responsible for the accessibility of stops and platform areas onto or off of a TriMet vehicle, but is not necessarily responsible for how you get to the stop to wait for a vehicle, or how you leave the area after you get off the bus or train.

  3. Haha…..
    Funny discussion, vote yes anyway!
    It’s worth a shot isn’t it?.

  4. “While TriMet has identified and prioritized stops to be upgraded”

    Why has TriMet not publicized a list of stops to be upgraded?

    When TriMet goes all out with light rail projects, this information is available to the public well in advance.

    Today, we’re left wondering whether TriMet is going to allocate bus stop improvements system-wide, or are they all downtown, or all close to political favorites (i.e. are a bunch of bus stops near the Reedville Cafe going to be upgraded, but none in Tigard?)

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