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:
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.
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.