Last week Cascade released a report encouraging cities and counties to consider leaving TriMet due to its financial mismanagement.

TriMet has long admitted that its labor costs are unsustainable. In addition, the agency’s addiction to costly rail construction has cannibalized bus service, which has been cut by 14% in the past five years.

Comparison with other local transit districts paints a stark picture. The cost per mile of operation for the TriMet commuter rail line is $43.74. TriMet’s flagship service, light rail, costs $11.96 per mile. Yet, the small city of Sandy runs its own bus service for $2.57 per mile.

TriMet predicts that additional service cuts will be required by 2017 and every year thereafter to balance the budget, which essentially would shut down the agency by 2025. TriMet’s only strategy has been to seek contract concessions from the bargaining unit representing most workers, but this is unlikely to succeed. The ongoing PERS crisis shows that once management agrees to expensive fringe benefits for unionized workers, it’s almost impossible to reduce them later.

TriMet is in a death spiral of its own making. Local jurisdictions might be hoping for the best, but they should plan for the worst. Leaving TriMet is an option that needs to be on the table.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. 


2 Responses to “As TriMet Sinks, Should Portland Suburbs Go Down With the Ship?”

  1. Jared January 17, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Tri-Met and others act like buses are so bad, but the problem with rail lines is that they can only go certain place, and where they are chosen to go is critical. Thus, people who are forced to use public transit do not have a choice about where to go. I ride the MAX nearly daily, and often there are mishaps, but the train cannot reroute, and it’s a logistical nightmare. Buses can reroute, and they do not require such expensive infrustructure. It’s a shame that buses get stigmatized by ignorant people who probably don’t even take public transit.

    Additionally, the behavior on the MAX can be quite bad, especially east of the Gateway/99th transit stop.

  2. Bob Clark January 18, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    I wonder if TriMet’s managers haven’t actually nefariously adopted a “Too-Big-to-Fail” strategy so as to get a mega-sized State bailout.

Leave a Reply


Other Publications by John

Oregon Scraping Bottom in State Integrity Rankings

John Charles | November 11, 2015
This week the Center for Public Integrity released a report grading the 50 states on governance. The metrics used to measure integrity included the categories ...  read more

Portland Worries About Homelessness, While Metro Makes Housing Less Affordable

John Charles | October 28, 2015
The Portland City Council has decided to allocate $20 million to solve a perceived crisis with “homelessness” and another $67 million to subsidize “affordable housing.” ...  read more

Is TriMet Better Off Than Greece?

John Charles | October 7, 2015
Syndicated financial writer Malcolm Berko recently advised a small investor to stay away from Greek bonds or securities. He wrote, “Greece has morphed into a ...  read more

More On These Topics

The Jayne Carroll Show Interviews Jared Meyer on Washington's Betrayal of America's Young People

Cascade Policy Institute | October 23, 2015
Guest host Aaron Stevens interviewed the Manhattan Institute’s Jared Meyer on The Jayne Carroll Show (1360 AM KUIK) on October 21. In this 8-minute interview, ...  read more

Mysteries of Tilikum Crossing

John Charles | September 24, 2015
Portland’s newest bridge over the Willamette River, Tilikum Crossing, has a few puzzling design features. Apparently, a barrier down the middle of the bridge means ...  read more

Tilikum Crossing: More Punishment for Motorists

John Charles | September 16, 2015
The new bridge over the Willamette River, TriMet’s Tilikum Crossing, opened for business on Saturday. With beautiful weather and parties at every stop of the ...  read more