Month: September 2007

Pouring Good Money after Bad

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

For eighteen years we’ve heard that The Oregon Convention Center needs a headquarters hotel nearby to make it successful. The $90 million original facility never covered its costs. Voters turned down a property tax increase to fund an expansion, so the powers-that-be issued $116 million of municipal bonds to enlarge the building. Occupancy rates dropped and deficits continued. Now, the cost of a publicly funded headquarters hotel may exceed $244 million.

Last week the Metro government heard from supporters and opponents of the (more…)

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Flexible Transit? Lessons from Bend

Sreya SarkarCascade Commentary


A committee representing the three Central Oregon Counties has created a regional framework to address a more efficient, effective and equitable use of alternative transportation services. They conducted the region’s first comprehensive survey of alternative transportation services and discovered overwhelming support for transit services based on real market demand. (more…)

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Testimony before the Metro Council on Resolution No. 07-3868 authorizing creation of a finance plan for the development of a Convention Center Headquarters Hotel

Steve BucksteinPresident Bragdon and members of the council, for the record my name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute in Portland. I’m here to oppose this resolution.

Originally, we built the Oregon Convention Center thinking it would encourage everyone to come to Portland and spend lots of money eating and shopping when they weren’t attending conventions.

But the same idea occurred to people in other cities, and it sparked an ambitious municipal competition that is still going strong.

When our original $90 million center didn’t generate the expected revenue, we spent another (more…)

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The “Perfect Logic” of Taxing Smokers

Steve BucksteinCascade Commentary


Measure 50 on the November ballot would lock a tobacco tax into the state Constitution to provide health insurance to low-income children. But once the Healthy Kids Plan is in place, it may make no difference whether enough tobacco tax money exists to fund the program or not. Any shortfalls will lead to cries for other funding sources for a program that by then will be embedded in Oregon’s bureaucratic infrastructure. (more…)

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New Pilot Study Initiative Aims to Increase the Mobility of Low-Income Workers in Portland through Auto Ownership


Contact: Sreya Sarkar
Tel.: 503-242-0900
Fax: 503-242-3822
E-mail: Sreya Sarkar

Cascade Policy Institute has released a report unveiling a pilot project to examine the feasibility of promoting low-income auto ownership as a transit strategy. (more…)

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Why Things Seem to Go on in One Direction

Matt WingardQuickPoint!

Democracy is not an excuse for tyranny. It must be more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

As a voter, consider whether it’s ethical to take property away from other people simply because you can out-vote them.

There are only two kinds of politicians: those who promise to use the power of government to give you something, and those who (more…)

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Wheels to Wealth: A Pilot Project to Examine the Feasibility of Promoting Low-Income Auto Ownership as a Transit Strategy


Wheels to Wealth is a proposal with a dual purpose: First, to form a committee to discuss the transportation needs of the “working poor” population in the Portland tri-county area. Second, to explore the feasibility of canceling TriMet’s lowest performing bus routes, and using a part of the financial savings to create a revolving loan fund to help finance car ownership among low-income workers in the tri-county area. If implemented (through a 3rd-party social service agency), this proposal would improve the mobility options of low-income households and workers who are not served totally by fixed bus routes. The auto loan program also would increase employment opportunities for its participants, thereby helping to raise their incomes. It is likely to increase TriMet’s total ridership, improve the fuel economy of the bus fleet, and raise TriMet’s fare box recovery ratio.


The growing “working poor” population in Portland has complex transportation needs that are not addressed sufficiently by the fixed route model of public transit.

TriMet recovers approximately 21% of its operating costs from passenger fares. This low fare box recovery ratio places constant pressure on the agency to cancel the lowest-performing routes, where subsidies can be $12 or more per trip (such as the Cedar Mill Shuttle, 84-Kelso-Boring, 39-Lewis & Clark and 27-Market routes), compared with the fleet average subsidy of $2.58 per trip.

Adopting a subsidized car ownership strategy could be a cost-effective and efficient way of replacing these underperforming routes while mobilizing low-income workers in Portland. If implemented properly, such a program could have many benefits for the general public, TriMet and its customers.

Benefits for customers

  • Studies show that for low-income and minority households, auto ownership is positively correlated with improved access to jobs, higher household incomes and more weeks worked per year. Thus, improving the car ownership rate among these populations is likely to make them more financially secure.
  • Auto ownership helps welfare recipients move permanently into the workforce.
  • Auto ownership dramatically improves the mobility options of the “working poor” and increases their access to regional public transportation.

Benefits for TriMet

  • Subsidized car ownership can help improve TriMet’s bottom line by allowing the agency to eliminate its lowest-performing (highest-subsidized) bus routes, thereby freeing up capital to be redeployed in areas where consumer demand is greater.
  • TriMet is dependent on private car ownership for the so-called “last mile” of service from the transit stop to the customer’s front door. If TriMet helps some of its lowest-income bus riders become car owners, many of them may continue to be transit riders by driving to TriMet parking lots and using the train to commute to jobs that were previously unavailable to them.

Benefits for the General Public

  • Most of the money saved by TriMet from canceling low-performing routes can be reinvested in parts of the district where customer demand is greater. This will provide better service for more people.
  • Energy consumption for the average automobile trip in America is now less than for the average transit bus trip (3,549 BTU per passenger-mile by car, versus 4,160 for a bus transit trip). Canceling low-performing routes that consume a lot of energy will improve the overall transportation fuel economy for the region, lowering emissions and saving money.

Concerns about Traffic Congestion

  • Many low-income transit passengers work at jobs that either have odd shifts (e.g., starting at midnight) or involve “reverse commutes” where road capacity is not a problem. Converting a few hundred of these weekly trips from bus to auto will have no effect on congestion in the region.


While it may seem counterintuitive to think of subsidized car ownership as a “transit strategy,” it is clear that testing this concept would have benefits for TriMet, its transit-dependent riders and the general public. Cascade urges TriMet to partner with Metro, the DEQ and other stakeholders to explore the feasibility of testing the idea on several of its lowest-performing bus routes over a three-year period.

—> View full PDF document

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Pilot study initiative to explore the transportation needs of the low-income population in the Portland tri-county area

Sreya SarkarInitiative Proposal

To initiate a pilot study for three years, to explore the possibility of including car-ownership as part of the transportation choices offered to the low-income and minority population in the tricounty area. (more…)

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How to Increase Low-Income Homeownership Without Subsidies

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

A recent study published by the Urban Institute discusses how the current system of low-income housing assistance is strongly biased against homeownership for low-income households.

An interesting section of the study explains why programs that subsidize the (more…)

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Response to TriMet comments on Cascade’s pilot project proposal


We appreciated the time allocated by TPAC recently to consider our proposal. We would like to respond to the specific points made by Phil Selinger in his August 31, 2007 memo. (more…)

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How happy are we?

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

Economists measure all kinds of things, such as income, assets, inflation and unemployment. Hard data gives us an objective view of our economic world.

Now, some social scientists are trying to go beyond hard data to measure more subjective factors, such as what makes us happy.

Americans might be particularly interested in this research, since (more…)

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Oregon Wears the Union Label

Steve BucksteinCascade Commentary


Private sector unionism has declined to the point of irrelevance in America, while public sector unionism grows ever stronger. In Oregon, over 50 percent of public employees are unionized, much higher than the national average. Without competitive market restraint, this trend bodes ill for Oregon taxpayers. (more…)

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