1. They’re Listening to Everything You Say
Portland’s TriMet has acquired new buses that automatically record rider conversations. It wasn’t something the agency particularly wanted; it just “came standard with the new buses,” says a spokesperson.
Under Oregon law, unless you obtain a warrant, you can’t record a conversation without the permission of all parties. Not to worry; TriMet’s buses are posted with signs warning “Security cameras with audio on board.” Apparently, TriMet considers that anyone who boards automatically consents to be recorded.
2. You’ll Make Their Lawyers Rich
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority revealed that it has paid 84 victims of the 2009 crash that killed nine people and injured dozens more a total of $1.6 million–an average of $19,000 each. At the same time, it paid its attorneys $7.5 million in fees to deal with lawsuits stemming from the crash that resulted from its own inadequate maintenance.
So if you plan to ride transit tomorrow, particularly if it is a train that is suffering from deferred maintenance, you can sleep easy tonight knowing that, if your train crashes, the families of your transit agency’s attorneys will be well cared for as a result of any injury you receive that is due to the agency’s negligence.
3. Your Transit Agency is Nearly Broke
After making severe service cuts last year, TriMet says its fiscal health is so poor that it will have to cut transit service by another 70 percent by 2025. TriMet’s general manager blames the unions for the problem, saying that their health care plans are bankrupting the agency. According to TriMet’s 2012 financial statement, 100 percent of the agency’s health care obligations and about a third of its pension obligations are unfunded (pp. 29, 43). (The union has a web site responding to TriMet’s arguments.)
The Antiplanner doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for unionized bus drivers who earn more than $100,000 a year. On the other hand, it takes two parties to agree to a contract. TriMet agreed to this pension and health care plan in 1994 knowing that it wouldn’t be funded (the board chair at the time resigned in protest over the contract).
Even knowing that it would have a hard time funding its contractual obligations, TriMet decided to spend $964 million on a light-rail line to Hillsboro. Then it spent $120 million on a light-rail line to the Portland Airport, $166 million on a commuter-rail line that so few people ride that it would be less expensive to give each daily round-trip rider a new Toyota Prius every other year, $350 million on a light-rail line to the Washington border (where it hopes Vancouver will come up with a billion or so more to cross the state line), and $575 million on a light-rail line to Clackamas.
Now it is spending $1.5 billion on a light-rail line that few people are expected to ride and that Portland-area voters rejected in 1998. After adjusting for inflation to today’s dollars, this amounts to more than $4 billion on rail lines that TriMet will have to maintain at a much higher cost than if it had simply run bus-rapid transit over these routes.
TriMet says this is irrelevant because the money it spends building rail lines comes from an entirely different account than the money used to pay for its pension and health care obligations. That’s not very persuasive. An agency that can’t plan ahead to meet its contractual obligations can’t be counted on to plan ahead to fund its future maintenance obligations either.
And it’s probably not a good idea to talk about these things when you are on board the train or bus. Remember, they are listening to everything you say.