Portland transit follies are increasingly scrutinized by the local media, something that should have happened years ago when there was still a chance of stopping projects such as the $1.5 billion boondoggle low-capacity rail line to Milwaukie. (The video below shows why it is such a boondoggle.)
Joseph Rose, the superreporter who can walk faster than a speeding streetcar, has found that the fare machines for Portland’s low-capacity rail lines are in service a lot less than the agency claims. Some are down more than 35 percent of the time. Since they give out $175 tickets to people who don’t pay their fare, this can be distressing.
To make matters worse, Rose even more recently learned that the fare machines have been freezing transit riders’ credit or debit cards after they use them in the fare machines. For more than five years, 2,500 people a month would buy a ticket in the machine, and the next time they would use their card, it would be denied. Some people went through this over and over again. What a way to make friends with your customers!
Then there’s the case of the tiny surge protector that blew out and shut down most of Portland’s low-capacity rail lines for 12 hours. Portland opened its first low-capacity rail line 27 years ago and most of the hardware is supposed to last 30 years; perhaps Portland’s maintenance problems are starting a few years early.
Meanwhile, TriMet is pretending to negotiate a new contract with reduced benefits for its employees, without which it says it will have to cut service by 70 percent. But, Rose observes, five months after the negotiations were supposed to begin, they are still debating the shape of the bargaining table.
Interestingly, Rose seems to have fallen in love with the word “double-decker,” as in “lies, double-decker lies, and TriMet statistics” or “the double-decker, queen mother of reasons.” I hope he is reminding everyone that double-decker buses, which the Antiplanner has promoted for a couple of years, can do a far better job of moving people than streetcars or low-capacity rail lines.
Finally, United Streetcar–the federally subsidized Oregon company that is making $2 million streetcars and selling the for $4 million because they are “made in America”–delivered a streetcar to Portland for use on the new east side streetcar line. The line opened last year but has been running a crippled schedule because the streetcars promised by United Streetcar are so late and most have yet to materialize. Portland proudly observes that the east side line is “the most expensive streetcar expansion in U.S. history.”
People in Tucson are not so happy. In fact, they are as mad as transit riders waiting for a late streetcar in the hot sun because the streetcars United promised to it in March are now not expected until August. They’ll be lucky if they get a streetcar five months late. Portland’s cars were not only years late, but United arbitrarily decided it would deliver only five cars for the contracted price of six.
Like Portland, Tucson is not only paying United for the streetcars but has been forced to pay a consultant millions of dollars to oversee United’s work. Washington DC has also been caught in the United streetcar scam.
When United Streetcar president Chandra Brown announced that the company was only going to give Portland five streetcars for the price of six, she gushed, “You’re not getting less. I actually think you’re getting more.” For delivering crippled streetcars late or not at all, Brown was recently rewarded with a cushy federal job. Good job, Chandra!