A Streetcar Named Liar

Everything you’ve heard from the city of Portland about its streetcar lines is a lie. That seems to be the conclusion of the latest review of the operation by the city of Portland’s own city auditor.

Portland Streetcar, the private organization contracted to run the streetcar for the city, claims to have met the city’s on-time goals. The audit finds that it hasn’t. Portland Streetcar claims to have increased ridership by 500,000 riders in fiscal year 2014. The audit finds that that Portland Streetcar overstated ridership by 19 percent and actually ridership was 1.1 million trips less than claimed.

The auditor is also unimpressed by claims that the streetcar has generated billions of dollars worth of economic development. “Based on studies [Portland Bureau of Transportation] provided to us,” says the audit, “we conclude this research has yet to describe a causal relationship of how streetcars may affect economic development.” In other words, it’s just another fabrication.

This audit follows up on another review earlier this year in which the auditor concluded that the supposed public-private partnership imposes all risks on the public and no responsibility on the private partner. What else should we expect when Portland Streetcar is less a business and more of a revolving door for left-wing politicians and city bureaucrats? The latest audit points out that the streetcar maintenance facility, which is supposed to be run by Portland Streetcar, is staffed by 51 people from TriMet, 16 from Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, and all of 3 from Portland Streetcar.

There’s one good thing about the streetcar, at least if you are a Portland auto driver annoyed by the city’s aggressive cyclists. More than two-thirds of Portland cyclists surveyed in 2008 said they’ve crashed on the streetcar tracks. There’s an engineering fix–putting rubber flaps on the rails that are flexible enough for the streetcars to push out of the way but too stiff for bicycles to sink into. But Portland Streetcar doesn’t want to install them because it’s too expensive and they’d have to replace them every two or three years.

As a cyclist myself, I’m not too impressed by this argument. Considering that the 2013 American Community Survey found that more than 18,000 workers living in the city of Portland bicycle to work while only 7,800 take some form of rail transit–including both streetcars and light rail–it seems like the city has its priorities exactly backwards. I hope officials from other cities who look to Portland as a model for transportation planning take the time to read these audits.

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3 thoughts on “A Streetcar Named Liar

  1. Frank

    What? Government lies? Get out of town.

    What? Planners lie about streetcars? You mean lies like Amazon paid for half of Seattle’s streetcar? Get out of town.

  2. paul

    There is potential for anyone to lie. The financial services industry lies, major engineering companies lie on estimated costs of construction, etc. We need a free press with investigative journalism to keep exposing these lies. Unfortunately investigative journalism and fact checking has been cut back at major news organizations even as the internet has proliferated.

    I am also constantly annoyed by emails sent to me by friends and relatives with many different political positions that a quick check on the internet at web sites such as Snopes is proven false. This is where investigative journalism is especially important to expose lies.

  3. the highwayman

    O’Toole lies most of the time.

    You want to rail to be profitable, mean while you don’t expect roads to exist on a profit or loss basis. :$

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