As expected, the budget cuts TriMet's Board formally announced today are a doozy. A $17 million doozy.
Here's the basic rundown of the proposed major cuts and new revenue plans:
Two questions: Why is this all happening? And what are the details of the cuts, exactly? Both answers below the cut.
1) WHY, GOD, WHY?
Portland Afoot has a great breakdown of the worsening problems with TriMet's budget. It basically comes down to four things:
• TriMet is substantially funded by payroll taxes. That's good during boom times but when the economy goes bust—right when people need cheap transit most—TriMet's budget gets busted, too. The lagging economic recovery has kept payroll receipts at about $3 million less than TriMet expected.
• The federal government is likely to cut funding to transit systems nationwide, with TriMet expected to lose $4 million that it usually takes in.
• Expensive expansion projects. After operating costs, construction costs are TriMet's biggest expense.
The new light rail bridge for the Orange Line to Milwaukie is going to cost $297 million this coming year, but TriMet is not willing to cut expansion projects that leverage federal funds, expand the system, and are already underway.
EDIT: Sorry! This summary was wrong in several ways. TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch sent me this correction:
This project is not contributing to our budget shortfall this year or any of the past few years. TriMet has not put one dime into the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project to date. Funding is currently coming from local partners. It actually will be helping our bottom line in the future, as MAX operating costs are lower than operating buses, so as we expand the MAX system, we free up more money for bus operations.
Our shortfall is primarily from our unsustainable cost structure and the health care benefits package for our active and retiree union employees. We are paying more than $21,000 per union employee for health care benefits. The actual cost of the bridge is $134 million. Of the total $1.49 billion project, TriMet’s share is less than 5%, or a maximum of $60 million. We will be issuing debt in FY13 to pay for this over the next 20 years. It’s like how you would pay to buy a house. It will cost about $2.9 million/year.
• Employee healthcare clusterfuck. TriMet's union has secured arguably the best transit employee healthcare coverage in the country. The agency has also failed to set aside money for promised medical and pension benefits, so it's not clear where the money to cover increasing costs will be coming from. TriMet includes this graph of employee healthcare benefits in its literature about the budget cuts:
2) DETAILS, DETAILS!
These are just the proposed cuts, so they're not set in stone yet. But they're very likely to go through, after some haggling.
• Fare Increase: The lowest fare on TriMet is slated to become $2.50. That's a 19 percent jump. The plan also calls for eliminating zones, so that $2.50 will get you anywhere in the city.
• Make Fares One-Way: We discussed the specifics of this last week, but your current 2-hour transfer would be only good one way. So taking the 75 from Irvington to the Fred Meyer on Hawthorne and then back again: not allowed. You'll have to buy a $5 round trip pass.
• Eliminate the Free Rail Zone: The final nail in the coffin of ye olde Fareless Square, MAX would no longer be free to hop on downtown.
• Sell ads on TriMet Tracker: Call TriMet to find out your bus's arrival time, be regaled with the great deals at the Expo Center gem sale.
• Cutting back bus routes: There are a bunch of lines being cut or rerouted, so just check out this pdf to get the download.
• Run MAX every 20 minutes: Except during rush hour, the MAX would now run every 20 minutes.
• Make the Airport MAX Line End at Downtown: Red Line service all the way to the Beaverton transit center would be slashed completely, except during rush hours.
• Cut non-union jobs and benefits: It's not clear how many and how much yet.
• Reduce LIFT service: People with disabilities who can't ride the bus and MAX would see their door-to-door LIFT service offered during fewer hours.
• Give the Portland Streetcar Less Money: TriMet would cut its contribution to the streetcar by $400,000.
BONUS SECTION 3) WHAT CAN I DO?!?!
No promises on whether your outrage will change anything, but TriMet is having a series of open houses this month to discuss the budget. Get out there!
Also, keep your eye on local group OPAL Environmental Justice, which has been hosting a series of bus stop actions this winter.