LAST WEEKEND was one long celebration of Portland's newest transit star, the MAX Green Line from downtown to the Clackamas Town Center. Friday night, transit bigwigs drank Green Line-themed martinis and ate foie gras Fig Newtons at a private party downtown. Saturday morning, a Green Line dance crew performed for the official opening of the line and 40,000 people took advantage of the opening day's free rides.
But amid the smiling faces chowing down on "Green Means Go" cupcakes on Saturday morning, one man was not pleased. I invited John Charles, president of the "free market environmentalist" think tank Cascade Policy Institute, to take his first ride on the Green Line with me to get a critical counter balance from someone who has opposed the Green Line since it was just "a gleam in the planner's eye," as he puts it.
"It creeps through downtown at an exceedingly slow five miles per hour. There's a bunch of tourists on it. All it's done is replace inexpensive bus service with expensive rail service," grumbled Charles as giddy older ladies squeezed onto the packed train in Old Town.
A former MAX-commuter, Charles became the system's arch nemesis when he saw TriMet's emphasis on expanding the light rail system led to cutting bus lines. After pouring $20.5 million into the $575.7 million Green Line project, this year TriMet cut five bus lines and axed fareless buses from downtown.
Charles testified in the legislature against a bill increasing TriMet's budget (which passed) and as the new train crossed the river, he opined, "Anything light rail can do, buses can do better, faster, and cheaper."
After we disembarked at the NE 7th station, a man with a large mustache shouted joyfully to the almost empty platform, "Here comes the Green train!" Charles, on the other hand, was doom and gloom. "TriMet is going off a cliff. Something has to give—either they'll cut back on frequent service or stop expansion," Charles predicted. "They should pave over these tracks and make it a busway."
More mainstream transit advocate Chris Smith dismisses that particular idea, but agrees that Charles has a good point. "Should we build rail? Definitely, yes. But we do need to worry about all the growth going into rail instead of into busses," he agrees.