How's this for scare tactics. In starting up its budget process this morning, TriMet—currently locked in a bitter dispute with its operators union over rising benefits costs—dropped a financial bomb.

To keep from going broke, the agency is warning, it would need to slice out 63 weekday bus lines, and cut overall service by 70 percent, by 2025. Mostly rapid bus service would be left in place.

  • via Portland Afoot

The news was presented at today's board meeting and picked up by the Oregonian. But it was first reported very early this morning by Portland Afoot, which got an early look at the slideshow TriMet presented to its directors.

According to reports, General Manager Neil McFarlane explicitly connected the doomsday service cuts to TriMet's difficulties with Amalgamated Transit Union 757 and made a plea for deeper concessions on health care and pension costs. An arbitrator has already allowed TriMet to raise its employees' share of health care cost, but the union has appealed that ruling to the Oregon Employment Relations Board—an agency seen by some (hi, Portland!) as pro-labor.

Joe Rose at the O has some good numbers. But you should read what Portland Afoot has to say—including some questions about the assumptions behind the numbers and, if you click over, some links to the ATU's views on all of this.

It’s not yet clear what assumptions lie behind those projections. General Manager Neil McFarlane said Wednesday that they include a 70% cut to administrative costs, but no further tax increases.

"Before anybody wants to invest more money in TriMet, we want to be able to demonstrate that we can invest that money dollar for dollar in restored service," McFarlane said. "We can’t demonstrate this yet."

McFarlane said restoring any lost transit service will be impossible unless union workers’ health care plan is reduced to the same benefit level as the management plan, with reduced medical coverage in retirement.

Even if that happens, he said, TriMet wouldn’t be able to improve service without new revenue. Nor could it devote any existing revenue to future rail lines after the Orange Line to Milwaukie.

"All we can hope for is the current service," McFarlane said.