Also Glaring in the O's TriMet Exhaustion Story: Shenanigans with Public Records


I had a very similar experience several years ago while volunteering with the defunct Transit Riders Union in Portland.

Knowing nothing about accounting or finance or public transportation agencies, I decide I would first begin by auditing several years of TriMet's published budget. I presented myself as a student studying public transportation policies, and after exchanging several(!) emails with the public records person clarifying over and over again that I simply wanted to look at the printed budgets, I thought this information would be available in digital (pdf) format, but I was told it was not. I was told I had to physically go to TriMet’s office and review this information – thankfully my fake student self was able to visit their offices.

I was able to schedule times (3:30pm to 5pm) to come to their office and review. I also could not photocopy or remove these books without paying a significant fee. I went there at least 15 times and took hand-written notes regarding price fluctuations year to year, and other anomalies. The lady provided me a cubical and the 700+ page individual budgets for fiscal years between 1999-2008. The woman was polite and short in her questions. When I summarized certain unexplainable fluctuations to this lady, she seemed completely disinterested in helping me find answers. She kept telling me that everything I needed to know was in these books.

For comparisons, I looked at the public transportation agency budgets of New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, Paris, and Moscow. My experience was completely different in all of these cities, first their budgets were easier to read, even though some were not in English. Second, San Francisco was the only other city where I had to call and track down a person who ended up emailing me the budget. Third, when I reached out to Paris and Chicago’s administrators, they were happy to answer my questions.

Then, come to find out, TriMet ends up publishing all of this information online in digital form the next year. So, I was basically lied to when they said it was not in digital form. Curious, no?
The commentator above says it all.
No need for me to elaborate.