The guest speaker for the June Government and Affairs Economic Committee was Neil McFarlane, General Manager of TriMet. Neil shared some great insight about how TriMet makes decisions and how they solve problems. We also got a peek at the vision for public transportation plans for the future Portland metropolitan area. Here are a few of the interesting things we learned:
- How do they keep the financial house in order? Even though the legislature approved a payroll tax increase in 2009, TriMet has been working on efficiencies in their operations to maintain the existing tax level for the past six years. The efficiencies included a variety of efforts, such as negotiating with the employee union to reduce the cost of benefits such as insurance premiums, co-pays and retirement accounts. TriMet has also increased fare collection by adding inspection staff, maintaining fare machines and adding easy mobile payment options.
- Neil shared some statistics that compare the TriMet operations to the public transportation systems in other similar city metro’s. In a great many of the metrics, TriMet comes out ahead. TriMet carries 18% more riders per revenue hour than peer average; has a lower cost per hour plus higher ridership per hour and has operation cost per rider that is about 22% lower than the peer average.
- With the growth in the region and the existing overcrowding on our major roadways, TriMet will play an important role in the future transportation of Northwest Oregon. It is expected that there will be another 400,000 people and 260,000 employees added to the region by 2035. The existing highways simply won’t hold that much traffic, so we need TriMet services to grow with the needs of the population.
- Early years of planning for the train and bus routes focused on getting people to and from downtown Portland. The new reality is that there are “job centers” all around the metro area and routes are needed between them (not just through downtown). The Service Enhancement plans for the next 20 years are mapped out based on the expected growth of homes and jobs.
This fall the Board of TriMet will be considering implementing the payroll tax increase that was approved in 2009. They will phase in the increase over a 10 year period starting in 2016. The audience had a chance to ask questions and we all gained a greater appreciation for our public transportation system and the important role it plays in our economy.