Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Open Letter to Riders and Drivers

To those who rely on TriMet; to those TriMet relies upon,

There is something maddening about driving down the same road you've been on for years without any sort of escape. In our own sort of limbo we are, often forced on opposite sides of the road by figures above us that we cannot seem to avoid. They tell us lies that we are hesitant to believe, yet they are repeated so much that they may imprint themselves on our skulls like a barcode with which we are bought out, crashing into each other and clearing the road for them to unleash hell upon.

In less of a prose: TriMet has lied to us for years and they're trying to force us against each other so that they can squeeze by and get their way. They've done this repeatedly, and slowly, they're inching past us.

I implore of you- do not give up hope just yet.

I've been around TriMet too long to avoid being jaded. Things are not going to get easier if we continue to go the way we are going. TriMet has shown time and time again that it has neither invested interest in riders or drivers. February 2013 was the month where TriMet showed the entire metro area its hand.

Their threat, although I'm sure we've all heard it by now: If the Union does not give up their fight, paying much more for benefits, losing further pension and making retroactive paychecks, then the riders will become the martyrs, losing every single route in the system except for the frequent service routes, lines 20, 44, 52, 71, 76 and 79 in just over ten years, and those will run on reduced service and will be run on massively increased fares.

As a rider, I cannot take TriMet's words without a grain of salt. TriMet has become a master of nearly cartoonish terrifying propaganda to divide its masses in order to turn the armies away from its own door. TriMet is simply trying to terrorize the riders into fighting the union so that the union will lose and TriMet can have its way with the riders while their defenses are down. I do not believe they have any intention of erasing service to punish the union, and they most certainly aren't going to keep union benefits if the service is that low (considering, even, that 70% less service requires 70% less drivers).

What strikes me as highly interesting: TriMet does not mention a single effort outside of punishing riders to conserve its budget. TriMet does not mention any efforts to find additional funding for operations. They do not mention any efforts to increase ridership and operations budget. They don't look to find ways to transfer the capital budget, one that has the operations budget's size many, many, many times over for the sake of one rail line, they don't mention ANY OTHER WAYS to balance the budget except for the lazy route of abusing riders to force the drivers to take the bullet.

Has McFarlane ever mentioned that his $250,000/year salary could use a little trimming for the sake of the system? Does he mention that maybe hiring part time urban planners for $50-75k a year JUST AFTER MAKING HIS ANNOUNCEMENTS OF HORRIBLE DOOM AND GLOOM is sort of a bad idea? Does he think maybe too many non-operators earn waaaay too much? How about their healthcare plan? Is that too much?

Some of the more astute students of budget and transit, much more so than I, will tell me that these methods are not as easy as they seem. My response: If TriMet gave two shillings about its system, they would move heaven and earth to find a way to make it work.

TriMet lies. It is plain and simple.

We could end the conversation here and be done with it, but I want you to be convinced that we cannot, should not, and do not need to fight each other.

Riders, I mourn the fact that TriMet is blind to your suffering. Too often those who use transit are maligned as either welfare queens who don't have any aim in life except to let the government pay for everything they do, whose cries for equality are construed as whining about not being spoiled enough. On the flipside, some of you are also maligned as snobbish, people who don't care about others due to financial gain in your house, who do not mind which way the wind blows on the rickety structure of TriMet because your alternative is a BMW. Even more often, those who fall in between the extremes are completely forgotten, falling through the breeze.

You do not deserve the abuse of TriMet's words. You who rely on the system or use it casually, you who are either low income, barely scraping by and praying on your knees that TriMet doesn't make you pay more for transit, or that they don't eliminate all your routes; or you who decided to start a great new life here in Portland because if its green image and former attention to transit but find yourself growing further and further away from the system as it steals from you- poor, rich, single, family, any race, any background, any ideals- you do not deserve to be treated like this.

You do not deserve to be drug through the mud as TriMet takes your service away, as they raise your fares, as all the saved money- money taken from you- goes straight into funding the streetcar, the new MAX line, the pockets of its own freshly hired bureaucrats and its smear campaigns against the union.

You certainly do not need to be seen as the dead weight keeping TriMet from having nice tea parties with its drivers. TriMet has shown they do not care about their operators either way- you are no deterrent from nice behavior. Do not let them lie to you.

Drivers, I mourn the fact that not even your own system respects what you go through to operate. It is never as simple as sitting in a seat and pressing doohickeys. You are strapped and confined to your seat for hours a day, on runs that are up to two hours in consecutive length, with no freedom to move or stretch until your trip is done. You are strapped to this seat, vulnerable to the few riders who disrespect you on a human level, who thank your work with violence, theft, insults, spite, ungratefulness and misconduct while you can only sit there and call dispatch and hope you keep your job by the end of the day.

The fact that your management, instead of taking this into account, all the variables and stresses of a job I could not even imagine performing, run an oppressive employment system where you are maligned and mistreated, just so your boss can go to the media and ramble on about how entitled you are while he goes to the bank every week with more than I will make in a year, is something that is disgusting to me.

You should not have to be the low-hanging fruit of TriMet's tree. The fiscal cliff is not your fault. It never has been. TriMet's misplaced priorities and personal greed is bringing its agency down, and you are the unfortunate scapegoats that take their fall for them.

TriMet has not even mentioned how they have already won an arbitration that has already implemented many changes into effect, including pension reduction, retroactive charges, increase in benefits cost and decrease in benefits, and yet they still accuse you of being the bane of its agency. I am shocked and appalled that this could happen, that these lies are told, repeated and believed. I am sorry that you have to be TriMet's punching bag as a result of doing your job.

To those who have already sided with either riders-first or drivers-first, don't. Don't believe TriMet's hype. They've had a long streak of dishonesty and unethical behavior. TriMet has singlehandedly jaded me towards the real world as I leave my youth and become an adult. They have shown that their priorities are for development, construction, and the top line's pockets. They fill their own hands from what they steal from those of the riders and drivers. They are at fault, not the drivers nor the riders.

There were many opportunities TriMet could have taken to prevent themselves from going down these roads, but they were blinded by a big Orange Line strapped across their eyes and refused to take them.

Do not let TriMet's words or the media that repeats them influence you. We are not enemies. We are all that we have. I may be jaded to the real world, but not enough to give up hope that we can bring the change we need to see. Larger obstacles have been toppled. We cannot survive if we choose otherwise.

I'm going Wednesday to speak to the board. As usual, I do not expect my words to impact them. But I've stopped speaking for them. I've spoken for you.

Now, I'm speaking to you, and I hope my words mean something to you.

We are in this together. That has never changed. But something else has to.

Keep fighting for change.

Sincerely, Cameron Johnson.


  1. And now with this Deputy GM they want to reduce service on the 57 to stop at midnight!

  2. This is painful to read. The painful truth.
    Glad you wrote this up, Cam. You always find the right words.
    Good luck at the board meeting. Maybe we will eventually be able to make a change.

  3. Well done! May I quote you in my observation of this coming Bus Driver Appreciation Day?

  4. this piece was well written and expressed powerfully the thoughts that have been circling in my head.
    you speak hard truths. thank you.