Monday, July 8, 2013

Incorrectly Correcting TriMet's Incorrect Accusation of us as Incorrect... I think.

In TriMet's newest media tactic of putting in their place anyone who says anything slightly critical about them, especially if they have the proof to back it up, I've found that TriMet themselves seem to have no clue what they're talking about, as well as deliberately downplaying something that would give them freer reign to cut service when they want.

Just recently, OPAL pointed out that TriMet was out of compliance with the Clean Air Act, which enforces that TriMet has to increase service, even if by a tiny bit, or they're in big trouble. Of course, TriMet disputes that with their blog post here.

"The Portland region is fully in compliance with Clean Air Act requirements and has been since 1996. A recent news release from OPAL incorrectly claimed the region is currently out of compliance due to transit service cuts during the recession."

Okay then, TriMet.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way.

"However, service cuts in Fiscal Year 2011 due to the recession and the agency’s unsustainable benefit cost structure would lead to a future dip below the 1 percent requirement under the current rolling five-year window."

Not even gonna touch that. TriMet knows that giving execs continued raises definitely makes an unsustainable system. Who am I to beat a dead horse?

However, there is a change TriMet is pushing. As it stands, TriMet has to have at least a 1% increase in service by capacity on a five year average window. If the system has less or even equal service to any time in that 5 year window, TriMet is in violation. Currently, TriMet has cut so much service that they are just now in the negatives.

Now that can't be, you might think. Just now? After almost every line in the system has been cut because of TriMet the union? It's just now in violation? Well, see, here's the thing. The plan cuts breaks for MAX. One two-car MAX train is equal to four buses, because it holds four times what a bus does. The same goes for WES- the one-car WES trips count for two buses.

Thus, when TriMet opened the Green Line and WES in 2008-2009, their added service went way up due to having a full-length MAX line in operation, which runs 50-80 round trips per day from 5 to 12 midnight, equivalent to 200-320 bus trips. (Combine lines 72 and 9 for 200, and throw on the 4 and 12 for 320). Add to that the 15 WES trips per direction and you have a nifty little extra 30 bus trips, which is about as many trips as lines like 10-Harold, 24-Fremont or 58-Canyon Road run.

In essence, in 2009, TriMet added 4 frequent service lines and a regular service line to their system. In 2012, they added Streetcars in the Eastside, which is another 60 round trips. Streetcar has a 1.5 conversion rate, so that's 90 trips, which is almost another line 72. It takes a lot of cutting to amount to the level of 5 frequent service lines and a normal service line, and it is to TriMet's testament that they've cut service below that amount to the point that there was more service in 2008 than their was in 2013.

However, keep that in mind, and recognize that TriMet wants to expand the window to the entire current maintenance period, which is from 2007 to 2017. Thus, TriMet just has to have barely higher service than pretty much any time in that period. If they're 1% above any point in that, they're in the clear.

In addition, the Milwaukie MAX line is opening in 2015. It will likely start at the same frequency the Green Line runs, so tack up another 4 frequent service bus lines to the fleet. Take these 9 frequent service lines (and WES) and just don't cut less than that. Of course, TriMet has fallen out of compliance despite adding the equivalent of 5 frequent service lines, and they can easily do so before 2017.

If the current rules are in place, come 2015, the Milwaukie MAX will have to match up with 2010 service, after the Green Line opened and only one round of service cuts had taken place. The Orange line will barely make that equal, giving TriMet no space to cut service. However, if they have to beat 2007 at worst, then they have the same free rein to cut as they did before this year, just after the Green Line/WES opened.

And why does TriMet want to do this? Well, as they openly state, why the hell not?

"If the current way of calculating the TCM continued through until 2017, it is projected that future years would fall out of compliance. Despite growth in service every other year from 2007 on, due to a drop in service in fiscal year 2011 caused by the economic recession, the rolling 5-year average going forward would likely dip below 1 percent."

That's right. TriMet's losing the game, so they're changing the rules. Think of it like that annoying kid who made up a new rule every time you tagged him in tag. "No, you didn't tag me! I had an unbreakable anti-tag forcefield that you can't break!" Essentially the same rule is at play here. Damn that union.

I don't get how this is being overlooked in all of this. The new rule gives TriMet more free rein to cut service, and less transparency about it. I call them out on this because they're claiming to work with us, to side with us, while openly calling us wrong and then initiating secrecy about how they are lobbying to get away with cutting service and not restoring any at all. That isn't the kind of behavior that I, as a Bus Riders Unite leader, can support. This isn't the kind of agency that I can comfortably say "I align with them, I agree with their causes." If TriMet wants to work with us, and expect us to work with them, they are going to have to go all the way with it. No more secrecy, no more dishonesty, and no more pretentious, false 'fact-checking.'

Friday, May 3, 2013

Letting Go

The trick to life, as I’ve learned recently, is knowing when to hold on and when to let go. And now I’m letting go.

This won’t be my final blog post, but it will be my final post as part of this group. I haven’t been able to write it up lately, and I also wanted to have some time to breathe after our most recent fight. This decision is not new. It is not driven by emotion. It is driven by a finality I have faced in the fact that I am entirely unsatisfied with how the blogging group has gone, and it is a direction I do not desire to go with, and it is simply not healthy for me, emotionally or spiritually.

I am sad to report that the state of things nowadays is far from the intent I believed it was. People are seeking to work only for attention, for a reaction. Some see their work as an emotional catharsis which allows them to act however they please and receive no punishment. I see hypocrisy, self-glorification, self-righteousness, anger, hatred, irrationality, propaganda and victimization. The thing is, I was caught up in that, and I was part of that as well. It makes me bitter to think of it, but I have to be honest and admit it was the truth. I was the same way. But I can’t afford to be any longer.

I cannot follow those who influenced me any longer. I have made a sideshow out of my work. I began to feel as though I was a character. I’ve had a deep longing to be unforgettable, to be someone, and for a while that consumed who I was and why I fought, at least part of the reason. I hate that. I hated that feeling of being little more than that guy who yells at rich people. That’s not all I wanted my shtick to be. I didn’t want to get a reaction and call it a day. I longed for something more.

I am sad to say that I do not think we are progressing further than being ones to get a reaction out of TriMet. That cannot be all we do. Anyone can get a reaction out of TriMet by calling their boss Hitler and protesting his very right to live on the streets with signs that portray him as a dog fucking other dogs and him with a penis for a head. What does that accomplish, other than making us feel better, like celebrities? 

Why is it our achievements are how many blog views we get? Why do we decry censorship yet feel free to censor dissenters on our own blog, slander them no less? Why do we feel justified in publicly throwing tantrums whenever we don’t get our way? This is not activism. This is not productive. This is nothing but humiliation. We are becoming little more than wacky characters, the Westboro Baptist Church of TriMet lore. We are little more than extremists ranting and raving and getting nothing done. Have you ever stopped to wonder WHY people are blocking us from meetings? Have you ever stopped to wonder why people think we’re fools? Maybe we’ve earned it.

I’ve tried to explain this. I’ve tried to make this known. And in response, I’ve received taunting, abuse, slander, and other non-response. I’ve been labeled as a sellout, a fascist, a sympathizer, any other names you typically like to throw around. You can apologize and say you were just upset, that I pissed you off, like that singlehandedly earned me everything that was said. I can forgive, but forgetting is a whole other story, when all that I’ve done with and for you can be burnt and thrown out the moment I voice some dissent with our actions.

I know there are many of the community that aren’t like this, that desire fairness from both sides, that have level heads in all of this chaos. I commend them, but it’s not enough to make me desire to stay. This is not a place where I feel welcome, where I feel I can associate myself with the others of my kind. Not anymore. I feel like I’ve grown up and have seen the light. I want to get things done, not just sit around and launch spitballs from the back of the room.

Rest assured, I am not selling out. I have many things to say about TriMet, with OPAL and on my own. I am not a fan of TriMet. When we work with them, I am very much gritting my teeth. But we’re working our way in. All of us, like-minded, open to the voices of others, synergetic and cooperative, are making things happen and are ready to fight when things head south. I have finally realized just how much I have become part of a unit with them. It’s what I really need, as an activist and as a humble boy wanting to see change happen.

I’ll post on my blog every now and again, every once in awhile. Primarily, it will be about my TriMet route plans as I have formerly disclosed with Lane. They are a world away from what they were before, but I’m working on making them the best I can. If nothing more than personal satisfaction, I’ll get them done. Other stuff I’ll post now and again. But as for being part of the group and encouraging them, that I simply cannot do anymore. I'm done fighting. I'm done killing myself over it. I'm done letting it hurt me. I cannot allow those who claim to be on my side to do more damage to me than my enemies.

This was a long time coming, and now it's finally here. I'm finally letting go.

Thank you for all that you’ve given me before. I’m sorry it had to end this way.

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.