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In Portland, Oregon, TriMet, the regional mass transit agency, along with the conservative statewide daily paper, the Oregonian, promoted a four-day national Rail Conference at the Portland Hilton Hotel. With 1,000 attendees from big city rail developers and government workers attending, TriMet glossed over, misrepresented alleged austerity budget cuts, lack of democracy and transparency.
Obama's Republican transportation secretary, Ray Lahood, joined Oregon's political class (Portland's controversial mayor, Sam Adams, US Rep Earl Blumenauer, US Senator Jeff Merkley, TriMet's $200,000 per year General Manager, Neal McFarlane) and others in promoting Portland's transit reputation as great among US cities, while omitting or marginalizing alleged austerity budget cuts, fare hikes and lack of democracy in the TriMet transit system. The conference was held this week, in October, in Portland, Oregon, at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Portland.

Portland, Oregon, like Minneapolis, Minnesota, is one of the two most Anglo cities, demographically, in the country. Portland is rated #1 for bike friendly cities, Oregon has a bottle bill (one of ten states with such recycling legislation), etc. Portland is promoted as being a great "livable city" compared to urban centers back east and in the midwest, etc.

However, Oregon, in the recession, has the 7th worst unemployment rate in the country. Oregon, proportinately, spends more money on prisons than any other state, per the Oregonian. K-12 school years are among the shortest in the country, due to lack of funding.

Rather than being #1 on livability, if your state is #43 on jobs, that would put your main city at least at #43 for livability, not to mention other social justice criteria.

In terms of rail specifically, the four day Rail-Volution Conference (transit activists in Portland dubbed it Rail Illusion 2010, or, less politely, Rail Thermidor 2010) -- the conference promoted rail and light rail as the perfect solution to US transportattion issues.

Yet, TriMet officials and politicians failed to note (or to invite to any of the panels) the 1,400 transit riders, with Transit Riders Union, who petitioned against fare hikes and service cuts over the past two years, where several bus lines were cut altogether, Fareless Square was gutted in downtown Portland (which, for 35 years, fought for clean air, and against pollution and against global warming), and fares have been hiked repeatedly. When Transit Riders Union turned in the petitions to the TriMet (unlected) board of directors, the board voted 6-1 to implement fare hikes and service cuts, ignoring transit riders.

In addition, Neal McFarlane, TriMet's $200,000 per year General Manager, made a joke about the drivers union ("ATU will be burning me in effigy outside the hotel tomorrow morning") without mentioning that the drivers have been without a contract for over a year, and TriMet is trying to gut the drivers health care benefits (and retirement) -- austerity measures along the lines of Athens, Greece, where public tranist is also being downsized, and possibly, privatized.

Also omitted, in Oregonian trumpeting of the conference, was the fact that some so-called NGOs are, in part, funded by TriMet itself (ie, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition) so that when activist coalition groups approached WPC, for example, and asked it to endorse (a) stopping the fare hike (b) stopping the service cuts to 60 bus routes and (c) to require that the TriMet board be elected by voters (it is appointed, in secret, by Oregon's governor) -- WPC chooses to not support those three demands and let transit riders (many of whom are also pedestrians) twistly slowly in the wind. Moreover, the WPC board president used to work for TriMet for 25 years.

McFarlane, the TriMet GM, says that "we are making the system more efficient" by raising fares and cutting service. TriMet continues to build more light rail lines, even as it is cutting light rail frequency and service because TriMet says (with a $2.5 million budget, per Willamette Week, an independent paper) 'there's no money'. The strawman argument (not a federal law, per se, according to Rick Van Beveren, unelected TriMet board president) is that federal 'preferences' privilege capital projects over operations. That is, TriMet can build more 'toy train sets' but has to cut back on bus and MAX (the trains) service.

McFarlance also notes that the system "is one system -- there's no division between rail and buses." Yet, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, transit activists (BRU in LA especially) have been doing civil disobedience, picketing the mayor's mansion/residence (Antonio Villagosa) and getting federal court injunctions to stop fare increases (with ten minutes to go) or require MTA to stop doing rail (for five years) and buy 500 buses instead.


Transit activists in Portland, Oregon, have organized the Reedville Cafe Boycott for democracy, transparency, and to stop the hikes and cuts. In addition, TriMet fare inspectors have been found (per Portland Mercury article, another independent paper) to be working with ICE to first 'target' (like the Arizona law tried to do?) suspected fare evadors, and in 20 lawsuits so far, then attempt to deport alleged 'illegals'. Transit Riders Union opposes this ICE collaboration.

The Reedville Cafe is owned by unelected TriMet board president Rick Van Beveren. Van Beveren opposes having the TriMet board elected by the people. Van Beveren has voted for every fare hike and service cut over the past two years. Moreover, in Portland, for Metro president (Metro is a regional government in greater Portland) -- Van Beveren held, at the Reedville Cafe, the May primary election victory party for right wing Metro president candidate, Tom Hughes (a real estate lobbyist). The Portland Business Alliance (which was picketed by Transit Riders Union for their pushing to gut Fareless Square in downtown Portland, and for helping to marginalize homeless folks with a "sit lie" law) -- PBA has donated $10,000 to the Hughes campaign, and PBA has donated $20,000 to defeat public campaign finance reform on Nov. 2 on the Portland ballot (which is called Voter-Owned Elections in Portland).

Portland city commissioner Amanda Fritz recently talked at a Transit Riders Union meeting in support of Voter Owned Elections, and in support of TriMet being taken over by Metro (which is an elected body). Transit activists can push for Metro to take over TriMet (as provided for in Oregon Revised Statutes, already on the books), or do an initiative petition to require that the TriMet board be elected by voters rather than appointed by the state's governor. Transit activists are working on both these options.

Rail isn't necessarily a bad thing -- getting people out of their cars and into public transit lessens dependence on foreign oil, foreign oil wars, and fossil fuels. However, the specific demarcations of a transit system design may encourage car use in order to feed into rail, instead of having buses serve low income communities, poor neighborhoods and communities of color. TriMet argues it does a good job of having rail serve poor neighborhoods -- unlike Los Angeles, for example.

But, if people have fares hiked when they need to job hunt, get to work and get to school, and their buses are cut back or eliminated -- this encourages car-dependency all over again.

There are resources and new wealth already on Wall Street. It isn't clear, despite the Obama Administration's good work in creating jobs, whether Obama is willing to work on using FDR tactics to support massive job creation, transit, schools, etc -- or, whether Obama will be content, in the next two years, to 'let the market recover.'

Of course, Paul Krugman says the jobless "recovery" may be permanant, as Wall Street profits go up yet again, or, that it may take as long as 10 years for Estados Unidos to regain the old level of employment.

In Portland, Oregon, Transit Riders Union is using the slogan, in the interim, of "Take our transit back!"


homepage: homepage: http://www.trimetriders.org
phone: phone: 503-222-2974
address: address: PO Box 40011, Portland, Oregon 97240