Searched : light rail

Time to Stop Throwing Money down the WES Sinkhole

In its proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, TriMet forecasts the purchase of two additional vehicles for the Wilsonville-to-Beaverton commuter rail line known as WES. The total cost will be $8.5 million in borrowed funds. None of those costs will be paid by WES riders; $600,000 annually in debt service will be paid by taxpayers for the next 20 years, for a total of $12 million.

This is a critical decision point for the TriMet board. Approving the proposed budget will expand the WES vehicle fleet from four to six and irrevocably commit the agency to commuter rail. But the five-year track record of WES suggests that another decision would be more defensible: shutting the train down completely.

There are at least three reasons to consider this option. First, WES is an energy hog. According to a new report by the Federal Railroad Administration, the average energy consumed by all commuter rail systems in America during 2010 was 2,923 British Thermal Units (BTU) per passenger-mile. WES was close to the bottom: It consumed 5,961 BTU per passenger-mile, more than twice the national average (by comparison the top performer was Stockton, CA: 1,907 BTU/passenger-mile).

Not only is WES inefficient compared with its peer group, it is wasteful compared with other modes of travel. The national average for all transit buses was 4,240 BTU per passenger-mile; for all light-duty cars, the average was 3,364.

In a state where most politicians are obsessed with energy conservation, it is difficult to justify expansion of a publicly subsidized line that is so wasteful.

Second, WES is TriMet’s most expensive fixed-route service, with an average per-ride cost of $12. Thus, even if ridership grows, it will not help TriMet, since the agency loses about $10 on every trip.

To see just how expensive WES is, we can compare it to an express bus route in the same corridor opened last year by the transit operator in Wilsonville, South Metro Area Rapid Transit (SMART). The costs of the bus are only 3% of WES: $1.30 per mile versus $43.74 for WES.

Transit Service from Wilsonville Station to Beaverton Transit Center

Operating cost/mile

Operating cost/hour

TriMet Express Rail

$43.74

$949.84

SMART Express Bus

$   1.30

$   83.17

Finally, WES ridership is tiny. WES now has about 940 daily riders who account for 1,880 average weekday “boardings.” This is still far below the forecast of 2,500 that was made for opening-year service (2009).

I’ve ridden WES at least 100 times in order to catch the express bus to Salem that picks up WES transfers in Wilsonville. For the privileged few on the train, it’s a nice trip. There are usually plenty of empty seats, free internet service, and lots of legroom. Plus, I feel like royalty as we shut down traffic temporarily on more than 20 east-west cross streets along the way. While this results in a net increase in regional congestion, it’s fun for the train riders.

But just because I personally enjoy WES, that doesn’t make it a good public investment. The bus alternative would move just as many riders at less cost and with lower fuel consumption.

Back in the 1990s, Westside politicians and rail boosters fell in love with the concept of a commuter train to Wilsonville. As with all such pork-barrel campaigns, the promises vastly exceeded eventual performance. But current TriMet board members can claim plausible deniability; none of them were on the Board back then, so it wasn’t their fault.

Now they have a chance to clean up the mess. It won’t be fun having to admit that mistakes were made; but if the Board is serious about re-setting TriMet on a path of financial sustainability, there will be many such decisions to be made. A long journey begins with the first step.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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In Defense of Liberty: Unions, Right-to-Work, and Majority Rule

By F. Vincent Vernuccio

“We are a democracy, we operate by majority rule. Therefore, we can force you to give us your money.” Such is the message from unions justifying forced dues and opposing laws that protect worker freedom.

It is liberty, not democracy, that is the highest form of society.

Make no mistake, democracies, direct or representational, are better than any other form of government. However, they are only as good as the extent to which they protect the liberty that individuals enjoy. These liberties exist in spite, rather than because, of government institutions.

Many opponents of right-to-work laws justify their ability to force workers to financially support unions because those workers are within a group whose members at one time voted to force everyone in the group to pay.

This is different from voluntarily joining an organization that requires all members to pay dues for the use of their facilities, such as a golf club or a gym. Joining or being associated with a union is not voluntary or a matter of choice. In most cases it is a condition of employment.

Workers do not take a job at Ford because they want to join the United Auto Workers union. They join the UAW because they took a job at Ford. Michigan became the 24th Right to Work state earlier this year so that such workers can keep their jobs without being forced to pay union dues. Likewise, Oregon public employees who are now forced to pay union “fair share” dues against their will may very well support IP9, an initiative petition that would allow Oregon public employees to totally opt out of paying such dues if they wish. Once the Oregon Supreme Court approves IP9’s ballot title and slightly more than 87,000 valid voter signatures are collected, it will appear on the November 2014 General Election Ballot.

The union defense of “we can do anything we want because we have majority rule and we are a democracy like the government” fails on many fronts.

The first and most glaring inaccurate comparison is that the United States is a direct democracy. With the exception of some very small towns and state and local ballot measures, our government is a republic.

Furthermore, we are not just a republic that elects representatives to make our laws, but rather we are a constitutional republic in which certain rights of the individual are protected against laws made by the “majority.”

Pure majority rule in our country has its necessary limits.

The Founding Fathers correctly worried about tyranny of the majority and created several protections against it. James Madison warned against taking liberty out of a democracy. In The Federalist Papers No. 10 he wrote, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires.”

That is where defenders of forced unionism fail. When liberty is taken out of democracy and the majority is given the ability to steal from the minority, that no longer is a good and noble form of government or representation. Thankfully, that is not, for the most part, the case in America.

Even if the majority of a small community in the United States with a town hall style democracy or a state with voter initiatives and referendum voted for a law that banned people from going to church, it would not stand because of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution.

It would not matter if a majority of the voters supported the law, majority rule would not be allowed to infringe on the rights and liberties of the minority protected by our Constitution.

Finally, unions are not government. The First Amendment’s freedom of association itself protects workers’ rights to ban together and join unions.

The special privileges granted unions include acting as the monopoly exclusive representative for workers, compelling an employer to negotiate with them, and other collective bargaining abilities that come from the laws government made such as the National Labor Relations Act, National Railway Act, and various state labor laws among others.

Unions, on the other hand, do not provide for government. If someone breaks one of the government’s laws or threatens to harm its citizens, the government, because it has a judicial system, has the ability to arrest and even to incarcerate that person.

While unions in non-right-to-work states can get a worker fired for not paying them (again a privilege granted to them by government) they do not have the ability to create their own jail and incarcerate that worker.

The reason for these limitations is simple—unions are not government. They cannot have a police force, they cannot have jails, and most of all they were never formed to govern citizens.

As unions try to use the majority rule argument to justify their ability to compel others to pay them, they must be reminded that there are rights more fundamental than giving the many carte blanche authority over the few.

Purveyors of this argument must be reminded: When there is a conflict between liberty and democracy, we must always err on the side of liberty.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and a guest contributor at Cascade Policy Institute. He is a graduate of the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A version of this article originally appeared in Michigan Capitol Confidential.

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Statement on the Columbia River Crossing Project

For Immediate Release

Media Contact
John A. Charles, Jr., john@cascadepolicy.org
503-459-3727
Sarah Ross Wolf, sarah@cascadepolicy.org
503-242-0900

Statement on the
Columbia River Crossing Project

PORTLAND, Ore. – In light of the decision by the governors of Washington and Oregon to shut down planning for the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project, John A. Charles, Jr., President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, issued the following statement:

“The CRC was never a solution to any transportation problem, and the Washington State Legislature did the right thing by refusing to appropriate more money for it.

“As the two Northwest governors move forward, they should consider the following points:

  • The Interstate Bridge is not in any danger of imminent collapse and should be used for decades to come.
  • Expansion of rail transit between Vancouver and Portland should be taken off the table. Existing express bus service operated by C-TRAN is already providing excellent transit between the two cities.
  • Any new bridge should have a minimum river clearance of 144 feet, which matches the Glenn Jackson Bridge.
  • The governors should consider building at least two new Columbia River bridges in the region, one to the west of I-5 and one to the east of I-205. The reasons are to create redundancy in the case of an earthquake, and to provide better connectivity between the states. By dispersing traffic across four bridges, most congestion problems will disappear, making all classes of bridge users better off and reducing emissions caused by congestion.

“We have ten bridges across the Willamette River in Portland, and each serves an important purpose. There is no policy reason why we should restrict the number of Columbia River crossings to just two.”

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The Day We the People Stood Up

By Trent England

On April 19, 1775, a group of ordinary, small-town Americans stood up in defense of their property, their community, and their ideas. First at Lexington and then at Concord, they put their very lives in danger. A new online program called “We The People” offers basic information about American principles and the pivotal events that forged our nation at a time when reconnecting with those principles is once again essential. It begins with the Battle of Lexington….

 

Most people were sound asleep when the alarm came. Men and women roused themselves and heard the news: British soldiers were marching toward their town. Each man and woman faced a decision. They could ignore the alarm, perhaps pretending not to hear, and remain under warm blankets safe from the cold and uncertain night. Or they could rise up, make their preparations, and step out into the misty darkness.

 

In the town of Lexington, Massachusetts, men and women rose up. They lit candles with shaky fingers and tried not to wake their children. John Parker—a farmer and the elected captain of the Lexington militia—dressed quickly, took his flintlock musket from the wall, and went out. He was older than his 45 years, frail and sick, and still a trusted and resolute man. He walked in the darkness to the triangle-shaped field, the town green, which sat beside the road from Boston to Concord.

 

Anna Harrington sent her husband, Daniel, to the green. She knew that her father, Robert Munroe, a veteran of the war against the French and Indians, would be there as well. At least eight Munroes and nine Harringtons assembled on the Lexington green. By 2 a.m., as many as 130 men were standing in the dark in the wet grass on the green.

 

The odds were against them. The soldiers were well armed and well trained; many were hardened veterans. The townspeople were the opposite—mostly ordinary men and women with small farms or businesses and large families. By offering any opposition to the soldiers, the people risked their lives, possessions, families—everything. Yet, hundreds and later thousands would step away from ordinary lives and decide that they, too, were willing to stand, to fight, even to die.

 

The people of Lexington had hurried, and now they waited. With no sign of approaching troops, Captain Parker released his men to wait indoors. They gathered in nearby homes and at Buckman’s Tavern adjacent to the green. It was 4:30 a.m. when one of Captain Parker’s lookouts frantically rode into town yelling that the soldiers were just behind him. Young William Diamond beat his drum to summon back the militia. Sergeant William Munroe hastily lined up the returning men in two ranks.

 

British light infantry—troops selected for their strength and stamina—entered Lexington at a double-quick march. Each infantryman carried the five-foot-long “Brown Bess” musket. Each musket was loaded with gunpowder and a .75 caliber lead ball and topped with a 17-inch steel bayonet. The soldiers were miserable—tired of sitting around in Boston, wet after wading ashore from boats at the beginning of the night’s march, and cold. But they were professional soldiers ready for a fight and convinced of their superiority against this rabble of farmers.

 

Three British officers on horseback rode forward yelling orders at the men of Lexington: “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse.” No more than 70 of Captain Parker’s men had reached the field; they faced several hundred red-coated light infantry with a thousand and more on the road behind them. Captain Parker decided it was futile to fight, but he and his men refused to surrender their arms. Just as the militia began to withdraw under a hail of British curses, there was a shot.

A few overeager British infantry fired randomly and to no effect. Then a massed volley of British fire ripped through the Lexington men. Jonas Parker, the Captain’s cousin, returned fire but he was already gravely wounded. He sank to his knees frantically trying to reload; before he could raise his musket a second time he was stabbed to death with a bayonet.

 

Other militiamen fired, others were hit. Jonathan Harrington was shot in the chest as his wife, Ruth, and their eight-year-old son looked on from their home. As Jonathan staggered toward his front door, his wife rushed out to him. He fell and died before she reached him.

 

Seven men were killed and nine wounded on the Lexington green that morning. At least one more would be killed in fighting later that day. This was a quarter of the men who stood there—who stood up for their community and for what they believed.

 

As the British marched away from the bloodied town green, the Lexington fight appeared purposeless and inconsequential. Yet, the sacrifice at Lexington changed everything; it delayed the British and forged in a moment the resolve that would become manifest at Concord. There the unthinkable would happen—the British would turn, flee back through Lexington into Boston, and within a year surrender the city altogether.

 

Once again we hear the call for America to “return to her Founding principles.” The ideas that forged our heritage―like limited government, federalism, and religious liberty―matter only to the extent that we understand them and apply them to today’s challenges. The American story is a gripping story with real heroes—people who made choices, took risks, made mistakes, and, in the end, set the stage for the American nation. Today, ordinary Americans―many of whom have never been involved in politics―are getting involved in their local governments, taking a stand in their communities, and joining with their neighbors to defend their rights as Americans. The “We the People” project hopes to assist today’s patriots in defending those principles for America’s next generation of citizens.

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Get Involved: National School Choice Week January 23-29

On January 23-29, school choice supporters across the U.S. will shine a spotlight on effective educational options for kids. This is an opportunity on a state and national scale to raise awareness of the need to reform public education and to build support for School Choice. There are many ways to get involved and to show your support!

1) On January 25, attend Cascade Policy Institute’s Policy Picnic about school choice. Cascade’s School Choice Project Director will talk about school choice and the research in favor of expanding educational options. Space is limited! Email deanne@cascadepolicy.org for more information and to RSVP.

2)  School boards play a pivotal role in expanding or restricting school choice in Oregon. On Saturday, January 29, attend the “You Can Be Superman” candidate call. Cascade’s Christina Martin will explain why school choice is important. Several speakers will address major school choice issues and talk about how to start and run a campaign for a school board position. Although this event is hosted by the Washington County Republican Party, ALL charter school supporters are welcome to attend this event regardless of party affiliation.

Full details and free registration are available at http://rescueoregon.com.

3) On Wednesday, January 26, join Americans for Prosperity for a viewing of The Cartel in Clackamas, Oregon. The Cartel is an award-winning documentary about corruption in public education and the promise of school choice. View the movie trailer. Find out more and RSVP by visiting http://schoolchoiceweek.com/Event/afp-oregon.

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Get Involved: National School Choice Week January 23-29

On January 23-29, school choice supporters across the U.S. will shine a spotlight on effective educational options for kids. This is an opportunity on a state and national scale to raise awareness of the need to reform public education and to build support for School Choice. There are many ways to get involved and to show your support!

1) On January 25, attend Cascade Policy Institute’s Policy Picnic about school choice. Cascade’s School Choice Project Director will talk about school choice and the research in favor of expanding educational options. Space is limited! Email deanne@cascadepolicy.org for more information and to RSVP.

2)  School boards play a pivotal role in expanding or restricting school choice in Oregon. On Saturday, January 29, attend the “You Can Be Superman” candidate call. Cascade’s Christina Martin will explain why school choice is important. Several speakers will address major school choice issues and talk about how to start and run a campaign for a school board position. ALL charter school supporters are welcome to attend this event regardless of party affiliation.

Full details and free registration are available at http://rescueoregon.com.

3) On Wednesday, January 26, join Americans for Prosperity for a viewing of The Cartel in Clackamas, Oregon. The Cartel is an award-winning documentary about corruption in public education and the promise of school choice. View the movie trailer. Find out more and RSVP by visiting http://schoolchoiceweek.com/Event/afp-oregon.

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Should We Be Worried, Very Worried?

By Gordon J. Fulks, Ph.D.

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From near record-high to near record-low temperatures last November in the Pacific Northwest, from relatively warm ocean conditions and “dead zones” to relatively cold ocean conditions and fabulous salmon runs off our Pacific Coast, from an unusually cold winter to an unusually hot summer in Russia, from near record-low Arctic sea ice to near record-high Antarctic sea ice, our climate displays wide variability. But an army of psychologists, journalists and even scientists make sure that the warm swings they deem alarming get the greatest attention. These propagandists know that the selling of Global Warming is all about perception, not reality. (more…)

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Comments on the Discussion Draft Report of the City of Portland Peak Oil Task Force

John A. Charles, Jr.Speculation about “peak oil” is an intellectual fad that has been fashionable at various times throughout the past 120 years. Recently it has seized the spotlight again, and the Portland Peak Oil Task Force Report states that, “many experts predict global oil production will peak within five years, and few anticipate a peak later than 2020.”

This forecast is likely to be wrong, just as all previous forecasts of (more…)

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Forward into the Past

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

This week TriMet began construction on its next light-rail project which will shut down the Portland transit mall for two years while tracks are laid from Union Station to Portland State University. This is viewed as a great leap forward by government planners, but it’s a step backwards for the rest of us.

The current transit mall is highly (more…)

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Prioritize police, privatize entertainment

QuickPoint!

For the 2004-05 city budget, Portland Mayor Vera Katz proposes hiring 20 police officers — part of a plan to fill 54 vacant positions at the Police Bureau. To pay for this, she allocates a mere $1 million out of the $370 million general-fund. Ahead of the police is (more…)

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