Searched : light rail

Analysis of Measure 26-119

$125 Million in General Obligation Bonds for TriMet
By John A. Charles, Jr.
October 11, 2010

Measure 26-119 is being billed by TriMet as a bond measure to help improve bus service for handicapped riders and the elderly. Indeed, at the August meeting of the TriMet board, roughly a dozen handicapped individuals were brought in by the TriMet staff to testify in support of the measure. After a short discussion and virtually no due diligence, the TriMet board voted unanimously to place the measure on the November ballot.

However, a careful reading of the ballot title indicates that bond funds will not be restricted to bus improvements. TriMet management will have full discretion to spend the funds on any capital project. Moreover, the bus projects TriMet is promising to undertake with these funds will only cost $82 million at most, leaving $43 million leftover for undesignated uses.

Given that the TriMet staff announced in July that federal funding for the Milwaukie light rail project will only be 50%, rather than the hoped-for 60%, it’s clear why this ballot measure was rushed to the board for the August meeting. There is a high probability that bond revenues will be used to backfill any shortfall in local match money for both the Milwaukie light rail project and the Lake Oswego-to-Portland streetcar project.

(more…)

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Proposed Charges Stifle Growth

Ben Shelton
QuickPoint!

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by Ben Shelton

Proposed Charges Stifle Growth

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It’s fair to say growth should pay for itself. Yet, Portland city planners seem more and more willing to curtail development before it even begins.

Next year the city plans to impose two new transportation overlay charges in the Portland State University and Central Eastside districts. These new impact fees, which will be in addition to citywide transportation fees, will effectively double the transportation charges for development.

(more…)

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New TriMet Lines Expand Liabilities

Laura Lewis

QuickPoint!

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by Laura Lewis

New TriMet Lines Expand Liabilities

Download the PDF here

TriMet has doubled its transit police force from 29 to 58 officers during the past two and a half years. Despite these security increases, light rail continues to attract crime. The newly opened Green Line to Clackamas Town Center has experienced a 32% increase in reported crime and a 56% increase in calls for police service since the light rail opened in 2009. The addition of police forces will cost an added $140,000 per year per officer, or a total of $43 million for 58 officers over the next 5 years, adding to TriMet’s current $27 million budget shortfall.

(more…)

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Testimony before the CRC Independent Review Committee

John A. Charles, Jr.
Cascade Commentary

Testimony before the CRC Independent Review Committee

By John Charles

Download Full Testimony Here

June 17, 2010

I wish to make two basic points tonight, related to: (1) tolling; and (2) TriMet’s financial viability

Tolling, Variable Rates, and the Portland Highway Network

For the past several years, the CRC management team has considered tolling primarily as a means of partially financing the new bridge. While there has been some modest consideration of variable toll rates, project managers have never defined the purpose of those rates (in terms of anticipated driver benefits), nor have they analyzed variable pricing within the context of the broader Portland highway network.

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Ending Highway Gridlock in Portland

randall_pozdena

by Randall Pozdena, Ph.D.

Click here to read the full report in PDF format

The Portland region is rated the 24th most congested metropolitan area in the country, but it does not have to be. Policymakers in Portland have focused on so-called “smart-growth” policies, limiting the geographic extent of development and developing light rail and streetcar infrastructure, while overlooking lower-cost, efficient and environmentally beneficial transit and roadway capacity solutions. In this report, Dr. Randall Pozdena presents the fundamental problems with the way Portland addresses roadway capacity issues, explains why systemic reform is needed, and proposes real recommendations for getting there.

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Free-Flow Driving over the New Columbia River Bridge

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

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Political leaders from Oregon and SW Washington agreed last week to build a 12-lane bridge over the Columbia River to replace the I-5 Interstate Bridge. The new facility will be financed in part through tolls, collected electronically at travel speeds via tolltags. (more…)

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Can Transit Agencies Learn to Embrace Car Ownership?

Sreya Sarkar Cascade Commentary

Summary

Cascade Policy Institute submitted an innovative proposal to TriMet to cancel TriMet’s lowest performing bus routes and to use some of the savings to capitalize a loan fund to help finance car ownership for transit-dependent riders displaced by the bus line cancellations. (more…)

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Westside MAX at 10: Measuring the Vision Against Implementation

John A. Charles, Jr.The Westside light rail line opened on September 12, 1998. Westside MAX was unlike any light rail line previously built in America: it was deliberately routed through vacant land in Washington County with the expectation that it would be a catalyst for so-called “Transit-Oriented Development” (TOD).

The total cost for the line was $963 million, of which federal taxpayers put up 73%. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recommended against full funding for the project, on the grounds that the population density along the planned route was so light that the line would not attract sufficient ridership to justify federal funds. In the early 1990s the running joke line at FTA was, “How many deer and cows will ride Westside MAX?” (more…)

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Carfree Dreaming in Portland

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

In three weeks Portland State University will proudly host the annual “Towards Carfree Cities” conference. This is certainly appropriate, given that Portland plans to build a new bridge over the Willamette River for light rail, the streetcar, cyclists, pedestrians and skateboarders – but not motorists.

However, as seductive as pedestrian malls are in the abstract, they don’t work in the United States. For instance, in 1971 (more…)

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Sustainability is a State of Mind

John A. Charles, Jr.Cascade Commentary

Summary

Sustainability advocates believe that a free-market economy is “unsustainable,” but free societies have the “intangible capital” needed to create more wealth with less pollution and less consumption of natural resources. (more…)

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A Market-Based Approach to the Columbia River Crossing

John A. Charles, Jr.Cascade Commentary

Summary

Portland’s population is expanding, but our highway and bridge network is crumbling. Market-based road pricing and de-regulated transit are the only sustainable solution, financially and environmentally, to Portland’s transportation crisis. (more…)

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In Oregon, Words Matter, Results Don’t

Matt WingardQuickPoint!

Does planning have to work to be successful?

We Oregonians believe many myths about ourselves that just don’t happen to be true. As a visioning group created by the Governor put it not too long ago: We Love Dreamers!

For instance, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently came to town and congratulated Portland on reducing its carbon emissions to 1990 levels. Portland has asked for and received world-wide recognition for (more…)

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A Market-Based Solution to the MAX Security Crisis

Sreya SarkarJohn A. Charles, Jr.Cascade Commentary

Summary

While TriMet has agreed to some reforms in the wake of the MAX security crisis, a much better solution would be to allow consumers to have real choices in transit service. Here in Portland, privately operated automobiles formerly served successfully as unsubsidized, flexible, quasi-public transportation directly responsive to popular demand. (more…)

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A New Day for Portland Transportation: Spending Should Match Utilization

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

Observers of Portland transportation have long criticized local politicians for spending billions of dollars on rail transit projects even though rail carries just a small fraction of all trips in the region.

Now the critics have a powerful new ally: Portland city commissioner and mayoral candidate Sam Adams. Commissioner Adams announced last week that he wants to (more…)

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Paying a High Price for "Fareless" Rides

Sreya SarkarQuickPoint!

TriMet has always taken credit for promoting economic development along light rail lines, yet it has been reluctant to take responsibility for the growing levels of unlawful behavior on MAX.

Repeated complaints of crimes on MAX from Gresham to Hillsboro fell on deaf ears until the recent incident of a 71-year-old man being beaten with a baseball bat at the Gresham Central Transit Center. This incident triggered a (more…)

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Response to TriMet comments on Cascade’s pilot project proposal

To: TPAC

We appreciated the time allocated by TPAC recently to consider our proposal. We would like to respond to the specific points made by Phil Selinger in his August 31, 2007 memo. (more…)

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Portlanders See Through the “Bike vs. Car” Racket

Debate Club poster

Debate club poster
(Photo: Garrett Downen/Bus Project)

The Wheels to Wealth program is finally communicating with an audience it always wanted to reach out to. Program Director Sreya Sarkar took part in a debate in SE Portland that attracted the biking community of Portland.

As part of their monthly Debate Club series, the Bus Project and the Portland Mercury hosted a (more…)

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Be wary of funding “Mess Transit”

Steve BucksteinTestimony before the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development on HB 2278 A authorizing lottery bonds for transportation projects

Chair Johnson and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank that promotes individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon.
As the attached Sunday Oregonian article discusses, the kinds of public transit projects this bill may fund, especially in urban areas, are a poor use of scarce public transportation dollars.

Light rail, contrary to popular belief, carries relatively few (more…)

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Testimony before the House Transportation Committee on bills to ban cell phone usage while driving

Steve BucksteinGood afternoon Chair Beyer and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank that promotes individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon.

I’m here to question the necessity and effectiveness of all the bills before you today that seek to ban certain uses of cell phones while driving.

I think everyone agrees that cell phones have opened up wonderful benefits to our society. Most of us also agree that they have also introduced some risks. Unfortunately, politics is not a very good tool for (more…)

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Testimony on SB 580

Steve BucksteinBefore the Senate Business, Transportation and Workforce Development Committee

on the establishment of signature research centers

Good afternoon Chair Metsger and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a public policy research organization based in Portland.

Directing the Oregon Innovation Council to establish signature research centers is poor public policy because (more…)

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Portland’s highway system: there is no there there

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

The Federal Highway Administration has apparently reached its limit with Portland’s fantasy transportation planning. In comments filed recently on Metro’s so-called “Regional Transportation Plan”, the federal government noted that, “it’s difficult to find the transportation focus” in the plan.

Many motorists stuck in our worsening traffic would agree. Metro’s plan places little emphasis on (more…)

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Warning: “Sin Taxes” May Be Hazardous to the State

Cascade Commentary

Summary

Oregon’s cigarette tax has become an “essential” source of funding for government programs and services completely unrelated to smoking, a prime example of why a “sin tax” is bad public policy. (more…)

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Last Hand of the Game

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

There may be hope for the Portland City Council yet.

After being thoroughly embarrassed by their own lack of due diligence on the OHSU aerial tram, Councilors are now being a bit more skeptical (more…)

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Job Seekers Need Wheels to Wealth

John A. Charles, Jr.Cascade Commentary

Summary

Many public policies are designed to “get people out of their cars,” but recent research has shown that owning a car greatly increases a poor person’s ability to find better-paying work. Over the next year, Cascade Policy Institute’s Wheels to Wealth project will study the travel patterns of low-income families in Portland and educate journalists and policymakers about the value of private car ownership. (more…)

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One Small Step for Property Rights

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

Last week, the Portland City Council adopted a plan to build and finance the aerial tram that will run from OHSU to the North Macadam district down along the Willamette River. In a surprise move, the Council approved an amendment offered by Commissioner Dan Saltzman that requires the city to buy any properties below the tram’s right-of-way if the owners feel that the market value is threatened by the tram. The city will then re-sell the homes, either reaping the rewards of profit or bearing the risk of loss.

This is an important recognition by the (more…)

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Door to door transit for less

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

On May 1, Portland’s North Interstate light rail line opened for business. The cost to taxpayers was $60 million per mile, or $350 million total. The train, which runs from downtown to the Expo Center, replaces TriMet’s bus line 5, which used to go all the way to Vancouver. Now Vancouver customers must leave the train at Kenton and transfer to a bus to cross the river—their daily commute takes longer.

Oddly enough, superior transit service could have (more…)

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Clueless in Portland

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

Earlier this month, Portland was designated by Inc. magazine as the eighth worst city to do business in. Local politicians, long accustomed to fawning reviews by east coast media outlets, were stunned by this rebuke. Don Mazziotti, director of the Portland Development Commission, dismissed the ranking by saying, “If you use a screwy methodology, you get screwy results.”

Unfortunately for Portland, Inc. didn’t use (more…)

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The gridlocking of Portland

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

Last week the Texas Transportation Institute released its annual congestion rankings, and named Portland the 8th-worst city in America for traffic. Portland officials, upset that even Seattle is now ranked more favorably (12th), complained vehemently that the survey was inaccurate and besmirched Portland’s reputation as the nation’s most livable city.

But it’s difficult to understand why (more…)

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The Mythical World of Transit-Oriented Development: Steele Park in Washington County, Oregon

Introduction

During the past decade, Portland-area planners have embraced Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) as the region’s dominant land use/transportation strategy. They assert that TOD, especially based on light rail, will reduce traffic congestion, increase transit use, and make neighborhoods more livable. Transit-oriented development is generally defined as compact, mixed-use development that concentrates retail, housing and jobs in neighborhoods well-served by public transit. TOD has become so important to local planners that it is now the primary justification for expansion of Portland’s light rail system. Rail advocates concede that light rail is not worth the cost if it is built only as a transit system. (more…)

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Stop the highway slaughter

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

The tragic deaths of eight young firefighters this week on Highway 20 near the Idaho border was a grim reminder of how unsafe many of Oregon’s roads are. While other states have fully integrated networks of high-speed turnpikes or parkways, Oregon’s highway system — if one can call it that — is a hodgepodge of interstate highways, country roads, and urban arterials.

Impatient drivers treat these thru ways as if (more…)

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Metro Brew: More pork, less mobility

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

On June 12 a powerful Metro committee, JPACT, will decide how to spend $53 million in federal gas tax money. This tax is paid by Oregon motorists, laundered through a bureaucracy back in Washington, D.C., then returned to Oregon as “flexible funds” to be spent on any transportation project Metro approves. Although motorists paid the taxes, they will receive almost no benefits.

JPACT is what’s known as a (more…)

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OHSU Tram: Forward into the Past!

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

The recent decision by the Portland City Council to build a tram from Oregon Health Sciences University to the North Macadam district is reminiscent of the decision to fast- track the construction of light-rail to the Portland airport. In both cases, the transportation projects were deemed essential to the development of vacant land that would eventually create 10,000 new jobs.

Both projects were also “railroaded” through the political process in a (more…)

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I-5 Partnership locks in traffic

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

The I-5 Partnership, representing the states of Oregon and Washington, will adopt final recommendations this week for alleviating traffic problems on Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver. The recommendations cost over $2 billion, but will do little to actually improve traffic flow.

The primary reason is that nearly half the money will (more…)

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Urban renewal gets another black eye

Angela EckhardtQuickPoint!

The Portland Development Commission has put 70 urban renewal projects on hold due to the recent Oregon Supreme Court decision in Shilo Inn v. Multnomah County. Amidst the collective hand wringing over the loss of funds, few are discussing the public financing sleight of hand that has been exposed thanks to Shilo.

The court determined that some property taxes dedicated to urban renewal projects were (more…)

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Ride-Hailing Could Give an Uber-Needed Lyft to TriMet Service

By Miranda Bonifield

TriMet’s ridership has been steadily declining in recent years, to the great concern of transit advocates and fiscally conscious citizens alike. Proposed solutions involve sending expensive new bus and rail lines to underserved locations. But what if TriMet could reach new customers at a fraction of that cost?

Cascade Policy Institute recently released a study by economist Dr. Eric Fruits which found one or more high-cost and low-ridership bus lines could be replaced by facilitating the use of ride-hailing services in partnership with transit. Riders within particular areas could call an Uber or Lyft, ride to the bus, and then take public transit the rest of the way—a much more efficient and comfortable method than walking or biking through the rain. It could cost 55% less than expensive proposed bus lines—saving TriMet money—and slightly less than current bus and Max fares—saving customers money.

This isn’t a new idea; transit companies across the country have taken advantage of ride-hailing services’ ability to complement public transit. Studies have found a small but significant increase in transit ridership in cities with large transit systems which chose to partner with ride-hailing services. TriMet should pursue this low-risk, high-benefit option with a one-year pilot project beneficial to taxpayers, riders, and TriMet alike.

Miranda Bonifield is Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for PDF version:

1-9-19-Ride-Hailing_Could_Give_an_Uber-Needed_Lyft_to_TriMet_ServicePDF

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Ride Hailing as a Solution to TriMet’s High-Cost Bus Lines

A Proposal for a Pilot Project

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

Summary and recommendation

This report recommends TriMet pursue a one-year pilot project that replaces one or more of its high-cost bus lines with ride hailing services supported by a subsidy funded with the cost savings from eliminating the high-cost bus line.

  • A subsidy covering 75 percent of the fare to eligible riders would be straightforward and relatively easy to understand, implement, and use.
  • TriMet bus lines 97 (Tualatin-Sherwood Rd) and 63 (Washington Park/Arlington Hts) would be reasonable candidates for the pilot project. These lines provide the best combination of lower user costs and cost savings to TriMet.
  • The average rider’s cost would be slightly lower than current TriMet fares. Because the customer is paying a portion of the fare, riders would be more likely to weigh the benefits and costs of using the ride hail service as a connection to the TriMet system (first mile/last mile, a complement to TriMet service) versus door-to-door (a substitute for TriMet service).
  • The cost of the 75 percent subsidy on lines 97 and 63 would be approximately 55 percent lower than the current costs of operating the high-cost bus lines.

Each of the bus lines identified in this report intersects with other bus, MAX, and WES stops or overlaps TriMet transit centers. Uber found that nearly 25 percent of Uber trips in suburban Portland began or ended within one-quarter mile of a MAX or WES station, as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2 of this report. To encourage use of ride hailing services as a complement to the TriMet system, proof of fare payment should also serve as a 2.5 hour TriMet pass.

More than a dozen cities in the United States have programs similar to the proposed pilot project. Many of these cities have developed procedures to accommodate users who do not have a smartphone and users with ADA-related needs. Several of the programs began as pilot programs that have been extended because of the success of the pilot.

TriMet faces a challenge of declining ridership in conjunction with rising costs. In addition, the agency operates a number of high-cost bus lines. At the same time, ride hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft have grown in popularity since their introduction to the Portland region in 2015, providing convenient, reliable, low-cost service to millions of riders.

Recent research finds that ride hailing services have the largest positive complementary effect on rail service in cities with large public transit systems already in place, such as Portland. For these cities, the researchers found a small, but statistically significant, complementary effect on bus ridership.

The pilot project recommended in this report would be a low-cost, low-risk test of potential synergies between public transit and private ride hailing. If successful, the lessons learned can and should be applied to additional high-cost transit lines.

READ THE FULL REPORT

 

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New Report: Transportation Funding Should Be a State and Local Responsibility

Study Finds That Transportation Funding Should Be a State and Local Responsibility

May 4, 2016 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
John A. Charles, Jr.

503-242-0900

john@cascadepolicy.org

PORTLAND, Ore. –  In a study released today by Cascade Policy Institute, economist Randall Pozdena recommends that transportation regulation and finance devolve from the federal government to state and local governments. In addition, the study recommends that most transportation taxes be replaced with targeted user fees, to ensure that those who pay for services receive benefits commensurate with those payments.

For over 30 years, the federal government has assumed a disproportionately large role in the regulation and subsidization of transportation services. Yet, most travel is local. For instance, the Cascade research paper found: 

  • More than 50% of all household trips, by all modes, are less than five miles long
  • More than 90% are less than 20 miles
  • 92% of freight shipments are less than 500 miles, by weight

Despite the dominance of local travel, 32% of all transportation funding flows through federal processes.

Of the various transport modes, private freight, airline travel, and pipeline shipments are the least regulated and least subsidized. These modes benefit from high levels of private ownership and capital investment, subject to normal market discipline.

Highway travel and transit suffer from the most distortions and cross-subsidies through federal intervention. As a result, most urban areas face growing levels of traffic congestion, and large urban transit systems are seriously (and often tragically) under-maintained.

The transit industry, which has steadily become a government-sponsored enterprise since passage of the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964, is the sector most in need of a new business model. According to Dr. Pozdena,

“By definition, transit trips are extremely short and not important parts of larger networks. Federal and state governments should be out of the transit sector altogether, and rely on fare box revenue to ensure that the cost of the service is worthwhile to the user.”

For comparison purposes, Dr. Pozdena calculates that it costs roughly $60,000 to recruit one new additional transit rider in Oregon, which is 10 times the cost of providing new highway capacity for one additional auto commuter.

The Portland region in particular suffers from a mode imbalance in which vast sums of federal and state dollars have been spent on lightly-used passenger rail lines, while new highways and bridges have been canceled or delayed. This problem can be solved by inviting private investors to build needed new facilities through toll-based payments, and implementing time-of-day pricing schemes to ensure free-flow travel conditions on the regional highway system.

Last week the Oregon legislature announced the formation of an 18-person task force to study transportation funding for the 2017 legislative session. According to John A. Charles, Jr., CEO of Cascade Policy Institute,

“The Oregon Legislature has struggled unsuccessfully for decades to devise a sustainable transportation funding system. As yet another task force prepares to scale the fortress wall with the same weapons used in previous assaults, members should consider a new approach including targeted user fees rather than broad-based taxes, electronic tolling and variable pricing, elimination of political mandates prohibiting new highway facilities, and market-based reforms including privatization.

“These principles work everywhere else in the economy; they would work in the transportation sector as well, if we allowed them.”

The full report, Devolution of Transportation: Reducing Big Government Involvement in Transportation Decision-Making, can be downloaded here.


Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s premier policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. To that end, the Institute publishes policy studies, provides public speakers, organizes community forums, and sponsors educational programs. Cascade Policy Institute is a tax-exempt educational organization as defined under IRS code 501(c)(3). Cascade neither solicits nor accepts government funding and is supported by individual, foundation, and business contributions. The views expressed in Cascade’s reports are the authors’ own.

 

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Oregon’s Minimum Wage Law Perverts Compassion into Coercion

Picture two Oregon workers. One, a highly skilled and educated woman named Kate, earns well over $40 per hour based on a 40-hour work week. The other—a younger, less skilled, and less educated woman also named Kate—has a job that pays her Oregon’s minimum wage rate of $9.25 per hour.

The first Kate happens to be the Governor of Oregon. She, along with some of her colleagues in the legislature and activists on the campaign trail, believe that the second Kate should be paid as much as $15.00 per hour by law, depending on where she lives.

Wanting our second Kate to earn more is commendable; but forcing Kate’s employer to pay her more than he or she can afford, or more than Kate may be worth to their business, is not commendable.

Some politicians may feel good by “giving” more money to the Kates of Oregon, but how should they feel for “taking” that money from someone else?

I join many policy analysts, economists, and business owners in pointing out the negative effects of raising Oregon’s minimum wage. Younger, less educated and lower-skilled workers may lose their jobs, or not gain jobs in the first place, if the law prices them out of the labor market. Some employers will be forced to hire fewer workers, let some workers go, and/or raise their prices to all the Kates of Oregon who will blame them, not the politicians, for their suddenly higher cost of living.

But, the practical effects of raising the minimum wage, good or bad, should not cause us to forget the moral aspects of a state policy that dictates what one adult is required to pay another. Voluntary transactions between workers and employers are moral; imposing wage floors from Salem or any other layer of government is not.

I have no illusions that Oregon’s Governor, legislature, and activists will now see the light and abandon their plans to impose yet another burden on employers while helping some workers at the expense of others. I simply want it on the record that I agree with the author who wrote:

“The minimum wage is the modern perversion of compassion into coercion: I believe there is a moral imperative for you to earn more, so I force someone else to pay more. I feel moral while sticking someone else with the bill.”*

So, rather than raise Oregon’s minimum wage rate, the legislature should do the moral thing and end the policy altogether. Then we can all work together with Oregon Governor Kate Brown to find better, moral ways to help all the other Kates of Oregon earn more money without perverting our compassion into coercion.

* Doug Bandow, Cato Institute, January 14, 2014, The Minimum Wage: Immoral and Inefficient.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

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Testimony to TriMet Board About WES Expansion

John A. Charles, Jr. presented this testimony to the TriMet Board of Directors on May 28, 2014 with regard to their proposed expansion of the Westside Express Service.

 

Board members:

Below are my comments on Resolution 14-05-27, Adopting the Fiscal Year 2014-15 Annual Budget and Appropriating Funds, for your May 28 meeting:

Assumed cost of fringe benefits: According to the introductory narrative, the proposed FY 15 budget “assumes management’s initial offer for active and retiree health benefits.” This is consistent with the budget statements from previous years, which have tended to “assume away” unpleasant aspects of labor negotiations. It does not seem prudent to continue making these assumptions, based on the history of TM labor negotiations over the past 22 years. As much as I like seeing the proposed expansion of service, perhaps it would be better to scale back service enhancements and set aside more funds for a worst-case outcome on the cost of health benefits.

Plans for WES expansion: The staff recommends purchasing two additional vehicles for WES, at a cost of $8.5 million, or $13.2 million over 20 years of debt service. All of those costs will cannibalize other general fund programs. I’d suggest that this proposal be pulled from the budget and possibly added back later, after further public vetting.

WES is TriMet’s most expensive fixed-route service, but I’m not aware of any justification that has ever been offered. Fewer than 1,000 TriMet riders benefit from these subsidies each weekday. Why are WES riders so privileged?

To put the issue in context, below are the costs of WES compared with those of similar bus service offered by SMART of Wilsonville. While WES is undoubtedly a nicer and quicker ride for users, the cost premium is difficult to justify to non-riding taxpayers who have to make up the difference.

Express 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

In addition, 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 in 2010 was 4,240 BTU per passenger-mile; for light-duty cars, the average was 3,364.

WES has always been a planning mistake. Before the Board decides to double-down on failure, there should be careful consideration of an alternative action: terminating service. None of the current board members had anything to do with the original decision, so no one should feel a personal need to defend it. Certainly terminating service would result in some short-term costs because of likely re-payment penalties to the federal government, but at some point the lower operations would provide net benefits to taxpayers (including those outside of TriMet’s district in Wilsonville, who pay TriMet more than $25,000/month to subsidize train operations).

In a typical year, there are very few opportunities for the Board to actually express a clear policy choice for TriMet’s future; most decisions are made by the staff. This is a rare chance for the Board to isolate two distinct policy options, consider the long-term effects, and express an independent preference for one of those options. I strongly encourage you to defer action on the proposed purchase of additional WES vehicles for at least another 60-90 days in order to have that public conversation.

Sincerely,

John A. Charles

Cascade Policy Institute

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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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