$15.61 Cost Per Rider

It’s very interesting to see the cost per rider for some of TriMet’s routes.  It brings up the point, that maybe, we SHOULD cut more lines or find some way to make them more efficient.  Such as finding a way to get volunteer drivers or part time drivers that would drive commuter vans or something.  There HAS to be a way to reduce the absurdity of some of these costs.  For instance, and these numbers come from TriMet, a few of these routes are insane.

Bus lines proposed to be discontinued

Bus Line Rides Per Vehicle Hour Cost Per Ride Alternative Service Nearby

41-Tacoma

16.9

$5.50

19, 33, 70, 99

74-Lloyd District/Southeast

21.7

$4.28

4, 9, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 66, 70, 75

86-Alderwood

11.3

$15.61

72

153-South End Rd Loop

8.3

$11.20

 

System average:

34.6

$2.72

 

Why in the world, for economic and environmental reasons, do we put up with these routes?  Sure TriMet is trying to expand ridership or whatever, but these routes are and have been absolutely stupid.  I don’t care who they’re carrying around, if the cost is $11.20 or $15.61 I absolutely dread figuring out what the actual environmental impact is compared to anything else on the routes, such as say a nasty ole 10 year old SUV.

One looks at the system average, those are the numbers we need to run transit close to and around.  I’m sure several routes do much better even than the $2.72.  A simple rule should be followed, if one can’t keep the cost per rider below that of a single occupancy Ford Explorer, they should be running that route.  I’m pretty sure, last I checked, a brand new Ford Explorer based on averages would run ya about $8-10 bucks per ride (of course, nobody buying a car EVER thinks of it that way, but it boils down to  about that).

Anyone else out there got opinions on this matter?  Should we be running routes like the #86 and #153?  What do people think about the fact we provide handicap service at over $50 per ride?  Not regular bus service, but custom taxi style service at $50 bucks a ride.  We could pay for actual handicap taxies to provide this service for over half the price!  Why are we giving handicap people crappier rides, shorting taxi drivers dollars and business, and charging ourselves (ya know, we the taxpayers) to provide this service in a rather messed up illogical, environmentally unfriendly (I promise you those Toyota vans the taxis use are WAY more efficient and cleaner than those diesel – even biodiesel – spewing buses TriMet uses), economically unsustainable way?  It’s nice that the city & TriMet decides we should pay for these rides out of public funds but sometimes they need to bring a little more harsh reality into the decision making for these routes.

Free Public Transit?

Meanwhile I read this guys blog every once in a while and honestly find it interesting enough that I have it on my blogroll.  It’s a blog about “free transit”.  This guy proposes all transit to be “Free” in cost to users.  I haven’t seen a single note, thought, or write up regarding how he would propose we actually pay for the transit so it could be free, but he rants and raves about places making transit free (or parts of it, as it usually happens).

Ugh, please, somebody in charge start thinking these things through!  😦

 

…ok, next entry, I promise, will have a more positive non-political rant mode to it.

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24 Comments

  1. I know Al M. disagrees heartily with me on this, but I’ve suggested taking a cue from the airline industry (mainline vs. regional airlines) which is a concept used by a number of transit agencies (LACMTA and King County Metro do it)…

    I don’t support "contracting" per se but it could be done…my suggestion is to create two tiers of bus Operators and service.

    Tier I would essentially be the same as a LIFT driver. You drive a minibus (30′ or smaller) on a neighborhood route. Less pay but you’re doing fewer miles, always drive the same route in a local area, generally peak hours only or weekdays only (maybe a few Saturday runs)…all new Operators are hired into Tier I.

    Once an Operator has gained enough experience (and seniority) they can move to Tier II. Tier II Operators drive 40′ or larger vehicles (i.e. articulateds) on mainline routes. Better pay, of course, but a little more strenuous work.

    Labor costs would be reduced because Tier I operators would get paid less; however as working conditions would improve (and there’d be more opportunity for full-time drivers) the working conditions would improve to attract more Operators.

    Once that is accomplished, TriMet needs to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles for the smaller runs. The Sprinter is a good example, the Toyota bus that we previously discussed is another good example. Even using the standard Eldorado National Aerotech cutaways would work. Each of these vehicles can get better than 10 MPG, which is well above double what TriMet currently gets in its bus fleet. Combined with a smaller, easier to maintain vehicle and a less expensive Operator and you get instant cost savings.

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  2. We need to solve the real problem. It doesn’t really take $15.61 to transport someone on Line 86. Instead, the ridership is so low that there’s not a lot of people among which to divide the cost of operating the actual bus. In other words, if more people were to ride it, the "cost per ride" would go DOWN since the operating cost could be divided up among more riders, instead of causing the total operating cost to increase (same cost per ride * additional riders).

    And the ridership on many lines is low because they serve areas of low-density development and/or are not pedestrian/transit-rider friendly. Ridership could also be increased by charging motorists for things like oil defense, pollution clean-up (like the 40% of the Big Pipe) and "free" parking.

    Also, I’ve heard that LIFT runs closer to $25 per average ride, though there may be ones that do cost $50 (and since their service is actually tied to ridership, its fairer to divide the cost among riders).

    BTW, I could have actually taken the 86 a week or two ago, but it was easier and better schedule-wise to run from MAX.

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  3. Interesting thought, would the union agree to it? Usually unions are against anything whatsoever to do with a meritocracy based system, but this sounds like it would do a fair bit of mixing between seniority but also ability.

    Either which way TriMet, and the Union should push for more meritocracy and even get riders involved in the whole thing. Get drivers bonuses based on something, get some REAL motivation for the drivers to perform, and perform well. Right now there isn’t much motivation among them except to just basically poke along the routes and kind of glance at riders boarding. Right now that is what drivers do, because they really aren’t encouraged to do anything else.

    We need more drivers like Dan Christensen, Al M, and others that actually interact and HELP patrons of the system. We the passengers want that, but currently it mostly is not something we get.

    …eh, either way it isn’t going to change much. Unions aren’t exactly known for progressive, productivity improving ideas or gestures, and the drivers don’t really have any reason to get the Union to allow such things. TriMet on the other hand also doesn’t have much reason to change things, as their main concerns are revenue and other sundry items that have nothing to do with actual ridership.

    So the question really stands as…

    1. How does TriMet improve the rider experience and interaction with the system (which of course includes the bus driver).
    2. How does TriMet increase ridership?
    3. How can TriMet increase efficiency and decrease costs?
    4. How can we improve the operating fare ratio to subsidy ratio? It gets better, TriMet get more support and we get more service for the $$.

    …lots of questions and few answers right now.

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  4. Obviously I respect Eriks point of view, but contracting usually means one thing:

    CUT WAGES AND BENEFIT.

    If you want to start doing this sort of cost analysis, let figure out the average cost for catching thieves, or the average cost for putting out a house fire.

    Transit is a public service and should not be looked at as AVERAGE COST.

    What’s the average cost for the war in Iraq?

    Lets look at real problems before worrying about such little things like how much it costs to run bus 74 per ride.

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  5. I have nothing but respect for Erik, but in the case of contracting out I disagree. The reasons for this are pretty obvious.

    Contracting out IN MOST cases usually means one thing, CUT WAGES AND BENEFITS.
    I have not seen one case where a contractor pays the equivalent wage and/or benefits as the governmental entity does itself.

    If that’s where the public wants to save money, I say hell no.

    Now my second point is this;
    Why is public transit looked at as some sort of money making/losing business?

    What is the police cost per bank robber?
    Or the cost per house fire at the fire department
    Or the cost per citizen to fund the war in Iraq?

    Public services are not judged on a cost per basis.
    They are provided as a right of each citizen.

    This is the problem with transit today, some people insist on turning into just another profit making/losing endeavor. Some things have no business in the profit loss game, and transit is one of them.

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  6. I’ll answer your questions in an upcoming blog entry… because they do lead to some interesting tidbits that turns into a vastly HUGE comment. 🙂 It’ll be easier just to post it and continue the conversation that way.

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  7. Two things (to address Al’s comments):

    1. The idea must not cut wages for existing drivers; nor should it cut wages for Operators who attain "mainline" status. (I don’t agree in cutting wages and benefits for the sake of doing so.) It should be nothing more than to get drivers in the door, provide them with full time status faster AND provide better service to residents, and to permit a lower starting wage by giving these operators less demanding, more regular/routine routes to start out with.

    2. Contracting out work takes a lot of work. It can be done successfully but I’m not sure that contracting out existing TriMet service will really result in any benefit. (On the other hand…WES is fully contracted out and so is LIFT!)

    And…I agree that the war in Iraq (and millions of other public projects/policies) are a waste of money too. I don’t buy the argument that we should let X project slide because projects A through W are a waste of money. We should cut across the board when appropriate, and fund projects and services that are appropriate (like bus service, the lowest common denominator of public transit).

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  8. Jason McHuff: "And the ridership on many lines is low because they serve areas of low-density development and/or are not pedestrian/transit-rider friendly. Ridership could also be increased by charging motorists for things like oil defense, pollution clean-up (like the 40% of the Big Pipe) and "free" parking."

    Problem is that "oil defense" is a small part of our national defense; pollution clean-up has more than oil — the largest stationary source of pollution in Oregon is a coal burning power plant in Boardman, so do we charge a pollution surcharge on MAX/Streetcar riders? — and I’ve long advocated that TriMet needs to end the practice of "free" (read: subsidized by bus riders) park-and-ride parking and start charing $8/day.

    I’ve also stated that TriMet should have used Stimulus funds to help improve bus stops and pedestrian access to bus stops – but TriMet felt ZERO need to do anything to improve bus stops (except for adding a few Transit Tracker signs on the "cross mall" stops.) Using Stimulus funds could have put hundreds of folks to work for an extended period of time to build new shelters, lay concrete bus pads, improved sidewalks, installed solar panels for area lighting, sidewalks to neighborhoods, crosswalks and other safety appliances… All of which would have had a much larger ROI than, say, the air conditioning for Center Street, the roof on top of Elmonica, and the very expensive gas station and car wash at Merlo.

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  9. How would charging for park & rides at $8 bucks a day help transit usage? It seems we’d lose a MASSIVE amount of fare revenue if you got rid of the daily commuters that drive to stations and ride in.

    I do however think people should pay for the "free parking" but I don’t think it will encourage a better transit system at this time without charging auto users for the above stated items – Oil defense, actual road costs, etc.

    Arguably the only reason transit isn’t self sustaining is because every form of competition is HEAVILY subsidized, not because people don’t value transit.

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  10. Regarding the Boardman coal plant, I’ve read that TriMet purchases green power for MAX: Also, that thing probably affects far fewer people than pollution from vehicles in the Portland area.

    And it makes since to contract out WES operations since its a totally different animal that TriMet isn’t used to and since the P&W might like to be the one operating the trains on their railroad.

    Lastly, many of the things TriMet is using stimulus money for are ones that might needed to funded some other way. By using stimulus funding for those, it allows the other money to be diverted to operations. And I don’t think they wash *cars* at Merlo Garage.

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  11. …Wait a second… just read the "oil defense". Since when is it a small part of the budget? It’s hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. The war in the middle east would NOT be happening if it weren’t for oil. The US has absolutely ZERO interest in that part of the world if it weren’t for the oil.

    …just an observation.

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  12. "How would charging for park & rides at $8 bucks a day help transit usage? "

    It won’t, but why are some types of "free" parking acceptable but not others? If I shop at Freddy’s I know that I "pay" for parking as part of the costs to shop there; why should some law be created to force me to pay more – is that law also going to require that when I get to the checkouts that my cash register price is immediately reduced by the same amount I pay for parking, or is that simply a rouse to give Freddy’s more profits?

    I’m tired of light rail supporters arguing against "free parking" but they gladly accept it while (generally) bus riders pay for it.

    "I’ve read that TriMet purchases green power for MAX"

    No, they don’t (speaking as one of the two power providers for TriMet.)

    "Also, that thing probably affects far fewer people than pollution from vehicles in the Portland area."

    Actually it’s about neck-and-neck; but the pollution from Boardman spreads out and covers a much larger region. The vehicle pollution in Portland generally stays in Portland.

    "And it makes since to contract out WES operations since its a totally different animal that TriMet isn’t used to and since the P&W might like to be the one operating the trains on their railroad."

    MAX was a "totally different animal" in 1986 but it was not contracted out.

    The railroad doesn’t belong to P&W. From Beaverton to Tigard, the railroad from the ground up is owned by TriMet; P&W has a "freight easement" and a contract to operate and maintain the track. From Tigard to Wilsonville, the railroad hardware (ties and rails) are owned by P&W (paid for by TriMet, though) but the right-of-way is owned by ODOT. (ODOT owns the right-of-way down to just north of Keizer; ODOT also owns the right-of-way for the Forest Grove-Hillsboro line, the Banks-Linnton route over Cornelius Pass, and the Astoria Line from Willbridge to Tongue Point.)

    TriMet had to bid out the WES operations and P&W was never automatically awarded the operations contract. If you look at the numerous other commuter operations in the country, rarely are they operated by the underlying freight railroad. Sounder is operated (but not maintained) by BNSF. In Los Angeles they use a totally separate party, as in San Francisco, San Jose (ACE), San Diego, Salt Lake City, New Mexico, Dallas/Fort Worth and Minneapolis. In Chicago some of the operations are by the freight railroads (an arrangement which existed before Metra) but some of the lines are operated by Metra themselves. In Boston the MBTA uses a contractor to run commuter trains over Amtrak owned tracks.

    "many of the things TriMet is using stimulus money for are ones that might needed to funded some other way. By using stimulus funding for those, it allows the other money to be diverted to operations"

    I want a list of the projects that were supposed to have been funded through Operations but are no longer, and dollar amounts.

    My understanding is that the Stimulus projects was nothing more than a "wish list" of TriMet’s that was previously several years deep (due to no funding).

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  13. I have to take contention with the statement, "I’m tired of light rail supporters arguing against "free parking" but they gladly accept it while (generally) bus riders pay for it."

    The buses don’t pay a damn penny for parking just like MAX riders don’t. EVERYBODY receives free parking gets free parking from what amounts to income taxes or general budget funds. Transit doesn’t pay for itself, MAX doesn’t, buses sure as hell don’t, and the WES, I wont’ even get started.

    So saying the bus drivers pay for MAX parking is complete BS. The buses have park & rides too, the buses use Church lots as park & rides, people park on street parking near my apartment, 6 cars EVERY day and board the #9. This happens all over the city.

    When it comes down to the final math, the people paying for the VAST majority (90%+) of that parking are people earning over the median income and paying income taxes on it.

    NOT bus riders, MAX riders, WES riders, car drivers, or any passenger transport related riders/drivers. It is paid for out of income taxes and sometimes, rarely, street fees or such.

    On many occasions free parking is provided at places like Fred Meyer, Wal-Mart, and even other stores that pay for it themselves – and no, I don’t have a problem with a company’s free choice in utilization of their funds for something they see as helping their business and its respective service to consumers…

    …but I digress, free parking sucks, but transit riders are the LAST people that actually pay for anything-at least in associative correlation. Simply put, that statement would be an outright lie (along with the zillions of others these days).

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  14. Free park & ride parking in the suburbs is better than free parking in the central city because the area isn’t congested as the central city is and, moreover, it diverts traffic from the congested central city. However, I would prefer that the suburbs were denser, making local transit service more viable and have park & rides be limited to the edge of the metro area (for people in areas where transit really isn’t feasible).

    And while MAX was a new and different thing in the 1980s, it consisted of much more than just four cars and wasn’t regulated like commuter rail is. And there wasn’t some other light rail operator who could easily add MAX to their workload. WES, on the other hand, is not that much different than a freight train. The equipment might be different, but the operators have to follow the same rules and regulations. Lastly, I believe TriMet does maintain the WES cars.

    Also, this is the link I meant to post: http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/stories/2001/01/15/daily31.html (however, its nice to hear from someone in the know about it). And regarding stimulus funding see http://www.trimet.org/pdfs/news/stimulusprojects.pdf (some of those things are nice-to-haves, and I’d definitely include the Milwaukie P&R unless a large percentage of work can be re-used for the LIFT facility or whatever, but many others are deserving of money)

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  15. Cutting costs depends greatly on the collective bargaining agreement.

    No one should press for wage and benefit cuts. It’s a thankless battle, and it’s morally repugnant, especially to the workers who are the agency’s public face. Economically speaking, a negotiated wage between labor and management is "fair".

    There is an alternative to rein in costs. As Eric pointed out, some systems have a separate tier of drivers with reduced pay and benefits for expensive lines. To update, though, L.A. got rid of its low-tier driver status a couple of years ago. San Diego had an identical system, but it ultimately was turned over to private contractors.

    The agency should optimize high-cost drivers to high-productivity services. A bigger problem than high wages is poor utilization. High-seniority drivers gravitate to the lines with the lowest ridership, because there are fewer people to deal with. Union rules grant run bidding based upon seniority.

    You could still keep the seniority system in place, but management can always change the incentives. Put a pay scale that pays drivers more for operating the busiest services. These can be broken down by period, where rush hour on a street like Powell gets the biggest premium, whereas lower ridership lines would have no premium.

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  16. "High-seniority drivers gravitate to the lines with the lowest ridership, because there are fewer people to deal with. Union rules grant run bidding based upon seniority."

    That is a problem again, with Unions. It is counter productive, non-logical, and not good for customers. Seniority should also have squat to do with what bus lines someone takes. It should be based on employee performance, merit, and ability of driver to handle and perform on a particular route. I know, Unions are almost always anti-all of these things.

    If the Union would chill, and realize how to actually make their employees more valuable to the employer, there would be less resistance to pay increases and benefits. Matter of fact if the company could get merit, productivity, and performance into their planning they could probably more easily afford the pay they do make and possibly increases. Currently though the Union makes employees worth less than they should be. I find it, personally, disgusting what Unions do to their employees they’re supposed to protect – the whole Union ideal is really counter intuitive and counter productive to what it is supposed to achieve.

    Maybe one day they’ll get more aligned, however I doubt that happens with a pro-Union, bilk the companies leadership in place now. The simple ideal should be, find a win-win for company and employees. Right now the Unions should take an example from entities like Bank of America, Microsoft, Adobe (software), and other companies on how to treat their employees well. Maybe they’d get some ideas on how to do things right and not screw the consumer.

    The Unions should also stop trying to keep busy body jobs. Like the fact that the aerial tram is over $100k more a year because they decided TriMet/Aerial Tram should be forced to have a "staff person" in the tram. Dumbest idea EVER. Complete waste of tram/taxpayer monies. As absurd as the "gas pump attendant" jobs enforced by the state in Oregon. When a job is not needed by society, and it is THAT obvious, it shouldn’t be forced upon us it doesn’t do anyone well in the long run.

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  17. "The buses don’t pay a damn penny for parking just like MAX riders don’t. EVERYBODY receives free parking gets free parking from what amounts to income taxes or general budget funds. Transit doesn’t pay for itself, MAX doesn’t, buses sure as hell don’t, and the WES, I wont’ even get started.

    "So saying the bus drivers pay for MAX parking is complete BS. The buses have park & rides too, the buses use Church lots as park & rides, people park on street parking near my apartment, 6 cars EVERY day and board the #9. This happens all over the city."

    Agreed, my point is that MAX (and bus, but TriMet’s bus capital budget is pretty close to zero) capital costs require farebox revenues which come from bus riders who don’t get anything in return – thus, bus riders are paying for MAX park and rides.

    TriMet pays very little for the use of church parking lots; yes some folks park at a Freddy’s parking lot (as one example) and the store, not TriMet, is paying the cost. (hence the aggressive tow operations that are now under scrutiny.)

    Since TriMet’s job is to move people and not provide parking…I see absolutely no reason why TriMet has to provide free parking. Will it reduce ridership? Sure…but the ridership is a group of people who choose to live in areas where transit is not available, or chooses NOT to use local transit which is available (the majority of people who use the Barbur Blvd. Park & Ride). Why should I pay (as part of my fare) a cost to maintain a parking lot that I have litle-to-no use for when it’s not TriMet’s job to provide parking — and if it is TriMet’s job, why isn’t TriMet running parking lots in downtown Portland as a "transportation option"?

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  18. Adron wrote: [i]That is a problem again, with Unions. It is counter productive, non-logical, and not good for customers. Seniority should also have squat to do with what bus lines someone takes. It should be based on employee performance, merit, and ability of driver to handle and perform on a particular route. I know, Unions are almost always anti-all of these things.[/i]

    I disagree with you on this. For all the bad that comes in high-cost drivers gravitating to high-cost lines, there’s also benefits into having a seniority-bid system in place.

    For one thing, drivers are the best sources of knowledge about the operating environment. Drivers know the working conditions of a line best — better than their supervisors, dispatchers or the suits in headquarters.

    Second, it engages drivers into decision-making. I say that the general trend is for drivers to gravitate to low-productivity lines. There are many exceptions to this rule, though. There are plenty of drivers who prefer variety. Most agencies have something called an "extra board." This is a wildcard assignment where the driver only knows what route will be driven on the day of work. It could be a peak-hour or school tripper, or it could be a regular run if a driver is on vacation or calls in sick. Based on seniority rules, drivers can bid to be on the extra board, but if there aren’t enough bidders, the lowest-seniority drivers will be stuck doing the extra board.

    As for performance, remember that a driver that gets too many complaints can be pulled from a run. There are some drivers who goldbrick, but then again there are some routes that are challenging and the driver may not perform to the best of his or her abilities. There are ways to see whether a driver can handle a line. If a driver is consistently 15 minutes late on a particular run, and you go back to the records for a couple of years and find that most drivers were able to operate the run on time, then a driver could be pulled. But if the records show other drivers have had trouble staying on time, then the run should be changed to improve performance.

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  19. Erik –

    "Agreed, my point is that MAX (and bus, but TriMet’s bus capital budget is pretty close to zero) capital costs require farebox revenues which come from bus riders who don’t get anything in return – thus, bus riders are paying for MAX park and rides."

    My point is it is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. It could also be said that bus operations are able to be expanded at the cost of the MAX too, since it cost like 20-30% less to operate MAX than it does buses to carry the same number of people the MAX does.

    It could also be said that the bus riders steal from the auto drivers because the buses cause about 10x more damage to the roads than cars, and ODOT is responsible for the roads.

    Point being, if the argument in transit is to in-fight, logically we should give up. If the point is to improve transit and decrease auto-usage than arguing if rail riders versus bus riders are stealing from each other isn’t going to get us better transit at all, if anything others will grow sick of the fuss and go fund more crappy black top for cars.

    WAD –

    "I disagree with you on this. For all the bad that comes in high-cost drivers gravitating to high-cost lines, there’s also benefits into having a seniority-bid system in place."

    Agreed. But… removing control from the management for determining where they need merit, skill, and yes, seniority doesn’t help make the bus system better. Neither does allowing the senior people to go pick all the fancy spancy nice routes while the newbs have to pick up the crap routes. This doesn’t help the crap routes, or really help the nice routes. There needs to be a balance.

    Such as at TriMet, often the newb gets stuck on the #72, which sucks. In reality a senior person ought to do at least some runs on the #72 to keep things on the up and up. Instead the #72 route acts to create employee churn/turnover and thus a lower yield of what could be good bus drivers. All because the newbs get stuck on the absolute crap routes because the senior people go hide on their almost empty buses (as statistics point out, I know some drivers take routes that might be a bit rougher and they are senior – fortunately the #9 has several of those drivers).

    In addition a young petite woman can be a great bus driver. But if a young petite woman joins TriMet, gets stuck on the #72 continuously with yelling, fussing, ghetto thug kids, who provide nothing but sexual harrassment and such, she’s very likely to quit. Meanwhile you have a senior, or just a solid person that shows merit, that is a bit larger and bears a bit of size to themselves and you get the #72 under control in short order.

    Yes, it could be discrimination or whatever crap PC one wants to make up, but not doing this leaves a bunch of crap routes that never improve. This is merely an observation, but I’d bet a good chunk o’ cash that the numbers back it up.

    Often other unionized groups have the same problem; Police, fireman, schools, etc. We wonder why unionized work forces have such crap results for consumers of said services.

    I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’m not against unions. However in their current mode of operation in the US all they tend to do is screw the consumer. More than the Republicans, Democrats, or big business have ever managed to do. The car industry is a prime example.

    Which companies do we get GOOD quality products from and who do we not get good quality products from?

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  20. Adron, remember that it is Tri-Met management, not the unions, that still have responsibility for keeping the system running. The challenge comes in actually implementing a rule that would be tolerable.

    Unions have set the bid rule, and they are not likely to give that up. Remember, work rules involve a give-and-take at the bargaining table. Bidding, among all things, would be a foolish thing to strike over. You can have a gung-ho union chief threaten a strike and actually pull the trigger, but a strike in the end bloodies both labor and management.

    Very few will sympathize with the union if they strike and they are still being offered a raise and improved benefits. Inertia over productivity will hurt the drivers in the long run.

    An alternative to what there is now is to formulate pay grades based upon line productivity. It would be much easier if Tri-Met had vehicles of various sizes. San Jose’s VTA achieved some savings by implementing a host of shorter, community-oriented lines with cutaway buses driven by low-seniority drivers. It ended up saving driver jobs, nothing had to be contracted out, and VTA was able to improve service on many lines (some lines that once had hourly service with full-size buses now have 30 minute service; the full-size buses were deployed around San Jose to offer more 15- and 20-minute service).

    Tri-Met could do the same. Theoretically, there could be three classes of service: mini-bus, full-size bus and articulated bus. Bus size would allow drivers to "qualify" for larger buses, thereby increasing their pay.

    Then there could be a scale tied to route productivity throughout the day. The table would be oriented in a way so that drivers would get the highest pay for driving the busiest bus routes during rush hour, with premiums decreasing as the load lightens.

    Base pay would be a cutaway bus operating on the routes with the fewest passengers per hour. The highest premium would go to an articulated bus driven during rush hour.

    The other alternative would be to have "dynamic scheduling". This is where drivers, rather than running on a fixed schedule, depart terminals at fixed intervals. This would mean drivers would pull into a transit center, but not necessarily depart on the same line they arrived. This is another way that high- and low-cost drivers could be spread across all routes.

    These are ways that would not require drivers to give up any pay or seniority, and allow for costs to be managed productively.

    The one big downside: MAX. If Tri-Met chooses to tie incentives to route productivity, the unions would likely demand that MAX operators’ pay scale to match bus operators. Even if a MAX operator made twice as much in take-home pay as a bus driver, the rail operator moved 3-5 times more people. So in effect, the MAX operator "makes less" than a bus driver.

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  21. I dig it Wad. Those notions reward the bus driver for doing and choosing to do a great job, versus the motivators now are to stay clear and be mediocre.

    I don’t see how you can be that supportive of unions when all they’ve generally done is fight for mediocrity while maintaining high wages for a select few while eliminating jobs for those that aren’t members. Maybe they protect some things, but in most cases a strong union equals a screwed consumer. More so than any management or Government decision ever made.

    Either way, I do like your idea, it is very aligned with the things people want, specifically the consumer of commuter services.

    Reply

  22. Adron wrote: [i]I don’t see how you can be that supportive of unions when all they’ve generally done is fight for mediocrity while maintaining high wages for a select few while eliminating jobs for those that aren’t members. Maybe they protect some things, but in most cases a strong union equals a screwed consumer. More so than any management or Government decision ever made.[/i]

    Listening to too much AM radio again? :>

    For one thing, unions fight for a collective bargaining agreement that, first, must be agreed to by both labor and management, and second, must be voted upon by the workers.

    Second, a contract contains tangible, enforceable provisions. It’s a legal document, bound by workers and managers alike.

    There’s no "rights of mediocre workers" clause anywhere, much to the consternation of mediocre workers everywhere. :>

    As for eliminating jobs, that’s determined by jurisdiction (who the union covers) and agency (what jobs are subject to collective bargaining). It gets even more complicated when you are talking contracts involving trades, agencies or guilds.

    As for strong unions=lousy goods and services for the consumer … is it the union’s fault? Or is that the sign of bad management? Remember, managers never signed away their right to run their operations. Every job site will absorb its share of malingerers and malcontents. If the behavior becomes endemic, it’s because managers have not been doing their jobs. Strong unions require strong managers. And strong does not necessarily mean hardass managers. A manager who can get along with workers well while still keeping things running gets the best results, and the quality will show to the consumer. It’s in the interest of both workers and managers to head off problems before they start.

    Anyway, to steer it back to the bus driver discussion, I’m glad you liked the idea of the route pay based upon productivity. Again, it is a win for the agency, the drivers and the passengers.

    The hardest obstacle to overcome is inertia. It’s not just a union thing. It’s human nature. I can feel for a driver who busted his or her ass for years and picking a plum route as a reward for continuous service. But again, the bid system has led to a situation where most bus services become prohibitively expensive to run.

    This can be changed, with minimal amount of damage to workers.

    Consider your choices as a manager. 1) Break the union. No manager would go so far in the organization to make the bargaining table a kamikaze mission. 2) Stop work. It’s in the interest of all parties to stay at the table, just as diplomacy and trade are preferable alternatives to war. A strike or lockout creates more problems than it solves. 3)Find common ground. Well, enough said about this choice.

    Productivity-based runs are an attempt at common ground. The union can always reject this, but what are they going to do? Strike? They can win a strike if you threaten massive pay cuts or take away what was promised them. They’ll get very little sympathy if they walk over preserving unproductive routes for highly paid drivers. Plus, strikes cost workers wages and the unions money in the form of paying out strike aid.

    The alternative? The high-seniority drivers may have to be stuck back on the routes they hated to work as noobs, but no one will lose their jobs and it saves from all sorts of unsavory alternatives (contracting out or cutting routes).

    Reply

  23. I don’t listen to AM Radio, but that is a funny come back – dug it. 😉

    I’m not even going to comment anymore on the whole union dealio. I just hope unions stay the hell away from technology. Otherwise I’ll need to find another line of work where I’m not forced into some collective.

    Reply

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