The Whole Columbia River Crossing, The Other Pending Financial Catastrophe

Dammit. I have things to do, but of all the issues facing Portlanders, Vancouverites and in some very indirect ways the general populace of California, Oregon and Washington, feel the need to inform & provide my frustration with the current state of the I-5 Project. The last few rants and ramblings on Facebook have been without much information, just “go call your senator” and what not. I’d mistakenly assumed that people knew the situation surrounding the I-5 Bridge Replacement.

First things first let’s talk about what the I-5 Project is. This project is generally referred to as the CRC or Columbia River Crossing Project. It is intended to replace the I-5 Bridge, add light rail, and dramatically change out and increase the interchange access for local traffic on Jantzen Beach, access to Vancouver, and a number of other interchanges in Vancouver and a few in north Portland. The total price tag is *estimated* at about $4 billion dollars.

Now a few facts that will not change.

  • Trimet == Tri-County Metropolitan Transit Authority. The transit service, that generally serves the three counties of the Portland Metro area excluding Vancouver.
  • C-Tran == Clark County Transit. The transit service that serves the Vancouver area, which generally equates to express service that travels into Portland and drops off people that work in Portland and live in Washington.
  • This project, overall includes Trimet, C-Tran, PDOT, ODOT, WADOT and other agencies working together, sort of. There’s a LOT of politics and¬†disunion¬†already. (and yes, I’m stating that as a fact, the fighting has become public several times.)
  • The project will cost at minimum $4 billion dollars. Not less.
  • The project includes a toll for traffic coming from Vancouver, because Vancouver doesn’t have the kind of money to build a project like this. The majority of funding, in order, will come from the Federal Government, Portland and then everybody else.
  • The project does include light rail, which Vancouver will INDEED fund part of, regardless of the recent vote because Vancouver/C-Tran has already promised this through other means.
  • The project includes pedestrian access.
  • The current design has to change for various legal, safety and regulation requirements around the airfield and river traffic. (The plan itself generally costs hundreds of thousands and includes millions of dollars of work)
  • The throughput lanes remain the same for the entirety of the bridge replacement.
  • The only net new throughput would be the light rail line into downtown Vancouver that would extend to the community college.
  • The rail bottleneck would remain untouched. This costs over a billion in delays and congestion every year to the metro area of Portland, the city of Seattle, and delays downline to San Francisco, Oakland and even Los Angeles. Yes, it is THAT big of a bottle neck and this project does nothing to change this.
  • The road based freight delays on I-5 are negligible by comparison and much of that freight traffic already diverts to I-205.
  • The majority of traffic that turns into stop & go and delays on I-5 between Vancouver and Portland is 70% local travel. The information available also points out that the majority of this traffic ends up exiting the Interstate within a few exist north or south of the Bridge. In other words, the traffic isn’t even into or out of Portland itself, but only to the immediate areas around the Columbia River. (One using deducation, might say we need a local arterial for this traffic)

So now that I’ve pulled together these facts, let’s look at a few other things not related to the CRC, or also known as alternatives. Here’s one that is really well put together.

This is one of the solutions, or alternatives, that has been put forth. But alas, I’ll include the proponents material too. It’s available via the Columbia River Crossing site that has been put up here:¬†http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/ProjectInformation/ResearchAndResults/AlternativesConsidered.aspx

Yes, there is a website dedicated to the projects implementation. There’s also the Bike Portland blog that has a great write up on it (it’s not anti-car per say, just informative for the most part). ¬†http://bikeportland.org/2011/04/27/video-explains-common-sense-alternative-to-crc-project-52147

Also, while we’re at it, give a listen to this individual. He points out the damage the Interstate has already caused and many of the related issues that we already have to deal with, without making the problems worse by building a massive bridge that barely resolves any of the traffic issues.

So anyway, go learn about it, and PLEASE take a minute or two and call your Senator about this. This project as it is will dramatically decrease what can be done in the future to actually deal with traffic, it will decrease the amount of funds for other things in the city budget too, such as schools, existing¬†infrastructure, etc. This project is going to expand the debt burden for the next generation, i.e. your kids and teenagers you’re raising now will have a significant debt to deal with from this bridge. All of these debts and such and it will provide no new net capabilities.

I’m not against building something. We need to expand infrastructure capabilities and clean up our mess as a society in this area. BUT, this CRC solution as it is laid out adds more burden than it adds solutions. So get out and get vocal in your opposition.

Just call, leave a message, write, or whatever you feel like doing. It only takes a minute or three. They will not argue with you, they will not insult ya, they will take your opinion and then act upon however they see fit to represent us. It DOES influence things if you make your opinion and knowledge available.

I Am Pissed, Amtrak Screwed Up Massively and Now I Have to Renegotiate My Day Completely To Deal With It…

I travel a lot. I travel a lot by train. But today Amtrak seriously did something that is making me rethink how I will be traveling in the future. They completely have screwed up things. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a look at concrete evidence.

I arrived at Emeryville Station to transfer to a Capital Corridor Train to go to Oakland (Jack London Square). I had just boarded and enjoyed a trip from Denver on the Zephyr. Overall a nice trip. The second full part of the trip however wasn’t to start until Saturday the 26th when I would depart from Oakland on the Coast Starlight to Portland. Well, I wanted to reschedule for Friday to depart & to upgrade to a roomette.

I walked up to the ticket agent to make these changes on my ticket. Keep in mind this was a two part trip; Denver to Oakland and then a week later, departing on Saturday the 26th from Oakland to Portland. I asked the ticket clerk if it would be possible to change my ticket from Oakland to Portland from the 26th to the 25th and upgrade to a roomette. She replied, “yes, let me take a look“. She pulled up the information and supposedly made this change. As she printed out the ticket she handed it to me and stated, “here’s the ticket for Friday (she didn’t state the numerical date) and here’s the refund and changes summary on this other ticket“. She held the ticket and exchange receipt like this to show me.

Showing me the receipt, she held the ticket and receipt that where stapled together like this.

Showing me the receipt, she held the ticket and receipt that where stapled together like this. (click for a full size image)

So I assumed, that since she just stated Friday to me and handed me the ticket and exchange receipt that everything was in order. I pocketed the ticket and headed out to board the Capitol Corridor Train to Oakland to complete this first leg of the trip.

Fast forward to Tuesday (yesterday). I looked online to see what the exact departure time was for the Coast Starlight heading north and this is when I realized there had been a mistake. But this simple mistake was only the beginning. The website on Tuesday, at around 11:30pm when I’m looking at the site, all of a sudden shows that I’m supposed to be leaving ON TUESDAY!? This was NOT what I was told nor what I rescheduled. I thought to myself, ok, no biggie I’ll call them as soon as possible on Wednesday and get this figured out. I’m sure that Amtrak will fix it, they generally do. Here’s what the website actually shows now, on Wednesday at 10:30pm. Still the incorrect time.

Yup, it says the 22nd. Ugh, seriously Amtrak, that's three different dates I'm given. (again, click on image for full size)

Yup, it says the 22nd. Ugh, seriously Amtrak, that’s three different dates I’m given. (again, click on image for full size) …and btw, that amount isn’t what was charged to my card, to my company to anybody, nor was it the amount of the full trip or this part of the trip. I don’t even know who this amount of money applies to. I’m so confused at this point, I have no idea and it doesn’t seem anyone at Amtrak has any idea what is actually going on. All I do know is I don’t have a ticket for the day I need to take the train back to Portland.

So at this point I’d still not looked at my physical ticket, which was to have another surprise. I went in to the office to take care of meetings and other things I’d planned on well before that needed taken care of. I finally arrived later in the day to where I was staying and called Amtrak at 10pm. I know, this is outside of hours that anybody that can actually be helpful in these matters is available. I get that, but imagine being a customer that needs this fixed now, they’d be screwed. Fortunately I’m a pretty flexible and easy going guy. I generally don’t bother people and let people do right by me. Almost always, people do exactly that and treat me well and honorably with appropriate intent.

Well I called and the operator answered. I didn’t understand her name, except something like Alisha or something. It was, I’ll admit, hard to understand her since her accent was a little thick. It was an American accent, likely of the east coast with a little southern thrown in. Now, I can understand almost any accent. Especially southern, cajun, Boston, New York and pretty much anywhere in the United States. But her slurring wasn’t very effective at actual communication. Again, I’m easy going so I thought, “whatever, I can deal with this…”

She asked how she could help me. So I explained to her my plight, and this is where she, and Amtrak, screwed up in a horribly dishonorable and inconsiderate way again. After I explain to her the situation, and while looking at the ticket – which, before I go on look at the ticket below.

Hmmm, the ticket I received from the clerk actually shows the 21st. So wait, was I supposed to be on this train on the 22nd or the 21st? Well that isn't what the clerk said, she had told me the ticket was rescheduled for the 25th! (again, click for a larger image)

Hmmm, the ticket I received from the clerk actually shows the 21st. So wait, was I supposed to be on this train on the 22nd or the 21st? Well that isn’t what the clerk said, she had told me the ticket was rescheduled for the 25th! (again, click for a larger image)

Yup, that’s right. The ticket isn’t even for the day that the website shows on the screen. What the hell Amtrak? Somebody screwed up big time on this one. Ok, again, not a big deal we can remedy it. At least I thought that to myself. But this is when things got intolerable and completely unacceptable. The ticket showed that the departure time was supposed to be on the 21st, the website shows a departure of the 22nd, and I was told the departure was rescheduled for the 25th. Then the lady on the phone told me, “since you where a no show, you’ve forfeited the ticket…”

For those that don’t know how to interact with customers, the last thing you do in this particular situation is BLAME THE CUSTOMER. You NEVER BLAME THE CUSTOMER FIRST. You always try to determine if there is way to remedy things without a significant money cost, especially when there is the possibility (which in this case there’s evidence) that the company (Amtrak) is the party responsible for the fault. This was a customer service mistake 101. Completely unprofessional.

WHAT THE HELL?! I didn’t “no show”. I was misinformed, Amtrak’s clerk screwed up. The website shows the wrong information and I screwed up? No I didn’t. I didn’t screw up. Amtrak did. Technically, they screwed up and I’d already overlooked multiple other screw ups. But then their phone line person has the inappropriate and rude training to blame me for screwing up? This is, simply, completely unacceptable. I just wanted my ticket fixed. But instead I get this crap about how its all my fault that I didn’t check the ticket in the email and the physical ticket I have and verify that they’re all the same and that what the ticket clerk said they gave me was the correct thing that they gave me. Seriously Amtrak? I’m supposed to check 3 different things to verify that your clerk didn’t screw up my request?!

That is absolutely, in every way inexcusable. On top of that, which I was willing to forget all of these screw ups, the phone person then has the shoddy training and bad customer skills to say its my fault. I don’t know how many ways to say to Amtrak that you guys owe me big time.

So I’ll be calling on Thursday, tomorrow, with basically one day to go and now cutting it close, to fix this nonsense. I expect things to be fixed and will be sorely upset if they don’t have a roomette to have me in on the north bound trip on Friday of the Coast Starlight. If Amtrak really wants to fix things I’ll receive a full refund and be able to write a positive blog entry after this one commending Amtrak customer service on fixing their multiple wrongs they’ve done me.

No matter what, this is going to cost me customer time with MY CLIENTS tomorrow. Which is even worse, because I actually have to work with my clients, I have no Government to bail me out, I ask for no union to protect me, I just want to provide value to my clients that they find worth paying me for. But instead, I have to break of from my time with clients to call Amtrak to fix this during their “business hours”. So hopefully, I receive a full refund and get this ticket situation remedied immediately upon calling tomorrow.

I honestly want to write a story about how Amtrak fixed all of this. I have my fingers crossed.

PS Amtrak: I’d highly advise two other things in addition to hopefully fixing my ticket and giving me a refund. One is to check out the system and see why it would do this. Something, most likely whatever the last pushes live with various systems were, are causing a bug. The second thing is, fix this inappropriate actions taken by the phone staff. They should have better customer service skills than this.

CRC, a way to kill decades of progress…

This however, is a vastly superior idea.

A Common Sense Alternative to the CRC from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

Transit Riders’ Savings Exceed Thousands Per Year!

This message is of course about out of pocket savings, which really is all we can make a market based decision on. If the Government actually allowed or made us pay the full price of transportation these numbers and savings would be even higher, but the overall cost of transportation would alsot be slightly higher. Without further ado, here is APTA’s study and results.

Despite Lower Gas Prices Public Transit Riders Still Reap Big Savings

 Individuals can save $807 this month alone by switching to public transit for their daily commute

Washington, D.C. ‚Äď Even with lower gas prices public transportation still offers individuals a way to save hundreds of dollars each month.¬† According to the American Public Transportation Association‚Äôs (APTA) December¬†¬†Transit Savings Report, individuals who ride public transportation instead of driving can save, on average, $807 dollars this month, and $9,69 annually.¬†¬† These savings are based on the cost of commuting by public transportation compared to the December 20, 2011 average national gas price ($3.21 per gallon- reported by AAA) and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.

Currently gas prices are $.15 a gallon less than last month, but still $.23 higher than this time last year. Proving riding public transit is a smart way to lower transportation costs.

APTA releases this monthly Transit Savings Report to examine how an individual in a two-person household can save money by taking public transportation and living with one less car.

The national average for a monthly unreserved parking space in a downtown business district is $155.22, according to the2011 Colliers International Parking Rate Study.  Over the course of a year, parking costs for a vehicle can amount to an average of $1,863.

The top 20 cities with the highest transit ridership are ranked in order of their transit savings based on the purchase of a monthly public transit pass and factoring in local gas prices for December 20, 2011 and the local monthly unreserved parking rate.*

 

  ¬†City ¬†Monthly ¬†Annual
 1  New York  $1,198  $14,375
 2  Boston  $1,106  $13,272
 3  San Francisco  $1,075  $12,902
 4  Seattle  $979  $11,749
5 Philadelphia $955 $11,457
6 Chicago $945 $11,343
 7  Honolulu  $937  $11,242
 8  Los Angeles  $880  $10,554
 9  Minneapolis $859  $10,308
 10  San Diego  $851  $10,215
 11  Portland  $842  $10,099
 12  Denver  $838  $10,053
 13  Washington, DC  $836  $10,031
14 Baltimore $817 $9,810
 15  Cleveland  $802  $9, 628
 16  Miami  $780  $9,355
 17  Atlanta  $762  $9,140
 18  Dallas  $759  $9,109
 19  Pittsburgh  $760  $9,120
 20  Las Vegas  $755  $9,064

*Based on gasoline prices as reported by AAA on 12/20/11.

Methodology

APTA calculates the average cost of taking public transit by determining the average monthly transit pass of local public transit agencies across the country.  This information is based on the annual APTA fare collection survey and is weighted based on ridership (unlinked passenger trips).  The assumption is that a person making a switch to public transportation would likely purchase an unlimited pass on the local transit agency, typically available on a monthly basis.

APTA then compares the average monthly transit fare to the average cost of driving.  The cost of driving is calculated using the 2011 AAA average cost of driving formula.  AAA cost of driving formula is based on variable costs and fixed costs.  The variable costs include the cost of gas, maintenance and tires.  The fixed costs include insurance, license registration, depreciation and finance charges.  The comparison also uses the average mileage of a mid-size auto at 23.4 miles per gallon and the price for self-serve regular unleaded gasoline as recorded by AAA on December 20, 2011 at $3.21 per gallon.  The analysis also assumes that a person will drive an average of 15,000 miles per year.  The savings assume a person in two-person household lives with one less car.

In determining the cost of parking, APTA uses the data from the 2011 Colliers International Parking Rate Study for monthly unreserved parking rates for the United States.

To calculate your individual savings with or without car ownership, go to www.publictransportation.org.

# # #

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a nonprofit international association of more than 1,500 public and private member organizations, engaged in the areas of bus, paratransit, light rail, commuter rail, subways, waterborne passenger services, and high-speed rail. This includes: transit systems; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation. More than 90 percent of the people using public transportation in the United States and Canada are served by APTA member systems.

It does however make me wonder, if someone is saving that much with transit usage, how much could someone save with a more intelligent and strategically located lifestyle that allows walking or biking to work? How much healthier and stronger would Americans be if they weren’t stranded in the suburbs and tied to their cars?

America Led the Way With High Class Rail…

…up until about 1955.

Now though, France smokes our efforts by orders of magnitude, while we clunk around in our slow poorly coordinated cars and roadways. Very sad, very pathetic.

“In 2007, SNCF generated profits of ‚ā¨1.1 billion (approximately US$1.75 billion or ¬£875 million) driven largely by higher margins on the TGV network.”

If Amtrak was managed anywhere near SNCF and a measly $40-60 billion were put into the system (outside of the north east corridor, it can handle its own) the system could easily haul in this kind of profit!  Yeah, I said profit, NOT revenue, PROFIT!

Ugh. I could scream until the end of time, but I sadly concede that the US is pretty much finished when it comes to world class transport. Unless we get some real leadership and the market gets involved again, we’ve aligned ourselves to be relegated to third world transportation status.

Two references:

In addition we’re so close minded to our history, we won’t even allow (err, well, most politicians won’t – especially the Democrats) bidding to build out rail service!¬† What the…?