TriMet board meeting: GM candidate, low-income fares, increased security
TriMet's preferred choice for its next general manager faced questions about linger labor tensions, the viability of future MAX projects, the need to improve bus service east of I-205 and more when he met the public Thursday morning.
TriMet's Board of Directors announced last week that Doug Kelsey, the agency's chief operating officer, is the finalist to replace General Manager Neil McFarlane when he retires in a few weeks. Kelsey met with the public and answered questions at the board's Jan. 24 meeting in downtown Portland.
Among other things, Kelsey said he was committed to meeting with union leaders to resolve complaints that MAX operators are under too much pressure to meet schedules and improve safety. Kelsey also said he supports continuing to work on the new MAX lines proposed for the Southwest Corrdor, but acknowledged that the region must support it by approving a regional transpoortation funding bond. And he promised TriMet will improve service in East Multnomah County with new revenue it is scheduled to receive from the transportation funding package approved by the 2017 Oregon Legislature.
"It would be an honor to be TriMet's general manager. It is a transit agency like no other," Kelsey said at Thursday's board meeting.
During the meeting, the board also approved a discount fare program for low-income riders and a three-year contract for additional security.
Kelsey mingled with those attending the meeting before taking a seat to answer questions from eight people who signed up to ask them in a conference room at the downtown World Trade Center. The most confrontational questions came from Jon Hunt, the vice president-assistant business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union 757, which represents the majority of TriMet's employees. Although TriMet and ATU 757 recently approved a new labor contract after years of contentious negotiations, Hunt accused Kelsey of being being part of a management team that had created a "climate of fear" at the agency. Among other things, Hunt asked if Kelsey would ease what he called a recent disciplinary crackdown on MAX operators accused of violating safety rules.
Without going into detail about the situation, Kelsey replied that TriMet management is enforcing both agency rules and federal laws governing rail operations.
"We want our operators and passengers to all get home safely," Kelsey said.
John Charles, president and CEO of the free market-oriented Cascade Policy Institute, asked Kelsey if he would admit TriMet's light rail system costs to much and has not kept up with population increases in the agency's service district. Kelsey replied that he believes light rail has an important role to play in the region, but admitted the agency needs to do a better job maintaining it and increasing ridership.
And in response to a question about the lack of frequent service bus lines east of I-205, Kelsey said TriMet is planning to address that as part of a series of service improvements to funded by a new payroll tax for transit aprpoved by the last session of the Legislature. He said the funding will help TriMet increase the number of its buses from 650 to 1,000, including a yet-to-be determined number of electric ones.
At a meeting on January 31, TriMet's directors will either authorize Board Chair Bruce warner to negotiate a contract with Kelsey or choose to continue the general manager search.
Low-income fares and security contract
After Kelsey finished answering questions and the meeting resumed, the board approved a low-income fare discount program to being on July 1. It will be funded by additional revenue generated from a new payroll tax in the transportation funding package.
Under the program, people who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level will qualify for an Honored Citizen fare card that will allow them to purchase Adult Fare single use, day passes at half cost, and Adult Fare monthpasses at a 72 percent discount. Under current federal poverty guidelines, individuals earning an annual income up to $23,760 would qualify for the program, as would a family of four with earnings up to $48,600.
Those interested in the low-income fare must register and have their eligibility confirmed by a third party. TriMet will work out and announce the details over the new few months in consultation with community partners.
The board also authorized a contract with Portland Patrol Inc. (PPI) to for additional security on the transit system. The contract will allow unarmed PPI officers to enforce the TriMet Code, including fare requirements. The new officers will be deployed by the Transit Police Commander.
The additional officers are expected to include current and former police officers, recently discharged military police officers, deputy sheriffs, constables, federal officers and agents, reserve officers, Criminal Justice Division investigators, humane special agents, judicial marshals and regulatory special agents
The contract will run through Fiscal Year 2020, which ends on June 30, 2020. TriMet will the evaluate the success of the program and determine whether to continue the partnership with PPI. The estimated costs of the full three-year contract is $7.63 million.
TriMet will phase in the PPI officers starting as soon as they are hired and trained. Within the first year of the contract, TriMet to bring on 30 officers and then increase that to approximately 50 to 60 officers within two years. The security division may adjust the numbers as the program develops.
PPI currently provides safety and security services throughout Portland. Among other things, it supplies personnel for the Portland Mall Management Inc., providing security presence along the Transit Mall on 5th and 6th avenues, as well as along the MAX tracks on 1st avenue, Morrison and Yamhill streets. Its leadership closely coordinates with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), of which the Transit Police is a division. It also participates in the Commander's Roundtable, which is a monthly problem-solving meeting with PPB to discuss safety and security issues.
TriMet defends recruiting process
Despite Hunt's complaints, he did not go as far at the meeting as the union did Wednesday afternoon. That was when Hunt and two other union leaders emailed and posted a statement calling on the board to reject Kelsey and to start the general manager search over again.
"At a time when the company desperately needs new and diverse leadership, selecting Kelsey is a clear choice for the status quo: declining ridership, increasingly-unreliable service, and a worsening relationship between workers and management," said the statement, which was also signed by ATU 757 President-Business Agent Shirley Block and Financial Secretary-Treasurer Mary Longoria.
Although TriMet conducted an wide ranging search for the next general manager, the statement called the process a "sham." TriMet hired Kelsey away from a similar position in British Columbia a little more than two years ago.
"It's an insult to our collective intelligence to pretend that this process was anything other than rigged in Doug Kelsey's favor. It's yet another example of TriMet's Board making decisions behind closed doors while pretending to engage in an authentic, democratic, public process," said the statement.
Warner defended the search process at the beginning of the meeting. He said the agency had retained the KL2 Connects LLC executive search team, which presented the board with a range of qualified candidates for interviews, including Kelsey. But in the end, Warner said, Kelsey was the most qualified.
Like Charles, the ATU 757 statement also criticized TriMet for pursuing light rail projects. It was released as Metro, the elected regional government, is the $2.4 billion MAX line proposed in the Southwest Corridor that connected Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. Metro is in the process of preparing a regional transportation measure to help fund the project for the November 2020 general election ballot.
"We get it — MAX is sexy, and capital construction means great kick-backs for TriMet leaders' buddies in the property development industry. But TriMet's senior leadership has wasted billions of public dollars on projects which have minimal benefits for transit riders. Take a look at the Yellow Line, which led to rampant gentrification and displacement across North Portland, while wealthy developers got even richer and ridership stayed about flat. The agency's emphasis on building expensive new vanity projects is part of the reason service is suffering," the statement says.
You can read the statement at www.atu757.org/trimet-chooses-broken-status-quo-with-new-general-manager.
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