There’s more to the wages story…

As I have talked with riders across the region over the past five months, the topic of TriMet’s non-union (administrative employee) wages continues to bubble up. My employee compensation decision was made on the basis of equity and fairness. While I could have been more forthcoming, I am fully committed to the transparency the public expects moving forward.

But there’s more to TriMet’s salary story.

Controlling costs. Reading headlines isn’t enough. Riders and taxpayers should know that TriMet held down non-union employee compensation by freezing salaries for 3 ½ years. We also reduced non-union health care benefits, required employees to contribute more to their monthly premiums, and reformed their retirement compensation. Over the past two recessions, we cut roughly 200 positions, including 11% of our administrative staff. These changes, which amounted to cuts in compensation for our administrative employees, helped us control costs during the recession and avoid more severe cuts to service.

During that same time, union wages increased 3% per year. There are 2,109 union employees and only 427 non-union employees.

Further, non-union employees hold a variety of roles at TriMet, from computer programmers to engineers. There are 49 general fund employees that make over $100,000 – fewer now than seven years ago when adjusted for inflation. See chart

Many of them could make a lot more money if they worked in the private sector or moved to another wealthier transit agency. Instead, they choose to serve the people in the TriMet district.

Skyrocketing health care costs vs. transit service. While some may be fixated on our wages, our focus is on our rising health care costs. In 2003, TriMet required non-union employees to share in the cost of these benefits. This group now participates in an 80/20 co-insurance plan that has saved the agency millions. We are offering the same fair health care benefit to our ATU union employees. The savings from this modest change will allow TriMet to put bus service back on the street now and into the future.

TriMet is not in PERS. In fact, in 2004 TriMet moved new non-union employees into a defined contribution plan (similar to a 401-K) which is also saving the agency resources that can be dedicated to more transit service.

Let’s get more transit service! So, while headlines and interviews are focused on the wages of a few employees, I am focused on fixing TriMet’s long-term cost structure. Let’s start talking about restoring Frequent Service and then adding more bus routes. It’s what riders ask for every day and I am firmly committed to making this happen.

Our riders, taxpayers and this region deserve nothing less.

Neil McFarlane
TriMet General Manager

Q&A about TriMet salaries

Q:. Who set’s the salary for TriMet’s General Manager?
A: TriMet’s Board of Director’s sets the salary. TriMet’s General Manager makes $221,450, which is below the average of other transit districts according to the American Public Transportation Association (a national trade organization). The average GM salary for agencies with more than 2,500 employees is $263,310 (TriMet has 2,536 employees.) See comparison chart

Q: Why are there so many people working on the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project making over $100,000?
A: The $1.49 billion Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project has 128 full-time non-union positions—of those positions, 21 earn over $100,000. They bring construction and engineering experience and their salaries are funded by project funds and not TriMet’s General Fund. PMLR project funds (federal, state, and regional) can only be used for the project.

Q: How can TriMet afford a Deputy General Manager position?
A: The Deputy Manager position is funded by the elimination of one position and other savings within the agency, so it’s a net zero impact on TriMet’s budget.

Q: There’s a lot of buzz around TriMet’s salaries. How does TriMet stack up compared to its peers?
A: Key performance indicators show how TriMet outperforms its peers.
View the full report.

TriMet delivers more service. Bus, MAX and WES service on the street is 25% higher than the peer group average, which includes SF Muni (vehicle revenue hours)

TriMet has higher ridership. Boarding rides per capita are 25% higher than the peer group average

TriMet’s expenses per ride are lower. Operating expenses per boarding ride are 23% lower than the peer group average

TriMet’s overall administrative costs are lower. Administrative expenses per total operating expense are 1% lower than the peer average

TriMet delivers more service with less administration. General administration employees per 1 million boarding rides is 38% lower than the peer group average

Neil McFarlane, TriMet General Manager

As the General Manager of TriMet, I’m responsible for running the agency. I’ve been here at TriMet since 1991, when I started as project control director for the Westside light rail project. When I’m not at work, I enjoy spending time with my family and riding the bus and MAX. Maybe I’ll see you during my commute.

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