Category Archives: From the General Manager

Twitter town hall follow-up: How did it go?

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Neil McFarlane is TriMet’s general manager.

You may have heard I hosted our first-ever Twitter town hall on the topic of TriMet’s budget last Thursday. Anyone could participate by posting a question and tagging the tweet with #askneil. Over the course of an hour, I answered a variety of questions about our budget. Not being an active twitterer (tweeter?) , it was quite an experience for me. Of course, I had help—I definitely can’t type that fast!

Overall, I think it was a success. We had about 30 people asking questions, and I answered 35 questions. That’s not a huge turnout, but I think it was a useful forum. We’re already talking about how we might use a Twitter chat, or something like it, to discuss other topics of interest to riders. For the rest of you who aren’t on Twitter, or if you weren’t following along last Thursday, here’s an archive of the questions I was able to answer within the hour:

Read the tweets: TriMet Twitter Town Hall January 12, 2012

Of course, Twitter is just one of many tools we use to reach out and get people involved. We also built an interactive web survey and discussion guide, and we’re holding open houses and meeting with business leaders and community groups to get feedback about our budget options. All of this helps to guide our decisions throughout the process, and keep everyone informed along the way.

Speaking of the web survey, I want to extend a big “thank you” to everyone who has provided feedback so far. As of today, nearly 4,800 of you have weighed in!

This overwhelming response is a reminder that not only do riders and residents care deeply about transit in our region, they are eager to participate in the decision-making process and make their voices heard. I am truly impressed by the level of participation so far, and, naturally, I share your passion.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to visit the website now and take a few minutes to read about the issues and submit your feedback. The survey closes today at 5 p.m. Keep in mind, the survey isn’t your only opportunity to weigh in… We’ll prepare an official proposal that you can react to in a few weeks. You can stay in the loop by signing up for email updates about TriMet’s budget process.

Most of all, thank you for riding TriMet! I’ll see you on board.

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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Twitter chat with Neil McFarlane January 12

Neil McFarlane is TriMet’s general manager.

TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane
TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane

On Thursday, January 12, at 6 p.m., I will be hosting a live town-hall-style chat on Twitter, to help answer your questions about TriMet’s budget issues and how they might affect you. You can participate by using the #askneil hashtag.

Learn more about TriMet’s Twitter Chat with Neil January 12, 2012

Back in October, I first posted about the budget shortfall we’re expecting in the next fiscal year—the result of a stagnant economy, cuts in federal funding, and the unsustainable costs of benefits for union employees.

At this point we’re still looking at a gap between $12 million and $17 million, which means we’ll have some tough choices to make in the coming months.

In mid-December, we began a new conversation with the community about TriMet’s budget challenges. We launched an interactive website (trimet.org/choices) to help educate riders and the public about how our budget works and let people weigh in with a “what would you do?” exercise. It spells out options for raising revenue and cutting costs in three areas: fares, service and internal efficiencies. If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to learn about the issues and share your feedback today.

This Twitter chat is one part of a broad community outreach effort that includes the online resources I mentioned above, open houses and a series of meetings with business leaders, community groups and other stakeholders.

I wish this conversation was a more positive one, given that demand for transit service is at an all-time high and transportation plays such a critical part in making our region a great place to live. But I want to make sure you know the facts about our financial situation, what our options are, and how you might be affected. Please join me January 12!

Learn more about TriMet’s Twitter Chat with Neil January 12, 2012

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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Budget shortfall expected due to stagnant economy, federal funding and labor contract

Neil McFarlane is TriMet’s General Manager.

Yesterday, I briefed TriMet’s Board of Directors on the outlook for our upcoming budget. I told the Board that we are in a time I am calling the “new normal.” A time when fiscal uncertainty has created the perfect storm, leaving us to face a $12 million to $17 million budget gap in Fiscal Year 2013 (our budget year that starts July 1, 2012).

Why? Three main reasons:

1. A stagnant economy—With employment in the region growing ever so slowly, our incoming revenue from employer payroll taxes (which make up over 50 percent of our budget) grows slowly too. While we didn’t have wild expectations, we were hoping to see that grow 4 to 5 percent next year. Reality has forced us to reduce our projected revenues by $3 million for next year.

2. Federal formula funds—There is a great deal of uncertainty over federal formula funds, which make up about $42 million in revenue to us. Who knows what will happen, but “automatic” reductions could go into effect and we estimate  it could have about a $4 million impact on our budget.

3. The ATU (union) contract—The recent Employment Relations Board (ERB) decision removed from TriMet’s final offer certain provisions, so some cost reductions we were hoping to see will have to wait for a future negotiation. This could mean between $5 million and $10 million in our FY13 budget.

All this said, TriMet continues to be a service our community needs and wants. We face increasing requests for more and better service. The hard reality is that we cannot afford to expand existing service levels, and I’m awfully afraid our service levels will diminish.

As a rider, I know how important it is to preserve service but it is hard to see how some cuts can be avoided. These are not easy choices. That is why everything needs to be on the table: fares, service, internal efficiencies, and current fare discounts. We will need to examine our activities and investments carefully, and make sure we are confident about the value of every dollar we spend.

These are not easy choices. That is why everything needs to be on the table: fares, service, internal efficiencies, and current fare discounts.”

To give us added time to address these issues and make those tough choices, I have created a Budget Task Force that will begin to meet in November. Given our best budget assumptions, these key business and community members will be tasked with providing me suggestions on how to appropriately balance our budget. We’re starting this process earlier than normal, which will give us more time for input from taxpayers, riders, and other stakeholders. The budget itself will come together during the first half of 2012.

This certainly isn’t the news I was hoping to share, but it is important that I share with both employees and riders what is ahead.

Here’s a link to our news release about TriMet’s budget outlook and some more background detail in the presentation I gave to the Board yesterday (PDF).

I welcome your suggestions and comments as we look for ways to close our budget gap. We will begin a formal public involvement process shortly, but in the meantime, there are several ways you can weigh in:

Phone: 503-238-RIDE (7433), option #5
Emailcomments@trimet.org
Mail: TriMet 2013 Budget, 4012 SE 17th Ave., Portland, OR 97202
Fax: 503-962-6451
TTY: 503-962-5811

WEIGH IN ON FACEBOOK: Thinking creatively, what ideas do you have that could help TriMet close its budget gap?

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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