Category Archives: In the Community

Rider Q & A at our first “Coffee with Neil”

Neil McFarlane is TriMet’s General Manager.

Dear riders,

One of the most enjoyable parts of being the General Manager of TriMet is engaging directly with riders. Last Friday, I had coffee with 14 riders and we had a terrific 60-minute discussion on a wide variety of topics. I had a ball answering real questions from our riders—I would argue the most knowledgeable and committed transit riders on the planet!

coffee-with-neil
Last Friday, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane answered questions from riders at the first in a series of “Coffee with Neil” events around the metro area.

By the way, you will see me—and my colleagues—out in the community more moving forward. We know you are frustrated with the level of service, overcrowded buses and trains, and the negative conversation about TriMet in the news. We know you want the facts and want to talk with us directly, and we agree.

Friday morning we touched on a variety of topics—here’s a brief recap:

  • Service reductions over the last three years: Understandably, riders are frustrated and want more service, not less. While we’re not in a financial position to significantly add service, we are investing $1.6 million more this year to reduce overcrowding, extending Line 94 all day and looking to add service to one key route in Washington County to help workers get to jobs. While this alone won’t satisfy the growing demand for transit in our region, it’s what we can afford to do for riders right now.
  • This year’s budget: There is some good news in our budget this year: no service cuts and no fare increases (assuming that our latest labor contract proposal is upheld). We are also accelerating our new bus purchases—70 more buses are coming this year—and continuing our “Access Transit” fare programs for low-income riders. We are hiring more bus operators to accommodate the new Hours of Service policy we agreed upon with the ATU (our labor union), and we will be increasing MAX vehicle and track maintenance, plus improving lighting and other amenities along the MAX system.
  • Pay raises for non-union staff: It was clear that what riders heard in the news was not the full story. These raises went to our 440 non-union employees, most not in management roles. The vast majority of these employees had their salaries frozen for 3 ½ years, and they have been paying more for their health care coverage. I made this decision to be fair to these hard-working public servants who play a critical role keeping our agency and our transit system running. While we informed our Board of Directors and community groups of this decision at the time, we certainly can and will be more transparent about changes such as these in the future.
  • TriMet’s health care costs: With an aging workforce and health care for life for retirees and their dependents, our health care costs remain a structural long-term challenge for the agency. We need to tackle this issue for the future of TriMet and transit service in our region. In order for us to make a case for new revenue, we need to get our house in order. I am confident the region will invest in us if they know the resources are going to new service, and not health care costs.
  • New bus purchases: Our bus fleet is too old. We purchased 55 new buses in fall 2012 and we’ll be replacing 70 more in 2013 and about 40 more each year after that. By 2017, we will have replaced all of the remaining high-floor buses in the fleet (those with steps at the door).
  • Washington County service: Riders are frustrated by the level of service within the county and some of the challenges of bus service on roads where the traffic is too fast and there is a lack of sidewalks and safe crossings. We are continuing to work with our partners to improve access to transit service and we’re seeing progress throughout the region.
  • Reducing stop spacing: Riders continue to express concerns about the number of stops along bus routes slowing down the service. We, of course, need to balance this desire with accessibility concerns of our riders who are seniors and have disabilities. One rider recommended created conditional ADA stops that would only be available to riders with special needs. This is certainly worth exploring.
  • TransitTracker system: Riders are frustrated with the quality of the audio on our TransitTracker by Phone system. I am pleased to report that this system is being upgraded—likely sometime later this year—and we expect the automated voice will be easier to understand.
  • East Portland bus service: One student shared his frustration with the lack of north-south service between 122nd and 185th in East Portland. This is a legitimate concern and a challenge for our riders, many of whom have moved east for more affordable housing. This summer we are starting a planning process to revise service for East Portland, which may help with these kinds of service gaps.
  • The shortcomings of  the Type 4 MAX cars: The Type 4 cars are too cold! We also discussed that some of the seating is too tight for riders. Both of these issues will be fixed in the next generation of MAX cars, which will enter service in 2014 and 2015. We also are working to resolve the temperature control system of the newer rail cars.
  • Interlining the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Line with the Yellow and Green lines: We are still developing the service plan, but, yes, the future Orange Line will be interlined with some Yellow and Green line trains. (Interlining means using the same vehicle and/or operator on multiple routes.)
  • Metro’s work on a BRT line along Powell-Division: Metro is launching a planning process to explore a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line along Powell-Division. It’s certainly a corridor where there is a tremendous need and demand for more service. It’s a very promising opportunity to improve service on the Eastside.

I really enjoyed meeting riders and answering their questions at our first “coffee talk.” This is just the beginning, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with riders all over the region.

If you’re interested in joining Neil at a future “Coffee with Neil” event, please send us an email.

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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It all started on the bus…

Rosa ParksRosa Parks took a critical step toward bus desegregation on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, when she chose to be arrested rather than give up her bus seat to a white man while riding a segregated bus. Her stand against racism inspired a boycott which has improved all our lives.

TriMet strives to provide equitable service, placing a high priority on providing high-quality transit service to low-income populations and communities of color. Rosa Parks’ courageous act drew national attention to simple truths: A public transit system paid for by all must benefit all, and civil rights must be protected for all.

In 2013, TriMet was named by the National Association Minority Contractors of Oregon (NAMCO) as Champion and Agency of the Year for our support of local minority construction and contracting businesses. Our Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program is a national model for encouraging and supporting businesses owned by people of color and women when competing for contracts on transit construction projects.

For more information about our nationally recognized diversity programs, please visit trimet.org/dbe.

Marisa Scheidegger

I'm TriMet's marketing communications coordinator. I write content for TriMet's web and social media, and customer-facing print materials. When I'm not working, I'm spending time with my husband and two incredibly bright and funny kids.

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By sleigh or by bus, “Santa Bob” delivers the spirit of generosity year round

Operator Santa Bob Foster in the driver's seat, smiling at oncoming passengers.From time to time, someone calls TriMet Customer Service to say, “I want to thank a driver who did something really great. I don’t know his name,” the rider admits, “but he looks like Santa.” At this, one name snaps into focus: Hillsboro resident Bob Foster, a TriMet bus operator since 1981.

Bob first donned the red suit more than 25 years ago—“when I had to use a little white shoe polish to gray up my beard”—for a holiday party at TriMet’s Merlo garage in Beaverton. For a while, he shared the honor of playing Merlo Santa with a couple of other operators.

“The spirit of Santa is the gift of wonder. The feeling that I am trying to exude is that it is OK for us to expect good things to come our way.” — Santa Bob

But as the years rolled by, Santa service became a bigger part of Bob’s life. He started scheduling his vacations so that “Santa Bob” could visit families all over the metro area. His stops include a local tree farm, Breakfast with Santa in Mitchell, a toy store in Northeast Portland, and the Hillsboro School District’s holiday party for the Life Skills Classrooms.

Want to know where Santa Bob will be visiting next? Like his Facebook page

By now, it’s a Merlo employee tradition to bring your children, or your grandchildren, or somebody else’s children to visit Santa in the drivers’ break area. A bus garage can be a busy, gritty place, but on Santa’s lap next to the tree, the only thing that matters is the children’s hopes and dreams for the holidays.

Operator Bob Foster, dressed in his Santa costume, with two children, each on one of his knees.To Bob, “The spirit of Santa is the gift of wonder. The feeling that I am trying to exude is that it is okay for us to expect good things to come our way.”

Bob displays this spirit—along with the apple cheeks and snowy beard—every day in the driver’s seat. He says, “We operators are the attitude of Portland. Each morning, I’ve got about 100 people who are going to reflect all day on our interaction. Maybe it’s conscious, maybe it’s unconscious, but at some point in the day they’re going to remember the nice operator who maybe brought a little joy and humor into their day.”

It should be noted that Bob Foster isn’t the only TriMet employee who’s especially attuned to the spirit of Santa. Dave Kay in bus maintenance and Shirley Block in field operations are said to be responsible for Mr. and Mrs. Claus’ attendance at the union holiday party.

But if you’re on the bus and hear Westside high schoolers yelling, “Where’s your reindeer?” or a wide-eyed Washington County child whispering, “It’s him!” there’s a good chance you’re riding with “Santa Bob” Foster.

TALK ABOUT IT: Discuss this post on Facebook

VIDEO: See the feature about Santa Bob on KOIN Local 6

Nancy D'Inzillo

I'm TriMet's web coordinator. I assist in developing and maintaining TriMet's web and social media content (in addition to general writing and copyediting assignments). In my spare time, I enjoy freelance editing, learning new recipes, and reading books of all genres.

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TriMet’s Dr. Dolittle: Ron “Doc” Chambers

Ron "Doc" Chambers
Photo by Alysha Beck

It is a typical morning in the Portland metro area with buses, cars, bikes and pedestrians maneuvering the streets for their commute. A call comes over the radio from dispatch: “Doc, there’s a bird on the road and we need you to rescue it.”

A TriMet employee since 1986, Ron “Doc” Chambers has gone above and beyond the boundaries of his job description. In addition to being an outstanding bus operator, rail operator and trainer, he has been the call guy for all injured animals TriMet employees come across, both at home and on the job. Doc credits his childhood, which he spent in rural areas of England and Spain with very few veterinarians, for his passion for birds and other animals.

Doc has rescued animals for operators, supervisors, neighbors and even the Portland Police. He repaired the cracked shell of a turtle that got hit by a MAX train, got a hawk out from the rafters of a rail garage, and saved countless pigeons from the side of the road that empathetic bus operators called him about. Outside of TriMet calls, Doc mainly rescues parakeets, which he saves and keeps until he can find them ‘forever homes.’

In his first year as a TriMet operator, Doc was driving  his bus through North Portland when a call came over the radio that a pigeon had been hit by a bus and no one knew how to help it. He got on the radio and said that if someone could deliver the pigeon to him, he could nurse her back to health. “The next day, I came back into work and my supervisor said, ‘Well, you’re just a regular Doc Chambers!’ The name stuck,” he says. He repaired the bird’s broken wing, cared for her punctured lung, and years later she died of old age with Doc and his wife at their home.

In the early 2000s, degenerating eyesight forced Doc to transition into a training role, but it hasn’t stopped him from saving animals. Just last week Doc found a dog wandering the storage yard at TriMet’s Ruby Junction facility. She was malnourished and had sores. Unable to care for her at home, Doc found fellow training supervisor David White to nurse her back to health. David and his family have since adopted her and named her Daisy.

TALK ABOUT IT: Discuss this post on Facebook.

Maya Trachtenberg, TriMet summer intern
Maya Trachtenberg

Written by Maya Trachtenberg, TriMet summer intern
Maya Trachtenberg is an undergraduate from University of Washington, who grew up in Portland and on TriMet. She was a summer journalist for the Jewish Review newspaper, and had an internship doing writing and public relations for the Portland Fire Bureau. During her internship at TriMet, Maya interviewed transit riders and TriMet employees for internal and promotional  publications.

 

Alysha Beck, TriMet summer intern
Alysha Beck

Photo by Alysha Beck, TriMet summer intern
Alysha Beck is a photojournalism graduate from University of Oregon. She has interned for The Oregonian, YH! World (a London-based online magazine), and was a freelance photographer for Long Run Picture Company in Eugene, Oregon. As an intern for TriMet, Alysha took pictures and videos of riders, operators, and management for internal  and promotional publications. Alysha is now a staff journalist at Coos Bay and Southern Oregon Coast’s newspaper, The World.

TriMet’s Myleen Richardson honored as Nature Conservancy “Volunteer of the Year”

TriMet's Myleen Richardson: The Nature Conservancy of Oregon's Volunteer of the Year
TriMet's Myleen Richardson was one of two volunteers to receive The Nature Conservancy's "Volunteer of the Year" honor for 2011.

The Nature Conservancy of Oregon has honored TriMet’s own Myleen Richardson with the conservation group’s 2011 “Volunteer of the Year” Award.

As TriMet’s bus stop planner/analyst, Myleen manages a complex database that tracks our 7,000+ bus stops and rail stations—juggling details about their location, the lines that serve them, their Stop ID numbers and amenities such as shelters, benches, sidewalks and crosswalks. In her role at The Nature Conservancy, she uses similar skills to manage their volunteer database and surveys for volunteer satisfaction. This is a critical task, because the Conservancy depends on at least 20 full-time employees worth of volunteer time every year!

One of the reasons I volunteer is that I enjoy helping others. I volunteer for The Nature Conservancy because it’s a cause I believe in.”

Myleen holds two (yes, two) masters degrees: a Master of Public Affairs and a Master of Science in Environmental Science, with a focus on environmental policy and natural resource management. She began volunteering for the Conservancy in 2000, the same year she was hired at TriMet.

Her behind-the-scenes work is helping to protect critical habitats for nature as well as people.

“One of the reasons I volunteer is that I enjoy helping others,” says Myleen. “I volunteer for The Nature Conservancy because it’s a cause I believe in.”

The Conservancy’s program director, Molly Doughtery, describes Myleen as being “key to the organization’s success and an important part of the team.”

“From complex database queries, to communications, to jumping in wherever needed, I can count on Myleen to do the job right,” says Molly.

Without knowing it, TriMet riders count on Myleen, too. The database she manages is used to deliver service information to riders and to coordinate the maintenance of stops and stations. When you come across a stop name or Stop ID number on TriMet’s website or phone system, for example, Myleen’s had a hand in it. On board the bus, when you hear an automated announcement for the next stop, again, that’s Myleen’s behind-the-scenes work.

It’s a lot of responsibility, really, and it occasionally spills over into her personal life. “It’s hard for me to stay in town for a vacation,” says Myleen, “because bus stops are everywhere, and my eyes are always drawn to them, especially when something is in need of attention.”

True to her small-town Midwest background, Myleen is not one to seek the spotlight. Nonetheless, she is a star here at TriMet, as well as at The Nature Conservancy. Thank you, Myleen, for what you do for us and our community!

DISCUSS THIS ON FACEBOOK: April 15-21 is National Volunteer Week. Do you volunteer or plan on volunteering in your community?

Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s manager of marketing and rider communications. I oversee the agency's web and mobile initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

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New state-of-the-art bus shelters installed on Jackson Street in Milwaukie

If you live or work in Milwaukie, you’ve probably seen some dramatic changes downtown on Jackson Street. As a partner in the City’s Jackson Street Improvement Project, we recently installed new state-of-the-art bus shelters (one on each side of the street), complete with arrival displays, leaning rails, benches, an integrated windscreen design and brighter LED lighting for safety.

The City of Milwaukie identified the Jackson Street area as its top priority for transit improvements. The revitalization also included wider sidewalks, ornamental lighting, trash containers, benches, bike racks, new landscaping, and a sculpture garden adjacent to City Hall.

We’re also working with the City to improve and consolidate bus operations in Milwaukie, including adding stops at Washington Avenue and reducing the time buses are parked along the street.

We’re proud to be part of the transformation in Milwaukie City Center. The project, including the bus shelters, was funded mostly by federal stimulus money and Federal Transit Administration grants. TriMet Bus Lines 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 70, 75, 99 and 152 serve the new downtown shelters.

WEIGH IN ON FACEBOOK: What do you think of the changes on Jackson Street?

Young Park

As the manager of Capital Projects for TriMet, I direct the activities of the agency’s Park & Ride and transit infrastructure programs. I have helped to identify, set policy and implement the most cost-effective mix of investments in transit infrastructure and transportation alternatives to meet the mobility needs of a growing Portland region.

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