Category Archives: In the Community

Extended transfer times?

Meeting with OPAL
Last night, General Manager Neil McFarlane, Board Member Travis Stovall and Executive Director of Finance Dave Auxier met with OPAL and Bus Riders Unite at their office in Southeast Portland.

This spring, I am spending more time in the community meeting with riders at coffees and visits to transit centers.

Last night, Board Member Travis Stovall, Executive Director of Finance Dave Auxier and I had the pleasure of meeting with members of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and Bus Riders Unite at their office in Southeast Portland.

We had a good discussion about OPAL’s Campaign for a Fair Transfer, which is a proposal to extend the transfer time from two to three hours and provides for a free return trip for riders using the system after 7 p.m.

We heard directly from OPAL members about how extending the transfer times would help offset the impact of fare increases and service cuts, particularly for riders who are transit-dependent. No question, riders throughout the region are experiencing longer wait times, more crowded buses and missed connections.

Wherever I go in region, riders ask for more service, particularly to get access to jobs. Rightly so, transit play a critical role in our local economy. We are committed to increasing service, which is why we have focused on getting our cost structure under control, particularly our employee health care costs.

In the meantime, TriMet will provide OPAL and the public with an updated estimate on what it would cost to implement a 3-hour transfer and a free return trip after 7 p.m. We committed to providing that analysis, based on newer trend data, by the end of June. We requested the opportunity to hold a workshop with OPAL and Bus Riders Unite members to review the proposal in detail in July. We’ll also share the analysis with the TriMet Board of Directors.

Any recommendations to the TriMet Board would happen later this summer.

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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Educating our legislators about transit

By Jan Campbell, Chair of TriMet’s Committee on Accessible Transportation

When my husband died six years ago I made a decision to move to Downtown Portland, which has more accessible neighborhoods and better transit. I needed to maintain my independence and I know my life would have deteriorated in my Southwest Portland neighborhood.

Jan Campbell, a transit rider and advocate for people with disabilities, met with State Senator Ginny Burdick and other lawmakers last Wednesday during the “Transit Day at the Capitol” event in Salem.

I shared my story with Senator Ginny Burdick during “Transit Day at the Capitol” last week to help her appreciate how vital transit is to riders with like me with disabilities. For many of us, public transit is the difference between living your life and living in isolation.

I’ve dedicated the last 35 years of my life to advocating for people with disabilities regionally and statewide. I am proud to be one of the nearly 100 Portland-area transit riders who gathered in Salem on April 10th to advocate for more funding for transit.

TriMet and Ride Connection riders met with more than 35 legislators to educate them on the importance of our public transit system in our lives. I think many of them were surprised at how difficult the last few years have been on riders, particularly those who rely on the LIFT program (TriMet’s shared-ride service for people with disabilities).

Every time the fixed-route service district is reduced it also reduces service to door-to-door riders. These cuts are dramatically hurting riders, many of whom depend on transit to get to their jobs, go shopping, go to medical appointments and access other essential services.

TriMet unfortunately is one of a number of transit systems that experienced deep service cuts and significant fare increases during this recession. It’s clear Oregon needs to invest more in public transit.

As part of my advocacy efforts, I invited my new legislator, Rep. Jennifer Williamson, to join me for a guided tour of our transit system. There is no better education quite like seeing our transit system and neighborhoods through the eyes of a person using a wheelchair.

April 19th: Conference call with General Manager Neil McFarlane

TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane
TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane

Nearly every week this year, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane is meeting with riders throughout the metro area to hear first-hand about their experiences on the transit system. (If you’re not already in the loop, we announce these events a few days in advance on Facebook, on Twitter and via email.)

Here’s another opportunity to chat with Neil, ask questions, and weigh in.

This Friday, April 19, 2013, from noon to 1 p.m., Neil will host a telephone conference call with riders to answer their questions.

To participate in the call, you will need to click this link and sign up for a personalized call-in number and PIN. We ask that you register with your full name and the city where you live. (Enter your city in the “Private Questions or Comments for Host” box.)

Register for the April 19 conference call with Neil

Please note that the conference service may provide a long-distance number for you to call. If you do not have access to or prefer not to use your long-distance minutes, you can also participate in the call via computer or other online calling software. If you need more information about these services, just let us know.

We hope you’ll join us!

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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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!

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

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.