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While announcing cuts, TriMet quietly warns next year’s will be worse

(Blog coverage sponsored by DriveLessConnect, ODOT’s sweet new ridesharing service.)

mcfarlane lengoToday’s TriMet budget cut proposal is ugly: higher fares for all (especially for LIFT riders and central city residents), no more free rail, 20-minute waits for the midday MAX and zero support for YouthPass after May 2012.

Our wiki page on the 2012 cuts is the web’s most comprehensive guide to the proposals, including links to the best coverage elsewhere. I especially recommend the Oregonian’s line-by-line breakdown of cuts to bus and MAX, and TriMet’s map of its major changes to inner Northeast Portland bus service.

But here’s the worse news you won’t hear on the evening news tonight: TriMet gently acknowledged today that there’s no light at the end of this tunnel.

"Things are going to be even worse next year no matter what we do," said Cythia Chilton, head of TriMet’s budget task force, at Wednesday’s board meeting. "Even if the economic recovery takes hold."

Here’s why: TriMet’s labor costs, including medical benefits that are among the best in the country, are growing much faster than payroll taxes, which cover most of TriMet’s operations. This is not a situation that can be changed by one-time fare hikes; it just gets worse and worse.

I asked TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane if he agreed with Chilton, and if so what TriMet was going to do about this. He said his main priority is to reduce TriMet’s health costs with labor concessions that would require workers to pay more for expensive medical bills and insurance plans.

McFarlane also confirmed a rumor we first wrote about last month. In the meantime, TriMet is asking for your feedback about its budget proposals and planning a series of open houses this month. Our partners at OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, meanwhile, are holding a workshop tonight to educate transit riders about how to get involved.

(Creative Commons McFarlane photo by Thomas Le Ngo of TriMet.)

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