FACT CHECK: KOIN Part 1

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We welcome public and media attention regarding all matters related to TriMet. Being transparent helps the public understand the direction and priorities of the agency. As we move a small city every day – providing some 308,000 rides –  we understand how critical our service is to the community. At the same time, some of the statements made by the media and public can contain inaccurate information about TriMet. We will “fact check” any communication that misstates the facts.

KOIN: TriMet Salary Investigation – Part 1

Read the fact check on part two of the story

Claim: “In June of last year, as the TriMet Board approved cuts to service and fare increases they also approved more than $900,000 in raises for TriMet executives. There was no public discussion. The raises weren’t listed as an item in the budget—they were buried inside TriMet’s $20,000,000 contingency fund. To many, it seemed that TriMet was less than transparent. Perhaps an attempt to hide the raises from the public.”

Fact: After freezing non-union wages for 3-1/2 years, TriMet increased non-union wages last July by an average of 3 percent. The increase totaled just $910,000, less than 1 percent of the $473 million operating budget. The claim that that there was an attempt to hide the raises from the public is false. We provided the information to the Board of Directors, the General Manager’s Budget Task Force and the transit advocacy group OPAL. However, the salary increase should have been discussed publicly, and we will be more transparent going forward. We are committed to continuous improvement and know that we can always do better, and will.

Claim: “Most of those raises went to executives, already making 6-figure salaries.”

Fact: The total $910,000 in non-union salary increases was spread out over all 420 non-union employees. Only 2 of the 7 Executive Directors had their salaries adjusted because they were below market and we faced concerns about inequity.

Claim:“Records given to KOIN news by TriMet show at least 70 TriMet executives and managers making salaries above $100,000. A similar search reveals just 51 Denver managers making 6-figure salaries.”

Fact: TriMet actually has 49 non-union general fund employees with salaries above $100,000, more than half include the following positions: GM, 7 Executive Directors, 15 IT professionals, 6 attorneys and 9 operations management. This figure – 49 – should be the number directly compared with Denver’s 51 staff members earning more than $100,000.

There are 21 non-union TriMet employees that are funded through the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project that make more than $100,000. These jobs are highly skilled engineering and construction jobs that end with the project. The project funds are restricted to the project and cannot be used to restore service or reduce fares.

Claim: “Portland’s cost of living is slightly higher than Denver’s.”

Fact: “Slightly higher” downplays the cost of living differential. Portland’s cost of living is six to eight percent higher than Denver’s, and we have a lower disposable income.

Claim: “Your salary, you know you just gave yourself a raise; you make a little over $221,000.”

Fact: The statement “you just gave yourself a raise” is absolutely wrong. General Manager McFarlane does not set his salary. The Board of Directors is in charge of hiring, firing and setting the salary for the General Manager.

Claim: “We compared the cost of a TriMet pass with other transit systems. TriMet monthly pass, for an adult is 100 dollars and any idea what it is in Denver? 79. Boston? $70. Philadelphia, 83. Los Angeles, 75. San Diego, 72.”

Fact: Many of the transit agencies mentioned in the story have multiple monthly passes at varying price points. Drawing cost comparisons to other transit agencies monthly pass programs requires that we look at the services provided at each price point. KOIN did not do that.

For instance, the monthly pass for Denver’s RTD express/premium/zone system is $140-176. The $79 pass is for their local service. Our $100 monthly regional pass is the equivalent to their $140-176 regional monthly pass.

The $70 monthly pass in Boston is only valid on their subway and local buses, excluding express buses and all commuter rail. Boston’s monthly passes that most closely reflect the TriMet system (including buses, express buses, light rail and commuter rail) costs $110 month, but that is only for travel in the inner city. Our $100 monthly pass let’s you travel throughout the TriMet system.

Claim: “TriMet lacks a permanent citizen oversight or advisory committee that almost every other major transit agency in this agency has.”

Fact: TriMet was created by the Oregon Legislature in 1969. The Governor appoints the seven members of the TriMet Board of Directors and the Senate confirms their appointment. These are dedicated citizen volunteers who bring their expertise to the overseeing the activities of the transit agency. The Board also has a citizen committee reporting to it – the Committee on Accessible Transportation – that provides guidance and direction on issues related to elderly and riders with disabilities.

Claim: “… they took some money out of that contingency fund to help some low income riders… but I talk to an expert on transit and he said when your transit agency has to create a special fund so low-income people can ride mass transit you may have a fundamental problem.”

Fact: TriMet Board member Consuelo Saragoza asked the agency to create a mitigation fund to help offset the fare increase for low-income riders. TriMet has lower fares for elderly, riders with disabilities and younger riders, and sells discounted fares to social service agencies. The new program provides an additional discount, along with grants to reach more low-income riders.

We feel strongly that KOIN’s report is a misrepresentation of our agency. The attempt to compare transit agencies providing different services, operating in different areas and economies, that are in different phases of development truly is comparing apples to oranges. Mr. Gianola’s careful selection of comparisons is misleading. While Mr. Gianola was insistent on comparing the TriMet system’s to Denver’s, he not only provided inaccurate fare information, he stopped short of comparing general manager salaries. The general manager of Denver’s RTD makes $284,625, substantially more than General Manager McFarlane’s salary.