FACT CHECK: “TriMet Financial Problems: Self-Inflicted?”


The Amalgamated Transit Union has published another ad that questions TriMet’s decision to outsource its most expensive transit service and contract with local police departments for its Transit Police Division. Here are the facts.

ATU claim: TriMet could save $3.7 million on its $18.9 million disability contract if it brought the service in-house.

Fact: TriMet’s LIFT paratransit service provides door-to-door service for riders who are elderly or have a disability who cannot ride regular fixed route buses and trains. The service is mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. TriMet provides more than 1 million rides a year with a cost per ride of $32.29. TriMet contracts with First Transit to provide the transportation service, budgeted at $18.9 million in Fiscal Year 2013. Two independent analyses have been conducted, one in 2004 and again in 2012. Both times came the same conclusion: It would cost millions more to bring the service in house. The 2012 analysis found that bringing the program in house would actually increase LIFT costs by $24 million, a 75 percent increase in costs. This is due to higher wages and significantly more expensive benefits under the TriMet ATU contract, including the added costs TriMet would likely incur related to pensions and retiree medical costs.


ATU claim: LIFT costs have “grown by $6 million in the last ten years.”

Fact: The program increased $15 million during that period, a 6.7 percent average annual increase while ridership and vehicle hours each increased an average of 2.3 percent annually. As the analysis has shown, the costs would be significantly higher if the contracted workers received TriMet union benefits.

*The costs to operate LIFT service include insurance, vehicle maintenance, fuel, transportation, administration staff, dispatch and customer service center costs, eligibility and utilities.

LIFT 10 year statistics 2002 2012 Annual change
LIFT boardings 845,496 1,062,874 2.31%
Vehicle hours – LIFT and cab 456,389 577,709 2.39%
LIFT operating costs* $16,481,644 $31,744,160 6.77%

ATU claim: “$10.3 million in police contracts… When we ask what these 56 officers do for $10 million per year, TriMet’s response is that it doesn’t audit performance under the contracts.”

Fact: TriMet’s budget allocates $8.64 million for police contract services, not $10.3. That $8.64 million is the budgeted funds, not the actual cost, which in Fiscal Year 2012 came in almost half a million under budget at $8.152 million.

Fact: The Transit Police Division (TPD) is led by a Portland Police commander and has 62 sworn law enforcement officers, not 56. The officers come from all three counties and 14 other jurisdictions in TriMet’s service district. Because of this collaborative approach, all police officers with those agencies respond to incidents on and around our system, not just those officers specifically assigned to transit. So essentially, more than a thousand local police officers provide security and response for TriMet riders and employees. In fact, since TriMet’s service district stretches across 534 square miles, it is often non-transit officers who are the first to arrive on scene at incidents on the system.

Fact: A so-called “performance audit” is not necessary since the police contract is actively managed by TriMet’s Executive Director of Safety and Security, who is co-located with the TPD. Daily call logs and weekly reports produced by officers and TPD’s command staff are reviewed on an ongoing basis. This allows the Executive Director of Safety and Security to coordinate with the command staff and adjust strategies for improved security on a weekly, if not daily basis. In addition, the Federal Transportation Administration conducts triennial reviews of TriMet operations, safety and security.


ATU claim: “We love our transit police officers. They are competent and caring. But we seldom see them.”

Fact: TPD officers provide a daily visible presence, spending at least 70 percent of their time patrolling the transit system, conducting missions and enforcing TriMet Code. They work out of four precincts to more efficiently patrol dedicated segments of system. Recently, in a month’s time, TPD officers made 280 arrests and issued 451 exclusions for fare evasion and other TriMet Code violations.

In addition to the standard daily patrols, TPD has teamed up with the Department of Homeland Security for 14 Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response missions, four Operation Rail Safe missions and three Operation Bus Safe missions. All these missions increase visibility on the system and increase security for riders and TriMet employees.


ATU claim: “This is because they must respond to non-transit calls.”

Fact: TPD officers are law enforcement officers first and foremost, and they are sworn to protect all members of our community, not just TriMet riders and employees. As all police officers in the region are dispatched through the 9-1-1 system, TPD officers will be sent to serious incidents in the community when they are the closest police or as is warranted, just as other non-TPD officers respond to incidents on TriMet when they are nearby.

The amount of time TPD officers spend responding to non-transit calls and investigating non-transit incidents is minimal, but their response benefits both the community and TriMet as the officers’ work is critical in diffusing potentially dangerous incidents and removing criminals from the streets and, potentially, the transit system.

A case in point is the recent attempted sexual assault of a Portland State University student. While the attack did not happen on the TriMet system, the suspect was captured on security video from a MAX train. TPD officers recognized him from their patrols on the system, helped with the investigation and took part in the arrest made at the suspect’s home just sixty hours after the attack happened.


ATU claim: “… does it make sense that taxpayers are paying so much extra for police services we rarely see”

Fact: Establishing a transit-only police unit would exceed the current police contract greatly because the cost to hire, outfit, train, equip, purchase liability insurance and maintain the unit would be enormous. Additionally, in the long term TriMet would have the added cost of the retirement benefits once the officers retired.

At the same time, a transit-only police unit would dramatically reduce police presence and response to incidents on our system. We would not be able to maintain the same level of staffing and, without the collaborative approach of our current police contract, non-transit officers would not respond to incidents on the system as they do now. A transit-only police unit also would not have access to detectives, forensic specialists and other experts as we do now.


Our mission

More than 102 million trips are taken on our buses and trains each year. Our mission and focus is to operate a safe and reliable system with as much service on the street as possible. As our financial cost structure is unsustainable due to overly generous benefits under our union contract, we are focused on negotiating a new contract, reigning in costs and redirecting those savings into more service for our riders. We also make the best use of our resources and contract out key services that benefit our riders and the entire community.