FACT CHECK: “TriMet’s Expensive ‘Dead Air’ Decision”


The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) published another misleading and erroneous ad, and we set the record straight again. This misleading ad should really be called “Dead Wrong”.

Claim: “TriMet’s expensive hi-tech purchases have been repeatedly called into question… TriMet’s new $35 million radio dispatch system that was rolled out in 2012…remains plagued with problems.”  

Fact: The Federal Communications Commission required all broadband radio users, like TriMet, to move to narrowband by January 2013. TriMet’s outdated radio system could not be upgraded to meet the new federal narrowbanding requirement. TriMet’s new radio and CAD/AVL (Computer Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location) system actually provides better customer information than the previous radio and CAD/AVL system, including more accurate TransitTracker arrival times and more automatic stop announcements on the buses. While the system is more robust, we are adding more capacity in order to add light rail vehicles to the new radio system. After the capacity is increased TriMet will be able to cease annual radio channel lease payments of approximately $300,000 to the City of Portland.

Claim: “…Dispatchers must simultaneously monitor both the old and the new systems.” 

Fact: During the transition to the new system, dispatchers requested that both the old and new systems be available simultaneously. Dispatchers chose to have two monitors during the cutover phase that lasted about six months. The old radio system ceased operations in April 2013, so dispatchers have not had two consoles or two systems to monitor for about five months.

Claim: Emergency calls time out after two minutes and can’t be reconnected for two minutes.

Fact: All calls are subject to a time out period. The original time out was set for two minutes, but shortly after implementation it was changed to time out after four minutes. The radio system designed by INIT has a standard time out period between 30 seconds and 1 minute. TriMet opted for a longer time out setting to respond to requests from dispatchers.

Additionally, the claim that dispatchers must wait another two minutes to make a call is completely false. Dispatchers can immediately call again.

Claim: “Dead zones” where the radio system doesn’t work at all.

Fact: This is false. We do not have any radio coverage problems with the new CAD/AVL system, unlike the old system. There were some coverage issues during the initial testing phase, but two additional radio towers were added and we now have the same or better coverage than we did in the old system.

The claim could stem from the change away from a complete “in building” radio coverage, which is required for City of Portland police and fire personnel. TriMet did not opt for that more expensive feature, as it’s not needed for effective operations. However, the new portable radios work relatively well inside all TriMet buildings.

Claim: Frequent failure of GPS tracking devices that misidentify where a bus is located.

Fact: We do not have GPS failures, and we have conducted multiple tests to verify that we are tracking accurately. The new system CAD/AVL system behaves differently than the old system. The old system tracked vehicle locations primarily by GPS; the new system tracks primarily by odometer and is augmented by GPS, and is displayed to dispatchers differently than the old system. The claim may stem from some dispatchers not fully understanding the difference in the systems.  

Claim: “An unworkable emergency phone procedure that delays police response times.”

Fact: Our emergency phone procedures have not changed over the years. Dispatchers call 9-1-1 and police respond to the vehicle. There are no delayed response times.

Claim: “Like many of TriMet’s multi-million dollar purchases, management never consulted dispatchers before buying this problem-plagued dispatch system.”

Fact: This is completely false. Dispatchers were consulted, including reviewing the design documents and specifications. Additionally, a dispatcher was on the team that traveled to other transit agencies to review the proposed dispatch systems.

Conclusion: “Dead Air” ad is dead wrong
TriMet makes investments that maintain the quality of our  transit system, and ensures the safety of our employees, riders and the general public. These include new buses and a new radio dispatch system that better serves our employees and riders. This ad is misleading and filled with inaccuracies.