Home Homeless Transit Autos Planning Politics Housing Tax Giveaway Printables/Misc Links Video ADC

Portland is a PR machine for light rail & streetcar

Here are Some Facts About Portland Oregon          

“It must always be remembered how cost-effectiveness works in the public sector: the cost IS the benefit.” - author unknown




Light Rail/Bridge Fact Sheet   (PDF of this page)

Bridge safety

Don Wagner (Washington State Transportation Commission Regional Administrator, Southwest Region) said: "Both of the bridges are structurally sufficient and meet all of the requirements."

(minutes of the October 20 & 21 2004 Washington Transportation Commission, pg 17     

Light Rail is NOT required

"Steve Stuart said it is not legally true that you must have a multi modal project to get approval or funding from Federal Highway Administration." (From minutes of the RTC board meeting, June 2, 2009 )

"There are no documents in our possession that claim that the federal government requires light rail as a part of the CRC project." (Email from the CRC)

Failed Cost & Ridership Projections:

West Side Light Rail:






34,150 for 2005

24,000 in 2004

latest data avail.

opening date




cost in newspapers

$295- $395 million

$964 million

lowball to sell proj.

cost proj. in DEIS

$ 559.3 million

$964 million

72% over

cost proj. in FEIS

$ 804.0 million

$964 million

20% over

cost proj. in FFGA

$886.5 million

$964 million

9% over

(From local newspaper reports) & Table 2: Project Capital Costs Adjusted for Inflation, Contractor Performance Assessment Report, September 2007) One Trimet fact sheet claims "The project was completed on time and under budget."

East Side Light Rail:






42,500 for 1990

19,700 in 1990


Open date



3 years late

Construction Cost

$172 million

$266 million

55% over

Operating cost

$3.8 million

$5.19 million

36% over




208% over

(from STUDY SAYS MAX CALCULATIONS WERE WRONG , The Oregonian December 29, 1989)


Tolls will be set by the legislature, so no one really knows what they will be. (There is even a movement to make tolls permeant and use the money for light rail.)

The Columbian (June 5, 2009) reported that several tolls scenarios are being considered:

Rush hour toll $2.60 each way costing commuters $1,350 per year.

Triple tolls costing $7.80 each way.

Sales Tax to Operate Light Rail

Sales tax money will be sent to Trimet to operate the light rail in Vancouver.

Trimet pays its light rail operators around $60,000 per year with another $60,000+ in benefits.

If light rail is so good, why does it need a tax increase to operate it?

CRC incompetence

CRC has spent more than $100M over the past 6 years.

The CRC final design was rejected -their bridge that large had never been built before

The Bridge Review Panel came up with three bridge designs, all cheaper than the CRC proposal.

The CRC proposed the two parking structures in the heart of Down town Vancouver.

Some Facts


Transit Speed

Average Commute times to work for selected regions and the main city within that region



(regional avg.)


(regional avg.)


(main city)


(main city)


22.4 min

41.9 min

21.3 min

42.3 min

National average

24.2 min

48.1 min.

24.2 min

45.6 min

New York

27.9 min

51.0 min

31.7 min

48.5 min

compiled from American Community Survey for 2005-2007 see portlandfacts.com/commutetime.html

C-Tran scheduled Vancouver->Portland: 15 min. MAX (Expo-Portland): 34 min.

Cost of Transit & Cars (per passenger-mile)


operating cost

capital cost


Automobile (1.57 people/car)




light rail




transit bus




Transit from National Transit Database see http://www.portlandfacts.com/top10bus.html

automobile based on AAA data adjusted to match actual USA car age - see .portlandfacts.com/aaa_cost.html


See here for complete details of this chart


Portland Police Officer "Turner says when TriMet's new MAX line began operation in 2009, the drug trade became worse. The trains, he says, provide quick transportation in and out of the neighborhood and an inconspicuous place to make deals." (http://portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=129729019368514900)

The Clackamas County sherif reported a 32% increase in reported crimes and a 56% increase in calls for police service.

OREGON CITY -- An off-duty Clackamas County sheriff's lieutenant was assaulted Monday afternoon after trying to help a TriMet inspector deal with two men smoking and drinking on a MAX platform. (KGW-TV, August 3, 2010)

After listening to testimonials of theft, vandalism, beatings and intimidation, [East Precinct's Sgt. Kim] Preston said there's little likelihood police will increase patrols in the area any time soon.

"The MAX has been a living nightmare for us," Preston said. "I would not ride it at night -- and I'm armed all the time. There are massive fights, guns displayed, stabbings, people being threatened and bullied." (Oregonian, Thursday, September 20, 2007)

Light Rail is Really About Development & Adding Density

Charlie Hales, Portland City Commissioner: "Often, not always, often, light rail or streetcar push the community in a development direction that we want to go and buses don't seem to add much momentum to that change. (Northwest Illustrated, KOIN-TV, Oct 7, 2001.)

Mike Burton, Portland's Metro Executive Officer: (Referring to the Interstate Ave. light rail line): "the opportunity to develop along that line is just absolutely incredible" (Emphasis added, Northwest Illustrated, KOIN-TV, Oct 7, 2001.)

Sam Adams, Portland commissioner (now Mayor): "I believe we should plan to accommodate ... 300,000 more Portlanders ... within ¼ mile of all existing and to-be-planned streetcar and light rail transit stops ... What would Portland look like .. it would look a lot like Portland circa 1920 - a time when the main means of motion were your feet, streetcars and bikes." (City Club Speech July 20, 2007)

Development oriented transit supports improved livability for high density environments that support public goals for urban containment, sustainable living and reduced dependence on an automobile . But higher density development does not always mean a more "livable" community . (emphasis added, from page 5 of a publication of the Portland Development Commission: "Develpoment Oriented Transit": www.portlandstreetcar.org/pdf/development.pdf,:)

Light Rail Development is really Caused By Financial Incentives

After 10 years of no development along Portland's Eastside light rail line, they had to give property tax abatements to get development to happen. The Oregonian reported on October 24, 1996:

"The Portland City Council on Thursday approved a tax incentive plan that will give tax breaks to transit-oriented housing projects near MAX light-rail stations and two other Portland eastside locations."

"Developers have been hesitant to build the type of housing Metro says the region needs to attract more transit riders."

See: http://www.portlandfacts.com/transit/lightraildevelopment.htm and http://www.portlandfacts.com/developersubsidies.htm

Fatality Rates (see portlandfacts.com/transit/maxsafetychart.html)

Portland Light rail Death rate: 1.14 deaths per 100 million passenger-miles

Portland automobile Death rate: 0 .46 deaths per 100 million passenger-miles

More Job Choices

Light rail really only serves well those along its line. To serve other areas requires a transfer (or several transfers) increasing the commute time. An automobile provides access to a much wider region in the same time, providing many more choices in where to work, allowing one to choose a higher paying job. See Cars improve our standard of living

Light Rail Carries Commuters Equal to Only 1/3 of One Lane of Freeway

( & NO Freight)

Trimet's Factsheet (September 2010): MAX carries 26% of evening rush hour commuters traveling from downtown on the Sunset Hwy. and Banfield Fwy.

Since the Sunset and Banfield are three through lanes, this claim is really that MAX carries the same number of commuters as are carried on 26% of 3 lanes of freeway+MAX or one lane of freeway (1/4 x (3+1) = 1) and NO freight. Further about 2/3 of MAX riders were formally on the bus, so only 1/3 of one lane of freeway commuters were actually removed from the freeway (the rest would have been in buses, taking up little space) for a cost $50 million per mile ($900 Million to build 18 miles). Effectively it cost $150 million per mile (50x3) to do what one lane of freeway does at $5-10 million.


Europeans don't use transit either

As of 2000, cars accounted for 78.3% of motorized travel in EUROPE's EU15 countries.

In the previous 20 years rail, light rail, streetcars and bus lost about 20% of their market share. (Data from http://ec.europa.eu/publications/booklets/eu_glance/44/en-3.pdf See: portlandfacts.com/transit/eurotranistshareloss.htm)

Transit has been on a 100 year decline


transit share











To expect people to suddenly flock to transit goes against a 100 year history and is unrealistic.

Data from: http://www.publicpurpose.com/ut-usptshare45.pdf

Light Rail Will Not Save Energy

The average light rail line uses energy equivalent to cars that get 23-28 mpg. Already many cars use less energy than light rail, and new (2012) cars must get 33.8 mpg (39.5 mpg by 2016). So the average new car is already mandated to use less energy than light rail and by 2016 they will use 18-32% less energy than light rail.

(http://www.epa.gov/oms/climate/regulations/420f10014.htm and Transit from National Transit Database see http://www.portlandfacts.com/top10bus.html)

Older People DO NOT need transit

In fact, driving is often the easiest physical task for older people.  Long before they lose the ability to drive, older people may be unable to board or ride public transit, or to walk to a bus stop or train station. Even though many may still be able to use special transit services, the overwhelming majority of older people, regardless of their stage of disability, are able to ride in a car and choose to do so first.   

Rising Gas Prices

Gas cost is less than ½ the cost of driving a car and driving a car costs about 1/3 what transit actually costs (all costs for both car & transit, including the 80% tax subsidy for transit, which mainly comes from car taxes) This means that gas would have to increase to about 6 (or more) times its current cost, or around $15-$20/gal. to make driving as expensive as the true cost of transit.

At triple our gas prices, Europeans drive for 78% of their motorized travel and transit, except air, has been declining for decades. (portlandfacts.com/transit/eurotranistshareloss.htm

Last year's gas price increase caused severe financial problems for transit -- imagine what $15/gal gas would do to transit!

Gravy Train (Streetcar Profiteering) (selections from Willamette Week, Sep 19th, 2007)

Over the past decade, Blumenauer's PAC has raised more than $1.1 million, much of which has come from the same people who contributed to his reelection campaign, including people who have a direct interest in the streetcar.

They include Michael Powell of bookstore fame, who has given $12,000 over the years to Blumenauer and his PAC; Hank Ashforth, a large Lloyd District property owner, who gave $7,500; Rick Parker, an eastside businessman who, with his wife, gave $38,000; Pearl District developer John Carroll, who gave $21,000; and another developer, Dick Cooley, who with a few of his employees gave a total of $17,700.

All sit on the board of Portland Streetcar Inc., the nonprofit that oversees the streetcar for the city. And all have a stake in the streetcar's success, because having a transit line nearby adds value to their properties. "Your property will probably be worth four times as much," Powell, who chairs the PSI board, told the City Council this August. "It brings three million customers' eyeballs onto your business."


A number of contractors who have given to Blumenauer and his PAC have already benefited from previous streetcar work and will probably benefit from the eastside extension.

The largest donor was Stacy&Witbeck construction, which also had the single largest streetcar contract: $34 million to lay track on the west side. Two of its top executives, John Bollier and Ronald Wells, have given nearly $70,000 to Blumenauer's funds. (In 1994, Stacy&Witbeck was banned from contracting with the City of San Francisco for overcharging, only to have the ban rescinded after hiring a lobbyist close to the mayor. The company went on to win a $118 million contract to build a new streetcar line.)

Employees of LTK engineering and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca architects have contributed $23,500 to Blumenauer over the years. LTK has overseen manufacture of the cars themselves, and ZGF has helped with planning and design.


Unlike, say, the bus system or light rail, which is operated by TriMet, a public agency, the streetcar has been run, since its inception, by the private nonprofit Portland Streetcar Inc.


The reasons for this "public-private partnership" depend on who you ask. Some say bringing the private sector in was the only way to pay for the streetcar, and that TriMet had little interest in trolleys. Others say the nonprofit allowed developers to retain more control over the routes and limit their risk. The structure is either "lean and efficient" (says Blumenauer) or "very corrupt" (says streetcar critic Charles).


Gustafson is not paid for his role as PSI's director. But the nonprofit has awarded his firm, Shiels Obletz, at least $2.3 million in consulting contracts, according to a May 2007 tally by the city.

Principals at the firm--including Gustafson--have given nearly $27,000 to Blumenauer and his PAC since 1996.


"It stinks to high heaven," says Laura Otten, director of the Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. She says a nonprofit director's company benefiting from contracts with the organization is "one of the biggest red flags you can wave."

Project Cost by element (from CRC DEIS, table 19 Downstream with LRT):

HWY - Construct NB River Crossing


HWY - Construct SB River Crossing


HWY - Demo Existing NB River Crossing


HWY - Demo Existing SB River Crossing


HWY - I-5 / SR14 I/C (Stage 1 & 2)


HWY - I-5 / SR14 I/C (Stage 3)


HWY - I-5 / Hayden Island I/C (Stage 1 & 2)


HWY - I-5 / Hayden Island I/C (Stage 2 & 3)


HWY - I-5 / Marine Drive Interchange (All Stages)


HWY - I-5 / SR 500 Interchange (All Stages)


HWY - I-5 Mill Plain Interchange (All Stages)


HWY - I-5 /Fourth Plain Interchange (All Stages)



HCT - Construct River Crossing


HCT - BRT North


HCT - BRT South


Light Rail Hurts Neighborhoods

Cutting Bus Service

The Portland Tribune, Jun 1, 2007, Updated Oct 30, 2009: TriMet cannot substantially increase bus service for at least another five years because of commitments to help fund new rail lines and increases in senior and disabled citizen services.

Bus is usually the first to be cut & light rail is the last to be cut during times of financial stress.

Question: Is C-Tran willing to promise rail will be cut before bus in hard times?

Bus riders usually are forced to transfer to light rail as light rail is very seldom run in parallel with bus lines.

Question: Will C-Tran promise to continue express bus service to Portland after light rail begins? If so what will this do to rail ridership.

How could ridership be flat while crowding is up? Simple: because trains and buses are spending less time moving passengers. In the 12-month period ending in April, TriMet reduced hours in which buses and trains were in service by 4 percent over the year before, according to its April ridership report.

The Portland Tribune, Jun 6, 2006, Updated Oct 30, 2009

PDF of this page

Download flyer of this section

Who really wants Light Rail

Here are some groups that spent money supporting light rail in the 1994 (Vancouver) &1996 (Portland) elections:

PGE & PPL  (sell electricity ro run trains)






U.S Bank & First Interstate Bank  (sell bonds)



Siemens   (sells light rail equipment)  



Various consulting and construction companies



"Citizens for Light Rail Expansion" (A Portland contribution to Vancouver election)