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Audit would guide TriMet, riders on right route

My View: Are Portland-area transit decisions being made for correct reasons?


I’ve heard people say that you can’t truly understand a city without using its public transportation system. For the Portland area, that brings good news and bad news.

Portland has been ranked first in the nation for public transit based on the wide variety of travel options and high ridership. However, for many residents in East Multnomah County and other parts of the TriMet service area, the story isn’t so sunny.

East County residents who rely on TriMet as their sole mode of transportation are facing challenges getting to the store to buy groceries, traveling to work and school, and taking their children to the doctor. That’s why I’m pushing to improve our public transportation system so that it is more responsive to the needs of our communities.

I’ve spent a decade working to improve TriMet service in East County, and as a first-term state representative, I’m calling on Secretary of State Kate Brown to conduct an unprecedented audit of TriMet’s operations and finances. It’s time to get to the bottom of the complaints being leveled against our public transit agency and to take action that will improve this essential community service.

An in-depth review

I grew up in Portland and relied on TriMet to get around the city. Later, I focused on transit issues as a graduate student at Portland State University. Now, as I push the state Legislature to address the lack of oversight and problematic decision-making plaguing TriMet, I’m proud to bring my experience as a longtime rider, supporter and student of the Portland area’s mass transit.

When I was a member of the Troutdale City Council from 2003 to 2006, I heard from many residents who had complaints about the lack of service in East County. I worked with the community and other leaders to develop a plan for an express bus between Mt. Hood Community College and the downtown Portland bus mall, additional service on Burnside and an extension of the Glisan line from the Rockwood Transit Center to Mt. Hood Community College.

I raised these concerns and offered suggestions to a representative from TriMet, but the service provided to East County did not improve.

In Oregon, we expect a high level of transparency from public service agencies. I believe the Legislature, which helped create TriMet, must act now to ensure that questions about TriMet’s decision-making are answered and that service is improved.

To that end, I introduced House Bill 3316, which initially proposed changing TriMet’s governance model to increase the agency’s responsiveness to riders and taxpayers. I’ve since amended that proposal to call for an overdue, in-depth and unbiased review of the agency’s operations and finances.

Start the conversation

With an operating budget in the hundreds of millions and an almost continuous growth in ridership, TriMet must be held accountable and answerable to its riders. We deserve to know that future fare increases are determined by need, not by financial mismanagement. We need to know that operations decisions are not being driven by outdated plans, which have left us with a downtown-centered system with inadequate service in the suburbs.

My proposed audit would enable TriMet leadership, riders and members of the Legislature to take a hard look at the agency’s finances and operations in order to see where we can make changes that will improve the system. Whether the right course of action turns out to be shifting TriMet’s governance system, giving riders more access and influence on decisions, or something else, we need to start the conversation.

I am committed to improving service for Troutdale, Gresham and the rest of East County — it’s time for our transit agency to bring good news to all parts of its service area.

State Rep. Chris Gorsek is a Democrat who represents House District 49 in East Multnomah County.