State Report Turns Spotlight on TriMet Safety Issues

A leaked state audit of Tri-Met, details of which appeared in The Oregonian this morning, speaks of morale problems among “front-line” workers (such as bus drivers) and portrays an agency where “safety first” is often little more than a slogan.

The newspaper’s summary of the 54-page report is startling: “TriMet needs to fix a culture where low morale, secrecy, safety problems and more than $1 billion in unfunded financial obligations threaten to wreck the public transit agency,” the Oregonian says, summarizing the report’s key findings. The leaked report is a draft, not a final, official document but that fact does little to ease the sense that state auditors uncovered serious problems as they examined TriMet. The report was compiled by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that TriMet does not appear to be disputing the picture the report paints. The newspaper reports that TriMet officials “took the Secretary of State’s criticisms in stride… in a 10-page response, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane didn’t disagree with the findings. Rather, he seemed to ask how high he should jump to implement the audit’s suggested improvements.”
Among the audit findings reported by the newspaper several safety-related issues stand out. The paper says “drivers and other front-line workers feel as if their concerns about safety issues aren’t taken seriously.” It also notes that auditors concluded that the transit agency has let maintenance on the MAX light-rail system lapse in several key areas, including repairs to the tracks and signals.

Over the last few years I have used this space to document a long series of reported TriMet failures and missteps. The debate over how much rest TriMet’s bus drivers need has been well-documented here in Portland. Bus accidents, especially accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists, are all too common in our city.

The newspaper also reports on efforts by TriMet’s leadership to blame some of these problems on politicians who, they say, have failed to fund the agency properly, forcing them to leave critical positions unfilled. As a Portland personal injury attorney I find this excuse both inadequate and troubling. TriMet might need more money to operate at maximum efficiency, but a lack of funding can’t explain a corporate culture where drivers believe their safety concerns fall on deaf ears. Perhaps public reaction to the leaked report will lead TriMet officials to view safety issues with the same urgency as other Portlanders – not just TriMet customers, but everyone who shares the street with them: pedestrians, cyclists and other motor vehicles.

The Oregonian: State audit finds Tri-Met needs to take ‘extremely urgent’ money, safety problems more seriously