WES is a mess: abandon it.

WES

WES is a mess. It’s time for TriMet to admit WES was a mistake, cut its losses and abandon the line.

The first step should be for TriMet’s Board of Directors to rescind its approval for TriMet to bid on acquiring more cars to join  the Westside Express Service train that runs a 14.7-mile limited schedule between Wilsonville and Beaverton.

When I’ve written about WES previously, I focused on its failure to meet expectations. Now I’m convinced its deficiencies justify simply shutting it down and cutting its losses. TriMet needs to stop throwing good money after bad.

On May 25, after just six minutes of consideration, TriMet’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve bidding on the purchase of two used Budd RDC passenger diesel railcars from Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) for a total of up to $1.5 million. An additional $550,000 is expected to be needed for retrofit work to make the cars service-ready.

“We need to plan for ridership growth,” TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch told The Oregonian. “Staff believes that these cars would meet the expected demands for the growing WES service for at least the next ten years…,” Neil McFarlane, TriMet’s general manager, said to the Board in a May 25 memo.

Oh sure, plan for massive ridership growth.

In early 2009, TriMet predicted WES would have 2,400 daily riders its first year of operations and 3000 by 2020.

But things started to go south quickly. WES began operating in February 2009. By Dec. 2009, weekday boardings averaged 1,140. By June 2010, the last month of Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, weekday boardings for the year averaged 1,200, less than half the number TriMet had predicted.

TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen told The Oregonian it was way too early to say if the agency’s heavy-rail gambit was a mistake.

He was wrong.

In FY15, weekday boardings averaged just 1869. Equally disturbing, operating costs per boarding on WES are stubbornly high at $13.50, versus $2.83 on busses and $2.14 on MAX.

Operating cost per boarding ride measures the direct cost of providing each ride. Operating costs are expenses for labor, energy and expendable supplies to provide transit service and to maintain vehicles and plant facilities. It does not include general andf administrative costs, interest or depreciation.

WESgraphwithkey

Here we are in 2016 and the situation is still appalling.

As of April 2016, the most recent month for which I was able to obtain data from TriMet, average daily boardings in FY16 are just 1,779. Operating costs per boarding ride are also still substantially imbalanced, at $2.67 for busses, $2.01 for MAX and $12.56 for WES.

The WES figure translates into a fare recovery ratio of operating costs of just 8.1 percent. Operations costs are expenses for labor, energy and expendable supplies to provide transit service and to maintain vehicles and plant facilities.

And these figures don’t even take into account the $161.2 million spent to build WES.

Even if WES reaches 3000 average daily boardings, operating costs per boarding ride will remain much higher than for busses and MAX.

The fact is, WES is a train wreck. It’s time to shut it down.

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Coming to Portland’s book burning party?

bookburning
The Portland (Oregon) Public School board recently voted to prohibit textbooks or classroom materials questioning the mainstream thinking about climate change. The Cascade Policy Institute’s comments on the action, reprinted here, deserve attention.
 
“Resolution No. 5272 is two pages long, but the most chilling part is the final sentence:
 
‘[Portland Public Schools] will abandon the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.’
 
The primary purpose of education is to teach students how to be critical thinkers. Now that the School Board has declared that expressions of doubt about complex scientific topics will be banned, what is the point of going to school?
 
Regardless of the subject we should encourage students to be skeptical. The more questioning the better. They will be poorly prepared for adult living if they spend their childhood years being spoon-fed in schools where skepticism is prohibited.
 
Public education already faces a growing challenge from private schools, online learning, and home-based education. If Resolution 5272 is upheld, Portland Public Schools will give parents one more reason to leave.”

Will you vote for Hillary… or for a woman?

Alex Conant, Marco Rubio’s communications director during his presidential race, recently sat down with the Huffington Post to discuss the campaign.

Conant: “Look, I think what we saw last night (June 7) is what we’re going to see from the Clinton campaign every day from now until November. Which is, they’re going to make this election a referendum on whether or not you want a woman in the White House. Not whether or not you want Hillary Clinton in the White House. I think that’s her only message.

Huffington Post: Do you think it plays?

Conant: It’s better than asking people to vote for Hillary.

hillaryFirstFemalePres

 

This illuminating conversation took place the day after the California and New Jersey primaries, when Clinton picked up enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee after focusing heavily on being the first female candidate of a major political party.

In sync with Conant’s observation, Hillary triumphantly claimed the Democratic nomination, focusing on the “first woman” theme.

“Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone, the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee,” she announced to applause at a campaign event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Responding in lockstep, media across the country announced Hillary’s victories with stories emphasizing that she would be the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination:

Clinton claims milestone as first female major-party nominee, wins California primary. Los Angeles Times

Hillary Clinton’s historic moment. Hillary Clinton — former first lady, former U.S. senator, and former secretary of state — has become the first woman to capture a major-party nomination for president. CNN

‘History made’: Clinton claims nomination. Hillary Clinton triumphantly claimed the Democratic nomination for president on Tuesday, calling for party unity to stop Donald Trump as she became the first woman in U.S. history to lead a major-party ticket. Politico

Hillary Clinton becomes first female presidential nominee from a major party after securing enough delegates. Daily News.

Following the party line, when Oprah Winfrey endorsed Hillary for President on June 7 (Wow! That was a surprise), she highlighted that it is time for voters to elect the nation’s first female president.

“I’m with her,” she told Nancy O’Dell of ‘Entertainment Tonight’. “It’s a seminal moment for women. What this says is that there is no ceiling. That ceiling has gone ‘boom,’ you know?”

 

It’s no secret that Hillary is a damaged and flawed candidate, so the “first woman” approach makes a lot of sense.

Her e-mail scandal may be fairly recent, but she is associated with decades of personal and political blunders and scandals that have led a high level of Clinton fatigue among the public.

“She has always been awkward and uninspiring on the stump,” a senior Democratic consultant once told the Washington Post. “Hillary has Bill’s baggage and now her own as secretary of state — without Bill’s personality, eloquence or warmth.”

The Democratic party has also known for a very long time it is confronting a serious Hillary trust gap.

In a July 2015 Quinnipiac University national poll, 57 percent of respondents said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, one of the worst scores among all the top candidates at the time. In a subsequent Quinnipiac University poll, “liar” was the first word that came to mind more than any other in an open-ended question when voters were asked what they thought of Clinton, followed by “dishonest” and “untrustworthy”.

In a more recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll, 57 percent of people said they didn’t believe Hillary was honest and trustworthy.

But Hillary’s problems as a candidate go even deeper than that.

“Voters see her as an extraordinarily cynical, power-hungry insider,” James Poulos said in The Week magazine on Feb. 2. “She is out for herself, not out for Americans. Voters know it.”

This ties in with a wide perception that Hillary and Bill are just plain greedy, what with them hauling off $190,000 worth of china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other gifts when they moved out of the White House, taking money from all sorts of unsavory people and foreign countries for their Foundation, and charging exorbitant amounts for speeches.

David Axelrod, a political consultant for Obama, noted in his book, “Believer”, that Hillary has two other main weaknesses: she’s a polarizing rather than a “healing figure,” and she has a hard time selling herself as the “candidate of the future” given her checkered past and long political resume.

So here we are, facing the possibility Hillary will become the “first woman” president not because of, but despite, herself (and maybe because her opponent is another deeply flawed candidate).

Just goes to show that Clarence Darrow was right. “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it,” he said.

 

 

WES: going off the rails

stagecoach

“We’re in a fine fix, my friends.”  Stagecoach. 1939.

TriMet is buying 2 more train cars for WES, the Westside Express Service train that runs a 14.7-mile limited schedule between Wilsonville and Beaverton.

Hey, why not? When things are going downhill, double down.

On May 25, after just six minutes of consideration, TriMet’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve bidding on the purchase of two used Budd RDC passenger diesel railcars from Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) for a total of up to $1.5 million. An additional $550,000 is expected to be needed for retrofit work to make the cars service-ready.

“We need to plan for ridership growth,” TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch told The Oregonian. “Staff believes that these cars would meet the expected demands for the growing WES service for at least the next ten years…,” Neil McFarlane, TriMet’s general manager, said to the Board in a May 25 memo.

Oh sure, plan for massive ridership growth.

In early 2009, TriMet predicted WES would have 2,400 daily riders its first year of operations and 3000 by 2020.

But things started to go south quickly. WES began operating in February 2009. By Dec. 2009, weekday boardings averaged 1,140. By June 2010, the last month of Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, weekday boardings for the year averaged 1,200, less than half the number TriMet had predicted.

TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen told The Oregonian it was way too early to say if the agency’s heavy-rail gambit was a mistake.

He was wrong.

In FY15, weekday boardings averaged just 1869. Equally disturbing, operating costs per boarding on WES are stubbornly high at $13.50, versus $2.83 on busses and $2.14 on MAX.

Operating cost per boarding ride measures the direct cost of providing each ride. Operating costs are expenses for labor, energy and expendable supplies to provide transit service and to maintain vehicles and plant facilities. It does not include general andf administrative costs, interest or depreciation.

WESgraphwithkey

Here we are in 2016 and the situation is still appalling.

As of April 2016, the most recent month for which I was able to obtain data from TriMet, average daily boardings in FY16 are just 1,779. Operating costs per boarding ride are also still substantially imbalanced, at $2.67 for busses, $2.01 for MAX and $12.56 for WES.

The WES figure translates into a fare recovery ratio of operating costs of just 8.1 percent. Operations costs are expenses for labor, energy and expendable supplies to provide transit service and to maintain vehicles and plant facilities.

And these figures don’t even take into account the $161.2 million spent to build WES.

Even if WES reaches 3000 average daily boardings, operating costs per boarding ride will remain much higher than for busses and MAX.

The fact is, WES is a train wreck.

Microsoft and LinkedIn: Irrational exuberance?

M&A

Microsoft is buying LinkedIn for $25.2 million, even though LinkedIn isn’t profitable. LinkedIn reported a net loss of $8.4 million, or 6 cents per share, in the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2015 and has forecast a much weaker-than-expected 2016.

Moreover, the number of unique monthly visitors to LinkedIn didn’t grow over the second half of 2015. Plus, total page views were down in the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2016 for just the second time in the past 16 quarters.

 

Microsoft’s history of acquisitions isn’t exactly an endorsement of the company’s prescience. Microsoft’s purchase of aQuantive in 2007 for $6 billion and of Nokia’s handset business in 2014 for $7.2 billion were complete failures.

Then there was Microsoft’s $1.2 billion purchase of Yammer in 2012.

“This is the best Silicon Valley deal we’ve seen all year,” said Eric M. Jackson in VentureBeat, a source for news on technology innovation. “Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of Instagram makes Microsoft’s pickup of Yammer look like the Louisiana Purchase by comparison.”

Four years later Yammer is an afterthought at Microsoft.

In fact, the first question to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on a Monday conference call alluded to this. “You’ve had a tough track record in large M&A,” said Brent Thill, a UBS analyst. “Why is this deal different?”

Irrational exuberance, Microsoft?

Liberals love science, except on GMOs

Have some doubts about human-caused climate change. Get over it, liberals say. It’s an indisputable fact, a sure thing, unassailable. Science proves it and you gotta trust science.

Heck, it’s so clear-cut, even the Portland School Board has unanimously adopted a resolution that directs district officials to get rid of classroom materials that express “doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.”

The Board didn’t clarify whether that meant such faulty materials were to be burned, a la Fahrenheit 451 where Captain Beatty burned books because they produce “two sides to a question to worry him”.

But scads of liberals take a different tack when the issue is GMOs.

bamGM0

Ranting and raving that GMOs just aren’t safe, they demand labeling of products containing GMOs and insist there’s a need to protect the non-GMO food supply. In a 330-page publication dismissing the “myths” about the safety of GMOs, Earth Open Source, an organization that “is presenting the evidence regarding the social, environmental, and health impacts of GMO foods”, asserts “that those disagreeing with GMO proponents’ claims of safety include hundreds of eminent scientists.”

GMOatCostco

A display at a Costco store

But science says differently.

GMO crops are as safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts and have no negative environmental impacts according to a comprehensive report released on May 17 by the National Academy of Sciences —a group founded by the U.S. Congress to provide expert scientifically-based advice on a variety of issues. The report is a 388-page, comprehensive look at every aspect of genetically engineered crops.

Key messages in the report, summarized by National Geographic, are:

  • GMO crops are safe to eat…there’s no evidence of harm.
  • The GMO crops in our food system have “…helped farmers protect yields from insects and weeds.”
  • The report found no adverse affects on biodiversity or danger from interbreeding between GMO crops and wild relatives.
  • The economic benefits to farmers have been well-documented.
  • Appropriate regulation is imperative, and that regulation should be based on the characteristics of the crop, rather than the technique used to develop it, whether GMO or non-GMO.
  • Ongoing public conversations about GE crops and related issues should be characterized by transparency and public participation.

The National Academy of Sciences report also notes that both genetic engineering and conventional breeding are important to crop improvement. Each method has strengths and weaknesses, and treating them “as competing approaches is a false dichotomy; more progress in crop improvement can be brought about by using both … than by using either alone.”

So, will the GMO alarmists finally see the light? Will they embrace science and back off? Doubtful. But at least now there’s a stronger argument to challenge their illusions.