Randall O’Toole, of the CATO Institute, is a native Oregonian, resident in Brandon, who has lived most of his life in the Portland area. He is the author of “Debunking Portland [-] The City That Doesn’t Work,” published in the CATO Institute’s POLICY ANALYSIS series on July 9, 2007, and of a paper entitled “Debunking Portland: The Public Transit Myth” (August 28, 2007). Let me state for the record that I am an admirer of Mr. O’Toole and often applaud his work. However, I believe Mr. O’Toole examined the wrong premises and then came to a series of unsupported conclusions.
As a result of the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) inter-urban system and the downtown Portland Streetcar, quality development is not only taking place in Portland, Oregon but also in communities such as Gresham and Hillsboro. Let us be clear. No one in Portland officialdom seeks to force people from their automobiles. Rather the idea in Portland is to offer commuters a choice. It is amusing to me that Mr. O’Toole is a strong proponent of school choice. Yet most libertarians would leave the resident with only his automobile.
The great thing about Portland is that residents are offered a choice. Many use their public transportation system. Whereas some large cities are losing population, Portland actually has witnessed people moving into the city. Some walk to work or on good days bicycle. An increasing number take the Portland Streetcar. It has been extended a number of times to the point at which it has reached its full length. Portland is planning another streetcar line to service the opposite side of the downtown area.
Those Oregonians who prefer the suburbs and work downtown take MAX. The most common complaint about transit systems is that they are crowded during rush hours but empty the remainder of the day. Not so with MAX. You can witness full, sometimes even crowded, trains midday and depending upon the event some evenings.
Mr. O’Toole and other critics of Portland always suggest that the transit system can be run more cheaply with buses. Putting aside the fact that Americans greatly prefer trains to buses, the streetcar has done something which I guarantee no bus system would do. The streetcar, with its permanence of routing, has attracted almost $3 billion in new and rehabbed development. It has turned what was acknowledged as a shabby, rundown and declining area into a vibrant remarkable area where people are returning to live. Such development is able to be taxed, thus paying for the operation of the streetcar.