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January 31st, 2007 Christian Gaston 243-2122 | Q & A
 

Kevin Holtzman

Going tram-surfing with an operator for Portland's newest transit option.

     
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When Kevin Holtzman moved here from The Dalles last fall, he looked on Monster.com for a job to tide him over while getting ready to start school at Portland State University.

What the 29-year-old found was very different from his last job at a customer-service call center for a credit union. Holtzman got a full-time gig ferrying passengers at 22.7 miles an hour on Portland's aerial tram, up to 180 feet above South Waterfront.

Since November, he's been one of just six full-time operators (they're called "cabin attendants" in tramspeak) ferrying employees of Oregon Health & Science University. And starting this week, he's transporting the rest of us on Portland's newest and most exhilarating public transit option.

So, what's it like being one of the public faces for a project that's earned its place in Portland's cost-overrun annals?

WW: Which was more nerve-wracking: your first ride or your maiden voyage as operator?

Kevin Holtzman: The first time I rode it, because I'd never really ridden a tram before and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The first trip was at full speed, and full speed over the tower can be a little iffy.

How long will you give that speech saying, "If you've never ridden with us before, there's a bump over the tower"?

Usually we'll say that the swing is the big part; you might feel a little bump when you reach the tower, but it's pretty slight. People who've been on it do what they call "tram-surfing." They use their feet to balance themselves during the swing instead of bracing themselves.

Tram-surfing?

That seems to be the term that's been coined. Once you've ridden it 1,000-plus times, you don't really notice it much.

Does the tram's notorious cost overrun ever come up?

You get an occasional comment about "how much did it cost?" and all that. I'm just here to drive the tram.

Do you think Portland paid too much?

I would say no. On the snow days it really proved itself, and I think it will prove itself further along down the line.

So, you're at a party and someone asks what you do, you say you're a tram operator and they go into a rant about everything they think is wrong with it. What do you say?

I haven't run into that much. If it happens, you just kind of shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, I don't control how much it costs, it is what it is."

One of the things homeowners under the tram worried about was passengers being able to see into their houses. How's the view?

I wouldn't say you can see into the houses, more the backyards. But you're going so fast anyway, you hardly notice.

Ever taken a sneak peek?

Not really. You can get a glance down, but usually you're just moving along and enjoying the view of the city. On a clear day you can see [Mount St.] Helens, Adams and Rainier. On a nice, sunny day, Hood basically glows.

What's your biggest complaint about the job so far?

The cold. It gets a little chilly, but I've learned to dress for that.

What happens if someone freaks out mid-ride? Can you 86 them in the air?

I haven't really been trained for hand-to-hand or anything like that, so you just do your best to deal with the situation and try to contact someone at the other end. When we really get going we're just a few minutes away from the other end, anyway.

What does your girlfriend think about you operating the tram?

She was kind of skeptical at first. She won't ride it, and I'm trying to sway her, because at this point I feel safer in it than my own car. But it's just one of those things where she's not quite on board yet.

Literally and figuratively.

Yes.


Tram cabin attendants work for Doppelmayr CTEC, which contracts with Portland Aerial Tram Inc. The attendants make between $9 and $15 an hour.

While the tram cabins have been officially christened "Walt" and "Jean," the cabin attendants still refer to them as Cabin 1 and Cabin 2. Holtzman usually drives Cabin 1.

 
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