January 10, 2010
Another Look at Portland's Transit Stats
Promoted from the Open Thread:
Jarrett at http://www.humantransit.org has another interesting and provocative post on Portland.
Hat tip to EngineerScotty.
January 10, 2010 8:08 PM
Nick theoldurbanist Says:
"The huge Westside extension of the light rail system (1998), which linked Portland to the "Silicon Forest" high-tech centers of Beaverton and Hillsboro, should have made a big difference for Portland residents commuting to those areas, though unfortunately most of the jobs are in business-park formats that are not easy to reach from the stations."
>>>> THIS MAKES MY CASE that I have been espousing right along: that Westside MAX would have been much better off being built as a BUSWAY, so that buses could get off the ROW and service the various buildings in Nike and Tektronix (for example) campuses.
Last summer, I took a long walk around the Tektronix campus, and I experienced first hand just how inconvenient it is to walk from the Milliken MAX station to most of the campus. Just another case of the consequences of having chosen a mode of transit that is totally inappropriate for the Portland area.
January 10, 2010 9:29 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
I am not going to grouse about what has been built. The Eastside MAX was a fairly decent idea. So I guess the Westside MAX had to go out the opposite direction---Some kind of "balance" apparently.
But now we are getting some downright goofy ideas. The Tigard-Sherwood MAX is a case in point. For the cost of about 3 blocks of such a system there could be express buses serving three communities---Tigard, Sherwood AND Tualatin. I don't think it even needs a busway---just use I-5. On Hwy 99, once you get past King City and the Bull Mountain area, there is not very much to stop for, whereas between Tualatin and Sherwood there are a number of business parks.
From PSU, I drove down I-5 to Tualatin in about twelve minutes. It was an additional eight to Sherwood. The I-5 does go very close to Tigard, so that could be another express route, using the on and off ramps at the intersection of Barbur/Hwy99 and I-5. So, that is only two routes, both making use of I-5, that would pick up the bulk of travelers. They could keep the existing routes that go to the Barbur transit center for people who need local connections. Maybe they could access that center directly from I-5, also.
January 10, 2010 11:44 PM
Westside MAX runs 12 full trains an hour (8 blue, 4 red) between Beaverton and Portland during peak hours--a BRT with similar capability would require busses running at ~2 minute headways if you use artics, closer to 1 minute headways if you use 40' models. At those frequencies, BRT starts to have problems--if you use "regular" busses, with front-door, pay-the-driver-as-you-pass boarding (necessary for an open BRT configuration) dwell time at stations becomes the limiting factor in line capacity (though it can be mitigated, if necessary, with skip-stop spacing; that's how the transit mall operates). If you use special busses ala EmX--with lots of doors and proof-of-payment--then you are FTMP limited to a closed BRT system--and thus lose the main advantage of BRT--that of branching. In either case, we're talking nearly double the operating cost for a system which whose capacity is constrained by infrastructure.
For the westside corridor, I think LRT was the correct option.
Regarding Tek and Nike's campuses--Nike is a bit of a walk, unless one takes the shortcut through the woods from the Beaverton Creek station, but the heart of the Tek campus is less than 2000' from Millikan Way. MANY employees at Tek use light rail to and from work. A BRT would help only if one of the branches of the BRT went through the campus (the 62/Murray presently goes around the campus)--and if you are dependent on a particular branch of a BRT, then it's only as rapid (for you) as that branch.
The biggest problem for Washington County transit users is that the connecting busses are infrequent--other than the 57/TV Highway (and MAX), there are no frequent service lines in the Beaverton/Hillsboro area.
Beaverton is an interesting case, actually. As I pointed out in an email to Chris, it's actually denser than Portland by a small amount--but that's because there's large swaths of land in Portland which are non-residential in nature (industrial zones and parkland, mainly), whereas B-town is mostly housing, office, and retail. There are several corridors in the city which might benefit from frequent service (Murray Boulevard, from Cedar Mill to Murrayhill is one)--there's a good mix of dense residential (of various socioeconomic levels) and industry (including both Tek and Nike) along the line. Right now, it's not frequent service--so most users of the line are probably the transit dependent and FDHs. :) But if it ran at 15 minute headways or better--could it attract MORE riders?
January 11, 2010 12:47 AM
Bob R. Says:
For the cost of about 3 blocks of such a system there could be express buses serving three communities
This is an example of where hyperbole can be a dangerous thing. :-)
For the purposes of argument, let's assume a very high, contemporary capital cost for MAX.
The Milwaukie MAX proposal is currently estimated to cost $1.4 billion for 7.3 route-miles, including a new bridge over the Willamette. That's just shy of $192 million per route-mile.
A typical Portland city block is 200ft plus the street and sidewalk right-of-way in between. To be generous, let's assume big blocks of 300ft, for a total of 900ft for 3 blocks.
At those high prices (and with 5280ft in a mile), $32 million buys you about 900ft.
TriMet's _annual_ operating budget is in the ballpark of $460 million, or more than 10X that.
Now, let's assume that a really favorable labor contract, really reliable buses, and unusually low fuel costs combine to provide you with an operating cost for frequent-headway all-day express service of $500K per year per route-mile.
Westside MAX is about 18 miles long, and distinct express routes serving 3 communities (as you say) would be a total of 54 route-miles, or $27 million per year in (favorable) operating costs.
So your proposed express service would eat up the $32 million in just over a year. In 30 years it would cost nearly $1 billion.
People often fixate on the high capital costs of rail projects, but annual operating costs dwarf capital expenditures. TriMet spends more in operating costs every 1 to 2 years than a MAX line costs to build. (Or 3 years in the hypothetical case of Milwaukie MAX.)
January 11, 2010 2:12 AM
Jarrett at HumanTransit.org Says:
Why does a post on almost any topic end up with a thread about rail vs bus debates? It happens on my blog too.
A parking expert pointed out that low parking costs may be real reason Portland's transit mode share is so stagnant. The Smart park website tells me you can still park all day at 10th/Yamhill for $10. I think that was the price 15 years ago when I worked there.
Transit ridership isn't about the objective quality of transit, it's about the differential convenience of transit vs driving.
January 11, 2010 7:30 AM
It probably shouldn't be that way (every topic turns into bus-v-rail), but the debate arouses strong feelings--from both sides.
Portland's downtown business community tends to resist--tooth and nail--any attempt to restrict driving downtown (both for commuters and shoppers); and their political support is generally necessary for major transit improvements.
January 11, 2010 7:44 AM
R A Fontes Says:
I don't understand the $500K annual route-mile cost for express bus ops. Where did it come from?
January 11, 2010 8:02 AM
Ron Swaren Says:
Route 1: Portland to Tualatin and Sherwood is 11 miles plus five miles.
Route 2: Portland to King City is 12 miles. There is very little beyond King City until you get to Sherwood, so I don't see a need for a redundant service. An express could run on I-5 all the way to the Tigard exit at Barbur.
That totals 28, about half of your 54 mile figure, unless you were figuring round trip, which should also apply to MAX.
Current estimates on Tigard Sherwood MAX proposal: 14.4 miles at 2.155 Billion---so that is about 150 million per mile. But that is not calculating inflation. And they also have a Tier 4 Tualatin-Sherwood MAX connection, est. $455 million. Five years ago the Milwaukie MAX was projected at $515 million, Now, despite lowered prices from recession, estimates are about 1.2 billion (includes new bridge, however). So what will inflation do to any new MAX proposals?
If METRO could be convinced, and if rider demand warranted it, to use the new Double decker buses (Van Hool and NeoPlan are the main contenders. Mitsubishi makes some for Japan) the revenue should cover those added operating costs. Toronto, ON, Kelowna and Victoria BC, Los Angeles Antelope Valley, Las Vegas, Seattle-Snohomish County...are already using them--specifically for urban center to suburban commutes. These are rated at 81-83 seats. So I suppose they could carry one hundred people easily, during commute hours.
Why does the service have to have "frequent headway all day?" I have seen MAX lines with ten people on them, so any gain from this is a negligible detail. To Tualatin there is already a regular service for non-peak travel, the 96.
My main concern for the double deckers would be safety in windy or icy conditions. But apparently these have come in to very common use worldwide so I suppose they have that figure pretty well. Present totals are 1200+ DD's in London, 1100 plus in Dublin, and 5000 in Hong Kong, plus sizable fleets in other cities.
January 11, 2010 10:59 AM
Bob R. Says:
Why does the service have to have "frequent headway all day?"
Because we were making a direct comparison to an existing service. If express buses aren't intended to replace MAX-level service, then please don't argue that MAX should not have been (or should not be) constructed and that we should have infrequent express buses instead. At that point we're just arguing about two completely different types of service which serve two distinct (but slightly overlapping) rider profiles.
I have seen MAX lines with ten people on them, so any gain from this is a negligible detail.
That's why we have aggregate statistics available. I've seen completely empty express buses, but I wouldn't use such sightings to make an argument against them.
Sorry that my comments appear to have contributed to another pointless "bus vs. rail" debate -- I was merely pointing out (by illustrating numerically that the statement was incorrect) the danger in posting hyperbole.
I don't understand the $500K annual route-mile cost for express bus ops.
Sorry, I cannot point you to a specific source for this. It came up at a public meeting a couple of years ago and someone from TriMet was asked what it cost to run a frequent-service transit line from an operations & maintenance cost point of view, regardless of ridership, and the answer was something like ".5 million to 1 million per route mile per year".
January 11, 2010 11:17 AM
Even if an express bus were to run on a frequent-service, all-day basis--it still would be a different type of service than a rapid transit line (bus or rail) running in a dedicated ROW and making stops all along the line.
Express busses running on I-5 will frequently get stuck in traffic (unless something is done to eliminate the traffic). In addition, as has been pointed out many times before the whole "express bus vs MAX" debate has come up, express busses don't make intermediate stops--that's the definition of "express service", after all.
One could try and make a street-running limited bus between Sherwood and Portland which stopped every mile or so, but doing that would require it pull off the freeway at every exit, navigate traffic, and then get back on.
Bottom line, though, is express busses are not a replacement for mass transit--unless your goal is a cheap, piss-poor service for the transit dependent and the FDHs.
January 11, 2010 12:34 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
"Why does the service have to have "frequent headway all day?"
Because we were making a direct comparison to an existing service."
Sorry, Bob, I don't buy your "Can't compare apples to oranges" argument. Our transit agencies should do what makes the most sense from a cost-benefit basis, unless they are actually constrained to meet existing regulations.
If express buses aren't intended to replace MAX-level service, then please don't argue that MAX should not have been (or should not be) constructed and that we should have infrequent express buses instead.
I don't see why not---since MAX proponents ignore the fact that TriMet bus lines go on the chopping block when a MAX line goes in.
Just because you think MAX is the standard, and deserves comparison, doesn't mean other people in the Portland area do. Plus, I think we should ask these other communities I have mentioned what they think of their express bus services. That would gives us a greater pool of information to make a choice. Polling the opinions of a tiny group of people in Oregon isn't very scientific.
Nevertheless I agree that the "bus v rail" debate is getting rather old, so I will probably focus instead on public meetings, rather than a blog.
January 11, 2010 12:35 PM
Joshua Daniel Franklin Says:
You can't do it without the employers. Contrast the chart above to the charts in the latest UW Seattle U-PASS Annual Report (covering 13000 employees as well as students) over the same period:
One really interesting part of the approach is that the SOV parking permit is the U-PASS. In other words, even if you plan to drive alone and park, your permit to do so includes a "complimentary" transit pass. Imagine if you needed a similar "SmartPass" to use SmartPark.
January 11, 2010 12:48 PM
Bob R. Says:
our transit agencies should do what makes the most sense from a cost-benefit basis
Agreed. The real argument boils town to a disagreement about the benefits of rail service in primary corridors, and to a lesser degree whether similar capital investment should be made using buses instead of rail.
Unfortunately, there are those who try to negatively characterize, using a broad brush, people who are making arguments on both sides of this debate. (such as the frequent dismissals we've seen before of people as being "railfans" and therefore incapable of approaching these debates objectively)
since MAX proponents ignore the fact that TriMet bus lines go on the chopping block when a MAX line goes in.
A statement about a mythical group of people and with no facts to back it up.
(Hint: I'm a _transit_ supporter who happens to think that MAX is an important though not sole component of the transit picture.)
I could just as easily say "since MAX opponents routinely mischaracterize the effects on bus service when a MAX line goes in", but I won't. :-)
January 11, 2010 1:47 PM
One could ask--why shouldn't bus lines be chopped for MAX, when TriMet gets twice the bang for its transit buck?
Of course, I know the answer to that--TriMet is charged with serving the entire area, not just those close to MAX, and a mixture of services is important.
But if we're gonna paint with broad brushes, then I might note that many "bus proponents" like to insist that their mode (and routes) of choice ought to now and forever be TriMet's highest priority, and that MAX is "stealing" operational dollars that rightfully belong to 40' vehicles with rubber tires.
Of course, such an argument sorely misses the point.
January 11, 2010 5:23 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
Bob, I think the "capital investment" factor is a critical element. So is the time factor. If we have a need now, we can solve it easily. Even if capital investment in MAX lines was not an issue, the lengthy process of planning them should also factor into an evaluation of their benefit.
since MAX proponents ignore the fact that.... I shouldn't have made a categorical statement. But there should be more discussion of this when MAX proposals are made.
January 11, 2010 10:33 PM
Nick theoldurbanist Says:
"...(such as the frequent dismissals we've seen before of people as being "railfans" and therefore incapable of approaching these debates objectively)"
The dismissals have a good basis, based on my experiences with 'fan' organizations and railfans in the transit industry and advocacy process.
January 11, 2010 10:41 PM
Nick theoldurbanist Says:
"One could ask--why shouldn't bus lines be chopped for MAX, when TriMet gets twice the bang for its transit buck?"
>>>> Does it? It seems that they now have to spend a lot more on fare inspectors, security personnel, and ticket machine mechanics, every since they got called on the carpet by the media recently. Don't forget that MAX Green Line has FIVE police officers assigned to it.
Also, don't forget the poorly-performing feeder bus lines in Wash. county that feed MAX instead of properly serving the county.
Anyway, I've come to grow leery of Trimet's "figures."
January 11, 2010 11:22 PM
Which fan organizations? AORTA? I don't know anyone who is a transit advocate that advocates things like "shutting down the bus system". Perhaps you can find a few suburban commuters who ride MAX to and from their job downtown and drive everywhere else, and don't care about any transit they don't plan to use--but I don't think that anyone here considers the bus system to be expendable. My question about "chopping bus lines for MAX" is entirely hypothetical--decisions on how to spend limited operational dollars should be made based on whether it's a bus or a train. Some people here seem to think that the bus system ought to have priority and be "fully funded", whatever that means, before rail gets a dime.
Whether or not you believe TriMet is up to you, of course--in the absence of better information (no offense, but your anecdotal observations fail to qualify as such), I'll continue to cite them. After all, even transit opponents like CPI routinely cite TriMet data--they don't go around accusing the agency of making it up.
January 12, 2010 4:43 PM
Nick theoldurbanist:"THIS MAKES MY CASE that I have been espousing right along: that Westside MAX would have been much better off being built as a BUSWAY, so that buses could get off the ROW and service the various buildings in Nike and Tektronix (for example) campuses. Just another case of the consequences of having chosen a mode of transit that is totally inappropriate for the Portland area."
ws: Your argument seems very weak. If a bus should leave it's dedicated ROW to service Intel, etc. which is reasonably north of the stop, then you have eliminated the actual POINT of having a dedicated ROW which is to create frequent service between major points or nodes (i.e. Hillsboro to Portland, not Hillsboro to Portland with a few stops through Bethany for the hell of it).
Imagine for a second that if you lived in a residential area of Hillsboro along the more western side of the dedicated busway (pretend the busway you propose is in the same location as MAX today) and you are wanting to get to downtown Portland. However, in doing so, you're taken on a wild ride through the Silicon Forest before you can even leave the Hillsboro area to reach DT Portland which vastly increases your time.
Congratulations! You've just created a *somewhat* quicker regular bus line operating on a BRT system -- except this busline will be more expensive because you've spent millions in capital dollars constructing a BRT ROW that won't get used to its potential because its headways will be severely increased because the buses are cruising around to every little land-use and location along its way. Then your ridership decreases because not everyone even needs to go through to Intel, etc.
Now, if you possibly argued for a true BRT system with other feeder buses along its line, I probably would be less critical of your post. Though, I truly think light rail is the best system and it is NOT inappropriate for Portland metro area -- which by the way is about the same size as Pittsburgh.
I think the biggest discussion is how we have developed things in the US for the last x amount of years. Businesses and homes before were often built around and planned around existing transit corridors in a logical fashion. Now it's this leapfrog, piecemeal development that is not consistent with its surroundings.
Understandably, Intel needs a large, sprawling campus, but imagine for a second the buildings are brought closer to the MAX line southward on Butler Road instead of being surrounded by a swath of parking stalls (put the parking in the middle or off to the side).
That would bring the pedestrian pretty darn close to the existing MAX stop:
The same goes for any development that does not put parking in logical spots (i.e. stacked parking where feasible or parking in the rear where it belongs).
January 14, 2010 12:35 AM
al m Says:
I've been getting a headache over here lately, not sure why.