February 29, 2012
March is upon us, and that means another Open Thread.
- In the middle of the month, we're sitting down to interview TriMet GM Neil McFarlane. Submit your questions here.
- If you live in Oregon City, your very own Carmageddon will be coming in about three weeks, as ODOT closes OR213 at I-205 for four days as part of the Oregon City Jughandle Project. ODOT is going to rip out the existing overpass over the UPRR tracks, widen the undercrossing (by removing the fill), and install a new overpass, currently sitting adjacent to the existing one, over the wider chasm, so that Washington Street may cross underneath the highway, and the existing intersection simplified. Given that the OR43 bridge is closed, the OR99E exit will be the only way to reach Oregon City and points south, unless you care to drive to Carver or Wilsonville. Try to avoid the area and expect delays. (No TriMet bus lines use the affected road, but several may be impacted by detour traffic)
- The Willamette Week reports that the Oregon Supreme Court has an interesting take on the CRC--in its ruling approving the siting of the CRC under a statute crafted for N/S Rail, the Court ruled that the $2B+ highway portion of the project was a necessary project element due to political considerations--the involved government agencies in Washington would not support a standalone light-rail project--a state of affairs which WW has spun as a "bribe". While Metro did indeed make the argument that the freeway component was necessary to build light rail--it was a light-rail statute being invoked, after all, the suggestion that TriMet and light rail is the dog and the state DOTs and the freight and construction lobbies are the tail, strikes me as flatly ridiculous. (I only wish TriMet and Portland transit activists had that much political power--and speaking for myself, I'll happily take the Yellow Line extension off the table if the rest of the project goes with it). But what activists want and what other public officials want are frequently two different things...
- Metro is planning some community outreach for the East Metro Connections Plan, a planning activity that looks at transportation in the Gresham and Troutdale area, with some focus on the issue of connecting US26 with I-84. (Current thinking involves targeted improvements to local streets, including transit service, not any new highways).
- Gas prices are going up, which means more incentive to use transit. However, last year Neil McFarlane noted that "fifteen cents on the price of diesel is a million dollars a year for us", so whether this will hurt or help TriMet's shaky bottom line is an interesting question
February 28, 2012
The Sunday Oregonian did a hatchet job on Portland's transportation budget, essentially claiming that we have taken our eye off the ball on job 1 - paving streets for cars.
This morning the Mayor has an op-ed piece defending the spending decisions, reminding us that they were framed on a basis of prioritizing safety and transportation choices, and making the case that those have been very successfully delivered.
What the Mayor does not mention is what I think the real issue is: dramatically over-forecasting likely revenues from gas taxes.
February 27, 2012
Squarely on the side of TriMet management, and calling on the Legislature to end binding arbitration for the agency and Amalgamated Transit Union.
February 24, 2012
It's time once more to dive into TriMet's proposed service changes. This time I will look at the areas where the vast majority of actual bus service cuts will be concentrated: NW Portland and St. Johns. First, here are the maps of current and proposed service:
First of all, the big service cut. TriMet is proposing to completely cut the NW portion of the 17.
Currently the 17 runs from the downtown transit mall through the NW on Everett/Glisan and 21st to Montgomery Park, with every other trip continuing to St. Johns, Linnton, and Sauvie Island. Service between Montgomery Park and downtown is pretty substantial on weekdays, with 53 trips per day in each direction and roughly 20-minute frequency all day. Weekend service is very weak, however, with only 20 trips on Saturdays and no service at all on Sundays.
The current proposal is to have the 17 from Holgate stay on the transit mall and turn around at Union Station, cutting the NW portion completely. Service from Montgomery Park via 21st and Everett/Glisan would be replaced by the 77, but that is a crosstown bus that heads east across the Steel Bridge rather than downtown, so current 17 riders headed downtown would be left with three main options: Take the 15 on NW 23rd, take the Streetcar on Lovejoy/Northrup, or take the 77 and transfer to buses or MAX at the transit mall.
None of these are completely terrible options, considering the frequencies involved. The Streetcar is very frequent (74 trips per day) and the 15 and 77 are close behind (60 and 53 trips per day, respectively). Transfers from the 77 to service on the transit mall should be pretty quick most of the time. All these would require additional walking and waiting time, however, and the frequency of remaining services does not make for the fact that the NW is losing a large amount of service with the loss of the 17.
TriMet makes the case that service was never adjusted in response to the Streetcar, which is true enough. They point out that the 17 and the Streetcar both link PSU to the NW, so they considered redundant service. This is a tricky case, because although they share those two points, they take two quite different paths between them, arguably serving different markets. For example, the 17 travels along 5th and 6th through the heart of downtown, while the Streetcar travels along 10th and 11th, a corridor still relatively devoid of major destinations or employment. Another problem is that the Streetcar is simply slower. A trip from PSU to NW 21st/Northrup on the 17 takes about 18 minutes. The same trip on Streetcar takes 25 minutes. Given all this, I can see why folks in the NW might not see the Streetcar as an adequate replacement.
While people living in the inner NW (or "Alphabet District" as it is called by absolutely no one) at least have other options, the greater impact of this cut will be felt by transit riders in St Johns, Linnton, and Sauvie Island. They will lose their all-day service to downtown through the NW, leaving them with peak-only weekday service via the 16, which runs along NW Front Ave. The section of the 16 out past St Johns in the N quadrant will be replaced by a vaguely-defined "shuttle service."
I am somewhat sympathetic to TriMet here, because this among the most expensive types of service to run, with buses running between small, low-density neighborhoods with very little between them. NW St Helens may be the most direct route from St Johns to downtown, but with so much essentially empty space between them there is little chance for the kind of ridership that makes for efficient bus service. That said, it would be a shame to eliminate the all-day service that many people in these areas have come to rely on.
I'm going to try something new here, to bring some data into the discussion. I present below a ridership chart for route 17 (click to embiggen):
This is a chart of stop-level ridership data from Route 17 southbound on weekdays from Sauvie Island to Holgate &134th. Stops are on the horizontal axis, and average passenger load is on the vertical axis. The length of the white bars represent the average number of people getting on at each stop, the black bars show the average number getting off at each stop, and the point where they meet is the average passenger load at each stop. Basically, by reading the chart left to right, you can see roughly how full the buses are by looking at the height of the bars, and you can see the ons and offs by looking at the length of the bars. I hope that makes sense. (Full credit goes to Bruce Nourish at Seattle Transit Blog, who invented this type of chart)
So what does this chart tell us? Well, it's a good one because it contains examples of what a well-performing route looks like and what a poorly-performing route looks like.
As you can see, from Sauvie Island to St Johns there is almost nobody riding, with about 3 people per bus on average and virtually nobody using the intermediate stops. Enough people get on at St Johns to boost average load to about 8, and virtually no one gets on or off until closer to Montgomery Park. These flat lines are a clear example of an expensive route that exists to take a small number of people from point A to point B.
The rest of the route, especially once we get to the Holgate segment, is a good example of a well-functioning route. Most stops see plenty of ons and offs. This kind of rider churn shows that the route is serving lots of origin-destination pairs rather than just one or two. Average load gets up to about 20 and only slowly drops down, which means there is substantial demand all the way to the end of the line. This pattern shows a productive route that exists to take a large number of people from point A to B and B to C and A to C and C to E and B to D, etc. etc.
What this chart tells me is that if we have to cut service, it makes sense to cut the Sauvie Island portion that is barely used. That's not to say there shouldn't be any service, but perhaps it would be better to run far fewer trips than currently. Service from Montgomery Park to downtown, however, is quite strong and should be served in some way.
Well, that covers the service cuts. Is there any good news to be found? Quite a bit, I would argue. Much like the changes proposed for the NE, TriMet is using the unfortunate need to cut service as an opportunity to also make long-overdue improvements to the structure of the system.
By moving the 77 from Lovejoy/Northrup to Everett/Glisan, TriMet will vastly simplify the transit system in the NW.
Currently we have a confusing tangle of overlapping routes in the area, with the 77 as the worst offender. After it gets off the Steel Bridge, rather than continuing west on Glisan it makes a series of turns past Union Station, parallels the Streetcar along Lovejoy/Northrup, and for no discernible reason runs northbound on 23rd and southbound on 25th (even though the 15 runs two-way on 23rd). The 17, meanwhile, has to make a difficult right-left-left turning maneuver to get from Broadway northbound to Glisan westbound. Montgomery Park, hardly a high-density transit market, finds itself served by three relatively frequent bus lines simply because it's a convenient place to turn a bus around.
By removing the 17 and moving the 77, the structure is very straightforward, with fewer turns and overlaps. The 77 will get off the Steel Bridge and simply continue west on Glisan all the way to 21st. Lovejoy/Northrup will be the sole domain of Streetcar, 23rd will be sole domain of the 15, and the unnecessary service on 25th will go away. The only remaining overlapping service will be at Montgomery Park, but at least these will be two buses, the 15 and 77, that go to completely different places.
Overall this new structure will give the NW something closer to the clean grid typical of SE, NE, and N Portland. Such a grid does require more connections, but it also normally allows more frequency because buses are being used more efficiently. Ah, and there's the rub. Because this is being done in the context of a service cut, many of the benefits of a grid may not be apparent. In an ideal restructuring, the 17 would still be cut, but the service hours would be reinvested in the remaining bus lines. If the 15, 77, and Streetcar could be dramatically boosted in frequency, most people would experience shorter travel times with less waiting, even people forced to transfer between the 77 and MAX or bus lines at the transit mall.
Here's my pitch to TriMet and to anyone reading this. Let's agree to go through with the smart restructuring components of the budget proposal regardless, but if any extra funds are found over the next year, reinvest it primarily in these NW bus lines where most of the proposed cuts are occurring. Only $2 million of the $17 million projected shortfall is coming from bus service cuts, and given the high amount of uncertainty in projected payroll tax revenue and federal transit grants, it is not impossible to imagine $2 million or more could be found.
If the shortfall ends not being as bad as expected, I advocate continuing with most of the proposed cuts and restructuring, and investing the extra money in several ways:
- Increase frequency on remaining NW transit lines (15, 77, Streetcar)
- Extend the 77 to St Johns and Sauvie Island to restore all-day service
- Restore the Frequent Service Bus Network
- Restore MAX off-peak frequency to every 15 minutes
I would also add that TriMet and the city should invest in the area from Everett to Glisan and 5th to Broadway to make that area a more safe and attractive place to transfer. Currently I wouldn't blame people for being wary of having to transfer to and from the 77 given the state of that area, especially the constant open drug-dealing around the Greyhound station. I am all for relying more on connections in a grid-based transit system, but if we are to do so we must make sure those connections are easy and safe.
Apologies for going off topic somewhat--healthcare is not a primary topic of this blog. However, the big issue in the dispute between the union and TriMet isn't pay, but healthcare benefits. Costs for have been growing without bound, and are expected to grow. Health care costs for public employees are taking an ever bigger share of public budgets. And the beneficiaries of this largesse aren't bus drivers, teachers, cops, or firefighters--who simply want to have access to decent healthcare--but the medical industry (including insurance), which is a continually growing segment of the economy.
The Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as Obamacare), which fully takes effect in 2014, will help somewhat, but a primary focus of the ACA is providing affordable healthcare options for the poor, particularly those who presently don't qualify for Medicaid, but are priced out of the private insurance market. Obamacare generally doesn't replace private health insurance for those who have access to group policies for their employer.
The dirty linens of Obamacare
Any government involvement in the healthcare industry seems to annoy conservatives, particularly in today's polarized climate--such proposals draw comparisons to Soviet gulags and other examples of tyranny. This despite the fact that the ACA is similar to conservative proposals advanced in the 1990s as alternate proposals to Hillarycare (and is also quite similar to Romneycare, the health plan which is law in Massachusetts). But several aspects of the ACA have annoyed liberals as well--chief among them is that it doesn't drive healthcare costs down sufficiently. It helps in many regards, by providing baseline insurance to the poor and uninsurable, and thus discouraging the common practice of indigent persons showing up at the ER for minor complaints, knowing that they cannot be denied treatment for an inability to pay (and stiffing the hospital, and the rest of us, with the bill). Instead, the poor can have access to preventative care in doctors offices, a far more cost-effective way of practicing medicine. However, it lacks the primary advantage of single-payer systems (including Medicare): by having a government monopsony being the primary purchaser of health care, prices can be driven down. (Which is bad for doctors and pharmaceutical companies, but good for the rest of us). Of course, a public option was DOA on arrival in Washington DC for this reason (among others).
Another interesting aspect of Obamacare is that it largely leaves traditional employer-provided group plans alone. Workplaces, particularly larger ones, provide good risk pools for purchasing insurance, and employers enjoy tax advantages in buying health insurance that individual purchasers do not. A particularly controversial aspect of Obamacare was organized labor's insistence on no provisions taxing or levying a surcharge on so-called "Cadillac health plans"--high end plans, generally enjoyed by high-value employees (such as executives) and by unionized labor. The health plan enjoyed by TriMet's workers would undoubtedly be considered a "Cadillac" plan, were that provision included in the ACA.
The provision protecting Cadillac plans was naturally denounced by many conservatives as union pork. However, organized labor (in particular, the AFL-CIO) have long taken the position that they would be willing to abandon "Cadillac" plans in exchange for a public option.
And the saving grace
Given the political constraints and implementation choices of the ACA, it probably isn't going to help resolve the present TriMet/ATU debate, even when it comes fully online in 2014. While Obamacare will reduce health expenses by ending certain wasteful practices, the lack of cost controls doesn't attack the primary problem, and the ACA is focused at the low end of the market--those unable to afford (or qualify for) insurance. However, the ACA contains an important escape clause: it makes it easier for states to experiment and set up their own healthcare systems, so long as the levels of coverage provided are as good or better as the national baseline. Oregon has long been an innovator with the Oregon Health Plan, a limited single-payer system which attempts to close the Medicaid gap, and OHP's champion is once again in the governor's mansion.
A greater hope lies in California, which is the state which has come closest to implementing single-payer on a state level. Bills to implement single payer have previously passed in both houses, only to be vetoed by the Governator; the current governor, Jerry Brown, has stated an intent to sign such a bill if it passes. A proposal this session failed to pass, when several conservative Democrats turned against it.
The current legislative session is almost over in Salem, and given the 30-30 split in the Oregon House, a single-payer system here would be unthinkable this time around. But if Democrats retake control of the House, and keep or expand their hold on the state Senate, could it happen here? And would a single-payer system, which would presumably obsolete the existing healthcare arrangements between TriMet and its drivers and mechanics, receive the support of organized labor in the state?
(Or as an alternative--would a state government employees health plan, covering all public-sector workers in the state, regardless of union affiliation, be a possible proposal?)
Could the current crisis in public employee healthcare costs be the impetus for the state to do what so far the healthcare industry has resisted? After all, it's our money that pays for public employee insurance. And the current fight over benefits for bus drivers vs service cuts and fare hikes is not an enjoyable one--instead of arguing about who gets what slice of an ever-shrinking pie, maybe labor, ridership, and TriMet management can come together in support of an arrangement which is mutually beneficial, not just to TriMet employees and customers, but to everyone in the state.
February 23, 2012
A very well-written article at the Project for Public Spaces makes the compelling case for why LOS (level of service) is the wrong tool for sizing streets and roads. LOS is a way of measuring congestion.
As the article makes clear, some congestion is not a bad thing:
Asking the simple question, "Do you want congestion reduced at a particular location?" is a question out of context. It's like asking you whether you want to never be stung by a bee again. Of course, the answer will be yes. But what if I told you that to in order to never suffer a sting again, every plant within a several mile radius would have to be destroyed -- and that you could never leave the area of destruction?
You would have a completely different answer, I'm sure.
Plus, it has cartoons!
But seriously, here in this region we've been actively looking for better performance metrics than LOS (particularly metrics that account for how many people we can move through a corridor, rather than vehicles).
February 22, 2012
Via Portland Afoot and our friend Al...
A very nice presentation deck put together by OPAL with a view on the equity impacts of the current TriMet budget proposals. A key point is the involvement of transit-dependent riders in the actual decision power structure. Only one of TriMet's board members is a regular transit rider. Sigh...
February 21, 2012
A Willamette Week blog post has a quote from Washington State Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond confirming what we all knew...
So how much longer do we have to pay $1M/month to keep this turkey going?
It's that time of the year again--time for Portland Transport's annual sit-down with TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane, We hosted previous interviews with Neil last spring, as well as in July 2010, right after he took office. (The results of those interviews can be seen here and here).
And now, it is time for Round 3. At this time, I would like to open the floor for proposed questions for Neil McFarlane--simply post a comment to pose a question. Anything which is relevant to transportation, mobility, and land-use is fair game, including controversial topics such as the recent fare hikes and service reductions, the ongoing labor dispute with ATU 757, or capital projects past, present, and future. Questions should be brief and to the point, and civil. Due to time constraints, not all questions may be asked; we may condense or compile the questions as necessary, but intend to ask a representative samle. The interviewer may elect to go off on tangents or pose follow-up questions as necessary.
The interview will be conducted in mid-March; Chris Smith will be conducting the interviews this time around. Bob Richardson, as always, will be behind the camera and will handle the post-production of the videos. After the interviews are conducted and edited, they will be uploaded to Youtube (broken up into manageable-sized chunks, in large part due to Youtube's limitations on clip length), and articles linking to them will be posted here. Time permitting, we may transcribe some of the articles, for those who prefer to read or watch; we may also solicit volunteers for this as well.
The floor is now open!
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2012 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Kevin Downing (Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality)
Topic: Driving to the Tragedy of the Commons Using a Diesel Engine
When: Friday, February 24, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
PSU's Students in Transportation Engineering and Planning (STEP) will be holding a TRB debrief reception at Lucky Lab NW (1945 NW Quimby, Portland) on Tuesday, February 21 from 6-8pm. Read more...
February 20, 2012
Things don't appear to going well for TriMet in its ongoing labor dispute--at all. In a blistering 8-page order, the state Employee Relations Board (ERB) once again ruled that TriMet's recent offer in the ongoing contract negotiations constitutes an attempt to introduce a new issue into the bargaining process at the last minute, and as such is an Unfair Labor Practice. The remedy ordered by the Board is essentially that TriMet's arbitration offer must contain the same language as the prior (and expired) contract, and that furthermore, TriMet's freezing of wages at the expiration of the prior contract, without continuing the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) provided by that contract, was unlawful--TriMet is ordered to provide back pay to union operators to compensate for the difference in wages going back to 2011.
ATU 757 gloats here.
At this point, I do not know whether or not the recent round of budget cuts (and service reductions and fare hikes) anticipated this result, or if this will require another round of bloodletting to balance the books.
Track testing for the Streetcar Loop will take place Tuesday through Thursday next week (Feb 21-23). Look for the first vehicles to appear on the east side (and on the Broadway Bridge)!
February 18, 2012
Last fall, Portland Transport considered the question of whether or not TriMet could become a free (or nominally-priced) service. Right now, the Farebox Recovery Ratio of the TriMet system in aggregate is about 25%, and last fiscal year fares provided nearly $100 million of TriMet's overall operating budget.
This discussion occurred right after TriMet first announced that it would be having major budget issues for FY2013. Since then, the announced service changes have been ugly, with fares going up, and service going down; and TriMet suggests that more will come next year, even if the economic recovery continues--a state of affairs TriMet blames on its current labor contract.
However, as noted in the open thread, another Oregon transit provider recently switched to providing free service. That agency is the Corvallis Transit System.
CTS, as the name suggests, provides public transportation services for the city of Corvallis, OR. Unlike TriMet, which is an independent transit authority organized under ORS 267, with a board appointed by the governor, CTS is a department within the City of Corvallis. While being a municipal department puts CTS at somewhat greater risk of being a political football (it is subject to the whims of Corvallis' city council), as a department within a city it has a wider array of taxation options at its disposal. Whereas TriMet is statutorily limited to the payroll tax as a source of tax revenue, and it can only change the levy within parameters approved by the Legislature, the City of Corvallis has plenary taxing power. And recently the council voted to end the collection of fares on CTS, converting it to a free service. Transit service is instead funded with a Transit Operations Fee levied on homes and businesses, with the average household paying about $30 per year. Not per month, per year.
Corvallis itself is a college town in the mid-Willamette Valley, with a full-time population of about 55,000 residents, many of which are students at Oregon State University. Not surprisingly for a mid-sized college town, the demographics are dominated by degreed professionals and college students. While OSU has long been regarded as the more conservative of Oregon's public universities, the city is quite progressive. According to the US Census Bureau, Corvallis has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the United States. The city is quite compact and flat (and is a good place to ride), and also offers numerous recreational cycling opportunities in the surrounding area.
CTS operates 12 bus routes, with eight urban circulators, running at hourly or half-hourly frequency, and 4 peak-hour commuter routes. Service on the non-commuter routes is provided for about 13 hours a day, from approximately 7 in the morning to 8 in the evening, with the "Beaver Bus" running evenings on Thursdays to Saturdays to haul drunken students around. :) Service is provided on Monday through Saturday; no service is provided on Sundays. The 8 regular routes run on either hourly or half-hourly frequencies. CTS contracts out operations to First Student, a private bus operations company. (Previously, CTS contracted with Laidlaw, but the latter company was acquired by and merged with First Student several years ago). CTS drivers, like TriMet drivers, are represented by Amalgamated Transit Union local 757, and are having their own fights over health-care benefits.
A more detailed comparison of TriMet and CTS is appropriate. (For those who want to consult the National Transit Database, CTS's code is 0047, and TriMet's is 0008.)
|Service district area (mi2)||570||13.8|
|Service hours||2.1 million (bus, MAX, WES)||27k|
|Service hours per capita||1.26||0.49|
|Boarding rides||100M (FY2011)||884k (FY10/11)|
|Boarding rides per capita||60||15|
|Boarding rides per service hour||47.6||36.8|
|Operating budget||$400M (FY2011)||$2.8M|
|Op. Cost/Svc Hour||$190||$103|
|Routes||79 bus, 4 MAX, WES||12|
|Vehicles||~600 40' busses, 127 LRT vehicles, 6 WES cars||11 35' busses, 1 trolley|
One of the first figures that jumps out is that CTS' pays only about 20% of what TriMet spends on operations per capita. The biggest reason for this discrepancy is that TriMet supplies over 2 1/2 times more service hours per capita than does CTS, with numerous frequent service and rapid transit routes. However, even with that taken into account, TriMet's operating costs per service hour are nearly twice as high. (TriMet publishes a separate calculation of "bus-equivalent" service hours which weights MAX trains by a factor of nearly 5 to account for the capacity difference, giving it an alternate figure of 3.17M service hours, and a cost/svc hour of $126, nearly the same as CTS. We will ignore this figure, however, as the extra capacity of a larger vehicle vs a separate vehicle is only useful at those times when the capacity is needed, whereas two independent vehicles can be run on two different routes, providing twice the coverage.) Whether the operating costs are truly apples-apples comparisons is unclear--as CTS is a city department, things like administrative overhead may not be included in its cost structure.
Nonetheless, TriMet is more successful from a ridership perspective. Due to the differences in city size, it is difficult to meaningfully compare the two systems. Corvallis is a very walkable city, with minimal traffic and only a few miles from edge to opposite edge. There is significant residential density around the university, with lots of mid-rise (6 stories or so) dormitories and apartments, fraternity and sorority houses, and other compact student housing, but the rest of the city is dominated by single-family homes. Demand for transit is intrinsically less in a smaller city. CTS performs well compared to other systems of similar size.
Do the numbers work for TriMet?
In considering whether such a scheme would work here, we'll consider several cases. The amount of revenue generated by the residential portion of the CTS transit fee is approximately $670k, or about 1/4 of CTS's budget. We assume a similar ratio would apply to the Portland metro area. Assuming an average household size of 2.5, the same fee structure in Portland ($30/household/year) would produce revenue of about $20 million, only 5% of TriMet's current operational budget. If businesses contributed $60 million, that would provide $80 million, only a fifth of what would be needed. For this sort of fee to replace both the payroll tax and fares, a per-household fee of $150/year would be necessary, with a correspondingly higher levy on businesses.
Another option would be to only levy the fee as needed to replace fares; in which case a slightly higher fee on households (averaging about $37.5/household/year) and businesses would suffice to replace fare revenue.
This analysis ignores one significant cost savings from free service--the cost of fare collection. According to the recent white paper on electronic fare collection, about 10% of the fares TriMet currently collects goes to pay for collection and enforcement, so the net revenue from fare collection is only about $90M, not $100M.
A few issues with this:
- First and foremost, TriMet lacks statutory authority to levy such a fee. For a scheme like CTS's transit service fee to work, the law would need changing.
- It's not clear that there would be political support in the wider metro area. Corvallis is a very liberal city, and the proposal had no problem passing. However, one could expect widespread opposition from the suburbs.
- One other issue is the CTS fee is regressive--it is essentially a head tax on households. At a price of $30/year or thereabouts, this is tolerable; after all, motorists pay more to license and register their cars. However, were the fee to get into the hundreds, it would become increasingly a burden on the poor.
A few other options: A city within the metro area, most likely Portland, could elect to "buy" free fares for boardings within its jurisdiction, much as downtown Portland merchants at one point subsidized Fareless Square. It then could use its plenary taxing powers to enact a scheme similar to CTS. (Such a proposal is more likely to be politically tractable in Portland, as well). I don't have data about what percentage of service hours and boardings occur within Portland-- a fair price for such a thing would depend on these. Also, having a partial free-fare zone would still require TriMet to provide fare collection infrastructure for those locations and persons outside, reducing the benefit of completely fareless service.
So far, this article has focused on the mechanics and logistics of free-fare service; however broader policy implications should be considered as well.
- A common objection is that by making transit service free, one will encourage overconsumption. The first article in the series also discussed the possibility of nominal fares (say, fifty cents per ride) to discourage activities like camping on the bus. Even ignoring that issue, many will complain that a free service is economically inefficient.
- A related issue is that if a service has a farebox recovery ratio of zero, this removes both the incentive to provide better quality service, and reduces the ability of TriMet to scale service to meet future demand.
- On the other hand, the primary competition of transit (the automobile) is also quite heavily subsidized, and has a cost structure that encourages people who own cars to prefer them to transit. Given the economic externalities associated with transit and driving, encouraging people to use transit is arguably wise public policy even if offends the economic sensibilities of some.
- There are plenty of other public services that we, as a society, choose to provide for free (meaning financed by general taxes, as opposed to by consumption or usage charges). And while transit (like most services) can be overconsumed, it cannot be hoarded. Were TriMet to provide taxpayer-funded free beer, I'd bring a tanker truck to the tap (and so would everybody else), but I can't ride more than one bus at a time, nor take the seats home and put them in my garage and prevent others from using them..
February 16, 2012
But it feels like 30% according to the studies reported here...
And frequency doesn't hurt either.
February 15, 2012
While the travesty in the House continues (with some hope of some Republic defections) there is a ray of sunshine in the Senate. The Cardin-Cochran amendment would shift more control over allocation of funds from state DOTs to local governments. Transportation for American is asking for support for the amendment.
February 14, 2012
Representative Peter DeFazio rises in defense of rational transportation policy and funding...
Don't ever stop, Peter.
February 13, 2012
One of the biggest changes recently proposed by TriMet is the idea of merging the 70 and the NE portion of the 9, creating a new crosstown route connecting Milwaukie, Sellwood/Westmoreland, the inner SE, Lloyd Center, and Alberta. There is map available here. The agency must have anticipated some pushback from riders of the 9 accustomed to a direct link to downtown, as they included this line at the end: "If lines 9 and 70 do not have their routes combined, an alternative may be to combine the Line 73 with Line 70."
Combining the 70 and 73 intuitively makes sense, as they are both currently crosstown routes and doing so would not take away anyone else's direct downtown service. As I discussed in my last post, the 73 is a poorly-designed route that attracts very little ridership compared to other routes in the NE. The 70 and 73 both make the largely pointless diversion west from Lloyd Center to Rose Quarter, a segment that could easily be deleted from both with little mobility loss.
So if that is the case, why not leave the 9 alone and combine the 70 and 73? The major problem with doing so is that TriMet is also proposing to cut evening and weekend service from the 73. This means that if the 70 and 73 were combined, the existing 70 would have to be cut as well, weakening a fairly successful line in the process. I'm not sure we want this new crosstown service if it barely runs often enough to be successful.
Let's try to attach some numbers to this.
Route 70 runs 104 one-way trips per weekday, 76 trips on Saturday, and 42 trips on Sundays.
Route 9 runs 106 trips per weekday day, and Saturday and Sunday each have 52 trips.
Route 73 runs 68 trips per weekday, 28 trips on Saturday, and 26 trips on Sundays.
One thing that immediately jumps out is that the 9 and 70 are much closer in terms of current service levels. The 70 has more trips on Saturday and fewer on Sunday, but total trips are fairly close. This may be why TriMet planners saw these as compatible routes to combine. The 73, by contrast, has much lower service levels than the 70. The 70 runs about 50% more trips on weekdays and more than twice as many on Saturdays.
If this change were not part of a budget-cutting process, the opportunity would be there to combine the 70 and 73 and give the whole new crosstown the same service levels of the current 70. This would probably be justified by the extra ridership attracted by a more useful route. However, in the current situation the danger is that they would just drop the 70 to the 73's service levels, decimating a currently useful and popular route in the process. This is especially the case given that cutting night and weekend service on the 73 is on the table.
To see if this is true, we have to see roughly how many service hours TriMet is trying to save with the proposed changes. This calculation will not be completely accurate, since I don't know the layover times for each route, but it should be fine for comparison's sake.
If the 70 and 9 are combined, some savings will come from deleted segments. The 70 will be deleted from Lloyd Center to Rose Quarter, saving about 5 minutes per trip. The 9 will be deleted from downtown to Lloyd Center, saving about 10 minutes per trip. Total savings will be about 159 hours per week. TriMet also wants to cut night and weekend service from the 73. This will end up cutting 12 trips per weekday and all trips on Saturday and Sunday, for a total of 114 trips per week. Each trip takes about 30 minutes, so savings amount to 57 hours. Total savings from all three routes is about 216 hours, so that is the number to beat in any alternative.
So what if the 70 and 73 are combined and the 9 stays the same? Well, we still save on the deleted Rose Quarter segment of the 70, plus we can delete the same segment of the 73. This totals to 86 hours, still 125 hours short of the previous scenario. So how much would have to be cut from the new 70/73? It looks like we would need to cut about 136 trips from current levels to make it pencil out. To do so would basically require running the new route at current 73 service levels, meaning barebones weekend service and about 50% fewer trips each weekday. That or they could completely cut night and weekend service. Such a low level of service will not be sufficient on a crosstown route that will connect so many dense neighborhoods and destinations. The 75 and 72, comparable crosstowns, are two of the most successful routes TriMet runs, with high frequencies still often unable to keep up with demand.
So what is the lesson from all this? I would say the lesson is that there are good reasons for both TriMet and the public to prefer connecting the 70 with the 9 rather than the 73. Since service levels are similar, riders of both the 70 and 9 will not see a drop in frequency. True, riders of the 9 headed to downtown will have to transfer to MAX, or the streetcar, or the 8, or the 12, or the 19, or the 20, or the 15, or the 14, or the 4, and so on. Maybe you can see why I have a lack of sympathy for this plight. The incredible abundance of transfer opportunities to frequent services will make this about the easiest transfer in the whole system, most likely under 5 minutes most of the time except in the evenings or on weekends. If the 9 is protected from any change and the 70 and 73 are combined instead, the result will be either the creation of a very-infrequent new crosstown service, cuts to frequency on the 9, or a combination of both. We need to be honest about these tradeoffs.
Some people have also suggested merging the 8 with the 70 instead, since those would be more of a straight shot north. When TriMet first designed the grid decades ago, they actually wanted to do this very thing, but they back down under pressure from the Irvington neighborhood, which didn't want to lose their direct downtown service (sound familiar?). On the face of it this idea might not work in this situation, since the 8 has higher service levels than the 70, but it could work if structured correctly.
On that note, I would like to close with a not-so-modest proposal of my own: Move the NE portion of the 9 over to 33rd (with a connection to Concordia University), replacing the 73 with the 9, which would continue to go downtown. Merge the 8 and 70 to form a nearly perfect north-south crosstown. The portion of the 8 to Marquam Hill can be attached to the end of this new route on 33rd. By my calculations, doing this would save about the same amount of money as TriMet's proposal, it would keep frequencies intact, and the 70 could actually increase in frequency. The Alberta and Irvington neighborhoods would have direct downtown service on each side (MLK and 33rd), with crosstown service in the middle on 15th, with the plethora of transfer opportunities available. If we're going to have direct-to-downtown service anywhere in this area, 33rd also makes sense because it is in the middle of a large gap between MAX stations.
With this change there would be there would be a largish gap between the transit routes on 15th and 33rd, but that is not atypical in the Portland grid. This would also create a nice alternating sequence of downtown and crosstown routes, creating a more balanced system that doesn't overly favor downtown-bound riders over crosstown riders. The 9's route up Alameda Ridge has always been an oddity, running on tiny residential streets and switchbacking up the ridge at low speeds. I'm pretty sure frequencies are limited by the fact that the buses can't even pass each other on these streets. There is a reason most buses run on main arterial roads--they are wider and faster, have more businesses and other destinations in walking distance, and are easier to site stops and shelters. The NE tail of the 9 was an admirable effort to force a grid onto an area, but it really doesn't make sense when a perfectly good arterial with lots of business activity, NE 33rd Ave, is right nearby. It's time to try something bold and different that can retain maximum mobility and access in the face of these unfortunate service cuts.
Last week TriMet was at the top of the news (and may be for a while), but let's not lose track of the Columbia River Crossing. In particular, let's not miss that the $1.50/barrel tax that Washington State was contemplating to fund their Governor's big transportation package (in which the CRC did not particularly seem to be a priority) is a political non-starter.
All roads (pun intended) to funding the CRC seem very cloudy at the moment.
February 12, 2012
I was going to post this a few days ago until all of this week's news. But while the discussion after the announcement of TriMet's budget cutting has focused on service changes, the other component of what's going on--fares--is still worth considering. The recent announcement, and the tradeoffs between equity and ridership/revenue, leads to an interesting discussion. To what extent should reduced fares for "Honored Citizens", as TriMet calls them, be provided? A similar question should be asked about youth fares as well. Do these serve a socially beneficial purpose? Are they little more than age discrimination? Assuming there is a useful purpose served, would it be served better by some other, more direct policy?
The nitty-gritty on fare categories
Before we get into the idealized discussion of the whys and wherefores of age-based fares, one important detail must be mentioned up front. The Federal Transit Administration requires that federally-funded transit systems, such as TriMet, charge senior citizens no more than 50% of the full fare during off-peak hours. (I'm not sure if the FTA defines these hours, or gives agencies some leeway to tailor the definition to their local circumstances). During peak hours, the requirement is not in effect. TriMet, however, does not levy peak-hour fares--the same fare is charged all day, for all riders. Also, the discount given to seniors is greater than 50%--an all-zone ticket for adults is $2.40, but for seniors is $1, a discount of 58%. The discount on passes is even greater--a monthly pass would cost me $92 but my mother could have one for $26, less than 30% of the price. Honored citizens living downtown can get a limited bus pass for $10/month. (TriMet's fare schedule is here).
Seniors, along with the disabled, are grouped into a category TriMet calls Honored Citizens. This category includes the following:
- Senior citizens 65 and older, who require proof of age when riding.
- Medicare recipients, who are required to carry a Medicare ID. If one is receiving Medicare prior to 65, it generally means either that the individual is near 65 and has opted for early retirement, or is disabled.
- Other disabled persons who meet specific requirements, and who are required to carry a TriMet-issued ID stating such.
This article is only concerned with regular transit service; LIFT paratransit is another issue altogether.
TriMet also provides youth fares, for passengers 7-17, and persons 18 or older pursuing a high school diploma or GED. College students are not covered by this program (some colleges provide passes for their student body; however this is a separate program and not discussed here). Children 6 and under ride free with a fare-paying adult. Youth fares are also a substantial discount over adult fares, though not as much (presently $1.50 for a all-zone single-ride ticket, and $27 for a monthly all-zone pass).
Rationale for age-based categories
The senior discount is a longstanding fixture of American business and political culture. Many businesses provide discounts to senior citizens--restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, and transportation companies both public and private. And as noted above, public transit agencies in the US are required to provide them to passengers. In the context of transit, several rationales are frequently offered for this:
- Seniors live on a fixed income, generally from Social Security or private retirement plans, which may (SS) or may not (most pensions) be indexed to inflation. Most are not in the workforce (and many of those who are still working are doing so due to poverty). Senior citizens also frequently have higher medical expenses associated with geriatric and end-of-life care, though Medicare benefits offset this.
- Senior citizens are also more likely to have mobility issues than are younger age cohorts, simply due to the biological pathologies of old age.
- Senior citizens are more likely to be transit-dependent, particularly when driving is no longer an option due to medical issues.
- Senior citizens, by virtue of being less likely to be in the workforce, are more likely to use transit during off-peak hours, and thus are desirable customers to have.
- Many in US culture associate advancing age with virtue, and believe that mere survivorship past the working years ought to merit reward. Certain generations are venerated for the hardships their members collectively endured during their youth, and some consider making it to old age to be evidence of wisdom and/or a cleaner lifestyle, assuming that those who engage in chronic pathological behavior are more likely to perish before reaching retirement. Senior discounts are widely viewed as an entitlement--even by wealthy seniors in good health--and the designation of "Honored Citizen" does nothing to counteract that meme. (Could you imagine TriMet--or any government agency--referring to a benefits program targeted towards the poor in such glowing terms? I can't either; poverty is routinely stigmatized in our political culture, but advancing age is praised).
Similar arguments apply to youth fares as well. I covered youth fares (and other issues related to families on transit in this Human Transit guest post).
- Youth traveling alone are likely to not have much money, and be dependent on parents for funds.
- Those who travel with children are more than likely to be carless--having kids along often tips the balance from bus/train to car for many trips--if nothing else, bringing along kids in the minivan makes you (legally) a carpool. Also, in many cases the only reason children are brought along on errands is that nobody may be available to watch them at home.
- Families with small children (particularly those still using strollers) also frequently have mobility issues.
- Families with children also are often engaged in off-peak travel. (Students using transit to get to and from school generally are peak riders on the way in, and off-peak riders on the way home, unless activities delays their departure from school)
Price discrimination, generally
Age-based fares (for identical trips on transit) are examples of price discrimination, which occurs when the same supplier sells identical goods and services to different customers at different prices. Some sorts of price discrimination are commonplace and generally considered unobjectionable, such as volume discounts (TriMet's passes can be considered an example of this). Other types may be viewed with skepticism, or may be outright illegal--certainly if you're the buyer being asked to pay the higher price, you might want to know why. Price discrimination doesn't include practices like distance-based pricing (different prices are charged for different trips) or off-peak discounts (trips made at different times are generally not substitutable), though sometimes these practices may have a discriminatory effect, and sometimes this is intentional. (Airlines' common practice of offering lower prices for round-trips involving a Saturday stay are intended to distinguish between tourists and business travelers, and charge a higher price to the latter).
One reason that price discrimination occurs is to permit suppliers to capture as much of the surplus value as possible. When a supplier charges a flat high price for something, volume is lower, as those market participants who are unwilling or unable to pay the high price don't buy. When a supplier charges a flat low price, then he/she wins the business of those who won't pay the higher price--but loses money from those customers who were willing to pay the higher price, but instead get a better deal. If the supplier can figure out which customers would be willing to pay a high price and charge those the high price, but make the same product/service available to the more price-sensitive customers at a lower price, the supplier can get more revenue than s/he would from a single set price.
Another reason for price discrimination is equity concerns. The reasons for age discrimination given above are equity-based--TriMet doesn't give seniors and children lower prices because it thinks it will lose their business otherwise; it does so for perceived social reasons. (And because of the FTA mandate).
One problem, however, is this: Maximizing revenue and maximizing equity frequently call for opposite pricing strategies. A transit agency's customers are often divided into "choice" and "captive" riders. (The latter term is problematic for many reasons, some of which are revealed by this discussion, but it suffices to illustrate the point). The latter group has a low elasticity of demand (they are stuck with transit, more or less) while the former has a high elasticity of demand (they can easily switch should transit no longer provide sufficient value). The choice riders are generally wealthier than the captive ones are. Were a transit agency to try and maximize social equity by assisting the poor, it would find a way to charge the poor less. On the other hand, were they to try and maximize revenue, the ideal strategy would be to charge the poor more--they're the dependent riders, after all, and will have less ability to contest the fare increase by switching to another mode.
(This is different than the strategy employed by many retailers, who try to find ways to charge the wealthy more for the same or similar products and services. Gasoline, for example, is generally more expensive in wealthy neighborhoods than in poor ones, despite being the same in both locations).
This is an important point to keep in mind, both for this discussion, and in the broader context of TriMet's budget woes. When an agency is strapped for cash, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a pro-equity pricing and service strategy, and soaking the poor becomes a tempting option.
Should we focus on age?
For the purpose of this section, we'll focus on senior fares. A similar analysis can be applied to youth fares, but that is left as an exercise for the reader. (Feel free to discuss in the comments!)
Consider the five justifications for senior discounts given above. Only one of them--the desire to venerate senior citizens as a matter of social custom--is directly dependent on the age of the passenger. The other reasons--poverty, disability/mobility issues, off-peak travel, and lack of availability of cars, correlate with age, often strongly, but are not dependent on it. There are plenty of young people who are poor, disabled, have no access to an automobile, or more likely to travel off-peak. So the question is obvious: Why not replace the age-based discounts with discounts based on these other criteria?
Disability and mobility issues are, in fact, covered by TriMet. As mentioned above, Honored Citizen fares extend to the disabled, in two broad categories. TriMet also provides services to the mobility-impaired via LIFT (at far greater financial cost to the agency). TriMet assists mobility-impaired passengers in other ways besides the farebox as well. The agency's operations are (as required by law) compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. All vehicles are designed to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices. And many routes feature short spacing between stops, in part because the mobility-impaired are adversely affected by longer walks to a transit stop.
TriMet's does not presently provide benefits to the poor at the farebox--there is no means-testing of fares. Poverty advocates such as OPAL are upset at the loss of return privileges on a single-ride ticket, on the grounds that it will impact the poor adversely. On the other hand, many of TriMet's routes are social-service routes--routes with consistently low ridership that are expensive to operate, and which are arguably inessential for a comprehensive regional network--operated to provide lifeline service to low-income riders and communities along the line, and with no expectation of good financial performance. (These lines are often the most likely to be cut during a budget crisis). There are, however, a few roadblocks to reduced fares for the poor: For one thing, the poor often don't have terribly effective advocacy in the corridors of power. Groups like OPAL do a fine job, but other constituencies often bring far more political muscle to the table, muscle that the poor can't afford to purchase. For another, being perceived as a welfare agency can be damaging to a transit authority's standing with the broader public--the poor aren't popular in many quarters, and agencies which carry out a primarily social service mission risk losing popular support and funding.
The third criteria is transit dependence. Defining transit-dependence, and coming up with ways it could be proven to a TriMet ticket agent or fare inspector, is potentially problematic. Some examples might include discounts for those who can prove that they are not licensed to drive and/or do not own an automobile; Giving explicit discounts for this might be difficult, as proving transit dependence isn't easy. One might be able to supply a DMV ID card or suspension/revocation order to prove one isn't able to drive easily, but other situations (such as low-car households) may be more difficult to document. I'm not aware of any agency that offers discounts of this sort; and a quick Google search doesn't reveal anything.
The final alternative--peak-hour surchages (or alternately, off-peak discounts) are something which has been talked about recently. Currently, TriMet has no plans to implement such a thing, but the recent white paper on electronic fare collection mentioned this as a possibility. In addition to having a load-balancing impact, charging a lower fare for off-peak travel also can promote economic equity, as it gives cash-strapped riders an option for journeys which are flexible in time, such as shopping trips or other errands. An alternative to different fares might be different expiration times. For example, TriMet could limit tickets to two hours of one-way travel during rush hour (opening to 9, and 4-7, say), whereas tickets purchased outside the window might be good for longer and/or include round-trip privileges.
One other thing
One other thing to consider: Senior citizens have long enjoyed quite a bit of political power, compared to other age cohorts; this is especially true with the boomers entering into retirement, due to simple demographics. Senior citizens are generally regarded as more reliable voters than are younger groups; there are age-specific lobbies (such as the AARP) which both provide advice to seniors on issues, and lobby the government on their behalf. There's a good reason that many of the current plans to "reform" Social Security which are being bandied around Washington DC tend to delay the effects of austerity until the next generation (us Xers) reach retirement age: doing otherwise would be political suicide. Any attempt to substantially reform the current pricing structure would probably produce some uncomfortable pushback, even if the net effect for most people is nil.
Thus, a few questions to consider:
- Do age-based fares (whether for the old or for the young) serve a legitimate and useful purpose?
- Would other pricing or service strategies be better?
- What balance between equity (whether based on economic factors, or other parameters) and financial performance (maximizing farebox return) should be struck?
February 10, 2012
I've been following the impact of TriMet's budget woes with great dismay. It's very painful to watch this level of degradation to a system. There are a couple of particular choices that I think could stand some further review:
- There's no question the changes in fare policy make short trips less attractive. As this blog post by Sarah Gilbert makes clear, this effect is amplified for families. I think TriMet should carefully examine the potential for a family ticket of some kind that fixes a price for a parent and any number of children.
- Now that the decision has been made to cut the Red Line short at downtown outside of rush hour, what happens if you turn it around at Gateway, rather than downtown? That would be a lot of service hours, and could potentially put a lot of bus service back on the table. Who gets hurt by this (there are still two other lines serving the corridor)? And who benefits? I'd love to see an equity analysis on this.
February 9, 2012
TriMet has finally released their budget proposal, and while they are mostly filling the gap by raising fares and ending the Free Rail Zone (more on that in a future post), what I find most intriguing are the bus reorganization proposals found here. After devastating rounds of across the board cuts to frequency in 2009 and 2010, even on the most successful high-ridership lines, this current effort appears to be a much smarter attempt to cut poorly performing and redundant route segments.
TriMet runs an enormous number of buses that are mostly empty most of the time because they aren't going where people want to go, because they only perform one function rather than several, because they duplicate nearby superior service, because they run so rarely as to be useless, or because they run through very low-density areas. In such a system, it is entirely possible to cut total service hours while actually increasing and improving service to more people. Counter-intuitive, but nonetheless true.
The proposed changes, while they do represent real cuts to service, put in place what I feel is a superior structure that may actually increase ridership along certain corridors by using TriMet resources more efficiently. For those who say transit agencies shouldn't focus on efficiency, I say that Efficiency is Ridership, and Ridership is People (full credit to Roger Valdez, who inspired me with his Density is People message). That should be the slogan of any transit advocate who really cares about providing car-free mobility to the most people possible given the limited financial resources available for transit operations. Even if the legislature eventually grants the badly needed authority to raise more transit funding (and I hope they do), efficiency will always allow us to get more people to more destinations with whatever budget we have.
With that lengthy preamble out of the way, after the jump I offer an analysis of TriMet's proposed service changes, starting with the NE quadrant because it is nearest to my home and my heart. Future posts will look at the major changes proposed for the NW, SW, Beaverton, and other areas.
The major changes have to do with the 6, 8, 9, and 70.
Currently, the 6 runs north on MLK, west on Lombard, then north on Denver Ave and I-5 to its terminus at Jantzen Beach. This alignment has always had some problems. First, it leads to major redundancies on Lombard and Denver. The 6, 4 and 75 all overlap for a segment of Lombard between Albina and Denver, and segments on either side have two overlapping bus routes. Second, the 6 runs parallel to the Yellow Line MAX from Kenton to Expo Center, providing unnecessary duplicate service. Meanwhile, the 8 runs north of Lombard to the largely industrial East Columbia area along NE MLK and N Vancouver Way, but turns around there.
TriMet proposes that the 6 basically take over the tail of the 8, but then continue north to Jantzen Beach. This eliminates many of the redundancies mentioned above, and simplifies the routes overall. The 6 already runs up MLK, and now it can simply continue north along the most direct path. The 8 will be able to turn around in the Dekum area rather than making a series of turns.
One concept inherent in this service change is the idea of having good anchors for bus routes. Having a high-demand node at the end of a bus route ensures helps prevent them from having long tail segments with relatively few riders going long distances. Jantzen Beach is a better anchor than East Columbia, so making the former the end of the route and the latter a segment along the route, the buses will be more full end to end.
This is an example of a route change that saves money but does not really result in any loss of service. The only slight impact will be on a 10-block stretch of Lombard that will lose direct downtown service, but on either end of that stretch are the 4 and the 6 to downtown, and the Yellow Line is also nearby.
The proposed merging of the 9 and 70 is very exciting, because it will finally help address the extreme lack of connections between the inner SE and NE quadrant neighborhoods. Many people living in Portland quickly notice the large gap between north-south bus routes in the SE. There is no crosstown service at all from SE 12th Ave to SE 39th Ave, and since the 70 currently only runs to Rose Quarter TC, there really isn't any useful SE/NE bus service from the 6 on Grand/MLK to the 75 on 39th Ave. That's about 35 blocks! It usually takes about an hour with two or three transfers to get from the heart of the SE to the Alberta Neighborhood, even though it should be a straight shot north.
While people living along Ne 24th Ave and NE 27th Ave would lose their direct link to downtown, they would benefit from a great crosstown service that would connect to other destinations and to numerous transfer opportunities. The most obvious transfer point is Lloyd Center, where the new route 70 will connect with the combined Red/Blue/Green MAX lines as well as route 8 to go downtown. Between all those services, transfers should be very short and travel times should be roughly equivalent. The 70 also has transfer points with the 12, 19, 20, 15, 14, 10, 4, 9, 17, and 19 (again!) on its way south to Sellwood. People living west of the current 9 also have option walking to the 8 directly.
The north tail of the 9 was never a good place for a core downtown-focused route anyway. It runs through low-density residential neighborhoods for its whole length from NE Dekum to NE Broadway, making a series of tight turns on narrow streets. Usually bus routes run on arterial roads, which allow higher speeds and access to far more destinations. The 9 ends up being much slower than the 8, and ridership has been fairly lackluster in comparison. My preference would actually be to cancel the tail of the 9 entirely, connect the 8 with the 70, and reinvest the 9's service hours to make the resulting crosstown much more frequent. That would be a more radical change though, and would make far too much sense, so I'll embrace this proposal wholeheartedly.
The final noteworthy change is the removal of evening and weekend service from the 73. Unlike the previous examples, this is just a straight-up cut to service, but at least it is cutting a largely pointless route with low ridership. The 73 is an example of a route designed to fail. It runs along NE 33rd, hitting a business area and lots of residential, but unlike other area crosstowns like the 72 and 75, it doesn't run east or west to find a good anchor like a MAX station or a dense neighborhood. Anchors are especially important in crosstowns because they lack downtown as a natural draw. The 73 then runs west on streets that already have other bus service, before ending just short of downtown at the Rose Quarter TC. I would hazard a guess that very few people want to ride a bus almost to downtown, but not quite (actually i don't have to guess, since ridership is pretty low).
It's a funny thing about transfers--they're fine if the service is frequent and the transfer point is somewhere in the middle of the trip, but they are incredibly aggravating if they come near the beginning or end of the trip. So for example, someone on NE 42nd & Killingsworth takes the 75 to Hollywood and transfers to MAX to get downtown, and that's fine. But asking someone to take the 73 from NE 33rd and Killingsworth to Rose Quarter to transfer to MAX? That's unlikely to draw much interest. Cutting this route to a barebones weekday daytime schedule means TriMet has pretty much given up on it, but isn't willing to change very much. I think they should either make it work, or cancel it completely.
One rough idea would be to have the 73 turn east on Prescott or Lombard and hit Parkrose TC. It could even continue on and take over the current infrequent tail of the 12 (slated for amputation) running on outer Sandy. On the other end, I would love to see the 73 run down 20th through the SE. I've been told countless times that 20th is too narrow for bus service, but go look at the street and see if you're convinced. All it would take is restriping and removal of parking on one side of the street. It could continue down 20th and eventually hit one of the future Orange Line stations. This would be a fabulous crosstown service with lots of connections.
That would all cost money of course, and right now it's hard to blame TriMet for taking service hours from a poorly performing route, but this change will leave pretty big areas of the NE without evening or weekend service since the 24 is already in the same situation. Actually, the entirety of inner NE from 15th to I-205 will be left with the 12 as the only downtown transit service, although many people will still have easy MAX connections. Part of this has to do with the built environment, with areas like Cully sporting suburban-style superblocks and little in the way of transit-oriented land use, but on the other hand the demographics of the area point to a lot of potential for ridership if only the routes were well-designed and the land use were improved.
That's it for now, hope you enjoyed this analysis. Next week I will discuss the changes in the NW. Until then, remember...Ridership is People!
We are privileged to have the opportunity to host an audio recording (MP3, 36.6MB) of Monday's debate. Enjoy!
Portland Afoot, the 10-minute low-car life news magazine (disclaimer - I'm on their board), would like to know. They've put together a survey they'd like you to have your HR department fill out for the "best employers" feature in their April issue.
February 8, 2012
Michael at Portland Foot is reporting that TriMet is looking to undo the current Oregon law which treats transit workers as essential (similar to police and firefighters), a designation which prevents labor stoppages (strikes or lockouts) and forces labor disputes into binding arbitration. Hints were dropped about the earlier this month, in particular with Lynn Lehrbach (a local labor leader) being dropped from the TriMet board.
UPDATE: As noted by Michael in the comments, TriMet disputes his initial characterization of the story. While TriMet has broached the subject with legislators, the agency claims that they don't desire a work stoppage, merely to prod negotiations along.
Read their take on the Columbia River Crossing scope in today's issue.
The highlights, many of which have been discussed previously:
- Elimination of fare zones and Free Rail Zone.
- Equalize MAX and bus transfer times
- Eliminate round trips--transfers good for one direction of travel only
- Adult 2-hour ticked would increase 10¢s; to $2.50; a day pass would remain at $5. Youth fares would go up 15¢s; to $1.65, Honored Citizen fares would remain at $1.
- Numerous bus route reconfigurations and service hour reductions, including some routes which are truncated (and thus certain trips will now require a transfer) and elimination of some weekend service.
- Reduction of MAX frequency to 3 tph (20 minute headways) outside of rush hour.
- Elimination of Red Line service to Beaverton outside of peak hours, with the end of the line occurring downtown.
- Reductions in LIFT service
- $400k less to the Portland Streetcar
TriMet will have four open houses next week to discuss the proposal.
That Portland had it's first traffic safety summit. But here we are at year six...
SAVE THE DATE MARCH 13
SIXTH TRANSPORTATION SAFETY SUMMIT
WHEN: Tuesday, March 13, 2012
WHERE: Jefferson High School,
5210 N Kerby Portland, OR 97217
The Sixth Transportation Safety Summit kicks off with a
Community Initiatives Poster Session from 5:30-6:15 PM.
This is a great opportunity to showcase your work
before local transportation and community leaders.
Please contact Sharon White at
to reserve exhibit space.
The Sixth Transportation Safety Summit
is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/event/1208826633
February 7, 2012
With budget cuts at TriMet and new fare policy under consideration at Portland Streetcar, equity issues are front and center. So here are two attempts by agencies to get at these issues:
- TriMet will hold a budget forum in conjunction with IRCO (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization) specifically to reach out to transit-dependent folks:
What: TriMet & IRCO Community Budget Forum
When: Thursday, February 9, 2012 (reception starts @ 5:30pm, forum begins @ 6:00pm)
1020110301 NE Glisan Street, Portland, Oregon
- The City of Portland has released their required Title VI analysis for Streetcar fare issues (PDF, 651K).
February 6, 2012
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Winter 2012 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Peter Bosa (Portland Metro)
Topic: Metro's Dynamic Traffic Assignment Model
When: Friday, February 10, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
One of the perks of being a member of the board of Portland Streetcar Inc. is the opportunity to occasionally inspect our new vehicles under construction. The last time I did this I had to travel to the Czech Republic. This time it was just a carpool out to Clackamas.
More photos after the jump...
February 3, 2012
While we here at Portland Transport generally stick to subjects like public transit, bicycling, and walking, the taxicab is another form of transit that can allow people the freedom to travel around at will without the burden of car ownership or the need to personally drive the car.
Taxis fill an important need for those trips that transit does not serve well, especially late at night. It would be very expensive and difficult for a transit agency like TriMet to send out a bunch of buses at 2am to pick up intoxicated people coming out of bars and events who really should not be driving home. Taxis, with their flexibility to respond to areas of demand, are ideally suited to this task and any great city has a fleet of them roaming the streets ready to be hailed or sitting in designated taxi zones.
Taxis can also be valuable for elderly and disable people with mobility problems, since they can deliver people directly from home to store and back again. Transit is ill-suited to this task, and the paratransit service TriMet does offer is extremely expensive to operate. Abundant taxis paired with publicly funded taxi vouchers might be a much more effective way to serve the mobility-impaired.
Unfortunately, taxi policies in most US cities are notoriously restrictive and are designed to protect incumbent taxi businesses by limiting competition and giving them leverage over their workforce. Last year Sightline published an excellent entry on taxis as part of their "Making Sustainability Legal" series. They show that Portland has one of the most restrictive taxi policies in the country, only allowing 382 cabs to operate in the entire city, or only 0.7 cabs per 1000 residents. Washington, DC, by contrast, does not put a cap on permits and they have a much healthier 12 cabs per 1000 residents.
The Portland Revenue Bureau enforces this strict cap and any increase has to be justified by showing that any new permits will not result in "market oversaturation." City officials are expected to somehow decide how many taxis would be too much, and new taxi companies are required to prove there is a need for more taxis. Even if city officials approve an application for new permits (which almost never happens), any change has to go through a City Council which is put under enormous pressure by existing taxi companies to restrict any new entry by competitors. In practice, it has been almost impossible for new taxi companies to enter the marketplace and get permits. Four of the five taxi companies in Portland have been around since the 1970's.
All this is prelude to this week's article in the Portland Mercury that highlights the real human cost to these policies, not only for the public that would benefit from more taxi availability and lower prices, but also for the people who actually drive the taxis. The article describes 50 drivers who are trying to form a new employee-owned company because they are tired of working long hours for low wages that are further reduced because have to pay a big chunk of their earnings back to the company for the right to use the car. Rather than the company simply taking a fixed cut of fares, a driver has pay for the right to drive the car, then hope to get enough fares to pay back the company and still have some left over. This is generally an exploitative business model, usually associated with shady strip clubs (where strippers have to "rent" the stage), prostitution, and sharecropping to name a few.
A recent city study found that taxi drivers in Portland on average work 6 to 7 days a week, 12 to 14 hours per day, and make well below the minimum wage. Interestingly, the study found that at the one employee-owned company, Radio Cab, drivers worked shorter shifts and made a lot more money than at the privately owned companies, bolstering these drivers' case that they should be allowed to form their own company.
The article makes clear that it will be very difficult for these drivers to form a new company, denying them any real bargaining power with their employers and, I would argue, denying them their basic rights. When a barista at Stumptown decides he or she wants to leave and open a new coffee shop, we don't require proof that the coffee market isn't already "saturated." We don't put a cap on the number of coffee shops that are allowed to operate in the city, and each increase doesn't have to go directly before the City Council. If this was the case, there would be huge public outcry. For most types of businesses, the city is expected to issue business permits as long as the rules are followed and there isn't some overriding reason to deny it.
One quote from the Mercury article really jumped out at me, from the Revenue Bureau's Kathleen Butler: "An unintended consequence of the cap on permits is that drivers are not in a good bargaining position to find a company to work for." This quote made me laugh because this is in fact a completely intended consequence of the cap on permits. It is designed to protect existing taxi companies from new competition, including the threat of their own employees going off to form a new company or switch to a different company. I'm not sure there's a clearer example of government and private business colluding to prevent competition with no clear public benefit.
To be clear, regulation in the form of requirements that taxis be safely operated, clean, identifiable, etc., are perfectly reasonable. Even regulations on the metered rate might have some merit to provide a measure of confidence that taxi drivers or companies won't suddenly raise the price once you're in the cab. But the onerous restrictions on the number of permits and companies are indefensible, and we all, drivers and passengers alike, pay the cost.
Scotty has already documented the efforts of the Republican House to return the transportation system to the 1950s.
I'm inclined to believe the handicapping that this simply means there is no re-authorization this session. But if you feel the need to do something about it, Transportation for America has an action link.
February 2, 2012
From Evan Manvel on the O-TRAN mailing list:
For those near Portland, there's a debate between Smith, Brady, and Hales on active transportation issues this upcoming Monday.
Feb 6, 7pm
Lincoln Performance Hall
Portland State University
A forum for Mayoral candidates Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, and Jefferson Smith to answer questions regarding their priorities and positions on active transportation in the Portland metropolitan area.
Topics will include public transit, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, equity considerations, funding concerns, public health and safety, and projects that impact the Portland region.
Doors open at 6:15 with light refreshments provided. The forum is open to the public, admission is free, and seats will be filled on a first-come basis!!
February 1, 2012
The US House recently unveiled their proposed Transportation Bill. And it's horrible in pretty much every way: It gives the shaft to pretty much any mode of transport that doesn't have an exhaust pipe; and proposes to pay for it all with a big heavy dose of drill baby, drill. It's been roundly criticized by lots of folks--here's Congressman Blumenauer's take. Here's another attack against the bill. Reams of apocalyptic articles have been written about the thing.
The criticisms of this bill are all on-point, except for one thing. It's not going to pass. Oh, it will likely pass the House. But it's not likely to become law.
Like much coming out of the US House this past Congress, its not designed to pass. It's a political statement by Tea Party conservatives, hoping to run on an anti-environmental platform. It's campaign fodder. If you like, it's part of the extended temper tantrum we've seen from the House in the past year.
But what it isn't--is a serious proposal. The Senate isn't going to pass such a transparently partisan bill. President Obama would likely veto it in a heartbeat should it reach his desk.
What transportation bill is going to pass? Likely, none. Instead the existing transpo bill, which expires on March 31, may be re-extended, meaning infrastructure development will limp along. (That's assuming the House doesn't try and take the straightforward extension hostage, a tactic which wouldn't surprise me).
There is a proposed amendment to the bill that makes it less terrible, and may get some support from the majority party in the House (Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler from SW Washington might get involved); but whether or not this amendment will succeed (and if it does, make the bill acceptable to Democrats) is another question.
Portland Transport, as a non-profit entity, can't make recommendations on races for elected office. And as a practical matter, other Congresswoman Beutler, the congressional delegation from the Portland metro area is not behind this bill. But we are able to raise issues like this one, and remind readers that if you want support for good quality active transportation, you need to demand it from your elected officials. And for those officials who refuse, you all know what to do.
The amendment in question, which would restore funding to the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes programs, has failed in committee, 27-29. Congresswoman Beutler voted against.
Listen to the show (mp3, 26.5MB)
Steph and Tori talk with Gerik Kransky (of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) and Chris Rall (of Transportation for America) about funding challenges at the Federal and local levels and Tara Corbin from Cycle Oregon discusses the upcoming Oregon Active Transportation Summit (April 16th and 17th in Salem).
What's a local government to do? DC set up a sting for the unlicensed taxis, maybe we'll have 'test parkers' checking your zoning map location?
A few items:
- Clackamas County is considering closing (for now) the Canby Ferry. One big problem is the recent closure of the Willamette Falls Locks--the ferry is due for an inspection and a new propeller, a project to be done in Portland, and now the ferry will need to be trucked to the drydock instead of simply being floated down the Willamette, at considerably greater expense.
- TriMet's recent cracking down on fare cheats is showing some results, according to the agency.
- More public outreach for the SW Corridor project. Tigard is having a meeting tonight.
- couv.com revisits architect Kevin Peterson's alternate proposal for the CRC.
- The Port of Portland reports one of its best years ever.
- More controversy at MPAC, with Metro President Tom Hughes proposing changes to the citizen positions, a move with Carla Atxman at Blue Oregon regards as turning the committee into a rubber-stamp.