Generating some bus savings

Last week, Portland Transport hosted an article on the subject of potential savings which could be realized by closing MAX stations and making the MAX line(s) more efficient. This article was prompted by GM Neil McFarlane’s comments in our recent interview series, particularly the first part which discussed the recent service cuts. Chris, who conducted the interview, noted that budget crises are an opportune time to make politically-difficult but operationally-beneficial service reconfigurations, and indeed, some of the service changes (such as combining the 73 and the 70 on the east side, and combining the 47/48 and the 89 in Washington County) are of that sort.

Continuing along that same line, in this thread we invite readers to make additional suggestions of how service can be tweaked to improve operational efficiency. We’re not looking for a list of which lines can be cut altogether (though feel free to make suggestions which do reduce service)–instead we’re looking for suggestions on how lines can be combined or re-routed to make service more efficient, and perhaps serve more people at the same time. We’re also limiting this discussion to the bus system–the trains go where they go, and major capital projects are out of scope for this discussion (minor improvements such as the need to install bus stops on new streets are OK). Keep in mind budget constraints as well–while we’d all like to see frequent service on the 35, the 76, and numerous other routes which deserve it–one of the assumptions is a financially-constrained budget. (Otherwise we wouldn’t have the opportunity to propose reconfigurations of this sort).

I’ll lead off the discussion with a suggestion, after the jump.
Suggestion: Combine the 58, 63, and 83.

The 58/Canyon Road bus travels between Beaverton Transit Center and downtown Portland. Leaving BTC, it travels east on Canyon Road to the Sylvan interchange, then takes US26 to just before the tunnel, and then exits to Goose Hollow. After serving the Goose Hollow MAX station, it continues east on SW Columbia to SW 4th, turning around and heading west on SW Jefferson, and then back to Beaverton TC via the same route. The line only lays over at Beaverton; its eastward run is immediately followed by its return trip.

The one-way journey is scheduled to take about 20 minutes during off-peak hours, and up to 30 minutes during the peak. The line is in the bottom 20% of reliability among TriMet routes, only being on time 80% of the time–and given that it travels for several miles on the Sunset Highway, this should not be surprising. (The TriMet reliability data I’ve linked to unfortunately treats on-time as a binary condition; were one to examine weighted reliability, in which busses that are extremely late are given a proportionately greater penalty, I suspect that the 58 would do worse–simply because getting stuck in US26 traffic is a common occurrence).

The line runs at approximately 30 minute headways during weekdays, with 20 minute service during the peeks, and is generally served by two busses, with a third running during the peaks. The line is very efficient with regards to how much time it spends in revenue operation vs waiting (not having much recovery time, unfortunately, is also bad for reliability).

The 63-Washington Park/Arlington Heights and 83-Washington Park Loop routes run between JELD-WEN Field and the Oregon Zoo. It also serves other destinations in Washington Park such as the Rose Garden and Japanese Gardens. A one-way journey on the 63 takes 12-14 minutes. The bus runs hourly on weekdays and does not run on weekends. A single bus provides the service. The 63 is one of the most reliable routes on TriMet’s schedule, arriving on time 91% of the time. Unfortunately, it’s inefficient, as it spends most of its time (slightly over half) parked. It’s a great route to have if you’re a bus driver with loads of seniority–other than the part about having to haul a bus up SW Salmon and Park–but it its present configuration, it’s not terribly efficient. It’s useless as an end-to-end route, as both ends of the route are on the MAX line. The more tourist-oriented 83 is a seasonal bus that only runs in the summer months; however, it does provides weekend service during the months when it runs. It also takes a slightly different route through the park on its westbound journey, traveling up Kingston Drive rather than Fairview Boulevard. (Both bus lines use Fairview heading east).

Why combine them? Reliability and efficiency.

The 58 suffers greatly from being stuck in traffic on US 26, and while on the freeway, it can’t pick up or drop off passengers. But if instead of using US 26, it took Canyon Court to the Zoo, served the Zoo and neighboring attractions, and then took the route of the 63 down the hill–continuing downtown via SW Salmon and SW Taylor, rather than turning at JELD-WEN Field, the following benefits would be achieved:

  • The reliability of the route would no doubt improve, by avoiding the Sunset Highway; the cost would be a few additional minutes of scheduled trip time.
  • Service through Washington Park would improve dramatically, as the line would run on weekends year round, and by redeploying the service hours of the 63, the combined line could run at near 25-minute headways on weekdays, and close to 15 minute headways during peak hours if a fourth bus is placed in service on the route.
  • No need to park and layover a bus near JELD-WEN Field. (I’m assuming that the 63 doesn’t presently interline with some other route).
  • Washington Park Riders would be able to reach both the Transit Mall and Beaverton TC without transferring.

The main disadvantages to this are:

  • A slightly longer scheduled commute for Beaverton riders heading downtown (or the reverse).
  • The round trip time of the combined 58 would no longer fit into an hour–you can probably expect a one-way trip time of 35-40 minutes during peak hours–a problem if you consider clockface scheduling to be important. (The current 58 doesn’t have a clockface schedule, though the 63 does).
  • If there is interlining going on that I’m not aware of–particularly at the downtown end of the routes–it might mess up the analysis.

The proposal eliminates two inefficient practices–freeway-running busses (which are unreliable and unable to pick up or drop of riders while on the freeway–given that MAX is in the same corridor, I’m not sure express-like services are all that necessary), and weak circulators that are mostly-redundant with parallel rapid transit.

The floor is yours

If you want to comment on the above, feel free; but the above proposal is intended only to get the ball rolling, not to be the primary subject of this post. Don’t feel the need to be as detailed as the above. But as the saying goes in politics–never let a good crisis go to waste–so we look forward to your suggestions as to how TriMet can reconfigure its bus system to improve service overall.


29 responses to “Generating some bus savings”

  1. In the late 1980s some transit advocates recommended a frequent service route similar to the one you are suggesting to serve the Zoo, old OMSI, Forestry Center, Arboretum, Rose Gardens and Japanese Gardens as an alternative to building a deep MAX station. (A straight, constant grade tunnel with an east portal near the NW corner of Jeld-Wen Field would have been far less expensive to build and operate and would have attracted more commuters, because it would have been much faster, but a Zoo Station was politically mandated).

  2. I like the idea. The Washington Park Alliance institutions and the Arlington neighborhood would probably love it.

    Under this proposal, the 58 could share the #15 route downtown … east on Salmon, north on Second, west on Washington and Salmon.

    However, I think the 63 currently interlines with the 18 at peak hours. How does that affect your analysis?

  3. A straight, constant grade tunnel with an east portal near the NW corner of Jeld-Wen Field would have been far less expensive to build and operate and would have attracted more commuters

    My thought has been to have MAX travel from the zoo directly east to PSU and then up the mall. Not only could that MAX much better, but it seems that it would make ending the 58 at the zoo (or at least having it serve downtown indirectly by going through the park) much more palatable. Now, a 58 rider wanting to go up Columbia (e.g. to PSU) would have to transfer at the zoo only to have to transfer again one station later.

    In addition, the 68 also wouldn’t be needed under such a scenario, since riders would have a direct connection to Line 8 without having to go up to Morrison/Yamhill.

    But getting back on topic, what I would like to know is why there’s a need for both of the Washington Park routes. They now both go between the zoo and the stadium, and at least in prior years would (sometimes) leave at or near the exact same time. Why not combine them and have one route that runs all year long (but still with a reduced, off-season schedule)?

    However, I think the 63 currently interlines with the 18 at peak hours. How does that affect your analysis?

    It does. This is the complete schedule of the (only) bus that serves both of them.

  4. Does the 51 interline with anything? If not, then combining the 51 and the 18 might make sense. Both are peak-only routes. The 18, like the 63, only goes as far as JELD-WEN field; whereas the 51 goes downtown. Combining these two also makes sense.

    (Now if there only was an easy pedestrian connection between the Vista Bridge and the Goose Hollow station…)

  5. According to this, the 51 isn’t interlined with anything. The loop through downtown (east of JELD-WEN field) takes about 25 minutes, including a layover–eliminate that, and the combined route can be handled with a similar number of busses. (There’s another layover in the West Hills).

    Of course, the 18 gets 100 boardings per WEEK. If any route on the TriMet roster deserves outright cancellation, it’s this one.

  6. I believe there were some grade problems that make that route for the MAX unusable, in addition to problems caused by trying to bring the MAX so close to the I-405/US-26 Intersection. Having bicycled this route, I doubt MAX could make it up the hill between goose Hollow and I-405. Or are we talking about digging a new tunnel?

  7. The Hillside route has an interesting history: it ran (as Line 66) and was canceled in the 80’s, brought back in the 90’s and was on the chopping block a year or two ago.

  8. One possible option for MAX, should a downtown tunnel being built (this is getting off-topic for the thread, but go ahead) would be a new tunnel under Jefferson/Columbia. The 26/405 interchange would be an issue, as the tunnel would have to get low enough not only to avoid undermining I-405 itself, but the ramp from US26 to I405 NB, which goes under the freeway.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting drilling a new replacement for the existing Robertson tunnel. And as far as transit time from Beaverton to downtown goes, the stop in the tunnel doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s the stops AFTER the tunnel which are annoying. :)

  9. Or are we talking about digging a new tunnel?

    I’m talking about an alternate path for the tunnel that was built. It would have gone underground all the way to PSU.

  10. On other interesting question on West Hills bus service: Has any route ever run over Cornell/Lovejoy–i.e. past the Audubon Society into Cedar Mill? At the present time, there isn’t probably much reason for running a bus there–most of the road west of Lovejoy is wilderness/parkland, and most of the housing once you cross into Washington County is low density sprawl until you reach Cedar Mill, at which point established bus service already exists. But as an alternate route to reach the westside, it might be useful.

  11. How about splitting the 19’s north and south halves into separate routes, and combining the north route with the 25? The 25 only runs about a dozen trips per weekday between Gateway and E 185th. The 19+25 would provide a straight shot down Glisan, similar to the 20 (Burnside/Stark) 77 (Broadway/Halsey), 4 (Division), and so on.

  12. Running a route over Cornell sounds like a good idea, but from my personal experience, buses headed into NW from Cedar Mill would run into a 15-30 minute delay behind a long line of cars on some weekday afternoons. I’m unsure if that would be enough to make such a route unworkable. Also, it seems like connections to other routes might be difficult and I believe the wealthy Cedar mill and Bethany neighborhoods haven’t historically been great transit-riding areas.

  13. Bethany itself has some transit potential, given the higher-density development that’s been going on, and the underdeveloped streets. (The proposed widening of NW Bethany Bvld, on which the 67 runs, has been quite controversial, with many neighbors opposed despite the fact that the street is frequently a parking lot).

    But east of there, as you get up into the hills, transit potential goes down.

  14. One other suggestion/question:

    There seem to be an inordinate number of peak hour busses (61, 64, 65, 66, 68) which serve OHSU, particularly from the south and west. OHSU is a difficult location to serve well, due to geography (and the SW Corridor might well fix this in the future), but this service structure seems a bit… weird. Especially given that I suspect a good percentage of the patrons of these routes are likely to be nursing staff, many of whom who work nonstandard shifts.

    What I would do with these routes is:

    Get rid of all of them.
    * Have one route–the 8, which is a frequent service route, serve OHSU.
    * Extend the 8 south to Burlingame, so it may make connections with the 12, 44, 45, 54, 56, and other SW Corridor busses.
    * Possibly consider combining it with the 39 (which serves Lewis and Clark College), though possibly shortlining the 8 at Burlingame.
    * Riders from Beaverton and Tigard will need to take MAX or the 12 to downtown/Burlingame, and transfer to the 8.

    One more thought: While this suggestion violates the “no capital projects” criteria above, it would be great for transit if a southern entrance to the L&C campus (no cars, bus and bikes only) could be made by running a road down the hill to Terwilliger Boulevard. Do that, and the 8 could continue south to Lake Oswego. Currently, L&C is also a “island” and hard to serve well by transit.

  15. One unrelated thought:

    Why, in times of tight budgets, does the Vintage Trolley continue to run between PSU and Union Station?

    There are 8 or so Green/Yellow line trains per hour between these two places, and goodness knows how mnay bus lines which travel the length of the transit mall. Does TriMet need to spend an additional $200/hour to run an additional train up and down the mall? I know it’s cute. But can we afford cute?

  16. Regarding Engineer Scotty’s question about service on Cornell, in the late 1970’s, TriMet provided a loop going West on Burnside, North on Skyline, West on Cornell, South on Miller, then back East on Burnside. This was one branch of the 76-Westover/Arlington Heights/Skyline route, other parts of which are now covered by the 63 and 18.

    Transfers to downtown via the 53-23rd Avenue route (now 15) were at 23rd & Burnside.

  17. Re: the 60s buses around OHSU, the 66 seems particularly redundant. The entirety of its route is overlapped by frequent service buses: 8 (OHSU loop), 9 (Powell), and 75 (Cesar Chavez).

  18. Speaking of both Bethany and Cornell, the NW Bethany/Cornell/Bronson area is a bit of a mess. The proposed 47/48/89 change should help to make the 89’s Bronson and Cornell variants clearer, but it doesn’t address the general difficulty of knowing which stop to wait at.

    If you’re at the intersection of Bethany and Cornell and want to head east/downtown, you have to know both bus schedules in advance so you know whether to wait at one of three stops:
    1.) south side of Cornell at Bethany for the 89 via Cornell
    2.) west side of Bethany at Cornell for the 67
    3.) across the highway on the west side of Bethany near Bronson for the 89 via Bronson.

    All three take you east and south with connections to the MAX (though the 67 heads predominantly south to Beaverton TC and the 89 east to Sunset TC), but it feels very disjointed and uninviting to those not already heavily inclined to take public transit. The three buses together offer reasonably frequent service, so it’d be great to see them leveraged together rather than treated as three buses which run sorta kinda close to each other without much interaction.

  19. Speaking of the 67, here’s another thought. I’m not sure if this is service-hour neutral.

    * Kill the 92 (South Beaverton Express).
    * Kill the portions of the 45 beyond Washington Square (service on Scholls Ferry, 121st, and Walnut).
    * Kill the portion of the 67 on Millikan, as TriMet plans to do. However, rather than ending the bus at Merlo TC, have it continue SW on Merlo, than S on 170th to Bany, E on Bany/Hart to SW 155th, S on 155th to Beard, E on Beard, crossing Murray and continuing on Brockman, S on 125th, E on Conestoga, SW on Scholls Ferry, S on 121st, E on Walnut, E on Barbur to Tigard TC.
    * Run this new improved 67 7 days a week.
    * Shorten the 88 by running it on SW Davies/SW Oak Road between Murray and 170th instead of Hart/Bany. The new route of the 67 will serve all the interesting parts of Hart/Bany and 170th currently served by 88. (Might even continue it further west on Oak to 179th, although this is a local street that may or may not object to busses).

    Residents in the Conestoga and Murrayhill neighborhoods will lose their peak-hour one-seat ride downtown; but will still have plenty of ways to get downtown with a transfer to frequent service. Conestoga residents will have more convenient all-day service. The grid in Beaverton will be strengthened.

  20. Regarding the OHSU buses, the issue is transfers, and that the 8 is crowded enough. Moreover, some of those buses, like the one to Beaverton get very good ridership.

    Also, they did cut back Vintage Trolley service; it now runs only a few days a year.

    Lastly, I’ve collected some other ideas here. For example, with a better transfer environment, the 1 and maybe the 45 could be ended in Hillsdale, and the 38 and/or 43 could serve Lewis & Clark at little extra expense.

  21. I was thinking the same thing about the southbound Marquam Hill lines: None of those lines are running less than 3/4 full on the afternoon commute, at least. You’d need a bus 8 literally every 3 minutes to make up for all of them. (Even the northbound bus 68, which runs to Goose Hollow & back, seems to be pretty full.) As it is now, there is an 8 every 10 minutes or less in the afternoons.

    If the SW Corridor does do a tunnel under Marquam Hill with one or more elevators to OHSU and the VA (something I’ve been advocating for quite some time) then you could probably cut back the bus service substantially.

  22. As Jason notes correctly, the Vintage Trolley is very limited. In fact, it runs a grand total of eight Sundays per year.

  23. I favor private bus operation on routes where ridership demand serves specific business interests. Employers could provide employees the means to reach a MAX station. District businesses could operate more appropriately scaled vehicles to bring customers/visiters to shopping and entertainment venues. I base this type of private operation on short line routes or circulators.

    The problem: When lengthy fixed routes add circuitous destinations, it discourages patronage on the long-distance trips.

    A solution: When lengthy fixed routes are ‘straightened’ to act more like thru-routes, with convenient transfers to short lines, the longer trips take less time and the short line service can be met with appropriate vehicles, public and private.

    One reason I supported the original Portland Streetcar line was that I expected it would act as a short line circulator with a convenient transfer at Galleria MAX stations. Indeed, the transfer between the streetcar and MAX there still generates high ridership on both rail systems.

    The MAX ZOO Station was completely justified and has far more than repaid its cost with obviously predictable ridership.

    It looks like Tri-Met has decided to end FRZ. I expect this will decrease ridership downtown and harm already struggling downtown businesses. I suggest we all consider an RFZ to replace the FRZ. An RFZ or “Reduced Fare Zone” in the existing central city boundary could be $1 Adults & 50 cents Youth and Senior/Disabled fare with a 2-hour limit. This would still impress Portland visitors and give downtown locals a discount for short trips. Finally, we should not rule out FRZ returning when more ideal economic conditions allow.

  24. The most obvious solution to this problem, and one that is most likely on the top of Mcfarlanes mind, is to create an;

    Executive Director of Operational Efficiency,

    after all, that’s the TriMet way.

  25. Jason,

    I like your idea for the 32/33 in Oregon City — I was thinking something along the same lines. Service beyond Oregon City TC is fairly limited outside of weekday peak hours, so it would be helpful to try to match routes more closely to the kind of service that’s already there (like your 32 local service route). A local route could also make it easier to travel within Oregon City; right now the 32 and 33 mostly funnel riders towards Oregon City TC or Clackamas Community College.

    All of the Portland-Milwaukie-Oregon City buses have conditional, alternate, or reduced schedules on one or more parts of their routes. Presumably some of that will be tidied up once the Milwaukie light rail line is in place, but even now there should be room for improvement.

  26. An opportunity to geek out- and I’m two days late for the party? BLAST!

    Nevertheless, I’ll post my opinions and maybe some ideas.

    @EngineerScotty- I mapped out the idea of combining the 67 with the 88/92/45. I think it’s roundabout, but it works- up until you get to Scholls Ferry. In Tigard/Beaverton, transferring is incredibly hard to do because buses are incredibly infrequent- line 62 is one of the more frequent buses in the area and it runs every 30-60 minutes. Line 67 at present runs every 45. I suppose that riders could always transfer at Tigard to the 94 if they’re commuting to town but I’d still venture to say that local connections on the line 45 segments to Washington Square and Garden Home would be pretty hard to pull off if you were to transfer to the 62 or the 76/78 just to get to the 45. I’d say it would be better to run the bus straight to Washington Square. The only transfers that would be lost would be to the 12/64/94 triplet on Barbur/Pacific HWY and the WES (although that would be a reasonable walk.) On the positive side, there’d be a through line all through S. Beaverton/Tigard which is useful. It’s a toss up to me.

    I also liked the idea of running line 19 to Rockwood via the line 25 routing. I’m not sure why that was never considered with the other combined routing done after the Red Line opened (lines 20-E Burnside and 26-Stark, line 24 Halsey and 77 Broadway/Lovejoy.) It’d make sense and could open the way for more frequent service for the area, solving ridership issues.

    I’d also consider interlining lines 22 and 23 into a loop at Gateway. It’d involve the route following line 23 to 148th and Sandy, turning left on Sandy and left again on 141st before turning right on Shaver, going on the eastbound line 22 route heading back to Gateway. This loop would run both ways but would eliminate the route on 141st and the Rose Parkway loop, which I think are low ridership, but I’m not sure. Service could always loop around 141st, Fremont and 122nd back to Shaver. That’d eliminate the service on Shaver and Prescott Drive, service which is quite close to line 12. (The service on Prescott does act as a transfer between lines 12 and 22, although it’s never stated. That transfer can be made at Sandy and 148th.

    Another interlining I had in mind was to combine lines 14 and 71 at Lents to Parkrose. I’m not sure if it’d save money but to have a direct link to 122nd Avenue from Portland via clear thoroughfares would be very good, especially if it means that it opens opportunity for frequency improvements (something line 71 on 122nd desperately needs- it’s at crush loads often rivaling line 72.)

    The other half of line 71 could run on its own, but there is always the possibility to combine it with line 12’s Gresham corridor (something TriMet is planning to separate.) The frequencies wouldn’t be the same and it’d be a long route, but a lot less busy than the segment on 122nd (and therefore less likely to be late.)

    I also had some ideas for North Portland, but I’m not sure if these giant changes would save money.

    *Line 4 would split at Kenton, going North to Jantzen Beach instead of following the route to Fessenden. It would be renamed to #4 Albina/Division.

    Pros: A shorter line 4 would be an easier trip for drivers and more reliable for riders. Also, the segment on Fessenden is perhaps the single busiest portion of the whole system, often managing crush loads between St. Johns and Lombard TC that delays the entire rest of the route into Gresham.

    Cons: There’s a chance that rush hour traffic along the I5 would impact the schedule of rest of the route into Gresham.

    *The Fessenden Portion would become a local route feeding into Lombard TC. It would take Kilpatrick or McClellan up to Interstate, Interstate south to Lombard, turn right onto Lombard TC, serving the northbound stop before resuming its route back to St. Johns where it would layover. It’s possible that this loop may not be possible, perhaps another one could be configured on the Southside of Lombard TC.

    Pros: The crush load capacity would be contained to the transfer point at Lombard TC, making a more efficient route.

    Cons: The loss of a 1 seat ride to Portland City Center.

    *Line 6 would follow Trimet’s proposed route to take over the line 8 segment to Jubitz. From there, it would backtrack slightly to N Schmeer, go west to N Whitaker and use that to access the Delta Park/Vanport station. Alternatively, the bus could also use the I-5 to access Delta Park/Vanport, but it’d be ideal to serve the inner commercial area of Delta Park along N Whitaker.

    Pros: Some service to inner Delta Park, a new C-Tran/TriMet connection at Vanport.

    Cons: Roundabout routing to get to Delta Park with some backtracking necessary.

    Line 8 would probably end around the Dekum area as planned.

    That’s just my rambling. Do make of it what you will!

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