Does somebody out there have a MAX-shaped voodoo doll?

Westside MAX is down today, as a speeding car trying to negotiate the loop ramp from US26 to OR217 ran off the highway, landing on the MAX tracks at Sunset Transit Center. Nobody at the station was hurt; the driver (who was intoxicated) only suffered minor injuries, and no MAX trains were involved, but the overhead wires powering the MAX line were destroyed. Service is not expected to be restored until this evening.

TriMet users have had it rough in the past several years, and rougher in the past two months, since the latest round of fare hikes and service cuts went into effect. But it seems that the problems have been exacerbated by an unusual number of incidents (many involving MAX) that are, certainly, outside the agency’s control: A car runs into a pole, disabling Transit Tracker for a couple of weeks. This morning’s happenings. Numerous other collisions between MAX trains and motor vehicles–all of which, AFAIK, the fault of the motorist rather than the TriMet operator? It seems as though someone out there has a voodoo doll…

…but that said, there’s an old saying: “You make your own luck”. While the incidents themselves are probably things that TriMet cannot reasonably do something about–should we cover the tracks everywhere just in case a car runs off the road and lands on them?–TriMet’s ability to respond to these things has been compromised. Reduced bus service means that when a bus bridge is needed, then there is a greater impact on bus riders–each bus run which is cancelled is a greater percentage of the total. Reduced staffing levels reduces the number of “spare” operators (including supervisors who are trained and licensed to drive a bus if necessary) available. And it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that deteriorating relations with the union has meant fewer drivers are willing to come to work outside their scheduled shifts to help man a bus bridge.

Dedicated-corridor rapid transit is generally considered more “reliable” in that under normal circumstances, it doesn’t have to contend with traffic jams and other things which may impact its ability to keep to schedule (or maintain a specific headway). But the downside of dedicated-corridor running (particularly rail) is that when something does go wrong, the entire line can be taken out of service, rather than just one vehicle. TriMet is actually fairly good about being able to get fallback service running when an incident shuts down MAX (it gets plenty of practice, after all), but a good argument can be made that in this time of reduced budgets (and reduced operational flexibility), doing so is materially affecting service in other parts of the system–far much moreso than was the case prior to the service cuts.

Restoring service hours on the existing network (mainly bus, but also under-served portions of MAX–light rail with 20 minute headways, or worse, is not at all cost-effective) needs to be the agency’s, and the region’s, focus. Given some of the news that has come from the SW Corridor planning, it appears that at least a few folks at Metro have gotten the message, and that business is no longer as usual–but there are plenty in the region who still view public transit through a capital-projects prism. Rapid transit doesn’t make sense unless you have a good, basic, high-frequency bus service for it to networ with. Five years ago, when many of the current plans were drafted, we did; today, we don’t (or are on the knife’s edge). TriMet ridership reached record levels this past summer; unfortunately, these riders were served by fewer service-hours, meaning longer waits, more crowded vehicles, and less reliable operations.

But in the meantime: whoever has the voodoo doll, could you pretty please–with sugar on it–remove the pin?

39 Comments

39 Responses to Does somebody out there have a MAX-shaped voodoo doll?

  1. Cora Potter
    November 14, 2012 at 10:19 am Link

    No, but I have a couple of squishy (stress ball style) TriMet buses.

  2. R A Fontes
    November 14, 2012 at 10:44 am Link

    I’ve been wondering where TriMet keeps stats:
    How often are buses pulled from runs to replace rail services?
    Which bus routes are affected?
    How are these incidents reported in TriMet’s reliability stats (i.e. bad MAX alone or bad MAX and bad bus)?

  3. Nick theoldurbanist
    November 14, 2012 at 10:55 am Link

    Scotty, based on some of your recent posts, I have the feeling that you are getting somewhat disenchanted with light rail.

    If we had built a busway system instead of LRT, problems like today’s would have been easier to work around.

  4. EngineerScotty
    November 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm Link

    I’ve always been mode-agnostic; and I’m (mostly) LRT-vs-BRT agnostic.

    My concern is that TriMet (and the broader region–when it comes to planning activities, TriMet does not act alone) has got caught with its pants down. I think that TriMet management knows this, and has for a while–but things that are already in motion (like MLR) cannot be stopped, without making things worse. But it’s clear that SW Corridor LRT is not the slam-dunk it would have been were we still in 2007, for many reasons.

    My other concern is that mobility goals can get sidetracked for other goals, such as environmental outcomes, economic development, land use transformation, or secondary measures such as “increaing ridership”. Many of these things are important, of course, but need to be budgeted and paid for appropriately. Some recent projects (moreso Streetcar than MAX) don’t provide as much of a mobility benefit (and the now-cancelled LO Streetcar would have made things worse for many riders), and have been justified based on their ability to drive redevelopment. While it’s certainly true that there are developers (and financiers) who will only greenlight a redevelopment project for a streetcar line, and not a frequent-service bus line; just as it’s true that their are riders out there who will ride a train but not a bus–to what extent should acquiescing to the tastes of these groups drive policy decisions?

    To be fair, Portland Streetar Inc. is up-front about it’s land-use focus, and that it views Streetcar as a development tool. And the Streetcar line, particularly the N/S line, has become an important part of the downtown fabric. The Eastside line, OTOH, partially duplicates but does not eliminate the 6 and 17 (previously the 9); running circulator service in an area with a strong grid is somewhat counterproductive. (It’s often better to increase frequency on the grid itself; as grids are only an effective transit topology when service is frequent–timing transfers at grid points is generally not possible).

    When transit planning decisions are made based on goals other than mobility, and mobility is negatively impacted–it’s not hard for cynics and opponents to become convinced that pork-barrel politics or outright corruption are at work.

    Returning back to MAX: Most of the existing system is essential; particularly the Blue Line. The Yellow Line is also useful, even if it never crosses the Columbia; and the increased trunk frequency afforded by the Red and Green lines is beneficial. The I-205 stretch of the Green Line is mostly redundant with existing service (the nearby 72, and many of the E/W frequent lines that bisect it), and my comments above about 20-minute headways on MAX obviously apply here the most.

  5. EngineerScotty
    November 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm Link

    [Moderator: For some reason, we've seen an uptick in duplicate comments recently, even in the absence of reposts.... --ES]

  6. al m
    November 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm Link

    I’ve been wondering where TriMet keeps stats:
    How often are buses pulled from runs to replace rail services?
    Which bus routes are affected?
    How are these incidents reported in TriMet’s reliability stats (i.e. bad MAX alone or bad MAX and bad bus)?

    ~~~>Heavily guarded secret involving national security

    Karma is real, as Scott has referred to.
    We have awful management over there right now, and its percolating through the entire operation.
    A governor that could care less and a board of sock puppets who think about Trimet 1 day a month.

    And some of you will be real happy to know that many retirees soon enough will have ZERO PENSION as the unethical slugs in charge keep making us pay for every increase in health insurance.

    Meanwhile they expand the system which obviously is overextended and cannot be managed efficiently.

    I just find it incredible with all the mess that has occurred since Mcfarlane took over that he is still there as leader, its a real f’k you to the public

  7. Jim Lee
    November 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm Link

    Not many years ago another inebriated Vancouverite drove far into the westbound Robertson tunnel while trying to find the Interstate bridge.

    Apparently they really do not like LRT. Should we insist on building it for them they would trash it anyway.

  8. EngineerScotty
    November 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm Link

    Dang.

    And I had thought it might be Al with the voodoo doll. :)

  9. EngineerScotty
    November 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm Link

    Dang.

    And I had thought it might be Al with the voodoo doll. :)

  10. al m
    November 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm Link

    Nope its not a voodoo doll Scott!

  11. Erik H.
    November 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm Link

    There’s a pretty simple solution:

    Require MAX Operations (yes, Operations – not Capital) to buy 100 new buses.

    Those 100 buses are then put into bus service – and DEDICATED to bus service. Meanwhile, MAX then takes possession of the 1400 and 1600 series fleet. They are stored at Ruby or Elmonica. They become MAX specific assets.

    When MAX craps out, the MAX Operators get to drive those 22 year old POS buses – with zero impact to bus riders.

    Problem solved: TriMet can continue to claim that it’s getting its money out of old buses; MAX riders are guaranteed a bus bridge; bus riders are no longer the ugly-headed stepchild and not the sacrificial lamb whenever MAX needs a bailout. And the added benefit of reducing the average bus age, and ensuring that more bus riders are given a quality of service similar to MAX (namely: air conditioning, and low floor access).

    Say it can’t be done? Ask LTD: They purchased several old King County Metro articulated buses to use for Ducks football game shuttles.

    Over the next few years, MAX Operations can continue to buy buses and take over the 1700-1900 series fleet, and relegate the 1400s to terrorism training drills.

  12. Bob R.
    November 14, 2012 at 10:41 pm Link

    Vitriol aside, Erik, it’s an interesting idea to use the older buses as a dedicated fleet of MAX shuttles. Why the negative tone on what would otherwise be a constructive suggestion?

    Require MAX Operations (yes, Operations – not Capital)

    So if there’s spendable capital dollars left out of contingency (say MLR) that could be used to purchase backup buses, you’re saying this should NOT happen? Buses should only be purchased out of operating dollars? Seems like an unnecessary barrier to implementing your proposal.

  13. Anandakos
    November 15, 2012 at 12:24 am Link

    Nick,

    BRT would not have been a reasonable replacement for Westside Max. Maybe had Eastside Max been built as a BRT system it would have had sufficient capacity.

    But the Robertson Tunnel bores would be a pathetic JOKE with buses stinking them up. And how slow do you think BRT on the old Oregon Electric ROW west of Beaverton would be? Do you think ODOT would allow absolute bus-priority at all the grade crossings? If you do you must live in Washington.

    So with two strikes against it, there would have been no equivalent Westside BRT. Beaverton and Hillsboro would be served exclusively by express and local buses on 26 and Canyon Road. All of the devlopment along the Max line would be somebody’s pipe dream and the congestion on Sylvan Hill will be an hour longer at each peak.

    So get off your ideological high-horse. LRT recovers roughly twice the percentage of operating cost (43% versus 21%).

    Yes, it’s expensive, but so if real BRT.

  14. EngineerScotty
    November 15, 2012 at 1:03 am Link

    New article on bus bridges.

  15. BBicyclist
    November 15, 2012 at 9:46 am Link

    It would appear that cars are the problem. Rather than blame TriMet and Max for the problems, we need to lay the problem at the feet of the car. Maybe we should ban cars from being closer than a mile (never heard a car flying more than a mile in the air) from Max tracks. Then these types of problems go away. Of course that wipes out I-405, I-84, US26, I-205, and most of downtown. But for bicyclists this would be great. We just need to have creative solutions to these problems and stop blaming the victim for the failure of the criminal elements (cars).

    And yes, this is meant to not be serious, but to get people to really think about what the problems are. Cars are seldom blames for the problems that they cause, someone else is wrong. But in reality, most of the problems are with motor vehicles.

  16. Nick theoldurbanist
    November 15, 2012 at 12:18 pm Link

    “BRT would not have been a reasonable replacement for Westside Max. Maybe had Eastside Max been built as a BRT system it would have had sufficient capacity.”

    >>>> BRT on both sides would have been much better. Maybe you do not understand how much BRT can scale up, to 9,000 riders an hour.

    “But the Robertson Tunnel bores would be a pathetic JOKE with buses stinking them up. And how slow do you think BRT on the old Oregon Electric ROW west of Beaverton would be? Do you think ODOT would allow absolute bus-priority at all the grade crossings?”

    >>>> The logical place for BRT on the Westside would have been alongside and above Route 26. No tunnel needed, or maybe for short distances.

    ” Beaverton and Hillsboro would be served exclusively by express and local buses on 26 and Canyon Road.”

    >>>> Wrong. Buses could have used the present ROW up to the current tunnel entrance, and then POW alongside and above Route 26.

    “Do you think ODOT would allow absolute bus-priority at all the grade crossings?”

    >>>> Why not? And because BRT projects are cheaper to build, more crossing could have been elevated/depressed.

    ” All of the development along the Max line would be somebody’s pipe dream…”

    >>>> What development? Not any more along MAX than in other places such as Tanasbourne and Bethany. And developers get tax breaks for ‘developing’ along MAX. Plus, MAX still runs beside a trailer park entering Beaverton TC from downtown
    .
    >>>> But I’m not the one on a ideological high horse. I just see rail as being very good for New York, San Francisco, et al. Not Portland which has relatively low density and is much better served by buses. In my experience, I have found that rail adovcates are by far the most ‘ideological,’ being stauchly wedded to a certain mode just becaue they happen to ‘like trains.’

    “LRT recovers roughly twice the percentage of operating cost (43% versus 21%).”

    >>>> Yeah right. Like the cost of all these bus bridges, for instance?

  17. al m
    November 15, 2012 at 12:41 pm Link

    And the hits just keep on coming YAAAAA!

    TriMet Scanner ?@trimetscanner
    BUS BRIDGE YELLOW LINE-TRIMET FAIL! FAIL FAIL FAIL!

  18. Bob R.
    December 2, 2012 at 11:20 am Link

    A news item, perhaps engineered by divine and/or nefarious forces to apply to this topic:

    Drunk in Hummer crashes, takes out MAX overhead wire support on Steel Bridge approach.

  19. al m
    December 2, 2012 at 11:23 am Link

    hehe….

  20. Nick theoldurbanist
    December 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm Link

    This would have been practically a non-event if we had BRT on the Steel Bridge instead.

  21. al m
    December 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm Link

    This would have been practically a non-event if we had BRT on the Steel Bridge instead.
    Give That Man a CIGAR

  22. Bob R.
    December 2, 2012 at 7:15 pm Link

    This would have been _literally_ a non-event if we didn’t have drunks driving around in Hummers after closing time! :-)

  23. al m
    December 2, 2012 at 11:25 pm Link

    Guess what? There was ANOTHER BUS BRIDGE TONIGHT

  24. al m
    December 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm Link

    And Bob old pal, they build all this stuff completely vulnerable!

    I mean bomb sniffing dogs?

    They think that’s going to secure this out in the open anybody can screw it up anytime light rail system?

  25. Chris I
    December 3, 2012 at 11:06 am Link

    A BRT system would cost more to operate every day, every month, every year. There are benefits and drawbacks to each system. We should be pushing for more separation from drunk drivers to improve reliability, not watered-down HCT in the form of BRT.

  26. al m
    December 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm Link

    bus bridge on the red line folks–

  27. Ron Swaren
    December 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm Link

    ” We should be pushing for more separation from drunk drivers to improve reliability, not watered-down HCT in the form of BRT.”

    How can you not have drunk drivers in a city that promotes microbrews? No, give ‘em a bus to ride on. If they fall down the stair and break their neck, tough.

  28. al m
    December 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm Link

    Here’s another tidbit for your COLLECTION

  29. al m
    December 23, 2012 at 11:42 am Link

    I love collecting THESE!

  30. al m
    December 23, 2012 at 11:46 am Link

    Hey!
    Maybe there were TWO today!

  31. al m
    December 23, 2012 at 11:46 am Link

    Nah, I guess they were related…

  32. al m
    December 23, 2012 at 12:29 pm Link

    Well I know for sure that THIS incident is unrelated to the previously posted incident-happening right now

  33. al m
    December 24, 2012 at 11:19 am Link

    Merry Christmas Portland: Riding Westbound #MAX out of …

  34. al m
    December 28, 2012 at 2:13 pm Link

    Gotta keep track of THESE!

  35. al m
    December 30, 2012 at 10:22 am Link

    Tracking THESE

Leave a Reply

By posting a comment, you are granting a license to Portland Transport for your comment. Please refer to The Rules.