We’re Getting Noticed

An article in today’s Tribune on TriMet operations features direct quotes from this blog and further quotes from two of our contributors, identified as such!

Wed. Update: Apparently more than a few people visited after reading the Trib article, we had about 50% more visitors than usual yesterday.

23 responses to “We’re Getting Noticed”

  1. Overall, a good article, although I humbly disagree with the article’s assertion that I am “respected”. :-)

    – Bob R.

  2. Great article and eerie timing. As Chris knows, we had a lot of discussion at the streetcar meeting yesterday about funding operations of the eastside streetcar without jeopardizing existing or planned transit service in other parts of the region. We voted to amend the streetcar project work plan with the following language:

    “The goal of the funding plan should be to provide for streetcar operations in a manner that allows TriMet to implement its adopted five-year service plan, fund operations of the South Corridor Phase II Milwaukie Light Rail Project, and meet other regional transit needs.”

    This language may sound innocuous, but it is very important if we want to ensure that other transit service is not cannibalized to operate the streetcar.

    To my knowledge, this is the first time that we have put this kind of requirement on a new transit project, but it will probably become de rigour on future projects. It is important for these discussions to be transparent and happen in plain sight, rather than behind closed doors.

  3. It seems that Portland Tribune is using the blog as a primary source for the last several transit articles they’ve written.

  4. Could it have something to do with both URLs having so many letters in common? Maybe typos keep bringing them back here. :-)


    – Bob R.

  5. Adron, maybe you’re thinking of in March, when Chris Smith correctly noted that our Steel Bridge article came out after you guys had been talking about it for a couple of weeks.
    FWIW, we’d been talking to people about the bridge for quite a while before then, but I will freely admit that I have benefitted from reading Portland Transport and am grateful for it. You guys operate at a high level of discussion and it can be addictive. -Nick B.

  6. My only beef with the Trib article is its failure to point out that some, if not most, of the service cuts have been on low ridership runs and/or routes.
    The Swan Island 85 lost several runs last September, but our ridership is up, and our Rides/Vehicle Hour is up even more. Can’t really complain about TriMet trying to be more efficient.
    What jumps out at me also is the fact that three (2.5 really) MAX lines carry 1/3 or better of all rides.
    According to Metro Magazine’s update on rail projects, TriMet’s annual rail ridership (35 Million) is comparable to Calgary and San Diego, but three times that of Salt Lake and Denver and twice that of Dallas.
    Does TriMet have more MAX cars available? or will they have to wait for the Greenline cars to arrive? Longer trains sure would be nice, but for that you need the subway.
    My sense from the “trenches” here at the Swan Island TMA is that $3 gas is high enough to get people thinking, but not high enough to change much.

    PS to the Mayor of Hillsboro…express buses are the most inefficient product out there. I guess congestion just ain’t bad enough yet.

  7. With regards to the trib article, I was left a little confused about the fare structures and such. Shouldn’t increased ridership lead to increased fare revenues, which would subsequently justify increasing service on the overcrowded lines? It seems that heavy use should be cause for celebration, not concern.

    I recall a Tribune article from a few months ago that discussed the prevalance of non-paying riders on the MAX and Streetcar, and I can’t help but wonder how much revenue is being missed out on as a result. I’m new to NW Portland and have only recently begun using transit regularly, but I’ve yet to have a fare inspector check a ticket on a MAX train. I’ve also had a few occasions when ticket machines at stops have been inoperable. Is the problem that crowded trains are full of people who don’t/can’t pay for tickets? If so, wouldn’t putting fare inspectors on every train serve to both rid the trains of freeloaders and increase the revenue? On a recent trip to Western Europe, I spent a day travelling by train and noticed that conductors simply charged passengers for tickets on the train if the passenger had failed to purchase a ticket prior to boarding. It was quick, easy, and non-confrontational. And, at risk of sounding offensive, it would also rid the trains of the kind of non-paying riders who tend to make suburbanites/tourists a bit wary of using the system.

    Sorry if this has all been discussed here before.

  8. All –

    I just found this site via the Tribune article, and I would very much like to hear opinions on the following, quite different reflection on why Max ridership is flat despite quite high gas prices:

    — We rolled into Beaverton Transit Center at about the speed my great-great-grandfather would have called a “slow gallop.” And there they were. The same guys in their hooded sweatshirts, in gangster clothing, cell phones a-blazing, dealing drugs. It’s right out in the open, clear as day. Hell, they even wear a uniform of sorts. Doesn’t matter, though; no one will stop them anyway. They strut up and down the platform, scowling, engaging in their sordid business, while all the frightened middle-class sheep avoid their glance, avoid giving offense. Seeing a respectable hard-working middle-aged man walk out of his way and around a glassed enclosure to give them a wide berth drives home the lesson: the law-abiding decent people, will move, will scurry, it is those prepared to use violence who rule here.

    — The same thing occurs in the open in Pioneer Square, yet I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Portland police officers there since the New Year. Watch the people who work nearby as they board the train: eyes straight ahead, ignoring what is going on right in front of them, hoping not to attract attention. Some of the drug-dealing “homeless youths” get on the train and begin to josh around, pushing and shoving each other, talking very loud. They jostle the commuters, of course, but no one says anything or complains. Everyone knows who is boss around here, who rules. It is their train, though they are the only ones on board who haven’t paid for the privilege to ride it, thanks to the “fareless square” policy of Tri-Met that exempts downtown-only riders from having to pay.

    — As for Tri-Met itself, they have ticket inspectors, as all rail systems do. In just under a year of riding, I’ve yet to encounter one anywhere closer in than Merlo Road. In other words, too timid and scared to ride where the fare-breakers are legion, the brave officials of Tri-Met police only the outer suburban lines, forcing a parade of downtown office workers, government workers, hospital workers and other honest people to show their tickets, which they all have. It’s just a hell of a lot easier to push working people around than a “youth” with a hooded sweatshirt.

    — This is what the honest worker sees: criminals strut with impunity, the only interaction with police is directed not at the obvious criminals (I mean, c’mon, they are actually wearing the functional equivilent of a uniform!) but at him, no one else seems to care overmuch. I don’t care what your politics are, that is one hell of a dangerous combination.

  9. The Tribune article got my attention today – it introduced me to this website, so if the paper is using the blogs as sources for material, it is also bringing in new readership here…

    Anyway, one aspect Mr. Budnick failed to mention in his story about TriMet’s supposed flat growth and its difficulty in funding the current system is how an increase in ridership would affect TriMet’s budget and financial efficiency. Is TriMet really expected to be more efficient, due to economies of scale, with higher ridership? Isn’t the farebox recovery only about 20%? Does that number increase or decrease if the number of buses and trains in operation increases?

    Beyond the one obvious answer that “more ridership means fewer cars on the road,” why is more ridership healthy for TriMet financially? Or is it?

    Also, might some of the ridership flatness be due to the city building all these bike lanes in the last few years? Aren’t more people riding their bikes now instead of taking the bus because it’s easier to ride them here? Is there any sort of accurate count of bikes on the roads over the last decade?

  10. Andrew –

    The answer to your question about economies of scale and new riders boils down to “what lines?” and “when?”.

    On a low-ridership bus line, one which has a low average number of riders at any given time of day, any additional rider only helps the bottom line. The bus has to be driven anyway, so the driver is paid, and most of the fuel is used to move the bus itself, not the limited number of passengers. In this scenario, adding a passenger only helps the bottom line, especially if that passenger boards at a stop where the bus is already loading a passenger. There is no incremental labor cost, no schedule delay for making the stop, and very little incremental fuel cost.

    In the middle you have, for example, a fully loaded rush hour train. The good news is that the cost per rider on this train is already very low. The bad news is that perhaps this train cannot accommodate more riders. In aggregate, you must eventually add a new train. (In other cities, with blocks which are longer than Portland’s small 200ft blocks, you can simply add cars to the same scheduled train.) But over time, as capacity becomes more balanced to demand, new riders theoretically will come to transit because it is easier for them to find a seat, etc., working to bring the cost-per-rider of this new scheduled train down.

    The real driver of per-ride costs are some of the low ridership suburban lines and LIFT service, which has a very high cost-per-ride, comparable to a retail TAXI fare.

    When I was quoted in the article, it was just a sentence from a larger conversation I was having about another problem:

    At the far extreme, at a certain point, we will not be able to run any more trains through downtown at rush hour. Although I am a supporter of the new transit mall MAX plan, groups such as AORTA have pointed out that the plan (due to switching and congestion at the Steel Bridge) will put a cap and the number of east-west trains per hour that can run through downtown.

    What this limitation means is that once the ceiling is hit, perhaps in the next couple of decades, we will have to make some expensive choices to increase capacity. We do not have the luxury of simply lengthening trains (200ft is our limit, other cities can go up to 400 or even 600ft.) We will have to come up with a new river crossing and a complete reworking of the rose quarter, build a subway, or channel all future transit growth onto buses which have higher operating costs per ride than rail (but much lower capital costs).

    – Bob R.

  11. To the earlier question on fare inspection, I can only speak for Streetcar. Our survey’s show that outside fareless square (which much of the route is in), about 17% of folks do not have a valid fare instrument (many folks have transfers for passes from TriMet or Streetcar).

    We have been experimenting with doing fare inspection. It costs almost as much as the extra revenue we bring in, but we’re going to keep trying as long as we’re breaking even, as many customers see this as an issue of fairness rather than economics.

  12. The article in the Tribune got my attention today too. A few comments from someone who works downtown and does use Trimet. One reason why the Max ridership is down could be due to car theft and break-ins at the Trimet Park-n-Rides. Several of my co-workers have experienced this (as well as myself) and have decided using Max is no longer safe or a convenience. I have switched to riding the bus, which is fine but over crowding and minimal bus sevice in out lying areas makes this a challenge at times. Is Trimet really looking at where the growth of Portland is and increasing the bus service where it is really needed??

  13. Deborah, as the article points out, TriMet barely has the money now to run the existing system. Adding new bus lines costs money and it can take a while to build ridership. The biggest money source now comes from the Feds to build new light rail extensions; I doubt there is any funding to suppport new bus lines for, say, 5 years until there is significant ridership, assuming it is a successful line.

    I wonder (not having researched it much, I admit) what Trimet really does to try to build ridership on some of their slower lines. I lived once upon a time at Tanasbourne, long before the #47 and #48 buses went in with the westside MAX. I knew I would have ridden those buses often if I still lived there; with all those apartments, I’m amazed those buses aren’t more popular. Has TriMet ever had a ridership fair or something to get people in these apartments who are used to driving to try buses? Maybe offer free bus rides for a half day or something, park a bus in the apartment lot for the afternoon, give people a chance to win a prize if they ride, say, to and from the MAX station that day, whatever it takes to get people’s interest.

    I’ve been amazed how when I’ve asked my suburban, non-transit friends if they’ve ever used TriMet. Almost everyone has been on the MAX a few times, but some have never even been on a TriMet bus. Aside from the perception of some that there’s something low-class about riding a bus, I think some people have a level of discomfort about the mechanism of riding a bus (where does it go? how do I pay? what is the fare? silly stuff like that) that may put them off of it. Let them do it a few times and they’ll get comfortable. I do wonder how many suburban apartment dwellers at Tanasbourne fall into that category.

  14. BEWARE – I answer mutliple comments and comment on multiple comments below. :)

    “Could it have something to do with both URLs having so many letters in common? Maybe typos keep bringing them back here. :-)”

    Very well put Bob R. You well respected guy you. :) That gave me a chuckle.

    Nick B. -> Excellent that you guys do check out Portland Transport, which btw, I wasn’t trying to pick on you guys. Portland Tribune is probably the best paper in the area. It does bode well for good and quick news quips. ;)

    “With regards to the trib article, I was left a little confused about the fare structures and such. Shouldn’t increased ridership lead to increased fare revenues, which would subsequently justify increasing service on the overcrowded lines? It seems that heavy use should be cause for celebration, not concern.”

    As I and I believe others have pointed out AP…

    Tri-Met and the “public transportation” notion in America has NEVER been profitable since about 1950-1960 depending on the metro areas. Ever since the 60’s it has become socialistic in nature and run by cities. There is no business sense or business plan on the horizon for mass transit in general. Without one the way it works is ridership increases and thus the subsidy to carry those extra passengers need to increase. It is NOT run like the airlines which if ridership increase it means they add more planes and more frequencies to meet the demand because the profits are used to expand the system. With public transit under subsidized socialistic standards there is always a begger in the Government asking for more and more and more. The transit agencies don’t even make enough to cover operations in a global Tri-Met system sense.

    I know this sounds sad but this is what America has come to. So now you know what the situation is, and why they (Tr-Met/Portland City) will have to ask for more and more even though they’re receiving an increase. It’s the same with the roadways. If they tolled and made the roads pay for themselves, made all the transit pay for itself, there would be a much more controlled situation. The problem lies for the Government in that it would be controlled by the market and by the choice of individuals instead of the Governments themselves and few select individuals that hold the power.

    KevinV -> Written damn well if I might say. I see this everyday and there is one difference about me and my girlfriend when we ride that most others here in these parts don’t seem to have. Backbone. These youths ran rampant because of a simple fact, people in Portland and the surrounding area do NOT stand up for themselves.

    I’ve almost laid out several of these “hooded” youths. But again they are usually native and back down. One person once brandished a razor blade and the southern man I am it did not make a differnce. I still told him he was being the rude person he was for blasting his radio and he eventually backed down. After it took me, my girlfriend and amazingly another individual to stand up to this person. Come to find out the man was from Texas. Go figure – the stereotype holds true.

    All I can say in regards to these rats all over the system is that I hope fareless goes away, the sooner the better. Then the police CAN come down into downtown and actually stop these individuals and rid some of “our” trains that we’ve paid for of these rufians.

    …and to follow up on your first question KevinV, My girlfriend and I while walking home from Safeway today stumbled on a valid point of why Portland has had a flat ridership chart lately. Most cities only a minimal amount of people use transit. So when gas prices go up the particular class that is affected by those gas price increases is either pushed onto the transit. Thus a ridership increase. In Portland the lower income classes and a decent chunk of the middle class already ride. So when the prices rise Portland just isn’t affected as much. If one does drive in these parts they usually do so with some buffer to shrug off the price increases so they are unlikely to turn to public transit.

    …and last comment…

    Andrew Hall -> “Aside from the perception of some that there’s something low-class about riding a bus, I think some people have a level of discomfort about the mechanism of riding a bus”

    I can garantee, put money on it even if somebody wants to bet. The reason MAX Ridership is so much higher on the lines is because it’s rail. Same with the streetcar. I’d bet that the Streetcar could even keep 80% of it’s ridership if it introduced a decent fare of about a buck (Chris & all, seriously, think about introducing this). Busses on the other hand almost ALWAYS attract lower class citizenry. Thus it is a MAJOR problem that busses are associated with the lower class, mainly because they are used throughout the country only by the most destitute.

    Busses really are a hopeless and vain excuse of the streetcar, intra/interurban rail lines, commuter trains, and other mass transit devices of the early last century. The ride, comfort, feeling of space, and other associated feelings about busses are well justified in regards to rail.

  15. Adron says “I can garantee, put money on it even if somebody wants to bet. The reason MAX Ridership is so much higher on the lines is because it’s rail. Same with the streetcar. I’d bet that the Streetcar could even keep 80% of it’s ridership if it introduced a decent fare of about a buck (Chris & all, seriously, think about introducing this). Busses on the other hand almost ALWAYS attract lower class citizenry. Thus it is a MAJOR problem that busses are associated with the lower class, mainly because they are used throughout the country only by the most destitute”

    Perhaps the reason that bus riders tend to act unseemly sometimes, is that they don’t see enough polite behavior. The coming gentrification of Portland’s transit system might then have the side benefit of mingling the stereotypic ‘bus rider’ with our new gentry, via projects like the Streetcar.

    So, will ruffian SE Portlanders ( or even Tonya Harding’s old neighbors from Clackamas Co.) experience full immersion when they transfer to the WestShore line, trolleying on its way to the new, glittering West Side? One can only hope.

    That’s a scenario I would rather see than the “industrial sized MAX”, plowing its furrow through only a narrow slice of the Metropolitan area. My point is that I think the Streetcar has more elegant appeal, and could provide a wider, more thorough, transporation network, contrasted with the MAX and its feeder routes.

  16. Ron (and others), Streetcar is actively exploring fare options as a result of our fare surveys/inspections. A dollar fare has come up multiple times and will be discussed.

  17. KevinV – Very well said. Behavior on MAX is often atrocious. Enough so that I don’t want to take my 8 year old daughter on it. And as another poster noted, Park and Ride crimes are a problem. After having 2 stereos stolen (along with the window-smashing and lock-breaking to get at my stereos) and 1 vehicle stolen, you can damn sure bet that I won’t be taking MAX again anytime soon.

  18. KevinV’s commentary was excellent. I live in the Bronx, NY and have just returned after a week in Portland. I loved the punctuality and availability of service compared to the misery of the MTA. However, the issue of thugs riding the rails in Portland is serious. In a week of traversing the city I never saw a fare inspector on the MAX.

  19. Congradulations to Chris, Bob and other long-time posters who make the blog work and welcome to the newcomers.

    I’ll just quickly note that if operations costs are an issue it is disturbing to me that TriMet is not building the next central MAX line off-street. While it may be capital-intensive, it would save gobs of money from not having to go 7.5 MPH, stopping every other block and then having to wait for traffic signals, and make more too, attracting thru-downtown riders.

    Also, it would be nice to see if making the whole TriMet system free for a month would result in higher paid ridership later on.

  20. What the transit industry needs to do is
    design new buses that are more comfortable
    and smoother riding. The streetcar industry
    did this in the late 1920s when it designed
    the PCC car, which was much more comfortable
    than the old ramshackle (but charismatic)

    In New York city, people pay a premium fare
    to ride express buses in preference to the
    subway. Excursion type buses are used.

  21. Andrew:

    The reason the #47 and #48 (and other lines)
    are not popular is because they are designed
    to force-feed people into MAX, causing
    inconvenient transfers and long transit times.
    In my opinion they do serve Wash. county well,
    essentially going from nowhere to nowhere.
    If MAX was a bus rapid transit system, lines
    like these could offer one-seat rides to
    downtown Portland. People dislike transferring,
    and would rather drive and sit in traffic.

  22. I respectively disagree with Nick that people “dislike transferring” and it is necessary to provide “one-seat rides to downtown Portland” to get them out of their cars and onto transit.

    To attract people to transit, the total trip time and the reliability of the service is far more important than the number of transfers that have to be made. In any metropolitan area, there are many more destination than just downtown and it is impossible to provide “one-seat rides” to all of them. Transfers are an essential part of any efficient regional system that is expected to carry a significant number of passengers that can have any impact on traffic.

    Transfer times must be short and transfer locations must be safe and comfortable. This requires that schedules are either frequent or reliably timed for connections, and service must be provided day and night seven days a week.

    The main reason that the #47 and #48 have such poor ridership is because they have neither frequent service nor night service. On the other hand, the #52 that also “force feeds” MAX carries almost twice as many passengers per bus hour (26 vs. 14). It provides twice as many daily trips (124 vs. 64)and ends it service at midnight.

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