Transit and Fuel Prices


Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has an interesting essay on the reaction of transit systems to higher fuel prices. There seem to be three potential responses:

  1. Raise fares to cover increases in fuel costs (the TriMet response)
  2. Cut service to control costs (does it get any stupider than this?)
  3. Recognize a market opportunity and expand service (are there any systems actually doing this?)

The last response is the correct policy, but we need a financing approach. Reich suggests making it part of the next stimulus package. Can we get that past the same folks who just defeated the global warming bill in the Senate?


0 responses to “Transit and Fuel Prices”

  1. King County Metro was paying $2.60 per gallon for Diesel, or that is what they had budgeted it for, now they are paying just under $4. From what I read, when Metro took over Seattle Transit, they wanted to bring back more trolley routes, but funding constraints, and the need to build a county-wide network put that aside. We did get the 7 re-electrified, and a few extensions, but there were supposedly a few others. THe re-electrification of a major West Seattle route was also one aim, but the events of June 11, 1978 helped ruin that. The bridge built to replace the West Seattle Bridge that was rammed is a quasi-freeway, I doubt a trolley could get up to those speeds. The low-level is used heavily by trucks, and is a unique swing-bridge design.(The two leaves come up on dry-land), and the Duwamish is a working waterway. Another route is the 11-Madison park, but NIMBY’s there are worried about the visual pollution of a bigger SR520 Bridge, I am sure they will fight adding a few extra overhead wires on their street.

    Say, if a major rail and bus building boom does happen, I wonder if any of the auto factories that are closing can be re-tooled. I am not saying nationalization(I do not want to go there), but how about incentives to use those sites?

    A few years ago, the media was going after Sound Transit’s SOUNDER Commuter trains for being empty, especially the North Corridor. A sign that the trains are working, is a few weeks ago, South Sound papers were complaining that their is not enough parking at Puyallup Station. One good thing about buses in Pierce County, is Pierce Transit doing their part when Tacoma’s air quality went down the tubes(they called it the Tacoma Aroma, the culprit was a paper mill, which since has installed scrubbers), and that was experimenting with Compressed Natural Gas. The result of that experiment is now their entire fleet of main-line buses(30ft New Flyer C30LF or bigger) running on it. They say they are paying only $1.89 per gallon equivalent. Their are drawbacks to that. A few years ago, the pumps for the CNG failed during the time of night they refuel the buses, and they came close to not having enough buses to run a schedule.

    Metro is deploying what hybrids were managed to be delivered to them of that massive order made last year, 22 DE60LF’s have arrived, 6 of them in service, and these will replace 40ft straight diesels. Now as for more trackless trolleys, it has been mentioned in a City Council debate as an alternative to more streetcars. Now there are places where trackless trolleys will be a better alternative to the diesel bus around here, and fill that role better than a streetcar. There are places where a streetcar will be better. I would like to see the 2 and 13 Trackless Trolley routes replaced by a streetcar, if the idea of opening the Counterbalance tunnels to a park happens. Make it a living history park(within limits). Metro has some long routes that could be broken up, both intercity, intracounty trunk routes, and some intracity routes in Seattle. The 48-Loyal Heights to Ranier Beach is one example of a long one. It could easily become a trolley route, as in some cases, it already travels under wire. For the portions South of NE45th Street, it would be just be filling in the gaps, and most of the new wire North of that street.

  2. Here is a fun fact:

    In order for the cost of driving to match the cost per passenger mile of the proposed toy train (toys cost too much & do too little) extension in Vancouver, gas would have to get to $40 – $100 per GALLON (avenge USA car – hybrid).

    Shocker: about half of that for the whole MAX system. So much for MAX solving the energy problem.

    Thanks
    JK

  3. “global warming – about USD 45 trillion”?

    Fantasy. There is no such thing caused by human CO2 emissions.

    “oil wars – USD 10 billion / month”

    Baseless claim without any example of oil gotten by war.

    “sprawl costs – flooding, low-aquifers”

    Oh boy, the evil “sprawl” card. Development is not allowed to cause flooding. The storm and flood midigation requirements are extensive and aquifers are not being effected at all by most development.

  4. Whenever I run into a Global Warning denier, I always want to come back like Bill Murray in Stripes: “That’s a fact, Jack”

    and, you can play all the semantic games you want. All the real scientists are on board as stating that human activity has raised the average temperature of this planet.

    Heck, even if it wasn’t caused by humans, wasn’t caused by CO2 emissions, wasn’t caused by anything… it’s still a problem that needs to be dealt with. Even if the current warming phase is “natural”, we still face the reality of our coastal cities flooding, our global food systems failing, etc. Are we supposed to shrug our shoulders and die because it’s mother nature rather than big brother screwing our planet?

    of course, ftpeditors never mentioned CO2 emissions or human-caused warming, so I don’t know why you’d bring them up… It’s kind of a non-admission admission there.

  5. 1. Raise fares to cover increases in fuel costs (the TriMet response) Fairly smart.

    2. Cut service to control costs (does it get any stupider than this?) Yeah, this is cave man stupid. Especially since the costs are going up, but ridership is also going up. If costs where going up, but ridership was going down this would be an intelligent move.

    3. Recognize a market opportunity and expand service (are there any systems actually doing this?) This is the problem with our entire lifestyle in the US NOT being connected to actual market costs for transportation anymore. Most of the cost is shoved off, drastically mind you, to the upper brackets regardless of mode – public transit or private auto. So it is very difficult to increase service with the pathetic means of funding. The main reason is simple – no one thinks transportation ranks what it actually costs to utilize. When they’re forced to pay more of that cost, or the cost of service goes up (re: gas prices, fare increases) people turn into little babies. They demand more but want to keep paying next to nothing.

    Fact of the matter, when the Government destabilized the prices and built this assumed “low price” for energy and transportation in by putting the costs off on one part of the population while practically laying the full costs onto the other half – they created this disparity between honest market usage and this faux manipulated market usage.

    If we leave the system this way, we’ll never have any real solutions and above all, we’ll always be horribly short on operating, capitol, and other sources of financing.

    It really is, a sad sorry state of affairs to be in. IF other industries operated this way (think technology) we’d have had zero entrepreneurial activity and the last two decades would have been fraught with economic ruin.

    So as mentioned we need other funding mechanisms, what besides – take it by issuance of Government dictate does anyone propose?

    I say let the fares cover it, by all sanity they should cover full costs of operations – including fuel cost bumps.

    But I also say quit feeding the roads with such huge subsidy rates. If neighborhoods can’t afford their local street, leave em’ unpaved, if people can’t afford their highway let it rot. Let companies come up with solutions for connecting these places. We did it in the past much more efficiently and we could do it again.

    The other solution is to get the private industry motivated again to get involved. Right now nobody in the industry cares because from a financial point of view, they’ll get taken to the ringer, lose everything they have, or in honest terms get it stolen by the Government (it has been done more than once).

  6. btw Say, if a major rail and bus building boom does happen, I wonder if any of the auto factories that are closing can be re-tooled. I am not saying nationalization(I do not want to go there), but how about incentives to use those sites?

    Naionalization would last for about 3-4 years (as it usually does) before we’d have apalling productivity rates and such. But as for the factories, it shouldn’t be too big of a deal to re-tool them. Thus my statement above about finding ways to re-motivate the private sector (i.e. a real percentage of the population) to get motivated about building transit infrastructure.

  7. As much as I respect the opinions and idea of Adron, he is always a little bit to in love with the whole notion of market forces and private enterprise.

    He always seems to leave out that it was the failure of private enterprise that brought the government into transit in the first place. Specifically, private enterprise (auto, gas, rubber) worked behind the scenes to DESTROY mass transit so American’s would be dependent on the automobile.

    When profit is the motive my dear Adron, watch out for one of the evil sins to take over; the sin of glutony or greed. If only mankind would do the right thing in a free market environment, if only we lived in Disneyland, what a great world it would be.

    Al M

  8. Now, back onto the topic at hand.

    I saw a post on another blog that got me thinking.

    If the cost of gas has increased $2 a gallon, but ridership and increased 1/3, that would mean a bus that regularly carries say 25 people would now carry 33 people.

    That would mean 8 more people all paying $1.75 each.

    That’s $14 more.

    That covers the cost of the actual gas increase with money to spare.

    All the other costs are fixed.

    I don’t get it? How are they losing money?

  9. “aquifers are not being effected (sic) at all by most development.”

    “Thank you Measure 49!”

    Now that’s funny!

  10. Here is an interesting survey, from APTA, which reports on the responses to increased fuel prices and demand at various transit agencies.

    Agencies were also asked to indicate whether fare revenue is offsetting increasing fuel costs, and the proportion of increased costs that are being recovered from increased revenue. Although almost all agencies reported less than a full recovery of costs from higher fare revenue, inconsistencies in responses to this question made it difficult to reach any clear conclusion. As an example based on national averages, a penny increase in diesel and gasoline costs would add more than $5.4 million to the cost of bus operations nationwide. Based on the current national average fare revenue of $0.89 per unlinked bus trip, agencies would need to add more 6 million trips on an annual basis to recover just a penny increase. An increase in fuel cost of $1 per gallon would require that agencies carry more than 600 million additional passenger trips per year, on bus services alone; an increase of more than 10 percent over current bus ridership levels. Such an increase would no doubt require additional services, and additional operating costs. It is easy to see why agencies are struggling to meet surging fuel costs.

  11. Actually, what I’ve heard is the biggest drain on systems is… ADA-mandated dial-a-ride services (things like LIFT, C-VAN, CherryLift, Shuttle, Access, etc.). And, there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do except have a fixed route system that works well enough for those who qualify to use (some of those riders of some systems also claim the ADA services are done as awfully as possible to encourage them to not use it).
    Additionally, according to figures on the NTD website (2006 is the latest I could find as I write this), it costs $25.73 per passenger trip for TriMet, $32.03 for C-TRAN, $15.91 for SMART, and $26.74 for King Co. Metro. These costs are much, lower for all the other modes of transportation each agency provides.

    BTW, another valid article on APTA’s website is “Public Transit Ridership Continues To Grow In The First Quarter Of 2008,” which is right above the fuel prices article. TriMet is up 3.21% total, with 3.75% increase on buses and 2.08% on light rail (yes, bus ridership growth is higher than rail); LTD up 14.16%; King Co. Metro up 6.24%; Sound Transit up 14.56%; and one that I like because I heard quite a bit in 2005 that “nobody rides the bus in Vancouver…” C-TRAN is up 9.69%.
    And, since Evergreen Transit Fan mentioned Link in Wenatchee, I’ll mention that they’re up 9.2% as well.

  12. Duh… I meant to write that the ‘ADA dial-a-ride services are much HIGHER than any other mode that the agencies provide.’

  13. “If the cost of gas has increased $2 a gallon, but ridership and increased 1/3, that would mean a bus that regularly carries say 25 people would now carry 33 people. That would mean 8 more people all paying $1.75 each. That’s $14 more. That covers the cost of the actual gas increase with money to spare.”

    Ridership isn’t up 33%, it is up 3-10%.
    The average bus load isn’t 25 people, it is more like 11.
    The average person doesn’t pay $1.75, it is more like $.90
    But fuel is up about $2…

    Ridership growth: Look it up in the paper.

    Average load: A lot of buses are indeed carrying 60 people in one direction at rush hour, but this has to be balanced out with the suburban bus routes that only carry 20 people in one direction at rush hour and the 11pm buses that only carry 5 people one way, and 2 the other.

    Fares: I have an annual pass. My employer paid $180 for it, (there are discounts for buying in bulk,) but that is up from $150 the year before. I ride MAX almost everyday to work, (sometimes I bicycle over the west hills,) so just for those work trips I board a train more than 450 times. I also sometimes ride the bus to MAX, (instead of bicycling) so figure another 100 bus trips too. MAX stops near my office, so I often (probably 2 times a week) use it to go to lunch/shopping/etc and back so figure another 200 trips there. And then for other trips, (nights/weekends,) I usually bicycle, but sometimes ride the bus or MAX too, I figure 1 or 2 times a week, or 150 trips. That is 900 trips, and that works out to about $.20/trip. If I bought a ticket for each one of them, some of them would indeed be transfers, but that still proves my point: people don’t pay full fare every time they get on a bus.

  14. To augment what Matthew said –

    Just speculation on my part, but it seems to me the demographic group most likely to switch trips from cars to transit is existing pass-holders who also own cars. They already know the system, routes and schedules, so it is easy to move some current short car trips over to transit. To the extent that this is happening, there will be no immediate boost to revenue as the pass is already paid for.

    Only as passes expire and are renewed at a new price will revenues increase, and only if pass prices go up in relation to overall utilization. Utilization levels by pass-holders will have to be a consideration in any fare change decisions.

  15. I write in extremely support on Trolleybuses, Streetcars, and LRT increased in Metro Portland areas for helping set off diesel costs, I ask you all of users should write to your Senators about “Electrification Railway System for Passengers and Freights Act” and “Trolleybuses, Streetcars, and Other Transit Modes Act” both helps set off diesel costs.

    Secondly, In advantage Trolleybuses can climb up hilly more saving fuel costs that you can check out website yourself.

    Thank you for helping me!

  16. Take it for granted that Mathew is correct in his numbers.

    TRIMET generated $79,500,000 in passenger revenues according to their budget.

    So 10%

    *NEW RIDERS*

    come into the system, (I bet ya its much more than that), that should generate an extra $8 million in revenue. That should all go to gas prices.

    According to the budget it cost $159 mil to operate the buses including maintenance.

    I can’t find any line item for gas use/consumption.

    I’d like to see exactly how much this is.

  17. They buy about 6.5M gallons of diesel fuel for fixed route+LIFT buses a year. I don’t know what part went to LIFT, (Jason is right, LIFT is expensive,) but I don’t think that 6.5M number includes maintenance and supervisors and all those other vehicles that burn gasoline…

    I think the Mercury had an article that said that TriMet revenue was up 2% from the higher ridership.

  18. So 13 million in additional operating expense offset by 8 million in additional revenue.

    Shortfall of $5 million.

    It costs $6 million to operate the streetcar.

    My proposal is to cancel the streetcar and not raise fares, or at least make the people riding the streetcar pay for their own {expletive deleted] transportation!

  19. *fpteditors Says: * The reason that trains “cost too much” when compared to the auto, is because you are not including in the cost of the auto:

    *fpteditors Says: * global warming – about USD 45 trillion]
    *JK:* Please don’t feed us this outdated crap – the globe has been cooling for up to ten years now, depending on which data set you use. Further please show that transit reduces “global warming”. If you are going to make the tired old CO2 argument, start with a link to a peer-reviewed paper that shows that CO2 actually causes meaningful warming at today’s levels.

    *fpteditors Says: * oil wars – USD 10 billion / month
    *JK:* Transit uses oil to. And at about the same rate as cars. Small cars use less oil pre passenger-mile than buses. See portlandfacts.com/Transit/BusVsCarTEDB.htm

    *fpteditors Says: * sprawl costs – flooding, low-aquifers
    *JK:* Got any proof?
    Sprawl does have less impervious surfaces which keep the gorund water replentished as opposed to highj density which pipes ti away.

    BTW, have you noticed that Portland’s premiere smart growth project is starting to self destruct? See bojack.org/2008/06/wheels_coming_off_in_sowhat.html

    Thanks
    JK

  20. It costs $6 million to operate the streetcar. My proposal is to cancel the streetcar and not raise fares.

    Would you be replacing the streetcar service with equivalent bus service? How much would that cost? There’s already about 12,000 daily boardings on the streetcar, and about 60% of the route is inside fareless square, so I don’t see how your proposal helps the revenue picture at all, except by moving a large number of riders from electric vehicles to Diesel vehicles.

  21. PS… The streetcar’s operating budget is $4.9 million, not $6 million, and TriMet contributes $3 million of that. Assuming here that the city wouldn’t be interested in chipping in for operations if the streetcar went away, can TriMet operate a 7-to-8 mile loop with 12,000 daily boardings for significantly less than $3m/year?

  22. BOB;

    That brings up another issue, that nobody is talking about;

    FARE LESS SQUARE!

    Its time to stop giving away service free while asking bona fide commuters to pay more and more.

    AND;

    How many of those streetcar people could walk?

    How many could take existing service?

    The streetcar was and is a DUPLICATION of already existing services.

  23. The streetcar was and is a DUPLICATION of already existing services.

    Nope, the streetcar route was previously unserved without gaps and transfers.

  24. “Nope, the streetcar route was previously unserved without gaps and transfers.”

    BOB!

    gettoutta here!

    So everyone should continue to pay more and more and the streetcar uses should continue to ride free?

    Is that your position Bob?

  25. My policy is that the streetcar should be as integrated as possible into the existing fare system. If fareless square should go away (I’m on the record as _leaning_ to reducing the scope of the current square), then of course the streetcar fare policy should change to reflect that. Otherwise, like other transit operating route segments inside the square, it should continue to be free. I’m not even particularly fond of the current all-day fare for streetcar-only tickets (which are treated as 2-hour fares on TriMet) because of the inconsistency with the rest of the transit system.

    43% of the current streetcar service is outside of fareless square.

    I do know that regular streetcar riders can and do purchase passes. I helped set up the web-based portion of the Streetcar pass sales system.

  26. BOB!

    Now I know your a man of higher intellegence, so I know that you are aware that VERY FEW people actually pay for streetcar rides, like less than 10%

    I agree that it should be integrated into existing service, and they should eliminate the fare less square right now!

    We need every penny to operate this system and can’t be giving away service while asking bona fide commuters to keep shelling out more!

    They can find five million somewhere without penalizing existing fare paying customers.

  27. VERY FEW people actually pay for streetcar rides, like less than 10%

    There are a lot of ways to look at this issue. But here are a few additional perspectives:

    1) Many Streetcar trips are entirely in fareless square.

    2) For trips outside of fareless square, well in excess of 80% of passengers have a valid fare instrument (TriMet passes, Streetcar passes, TriMet transfers, etc.).

    I would agree that few riders buy a ticket on-board the Streetcar, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t paid.

  28. Bob R. wrote: PS… The streetcar’s operating budget is $4.9 million, not $6 million, and TriMet contributes $3 million of that.

    That’s $3 million of regional transportation operating dollars that could be going to fund regional bus services, but instead has been earmarked for a City of Portland subsidy thanks to the generous taxpayers and bus riders of such towns like Forest Grove, Cornelius, Sherwood, King City, Tigard, Tualatin, West Linn, Oregon City, Estacada, Gladstone, Troutdale, Wood Village, and Fairview.

    There is no reason TriMet needs to continue this subsidy. If the City feels that its Streetcar is a priority, then the City of Portland can find a way to fund its operations.

  29. That’s $3 million of regional transportation operating dollars that could be going to fund regional bus services, but instead has been earmarked for a City of Portland subsidy thanks to the generous taxpayers and bus riders of such towns like Forest Grove, Cornelius, Sherwood, King City, Tigard, Tualatin, West Linn, Oregon City, Estacada, Gladstone, Troutdale, Wood Village, and Fairview.

    You’re forgetting at least one large city in there… Portland? The streetcar travels through very dense areas of population & employment, including the densest census tract in the state. I’m in favor of serving the entire region with excellent transit, but not at the expense of serving the areas that make the best use of it.

  30. How about we institute a buyback program for SUVs, melt them down, and use the steel for making buses and trains. It’d create tons of local jobs assuming we have the expertise to build those buses and trains locally.

  31. He always seems to leave out that it was the failure of private enterprise that brought the government into transit in the first place. Specifically, private enterprise (auto, gas, rubber) worked behind the scenes to DESTROY mass transit so American’s would be dependent on the automobile.

    Ok, this is… incorrect. I’ve read more than a few history books. I’ve researched company records and trends on every piece of datum I could find for US history (and some UK, German, and French transit history). By far, the transit companies where doing fine UNTIL Government stepped in. The auto based society we live in today could NOT have occurred without direct assistance by the Government(s) [Federal, State, and City] to eliminate competition and control transportation (by whatever means) throughout the country. Many times, the Government persons that affected these manipulations did so thinking they where “progressive” or “advancing” American lifestyle, they didn’t realize they were pushing us closer to destroying trade and competition among companies and eliminating a sought after service by the citizenry.

    I’ve made numerous blog entries about this and have given plenty of reading material to go check up on this particular topic. It gets even better when you step outside the history books and start looking at the financial statements of these companies. If one is to say that private enterprise failed us, it was only under the brutal assault of the Federal, State, and City Governments regulating, subsidizing, and basically forcing these transport agencies to be destroyed. I say it again, mark my words, the auto industry could NOT have done this by themselves. They’ve never been as powerful as what transit was in the past.

    The greatest number of riders on transit in this country still ride on the back of the great private systems (NYC, Penn Central, basically the entire north east). Without the private enterprises that built these systems our public systems would be in even worse shape than they are today.

    Also with inflation to consider, transit today costs society vastly more than it did in the past and does vastly less. It amazingly is still pretty efficient, but again, because it has no reason to truly be efficient or operate true market demand we’ll never have what we could until we get this straight and re-introduce a real service based operation for transit. (One can call it profit motive or whatever, it all has to be tied to service. Tie profit to service and that will give you the BEST service, frequency, and efficiency possible)

    But I digress, one can blame the market, but they need to check their premises. Look deeply at the history, the economic trends of the time, the actions of Government, the actual actions of auto companies, the power and control of the transit and rail companies, and the will and direction of the population of the United States and you will find that it wasn’t the failure of the “private sector” or “private enterprise” but more a conjunction of incompetance and short sightedness, let bluntly by the “leaders” of our country.

  32. Something interesting on King Co.’s website:
    More Metro hybrid buses hit the streets
    Deployment of 60-foot buses will help relieve overcrowding

    http://www.metrokc.gov/kcdot/news/2008/nr080606_newhybrids.htm

    The addition brings the total number of hybrid buses in the Metro system to 236 – one of the largest articulated hybrid fleets in North America.
    […]
    The hybrid buses have already proven themselves to be excellent performers. They achieve better fuel economy compared to regular buses, while delivering a smoother and quieter ride for passengers. Metro estimates each hybrid bus burns 30 percent less fuel than a conventional coach, which adds up to much-needed fuel economy in this era of escalating fuel costs.

    A view worth considering, especially since TriMet has two 40-ft. hybrids. Family let me know that when they were on a Line 12 through downtown recently, the operator saw C-TRAN’s new 2272 for the first time, and thought it was a tour bus. The operator commented they heard TriMet’s position on the subject was hybrids were too expensive compared to diesel buses. I haven’t been able to verify this claim myself, though.

  33. The operator commented they heard TriMet’s position on the subject was hybrids were too expensive compared to diesel buses. I haven’t been able to verify this claim myself, though.

    Fred Hansen himself, personally, stated as much, in a “Reader’s Viewpoint” that was published in the Portland Tribune exactly one week after a Viewpoint that yours truly had written questioned TriMet’s decision.

    (source: http://www.portlandtribune.com/opinion/story.php?story_id=120699417903725300)

    Within days, TriMet eliminated almost all mention of the hybrid busses from its own webpage, and replaced it with:

    Hybrid technology
    In recent years, TriMet has been testing hybrid-electric bus technology, similar to hybrid cars. Hybrid buses cost 50% more than non-hybrid buses. During testing, the average fuel savings were only 8% over regular diesel buses.

    With our innovative attention to buses, TriMet believes new buses will achieve nearly the same efficiency as our existing hybrids, at a fraction of the cost. This technology can also be retrofitted to our existing fleet rather than waiting for a new bus purchase.

    (source: http://www.trimet.org/sustainable/initiatives.htm#hybrid)

    Unfortunately the technology that TriMet suggests cannot be easily retrofitted (nor has it been) to TriMet’s 200+ oldest high floor busses.

    Despite this, C-Tran has purchased a nice new fleet of Gillig hybrid busses; Eugene has purchased hybrid busses, and every Puget Sound transit agency is either embracing hybrid technology or CNG powered busses (Pierce Transit). Vancouver BC’s Translink is not only using hybrid busses but has hydrogen-cell busses in service as well.

    Incidently, a Google search locates this jewel:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003710441_buses17m.html

    Portland’s Tri-Met, for instance, with two hybrid buses, reports fuel savings of 20 percent. “We’re waiting for the price of hybrids to come down,” said spokeswoman Mary Fetsch. Tri-Met also is interested in future hydrogen fuel cells, she said. Like many agencies, it operates ultra-low-sulfur diesel buses, to limit smog.

  34. You’re forgetting at least one large city in there… Portland? The streetcar travels through very dense areas of population & employment, including the densest census tract in the state. I’m in favor of serving the entire region with excellent transit, but not at the expense of serving the areas that make the best use of it.

    The point is that if that census tract is so dense, then maybe that census tract can decide whether they want to afford a transit option that is simply unavailable for everyone else, and choose to pay for additional service above and beyond what everyone else receives.

    Everyone pays the same for transit. The 1950s era phrase, “separate but equal” comes into mind – some parts get “more equal” transit service than other areas.

    If Portland wants a Streetcar, Portland can pay for a streetcar. You stated, “I’m in favor of serving the entire region with excellent transit, but not at the expense…” – so you favor providing excellent transit to some at the expense of others who then can’t make good use of transit? How can you make “good use” of “transit” that is at best hourly service, or infrequent service, or in some cases doesn’t operate on the weekends?

    Of course, if I have a streetcar that nobody is going to ask if I paid for it, is gold plated with large, well improved stops with a shelter at almost every stop, electronic arrival signs, sidewalk improvements, and air conditioning on every vehicle – versus an 18 year old vehicle with no A/C, a bus stop on the shoulder of a road, and a schedule that isn’t adhered to…of course I’m going to pick the Streetcar. And if the bus is the only option, I’m going to take the next best option – my car. It’s always available, if I buy A/C it’s there, and the stop is convenient – it’s in my garage. It also goes anywhere I want; no transfers required. (And when I get home, I don’t have to sprint across five lanes of 40 MPH+ traffic without the benefit of any sidewalk improvements or crosswalks – especially important when I have my four year old son with me.)

  35. Somehow this has again become a bus vs. rail argument. I wonder how that always happens?

    Erik wrote: “The point is that if that census tract is so dense, then maybe that census tract can decide whether they want to afford a transit option that is simply unavailable for everyone else, and choose to pay for additional service above and beyond what everyone else receives.” […] “If Portland wants a Streetcar, Portland can pay for a streetcar.”

    For the most part, Erik, this is actually the case. The capital funds to construct the streetcar were primarily non-TriMet, and the city chips in above and beyond TriMet for operations. It has been stated before that TriMet’s share of operations is roughly equivalent to providing bus service in the same corridor.

    Perhaps Chris can speak to the actual numbers.

    Any local community which wishes to do something similar is free to do so (Lake Oswego comes to mind). I heard murmurs about Gresham awhile back but I don’t have any online references or know if that idea went beyond just chit-chat. There’s nothing to preclude streetcar service for other areas that want to chip in local funds for capital construction.

    Do your criticisms of Portland-only transit service apply to bus lines which only operate within the city limits of Portland, or are your criticisms strictly reserved for the streetcar for some reason?

  36. The point is that if that census tract is so dense, then maybe that census tract can decide whether they want to afford a transit option that is simply unavailable for everyone else, and choose to pay for additional service above and beyond what everyone else receives.

    That’s pretty much exactly what is happening, no? TriMet operates subsidized transit service throughout the region, including Portland. Portland wanted the streetcar, built it, and is now subsidizing its operation. Think about it- the City is subsidizing the operation, and you’re complaining that TriMet is paying to operate transit (which is what it is supposed to do)?

    Like Bob said, I’m sure that if another place wanted to build a streetcar and help pay for ts operation, TriMet would work out something similar.

    What exactly is the problem, except that articulated hybrid buses aren’t running on the 12 every 5 minutes?

  37. The Seattle PI did a story on the potential of long-haul riders on transit. It might be more than just a few die-hard fans trying it out on a day off.(I tried it myself a few times, before I turned back got as far as Aberdeen). The higher gas prices might drive some new riders to it, but that is if they want to take the time penalty, which can be hefty.

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/transportation/366608_sample07.html

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/366558_bustravel11.html?source=rss

  38. Let’s see, I drive about 24 miles/day, I get (as of today) 39+ MPG. So, why would I pay $4 each way to commute?

  39. Dave –

    The average one-way Portland-area transit trip (including transfers) is 5 miles or so… I don’t think anyone is proclaiming that people with 24 mile commutes ought to ride transit. However, there are a number of people with 5 or so mile commutes who could be helped by improvements in transit service.

  40. Is it just me, or are the anti-transit commentators stepping it up as gas prices continue to increase? I wonder who funds their views, anyhow (i.e., do they own stock in oil companies; or work for a car dealer, car insurer, auto repair shop, etc.)?

    I could continue to write what I was going to write, but I’m tired of it being used against me as part of the propaganda these kooks continue to spread.

  41. Two factors depress the growth of transit ridership here…we already capture a lot of “choice riders,” and commute distances are relatively short for everyone else.
    Articles and comments like to focus on the outliers, which is pretty meaningless.
    Since we move and change work locations about every five years on average, we can expect more gradual change in commute modes in the coming years, assuming oil prices don’t collapse as they did in the 80’s.
    The great opportunity for transit systems is figuring out how to get more riders in the so called non-peak direction, like the 96 to Wilsonville or the 12 to Tigard Triangle. Those seats are empty and already paid for.

  42. Dave: Cause you can sleep or read a book or zone out, or… And in any case, the cost of gasoline isn’t the only cost of running a car vs keeping it parked in the garage, although it is the most “visible one” right now…

    As for taking a bus to start a hiking trip: cars parked at trail heads regularly get broken into, so add the cost of gas to the cost of replacing your stereo and window every so often…

  43. Just to respond to Al’s conjecture above, Tri-Met just released their latest ridership statistics:

    Weekly rides on MAX and buses were up 4.4 percent from May 2007, averaging 2,064,800 rides. This record is also a 3.3 percent increase over April 2008 weekly figures.

    So, they’re not seeing a 10% increase, they’re seeing a 4.4% increase. While diesel has doubled. No sh*t they need to increase fares.

    As Adron has pointed out, we shouldn’t be cheapskates. The cost of business has increased; we need to be willing to pony up for the higher fares.

    Ultimately, IMHO, Tri-Met should consider electrifying a lot more of its routes, either with streetcars or trolleybusses or both. Until then, we’re going to have to resign ourselves to more expensive fares to cover the cost of the diesel fuel that the stinky buses run on.

    Choice #3 (remember the original post that started this thread?) is obviously the correct choice, but it is not mutually exclusive with Choice #1. Choice #1 does require greater capital expenditure, however. Maybe Choice #3 should be for the feds, the state, the region and the city to kick in to buy Tri-Met some electric trolleybuses and some wires so they can electrify the lines with the highest headways (14-hawthorne, 12-Barbur, etc.) to reduce their diesel expenses?

  44. Garlynn –

    There is also the hybrid bus angle… TriMet in past years hasn’t been enthusiastic about the payoff from fuel savings from hybrids vs. the additional capital cost. However, a vehicle with a borderline cost benefit at $2/gal has a far better benefit at $4/gal. This should be re-evaluated for already planned purchases which are early enough in the pipeline to change vehicle types without cancelling contracts.

    TriMet has been criticised for not going hybrid sooner, but they don’t have to be the agency which tries every new technology immediately. But now that other cities’ hybrid fleets have developed a mileage and maintenance cost track record, switching to hybrids for TriMet can be a decision with a more predictable outcome.

  45. Bob R. wrote: The capital funds to construct the streetcar were primarily non-TriMet, and the city chips in above and beyond TriMet for operations. It has been stated before that TriMet’s share of operations is roughly equivalent to providing bus service in the same corridor.

    That could only be true IF TriMet had a bus line on the SAME route before, eliminated the bus route, and then continued to fund the replacement Streetcar service at the SAME level as the predecessor bus service.

    The idea that the Streetcar receives “what TriMet would have spent on bus service” – if TriMet is somehow obligated to serve this area (despite the nearby transit service) then what exactly is the criteria for TriMet to provide service – and how is TriMet not in violation of the same policy in other underserved areas within its very own service district?

    Do your criticisms of Portland-only transit service apply to bus lines which only operate within the city limits of Portland, or are your criticisms strictly reserved for the streetcar for some reason?

    Gee, Bob, talk about a “personally directed comment”. Do your criticisms of people who don’t agree with you apply only to myself because you have a personal problem with me, or are you just angry in general at people who don’t like Streetcars?

    You know my point DAMN clear – I have a problem where one city, the City of Portland, decided to build its own transit system, and expects a REGIONAL authority – TriMet – to pay for it. Portland already receives significant services through TriMet, since after all Portland is within TriMet.

    It’s a known fact that the cost per boarding for Streetcar is higher than the bus average.

    It’s a known fact that a significant portion of the Streetcar line is within Fareless Square and is thus fare free – despite higher operating costs.

    And TriMet, a REGIONAL transit agency, is being told to pay $3 million a year to support a City of Portland operation.

    Are you stating that if, oh, Tualatin wanted a “City of Tualatin Bus” that TriMet would pitch in for it too? In fact, let’s prove your theory wrong – exactly how much money does SMART get from TriMet? Or CAT? Or SCRTD? Or SAM? ZIP! Because those cities (Wilsonville, Canby, Molalla, and Sandy) had to split from TriMet in order to improve their transit system – TriMet did not voluntarily agree to pay those cities to run additional bus services within those cities.

    As a result, outer cities that are within TriMet’s service district – and thus have a LEGAL RIGHT to quality transit service – are being denied, because TriMet is using REGIONAL transportation dollars to subsidize a CITY OF PORTLAND transit system. (Who owns the Streetcar – is it not the City of Portland?)

    But, hey, I’m sure you’ll find another personal attack at me because you can’t dispute the FACTS. So instead make personal attacks. It’s more fun.

    Lurker wrote: Think about it- the City is subsidizing the operation, and you’re complaining that TriMet is paying to operate transit

    No, the City owns the Streetcar. TriMet is subsidizing it.

    Like Bob said, I’m sure that if another place wanted to build a streetcar and help pay for ts operation, TriMet would work out something similar.

    Did TriMet subsidize Wilsonville’s bus system before Wilsonville had to split from TriMet?

    Is TriMet stepping up to the plate to subsidize better service in Tualatin (which has asked for it) and Tigard (which was promised more service but TriMet refuses to deliver)?

    Or does it HAVE to be a Streetcar?

    What exactly is the problem, except that articulated hybrid buses aren’t running on the 12 every 5 minutes?

    Not only is this a pointless remark (that doesn’t even represent my views) but it IS a personally directed attack and I fully expect Bob to warn you of this, and to delete it.

    Lenny Anderson wrote: The great opportunity for transit systems is figuring out how to get more riders in the so called non-peak direction, like the 96 to Wilsonville or the 12 to Tigard Triangle. Those seats are empty and already paid for.

    This is the most intelligent thing I’ve read today, and I’ve already given specific examples of how TriMet could spend a few bucks and make this happen.

    The line 12 actually sees quite heavy usage during the off-peak hours when the 94 isn’t competiting with it for riders; I’ve been on quite a few 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM busses leaving downtown that were standing room only; and watched busses pass by in the opposite direction that were also standing room only north of Barbur & Bertha.

    This was a year and a half ago (before I changed work schedules to work an earlier shift), before $3.50/gallon gas.

  46. Right now the City of Portland is looking at developing a city-wide streetcar system. It seems to me that electric trolley-buses would be a logical transitional step: pay for the overhead wiring throughout the entire system and buy electric buses to serve those corridors. The City can install track and add streetcars at a later date, effectively finishing the system slowly over a couple of decades.

    Thing is, with diesel prices being what they are, maybe Portland should look at a fast start-up: get the trolley-buses in ASAP, like in the next couple of years. If Tri-Met electrifies a few of its busiest lines as well, Portland could turn its surplus buses over to Tri-Met as it finishes each streetcar line.

  47. That could only be true IF TriMet had a bus line on the SAME route before

    So there can be no new routes in the city of Portland, despite growth patterns and planned future growth, unless they are bus-only and are operated solely by TriMet? Cities can’t take initiative and work in partnership with TriMet?

    Gee, Bob, talk about a “personally directed comment”.

    It was a completely fair question about your statements. One that you have not yet answered.

    Do your criticisms of people who don’t agree with you apply only to myself because you have a personal problem with me, or are you just angry in general at people who don’t like Streetcars?

    Now who’s getting personal?

    You know my point DAMN clear

    Well OK then… what was that about personally-directed remarks?

    I have a problem where one city, the City of Portland, decided to build its own transit system, and expects a REGIONAL authority – TriMet – to pay for it.

    That’s not how it happened, and that’s not what is happening.

    It’s a known fact that the cost per boarding for Streetcar is higher than the bus average.

    Incorrect… what is your source?

    From what I see, FY 06/07 streetcar ridership was 3 million boardings. This year it has been significantly higher. At the current budget of $4.9 million, that means the cost-per-boarding ride is no higher than $1.63, and will likely be in the range of $1.36 for FY 07/08 based on current ridership.

    TriMet reports a bus cost-per-boarding ride of $2.66 for FY07. That makes the streetcar at least $1 less costly per boarding ride.

    It’s a known fact that a significant portion of the Streetcar line is within Fareless Square and is thus fare free – despite higher operating costs.

    It is as well known fact that the City of Portland chips in above an beyond TriMet’s contribution to the ride. TriMet’s contribution in FY06/07 was less than $1.00 per boarding ride, and this year it is shaping up to be about $0.83 per boarding ride.

    It is also well known that the policy of the streetcar is to maintain a high level of fare compatibility with the TriMet system to minimize rider confusion. If the streetcar travels through Fareless Square, those stops should also be fareless, just like the many buses and the MAX lines which serve the same area.

    There has been much debate about the future of Fareless Square, and if it is completely eliminated, I will continue to advocate for fare system compatibility, and thus advocate for the removal of fareless policies for the streetcar. What is important to me is integration with the transit system and ease-of-use for riders.

    And TriMet, a REGIONAL transit agency, is being told to pay $3 million a year to support a City of Portland operation.

    Told?

    Are you stating that if, oh, Tualatin wanted a “City of Tualatin Bus” that TriMet would pitch in for it too?

    Quite possibly — TriMet should be open to negotiations with Tualatin about partnerships for expanded transit service.

    In fact, let’s prove your theory wrong – exactly how much money does SMART get from TriMet? Or CAT? Or SCRTD? Or SAM? ZIP! Because those cities (Wilsonville, Canby, Molalla, and Sandy) had to split from TriMet in order to improve their transit system

    Not proof of anything. A complete shift in management is not the same thing. I never opposed the actions of those cities, either.

    But, hey, I’m sure you’ll find another personal attack

    Seems to me the personal attacks are aimed in a different direction, including what you just said there.

    because you can’t dispute the FACTS.

    I just did.

    So instead make personal attacks. It’s more fun.

    What was that again?

    I fully expect Bob to warn you of this, and to delete it.

    Erik, we’ve gone over this ground before. I’ve warned multiple commenters in the recent past, you can check the record. I am not however going to bow to your every demand. And as I’ve stated before (with evidence), if you expect me to hold everyone to the same threshold of moderation as you demand, some of your comments have to go as well (including the stuff you tossed around here).

    If you don’t like the moderation policy or the style or consistency of enforcement here, I’m sorry, but nobody is forcing you to participate in this forum. You’ve been given very wide latitude in the debates here, and I hope you do continue to participate, but please drop these constant demands for intervention and accusations of unfairness.

  48. Converting shorter FrequentService lines like the 15 and 8 to trolly bus would make a lot of sense.
    Does TriMet get a break on electric rates? Can it buy directly from BPA like the aluminum smelters used to do? Bob is right, hybrids that don’t looks so great at $2/gal should pencil a lot better at $5/gal. But how long for delivery?
    Last, the key difference between Streetcar and a bus running the same route(there was none) is the former’s seeming ability to attract investers, residents, i.e. private sector dollars, which in turn produces riders. Not a bad formula for living in a world of $5/gal gas. I love buses, ride one every day, couldn’t live without it, but it just does not have the “je ne c’est qua pa”…for something like that…that Streetcar does.

  49. I am pretty sure trolly buses will never happen in Portland for two main reasons:

    First, trolly wires and Catenary wires can exist in harmony in some circumstances, but would be much to complicated to work with the downtown transit mall light rail. Furthermore, it would be almost impossible for two trolly buses to pass each other on the mall. Since the design of the downtown transit mall dictates the design of the entire transit system [2 car light rail trains, no articulated buses, etc]; it is highly unlikely we would see something like a trolly bus in Portland.

    Second, our transit system is designed for developers, not transit riders. If it doesn’t have the potential to draw millions of dollars in high-density development subsides then it is highly doubtful it will be built in Portland. Remember folks, steel wheels are sexy, rubber wheels are the devil.

  50. Anthony –

    I agree that trolley buses, if they are to run downtown on the mall, face obstacles. However, I do not believe they are insurmountable.

    Although probably not politically viable today, the transit capacity of the (yet to be finished mall) could be increased nearly 50% by running additional transit in the new, continuous left lane. This would require buses with left-side boarding, but such buses do exist and are already in use in Eugene. (The EmX BRT system, using hybrid buses.)

    Under such a scenario, the overhead trolleybus wires would not be in conflict with light rail.

    There are also trolleybus designs, which while more expensive, do allow for off-wire running. Pure-electric battery systems allow for movement of shorter distances, but with no local emissions or added noise, Diesel-electric systems (basically a series hybrid) for longer distances, and systems with separate electric and pure Diesel powertrains have also been developed.

    I’ve been fairly involved in the Streetcar System Plan process, and trolleybuses have been mentioned in the various working groups. I’m primarily involved in the SE working group because of my past advocacy of streetcar service on Hawthorne, but people from my neighborhood association are involved in the NE working group and apparently there is significant interest in that group in trolley buses and exploration of BRT alternatives. I’ve only been to 1/2 of the 1st NE meeting, so I don’t know how much support trolleybuses really have, but the idea is being discussed at the grassroots level.

  51. 15 line crosses the Mall; 14 line could be routed via 4th Avenue once the Mall opens; 8 line could run via 3rd & 4th or 4th and Broadway once the Mall is open. Lots of possibilities.

  52. 14 line could be routed via 4th Avenue once the Mall opens

    I don’t think Frank and numerous other #14 riders who have criticized the current temporary alignment on 2nd, which is separated from other bus traffic on 3rd/4th, would be particularly happy with such a route — but I realize you were just brainstorming possibilities.

  53. I hate to post over someone else’s connection on someone else’s dime (I’m sitting in the computer center at PCC-Cascade as I type this), but I don’t want to forget to respond. When I attended the TriMet Transit Investment Plan meeting at the Portland Mall Info. Center the middle of last month, they definitely wanted to talk with me about 14-Hawthorne routing since I use the route so much (BTW, from Jan-May of this year, I was on 14 at least one time a day for 118 days, almost twice as much as my next-used bus route–yes I keep track).

    My opinion, which I clearly communicated to TriMet Staff: 14-Hawthorne should return to the Transit Mall.

    When I was presented with the concept of having the route loop across the Transit Mall on Main to Broadway, and immediately back out on Madison, I said that many times transfers are extremely inconvenient and even if it is just “one more transfer,” many times that one additional transfer is enough so someone misses their next connection (where if they could ride 14 up the Mall there’d be only one transfer).

    The next concept was if trains ran up and down the Mall every 5 minutes and would stop every 5 blocks… I again explained that even 5 minutes can mean the difference between making a connection or not, and additionally many times if there’s a bus stop closer to where I’m going I’ll ride the bus there instead (BTW, I usually use 44 vs. MAX Yellow or 72 to get to Cascade, the walk is shorter, doesn’t involve crossing the freeway, and doesn’t involve making additional transfers or additional time due to 72 not running to exactly where I’m going).

    I’m not sure who Frank is, but I can speak from personal experience that the temporary 14 routing on 2nd has been horrid–missed transfers due to the additional walk (and if you’re transferring to a route that runs hourly, that’s a long wait; don’t get me started on missing the last bus of the night to somewhere), confused tourists that don’t know where to go for transfers and/or can’t find 14 from where their connecting service is on 3rd and 4th, buses that run late heading into town are late going back out because there’s no layover in downtown (like there used to be when the route ran to Union Station), and as others have pointed out the fact that 8 other bus routes run both in and out of downtown on the Hawthorne Bridge, and the 14 isn’t one of them.

  54. Furthermore, it would be almost impossible for two trolly buses to pass each other on the mall.

    Complicated but not impossible.

    The biggest drawback of a trolleybus is that it is difficult for two trolleybusses to pass each other (without one of the busses dropping their poles). (Of course this is better than a disabled light rail train which would have to be towed to a siding or storage track by a specialized tractor, which for a disabled train in downtown Portland – the tractors are located at Ruby Junction and Elmonica.)

    Since TriMet staggers the bus stops, it is quite possible to string up the overhead so that there are essentially two “tracks” that then intersect at wire frogs in order to cross each other. Thus at a bus stop you have two different overhead wires – one for the bus stop, and one in the center lane for busses which do not stop, and then it weaves for the next stop.

    It doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it is a creative possible solution to a portion of it. In Seattle, busses do not travel down a single street or couplet through downtown unlike Portland’s Transit Mall which also helps deal with this problem. This of course creates confusion for passengers who are unfamiliar with the system as to where to board their bus. (Seattle also has the annoying issue of shutting down the Metro Tunnel at 7:00 PM, thus one who travels during that time of day needs to know where the surface stop is for their bus should the Tunnel close.)

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