The Tyranny of Absolutes

There’s been a lot of buzz online about TriMet’s decision to end service for the #15 on Thurman St., routing the bus to Montgomery Park instead. Steve Duin of the Oregonian has the best piece I’ve seen on the decision.

I’m saddened. Like almost everyone else who has held the position of chair of the Transportation Committee in NW Portland (the NWDA neighborhood) I was called on to defend the need for this service during my tenure. So let’s be clear, it’s no surprise that the turnaround required a movement that is not allowed by TriMet’s operations manual – this is and was well known. Nonetheless, each time this was evaluated, that fact was set aside because of the value of the service to the route’s riders and the neighborhood.

I certainly appreciate TriMet’s recently renewed and enhanced emphasis on safety. But even setting aside TriMet’s utter lack of notice to the neighborhood, I can’t support this decision.

This is fundamentally a risk/benefit analysis. What TriMet is essentially saying is “we’ve increased the standard for what kind of risks we’ll accept, and this doesn’t pass muster” (my words, not theirs).

But what’s missing in that approach are two factors:

1) We have ample history hereto measure the risks, and they appear to be very, very low, even if the movement is sensibly prohibited as standard procedure.

2) The benefit of the service, for which there are no reasonable alternatives.

I’m always leery of any decision process where one factor in the analysis swamps all other consideration.

In this case application of an absolute rule without analysis in context is not appropriate.

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