Streetcar Equity

I’ve been banging the transit equity drum quite a bit lately, so I probably owe it to folks to open a discussion about some of the equity issues we need to sort out as we prepare to open the Streetcar Loop in a couple of years. These are issues that are beginning to be discussed at the Streetcar Board and CAC and will have quite a bit of public discussion, probably for much of 2011.

The first and most obvious issue will NOT be the subject of this post – that’s fare policy. A goal of Streetcar has been to seamlessly integrate with TriMet’s fare system. But doing so would keep most of the west side of the Loop free, while charging $2.05 on the east side. Definitely NOT equitable – but a topic for another day.

Today’s topic is service configuration. First, some definitions. For purposes of discussion, we’re designating the Loop as “Line A” since it was the original proposal for a central city circulator by then-Commissioner Earl Blumenauer. Our current NW to SoWa line is designated “Line B”.

We currently run Line B at 12 minute frequencies by deploying 7 vehicles during most of the day. The current thinking is to open Line A running from OMSI to Market St. (avoiding the need for a transfer in the Pearl District). OMSI to Market St. would have a 90-minute cycle time, so if we match the 12 minute headways, we’ll need 7 trains for each line, like so:


Now, there are a couple of challenges to that. We may not have enough vehicles at opening to support 14-vehicle operation (we’ll have staggered delivery of the vehicles and we need to have several spares at any given time). More significantly, the operating budget commitments made by TriMet and the City with the Federal application only support a 12-vehicle operation in the first year.

So what can we do with 12 vehicles? We could run seven on the west side and five on the east with a transfer in the Pearl – maintaining 12 minute frequencies.

Or we could run Line A to Market St. by running 15 minute frequencies on both lines:


While we shouldn’t give up on attracting some additional operating funding before opening, let’s look at the equity considerations for a 6 and 6 configuration. Here are the winners and losers:

  • East side: winner – new service all the way to Market St., frequencies the same as west side.
  • Pearl to Market – big winners, trains every 7-8 minutes! (double frequency here was always part of the plan for the full Loop, it’s the most heavily traveled part of the system)
  • NW and SoWa – losers, service reduced from 12 minute to 15 minute frequencies

So, is it fair to reduce frequency in NW and SoWa for the benefit of the system? Would requiring transfers be more equitable (everyone who has to transfer is a loser)?

What do you think? Do you have a better idea for how to configure service.

As food for thought, here are the configurations for full completion of the Loop at either 12- or 15-minute frequencies:


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