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:


33 responses to “Streetcar Equity”

  1. What do the numbers look like for usage in the NW portion versus SoWa? Does the system make it possible that perhaps the NW would get slightly better headways than SoWa? For my anecdata, it’s certainly a much more common destination by a huge factor (I live somewhere in the “shared” area shown in the transit-bridge-less maps). I’ve only ever down the SoWa segment to get on the tram to see sick relatives at OHSU, and I use the streetcar multiple times per week. I go up to the Pearl all the time.

  2. Also, the mention of there being several spares. Why couldn’t some backup cars run when they’re available, giving better frequencies, and back off a little when they’re not?

  3. The only way I know of to get different headways for different parts of the line would be to split the line (i.e., one end has multiple branches). That doesn’t really fit “Line B”.

    As for the spares, we do that today – we sometimes put out an extra car (one not on the schedule) in the late afternoon (which is the peak ridership period). But to maintain scheduled service, you have to have cars to use as backups if one or two are down.

    We opened SoWa initially with inadequate spares (because the vehicles were late) and we had to do things like run cars that had a door not working. Not ideal!

  4. Are there any official first-year ridership projections available for the east side? The 6 is one of the most heavily used buses. Line 6 southbound data from the Spring 2010 Passenger Census:

    (Direction & Position data removed)

    Stop————————————-ID—–Ons—Offs—-Total—Monthly Lifts
    NE M L King & Broadway—————5897—27—-64——91——–20
    NE M L King & Weidler——————5960—50—-78—-128——–21
    NE M L King & Wasco——————-5958—17—-82——99——–24
    NE M L King & Holladay—————-5917—183–598—-781——-135
    NE M L King & Hoyt———————5912—16—–9——25———-1
    NE M L King & Davis——————–5902—17—109—-126——–18
    NE M L King & E Burnside————–5901—13—–78—–91——–23
    SE M L King & Ash———————-5892—-4—–19—–23———-7
    SE M L King & Oak———————-5941—17—-60——77——–20
    SE M L King & Alder———————5891—25—-98—-123——–25
    SE M L King & Belmont——————5895—15—-60—–75——–16
    Hawthorne Bridge Ramp & SE M L King-2643–37—201—-238——-32


    It’s safe to assume that the great majority of “offs” were generated north of Broadway and therefore would not become part of streetcar ridership. Similarly, it’s probably safe to assume that the lion’s share of “ons” are westside bound and also wouldn’t be added to streetcar statistics. However, it would make sense that some of these are headed for PSU & SOWA and therefore would use streetcar once the loop was completed.

    The point is that almost all existing line 6 ridership in the overlap corridor should continue to use the bus. Streetcar ridership should be mostly new riders and those who now need to use a combination of services to go from one side of the river to the other. Those who can make their trips now without transfer should continue to do so. I don’t think that we’re going to see regular heavy eastside streetcar ridership for a very long time. Therefore Line A service shouldn’t come at the expense of existing service.

    P.S. I can’t wait for the streetcar fare policy discussion to open. Streetcar undercutting TriMet’s fares on competing bus routes while being subsidized by TriMet is a particular pet peeve.

  5. Any thought to a line C…NW to Lloyd District/OCC; this would require a turnaround at Oregon and Grand. That line could eventually continue up Broadway/Weidler to at least NE 24th. It would be a NW23 to NE 24th line.
    re fares: has anyone done a study on how much time fare collection adds to bus travel times? 20%? That would just about equal the percentage of operations dollars that comes from the fare box which raises some interesting questions.

  6. Aaron, regarding running backups cars:

    Personally I’d opt for consistency in scheduling over frequent (and potentially short-notice) headway changes. That’s just one opinion though.

    However it’s also possible that labor costs and other issues would preclude running the reserve cars when they’re not needed as such. I’d imagine that some of the need for reserve cars is predictable, for example routine maintenance, but some of the need is unexpected, for example a breakdown.

  7. I didn’t think about the scheduling thing. I usually don’t even realize they’re running on a schedule, I simply walk over to one and look at the display to see how long I have to wait, and ask Google Maps (or a smartphone app) if I’m trying to figure out a route for later in the day or something.

    Are there any streetcar systems that run “scheduleless”? It would seem to me with this kind of circulator-ey service, and good enough headways, knowing exactly what time a train is scheduled to arrive is less important than perhaps on the MAX or a bus. Would such a scheduless system have any advantages, perhaps trains not having to slow down if they manage to get ahead of schedule? (I don’t even know if they do this or not.)

    Of course I don’t think you’d have to ditch schedules entirely to have a fluid system — you’d only have to ditch permanent preset tables. I imagine TriMet’s APIs could (or at least should) be able to handle schedules changing often, as cars become available and break down, so that people asking Google or phone apps or TriMet’s planner to plan a trip for the next would still have accurate numbers.

    (And in my experience, the times shown on the tables usually aren’t the exact time the trains arrive anyhow.)

    Or they could just do more of what Chris described, and stick to the strict schedules and have sugar-on-top trains.

  8. At the frequencies that Streetcar runs, especially when you are talking about 10-minute headways, “schedules” (as in this car is at this point at this time) become less important than headway management (as in, maintaining a consistent gap between vehicles, so a ten minute wait for a streetcar doesn’t turn into a twenty minute wait for two streetcars, with the first one full and the second one right behind, empty).

    One exception to this issue is with transfers, especially to infrequent bus lines. A rider who takes Streetcar to meet with a non frequent service bus might be annoyed if his car is delayed for headway-management reasons (i.e. the Streetcar in front is running slow, so the streetcar he is on also slows down so not to catch up), and this causes him to miss a transfer.

  9. Of the options given, although I live in NW I’d support the 6/6 configuration over 5/7.

    I’d expect the NW and SW “corners” of the streetcar route will be relatively low-traffic as compared to the new leg, plus I think the overall benefit to the system would be greater by having a transfer-less trip from the eastside to downtown.

    Speaking as someone with frequent out-of-town guests, fewer transfers makes the system simpler and more friendly to visitors. Tourist-wise, if we expect OMSI to be at least as big a destination as NW23rd, then the 6/6 configuration sounds best.

    The inverted U-shape of the downtown/eastside route will probably come to be seen as the core of the streetcar anyway, so I’d say let’s treat it as such.

    It’s not fare discussion time yet, but I’m very curious to see how “Free Rail” is addressed with regard to Lloyd by streetcar.

  10. I don’t always plan around the schedules, and I also use the Nextbus map. But I often tell folks, “there’s a streetcar at 8:31,” of course with the caveat to be a few minutes early.

    Just heading to Powell’s or something, there’s no worry. But if the trip is time sensitive (transfer, class at PSU, last train) then it becomes more of a factor.

    Of course it’s possible to build extra time into the trip, but at a certain point the extra padding can push users to a mode-shift, especially when they have to account for it at several points in a trip or when a connection has a much less frequent headway.

    This is NOT to complain… I can totally appreciate that the gap is more important than a strict timetable. Poking streetcars through downtown at a given interval is probably harder than meeting an exact schedule.

    My point, though, is that there’s surely lots of logistics around how many cars run on a given day. If there’s a way to flexibly add trips without major complications, then I’m all in favor!

  11. The attitude at Streetcar about schedules pretty much maps to the comments here: frequency is critical, but schedules are important to a lot of people, so we do operate on (and 95%+ of the time are within five minutes of) a schedule.

    A little more on how the extra trains work. We generally have a relief operator available – in case someone is sick, etc. So if in the afternoon if we have both a spare vehicle available and an extra operator, we’ll send out a vehicle, above and beyond the schedule, to help meet peak demand (with no impact on budget). But we still work hard to run on schedule.

  12. I like 6 and 6. As noted, it gives heavy service on the busiest part of the system (which is often standing-room only when I ride it). The loss of one streetcar per hour — 15 minutes instead of 12 minutes — isn’t all that bad. It still qualifies as “frequent service” as Tri-Met uses the term.

    Besides, it’s short-term anyway, isn’t it? You’ll be able to get both lines up to 7 vehicles in, what, a year or so, when the full order arrives? A slight and temporary reduction in service doesn’t seem that much of an inconvenience in the big picture.

  13. If my only goal were transparency and simplicity of use for tourists, etc., I would guess that it’s easier for a non-transit person to understand a transfer in the Pearl than to keep track of two different potential destinations for streetcars running on the downtown loop.

    Still, I think the payoff of super-frequent service downtown is big enough to offset this slightly added confusion.

    Also, expect a brief discussion of the coming fare collision in next month’s PA!

  14. I like the 6/6 configuration too. I’m worried that forcing a transfer in the Pearl will completely kill the eastside ridership. If the transfer is required, the negatives really add up:
    1. Transfer required means waiting twice.
    2. Route from east to west is already pretty indirect, which means slow.
    3. Fare is required for eastside riders.
    4. Eastside development isn’t there yet.

    Add it all up, and the service is pretty unattractive under the 7/5 configuration. Under the 6/6, which gets you all the way through downtown, it’s substantially more attractive. Plus, it adds capacity where it’s needed – in the downtown core, where practically every streetcar is at crush load certain times of day.

  15. Note that on the less frequent legs…to NW and on Grand/MLK there is TriMet buses, 77 and 6, that can be an option for some trips. Can schedule writers for Streetcar and TriMet coordinate a bit on how the two overlap to fill the gaps?

  16. I assuming that when the eastside loop opens, the cars will idle at OMSI for recovery time (like they do OHSU in South Waterfront at the moment)… but where will this happen when the full loop is in operation?

  17. Lenny said:
    Note that on the less frequent legs…to NW and on Grand/MLK there is TriMet buses, 77 and 6, that can be an option for some trips. Can schedule writers for Streetcar and TriMet coordinate a bit on how the two overlap to fill the gaps?

    My guess is that once the Eastside part of the Loop is open that lines 6, 70 and 77 will see drastic changes. I expect that the 77 will be broken in two–perhaps at Hollywood TC or RQ. And that the 6 and 70 will be combined in some way i.e. the old Union-Sellwood run. Trimet will certainly seek the most cost savings once the Loop opens…

  18. I dunno, maybe I am just crazy or something.
    Is there or is there not a budget crisis somewhere?
    I can’t quite figure it out?
    This is a pretty nice little expansion they got going here, does that mean they have to hire additional staff or just use what’s left of the current staff?

    There hasn’t been a bus driver hired for over two years and all max and streetcar drivers come from the bus driver ranks.

    Trimet is going to see cost savings?
    How’s that, since Trimet funds most of the streetcar operation anyway?

    Of course the prevailing idea is too just pump out the overtime and then give it to the press to bash us, very effective and sneaky approach by MAC THE KNIFE (aka neil macfarlane)

    Very nice little addition to the Portland transit scene, I guess. The upscale transit mode continues growing while that scum infested lower class transit mode gets whacked and whacked!

    This is the first time I have actually come to believe that there is an actual functioning “caste system” in American transit modes.

    Interesting phenomenon, only in the U S of A does this sort of thing exist!

  19. Of course the prevailing idea is too just pump out the overtime and then give it to the press to bash us, very effective and sneaky approach by MAC THE KNIFE (aka neil macfarlane)

    Oh a sharp nose…. has the marlin
    And it sticks right out of his face
    Just a pink slip, has Macfarlane
    And he keeps it… just in case

    When the marlin, stabs with his spear, dear
    In the blue spill clouds of red
    HR flunkies, has old Mac, dear,
    Only doing, what the boss said

    On the sidewalk, Friday morning
    Waiting for the 25
    But it’s not coming… there’s no driver
    Could the cause be, our Mac the Knife?

    In the garage, dear, down in Center
    ‘Stead of roaming up and down
    Sit the busses, gath’ring rust–is
    it likely Macfarlane’s back in town?

  20. I’m curious on why there are two “lines”? Since the streetcar forms a natural loop why not just run it like a loop?

    Once it is connected in a complete circle, you have half the vehicles running clockwise, the other counterclockwise…

    This way you have the same vehicle frequency no matter where you’re going! :-)

  21. Answering a few questions:

    Can schedule writers for Streetcar and TriMet coordinate a bit on how the two overlap to fill the gaps?

    I actually suggested this at a Streetcar Board meeting – specifically that if the Streetcar and #15 could be spaced correctly, the loss of frequency in NW could be mitigated.

    I’m curious on why there are two “lines”? Since the streetcar forms a natural loop why not just run it like a loop?

    NW and SoWa are not part of the larger loop.

  22. The Streetcar System Plan includes the idea of a NW 23rd to Hollywood line. The track being constructed now doesn’t have a convenient turnaround for NW to Lloyd service.

    I didn’t catch the Red/Blue question? If you’re talking about colors to designate the lines, we won’t get to use colors TriMet already uses. How to designate the lines is a question the CAC is going to work on.

  23. Scotty’s original question was about getting from Lloyd Center to Central Library. I didn’t understand why Red or Blue MAX wasn’t the answer to avoid messing with any potential northwest streetcar connections/diversions.

  24. R A’s question wasn’t a streetcar line color question. It was basically: “If you want to go from Lloyd Center to the Library, why not hop on the MAX Red or Blue lines, which already go there?” :-)

  25. If you want to go from Lloyd Center to the Library, why not hop on the MAX Red or Blue lines, which already go there?

    That’s certainly what I would do. The Loop is largely going to serve people who want to use a segment of it. In many cases if you would be on the Loop for more than half its length, you probably have a more direct option.

  26. NW and SoWa are not part of the larger loop.

    ??? The tracks are physically connected, of course they could be ran as a larger loop.

    I’m sure there is a good reason for running them as two separate “lines” but that reasoning isn’t clear anywhere.

  27. It would pretty easy to complete a Lloyd District loop at NE Oregon & Grand. No? Maybe at some point if ridership demand and development along the Lloyd/NW 23rd segment warrents. That portion of the loop has a ton of vacant land & parking lots between the Broadway Bridge and NE Oregon & Grand Avenue.
    Streetcar may be lucky with opening in 2012 as by that time developers and banks might have their nerve back for building the Central City. Could be interesting.

  28. Streetcar may be lucky with opening in 2012 as by that time developers and banks might have their nerve back for building the Central City.

    You put your right foot in,
    You put your right foot out;
    You put your right foot in,
    And you shake it all about.
    You do the Hokey-Pokey,
    And you turn yourself around.
    That’s what it’s all about!

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