Digging Into TriMet’s Proposed Service Changes: NE Edition

TriMet has finally released their budget proposal, and while they are mostly filling the gap by raising fares and ending the Free Rail Zone (more on that in a future post), what I find most intriguing are the bus reorganization proposals found here. After devastating rounds of across the board cuts to frequency in 2009 and 2010, even on the most successful high-ridership lines, this current effort appears to be a much smarter attempt to cut poorly performing and redundant route segments.

TriMet runs an enormous number of buses that are mostly empty most of the time because they aren’t going where people want to go, because they only perform one function rather than several, because they duplicate nearby superior service, because they run so rarely as to be useless, or because they run through very low-density areas. In such a system, it is entirely possible to cut total service hours while actually increasing and improving service to more people. Counter-intuitive, but nonetheless true.

The proposed changes, while they do represent real cuts to service, put in place what I feel is a superior structure that may actually increase ridership along certain corridors by using TriMet resources more efficiently. For those who say transit agencies shouldn’t focus on efficiency, I say that Efficiency is Ridership, and Ridership is People (full credit to Roger Valdez, who inspired me with his Density is People message). That should be the slogan of any transit advocate who really cares about providing car-free mobility to the most people possible given the limited financial resources available for transit operations. Even if the legislature eventually grants the badly needed authority to raise more transit funding (and I hope they do), efficiency will always allow us to get more people to more destinations with whatever budget we have.

With that lengthy preamble out of the way, after the jump I offer an analysis of TriMet’s proposed service changes, starting with the NE quadrant because it is nearest to my home and my heart. Future posts will look at the major changes proposed for the NW, SW, Beaverton, and other areas.

map-northnortheast-current.gif

map-northnortheast-proposed.gif

The major changes have to do with the 6, 8, 9, and 70.

Currently, the 6 runs north on MLK, west on Lombard, then north on Denver Ave and I-5 to its terminus at Jantzen Beach. This alignment has always had some problems. First, it leads to major redundancies on Lombard and Denver. The 6, 4 and 75 all overlap for a segment of Lombard between Albina and Denver, and segments on either side have two overlapping bus routes. Second, the 6 runs parallel to the Yellow Line MAX from Kenton to Expo Center, providing unnecessary duplicate service. Meanwhile, the 8 runs north of Lombard to the largely industrial East Columbia area along NE MLK and N Vancouver Way, but turns around there.

TriMet proposes that the 6 basically take over the tail of the 8, but then continue north to Jantzen Beach. This eliminates many of the redundancies mentioned above, and simplifies the routes overall. The 6 already runs up MLK, and now it can simply continue north along the most direct path. The 8 will be able to turn around in the Dekum area rather than making a series of turns.

One concept inherent in this service change is the idea of having good anchors for bus routes. Having a high-demand node at the end of a bus route ensures helps prevent them from having long tail segments with relatively few riders going long distances. Jantzen Beach is a better anchor than East Columbia, so making the former the end of the route and the latter a segment along the route, the buses will be more full end to end.

This is an example of a route change that saves money but does not really result in any loss of service. The only slight impact will be on a 10-block stretch of Lombard that will lose direct downtown service, but on either end of that stretch are the 4 and the 6 to downtown, and the Yellow Line is also nearby.

The proposed merging of the 9 and 70 is very exciting, because it will finally help address the extreme lack of connections between the inner SE and NE quadrant neighborhoods. Many people living in Portland quickly notice the large gap between north-south bus routes in the SE. There is no crosstown service at all from SE 12th Ave to SE 39th Ave, and since the 70 currently only runs to Rose Quarter TC, there really isn’t any useful SE/NE bus service from the 6 on Grand/MLK to the 75 on 39th Ave. That’s about 35 blocks! It usually takes about an hour with two or three transfers to get from the heart of the SE to the Alberta Neighborhood, even though it should be a straight shot north.

While people living along Ne 24th Ave and NE 27th Ave would lose their direct link to downtown, they would benefit from a great crosstown service that would connect to other destinations and to numerous transfer opportunities. The most obvious transfer point is Lloyd Center, where the new route 70 will connect with the combined Red/Blue/Green MAX lines as well as route 8 to go downtown. Between all those services, transfers should be very short and travel times should be roughly equivalent. The 70 also has transfer points with the 12, 19, 20, 15, 14, 10, 4, 9, 17, and 19 (again!) on its way south to Sellwood. People living west of the current 9 also have option walking to the 8 directly.

The north tail of the 9 was never a good place for a core downtown-focused route anyway. It runs through low-density residential neighborhoods for its whole length from NE Dekum to NE Broadway, making a series of tight turns on narrow streets. Usually bus routes run on arterial roads, which allow higher speeds and access to far more destinations. The 9 ends up being much slower than the 8, and ridership has been fairly lackluster in comparison. My preference would actually be to cancel the tail of the 9 entirely, connect the 8 with the 70, and reinvest the 9’s service hours to make the resulting crosstown much more frequent. That would be a more radical change though, and would make far too much sense, so I’ll embrace this proposal wholeheartedly.

The final noteworthy change is the removal of evening and weekend service from the 73. Unlike the previous examples, this is just a straight-up cut to service, but at least it is cutting a largely pointless route with low ridership. The 73 is an example of a route designed to fail. It runs along NE 33rd, hitting a business area and lots of residential, but unlike other area crosstowns like the 72 and 75, it doesn’t run east or west to find a good anchor like a MAX station or a dense neighborhood. Anchors are especially important in crosstowns because they lack downtown as a natural draw. The 73 then runs west on streets that already have other bus service, before ending just short of downtown at the Rose Quarter TC. I would hazard a guess that very few people want to ride a bus almost to downtown, but not quite (actually i don’t have to guess, since ridership is pretty low).

It’s a funny thing about transfers–they’re fine if the service is frequent and the transfer point is somewhere in the middle of the trip, but they are incredibly aggravating if they come near the beginning or end of the trip. So for example, someone on NE 42nd & Killingsworth takes the 75 to Hollywood and transfers to MAX to get downtown, and that’s fine. But asking someone to take the 73 from NE 33rd and Killingsworth to Rose Quarter to transfer to MAX? That’s unlikely to draw much interest. Cutting this route to a barebones weekday daytime schedule means TriMet has pretty much given up on it, but isn’t willing to change very much. I think they should either make it work, or cancel it completely.

One rough idea would be to have the 73 turn east on Prescott or Lombard and hit Parkrose TC. It could even continue on and take over the current infrequent tail of the 12 (slated for amputation) running on outer Sandy. On the other end, I would love to see the 73 run down 20th through the SE. I’ve been told countless times that 20th is too narrow for bus service, but go look at the street and see if you’re convinced. All it would take is restriping and removal of parking on one side of the street. It could continue down 20th and eventually hit one of the future Orange Line stations. This would be a fabulous crosstown service with lots of connections.

That would all cost money of course, and right now it’s hard to blame TriMet for taking service hours from a poorly performing route, but this change will leave pretty big areas of the NE without evening or weekend service since the 24 is already in the same situation. Actually, the entirety of inner NE from 15th to I-205 will be left with the 12 as the only downtown transit service, although many people will still have easy MAX connections. Part of this has to do with the built environment, with areas like Cully sporting suburban-style superblocks and little in the way of transit-oriented land use, but on the other hand the demographics of the area point to a lot of potential for ridership if only the routes were well-designed and the land use were improved.

That’s it for now, hope you enjoyed this analysis. Next week I will discuss the changes in the NW. Until then, remember…Ridership is People!

20 Comments

20 Responses to Digging Into TriMet’s Proposed Service Changes: NE Edition

  1. EngineerScotty
    February 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm Link

    I thought that Soylent Green was people.

    (Just kidding. Excellent analysis!).

  2. zefwagner
    February 9, 2012 at 5:28 pm Link

    Yeah, Roger was inspired by Soylent Green, and I just decided to steal the idea as well. I think it has a nice ring to it.

  3. TransitPortland
    February 9, 2012 at 6:20 pm Link

    Excellent discussion. It seems that the 8, 9 or 73 should through route with the 70. And, we need it to happen this coming fall. So whichever one works for now, let’s just do it. I agree that in a perfect world, connect 8 with 70. Probably not practical due to largest passenger volumes on 8 compared to 9 and 73. Also, 8 goes to OHSU. My first preference is to send the 10 back into downtown and connect the 9 with the 70, second is connect 73 with 70, and third choice is the TriMet proposal. Only option not OK is to leave the routes as they are- for the excellent reasons cited by zefw. The 73 is a pointless coverage route with bad frequency of service.
    If TriMet does not need to save all the money that they project is needed (economy improves, labor contract gets settled), then TriMet could look at is reinvesting any savings back into the neighborhoods where the service was saved. That would change the route change proposal from an in-the-park double to a HOME RUN!

  4. Reza
    February 9, 2012 at 7:22 pm Link

    Zef, thanks for the analysis. You make some good points about the 73 being built to fail and the need for service on 20th Ave that I agree with. However, I don’t appreciate what amounts to a tacit approval of major service cuts without thinking more holistically about the damaging effect of drastically reducing services and raising fares on future ridership and the viability of frequent, reliable transit in Portland. As activists, we should hold TriMet accountable and demand more innovative solutions to keeping and enhancing service during lean times. Things like advertising, charging at Park and Rides, restructuring contracts with union employees could help save some of these services.

    That said, I can’t wait for your NW roundup, as you are on the record of supporting major cuts to service that I disagree with. The major point being that the 17 and the Streetcar are not interchangeable services.

  5. zefwagner
    February 9, 2012 at 7:42 pm Link

    Maybe I could have been more clear about this, but the main point is that I can be in favor of the changes to structure while still being upset by the total service cuts. In other words, even if TriMet did not have a budget crisis, I would still want them to cut tons of routes and reinvest those hours in routes that actually carry way more people, because Ridership is People. The current situation is bad because they are making some smart cuts, but they are not able to reinvest those service hours to the good bus and MAX service.

    I agree about charging for parking, but there is no way that would dig them out of their hole. A new union contract would make a huge difference, but that is looking more and more unlikely unless the governor steps in. This really comes down to an over-reliance on payroll tax revenue, which goes down in a recession precisely when transit is most needed. Unless TriMet can get the authority to raise taxes, there is really little choice between raising fares and cutting service. If people put half the energy they put into yelling at TriMet into lobbying the legislature instead, we might actually see improvement.

    I’m not a big supporter of Streetcar, but I wouldn’t advocate “major cuts” now that it is built! We can’t undo it, so at least run it frequently, and for goodness sake get rid of some stop signs and give it some lane priority! I do think the eastside extension should be delayed as long as possible, at least until the loop is closed and it becomes somewhat useful. That is a debacle waiting to happen. Last but not least, I hope the streetcar’s long-awaited introduction of a real fare and fare enforcement will allow it to stop being such a drain on TriMet resources. In that vein I’m glad they are at least reducing their streetcar contribution.

    I too am itching to look at the NW. The 17 is somewhat redundant with streetcar as far as NW to PSU trips, but does serve different intermediate points. I have always been more annoyed at the 77, since it actually follows the streetcar tracks for many blocks and because it has an insanely complicated route through the NW. In that sense the new 77 will be an improvement. More later on that.

  6. Amanda Wright
    February 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm Link

    “I would hazard a guess that very few people want to ride a bus almost to downtown, but not quite” but that is exactly what is going to happen to the #9 north-tail-to-become-the-70. Every morning that bus is filled to crammed standing-room-only with riders from the low density residential neighborhoods on their way to destinations in downtown and by Portland State. Virtually nobody gets off before the bridges.

    I’ve clocked it: taking the #9 between Portland State and the Rose Quarter is faster than the MAX. The bus is indeed already 4 times slower than driving and somewhat slower than biking. Forcing transfers to get downtown will likely just cause the entire neighborhood to give up on transit all together and slash the #9 ridership to levels only seen on the #73.

    I, too, like the idea of a better inner SE to inner NE connection – but why not link the 73 and the 70 rather than force all the #9 riders to transfer? Then you’ve addressed the problem of 73 being “pointless” (though I do take this bus almost everyday) by actually improving service.

  7. AL M
    February 10, 2012 at 10:38 am Link

    Can’t wait to see your west side edition.

    How many of the routes in your analysis do you ride if I may ask?

    They propose a nightmare to be inflicted on the poor and uneducated in Portland.

    I’m going to hold my argument for you till you get to the west side, a place that I call my home.

  8. al m
    February 10, 2012 at 11:00 am Link

    And BTW- people ARE NOT ridership, PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE!

    Just sayin…..
    No disrespect intended….

  9. zefwagner
    February 10, 2012 at 11:31 am Link

    I ride all these routes very regularly. I live just east of the 70 in the SE, so I often transfer from the 70 to the 8 or 9 to go up to Alberta. Like I mentioned, this usually takes 45 to 60 minutes because the buses do not run frequently enough for an easy transfer. I used to live near 32nd and Stark in the SE, and it was even worse. I would walk seven blocks east to catch the 75, take it to 42nd/Killingsworth, then catch the 72 west to Alberta. The point is, there is a large gap in the grid that the 9/70 connection will finally solve. I also spend a lot of time around Broadway in the Lloyd Center and am constantly annoyed at the redundant overlapping service. It makes life more difficult, not less, to have two buses overlapping when only one goes where you want to go. I take the 6 occasionally up north, but never up to Jantzen Beach. I don’t think it’s necessary to have experience riding a particular bus to comment on basic route design, but if I’m ever missing some pertinent detail I certainly welcome comments from regular riders.

    I honestly don’t understand your all-too-common sentiment that ridership is not people. Ridership is literally people, by definition! If Route A gets 20 riders per hour and Route B gets 5 riders per hour, Route A is serving 4 times as many people and is deserving of 4 times as many resources. If you advocate keeping a bus running on Route B when we could take that same bus and run it on Route A, you are saying that those 5 people are as important as those other 20 people. In other words, you are saying that each person on Route B is 4 times more important than each person on Route A. To me, that is unequal and inequitable treatment most of the time. Unless you can prove that those 5 people are more deserving of our resources, or that the route is essential to a functioning network, there is no case to be made. It’s one thing if Route A is serving wealthy suburbanites and Route B is serving a low-income neighborhood. In that case I see the case that more resources should go to the transit-dependent. But usually it is not so simple. For example, the 25 could be cut and the service hours reinvested in the 72 or 75. In this case all these routes serve low-income areas, but the 25 gets very low ridership and the 72 and 75 get very high ridership. For the same bus service hour, we can serve 20 people instead of 5, because Ridership is People.

    I know not everyone shares my utilitarian worldview, but I really think government should be working for the maximum good spread out among the maximum number of people. This is a way of harmonizing efficiency (maximum total utility) with equity (the distribution of utility). So by the same token, I think public transit should provide maximum mobility and access to the most people. That means transit should be most concentrated in dense residential and employment areas, because that is where most people actually live. People in low-density areas should not expect equal transit service as people in high-density areas, because there are fewer of them! We tend to focus too much, in my opinion, on geographic equity, as though each portion of the map should have equal service. This does not make sense, because Land is not People. Density is People, and Ridership is People, and People are what should matter to good government.

  10. AL M
    February 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm Link

    You actually ride all those buses so I can take your recommendations seriously.

    But in all honesty, I read your comment and I get confused.

    Maybe I am just not too bright, I admit it.

    But here is what I think:

    Quality of a transit system is HOW MANY PLACES CAN YOU GET TOO ON IT….AND HOW EASILY….not how many people does it serve….

    Because my friend Zef, if its all about NUMBERS, than once again we have the TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY just stepping all over and extinguishing the minority.

    And if it’s all about profit and loss, then we as a species are heading down into a pit of hell…

  11. AL M
    February 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm Link

    Of course what I really believe is that Trimet should get rid of all the superfluous pencil pushers before even thinking about cutting any actual service.

    Like the $2.5 million dollar marketing department,
    And the $4.8 million dollar IT department,
    and the $10.3 million dollar CAPITAL PROJECTS DEPARTMENT, etc…..

    Not one person in any of those departments actually provides one lick of real service to the transit riding public.

    See the real problem here, very successfully obscured by that magnificent propaganda department disguised as a marketing department, is a bloated and wasteful bureaucracy, but attacking employees health care and citizens services is what these wasteful self serving bureaucracies do, that’s how they survive.
    ————————

    THEY ARE:

    Definition of BLOODSUCKER
    1
    : an animal that sucks blood; especially : leech
    2
    : a person who sponges or preys on another
    — blood·suck·ing adjective

    Examples of BLOODSUCKER

    Our landlord, the bloodsucker, just raised our rent again.

  12. EngineerScotty
    February 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm Link

    Al has an excellent point that in addition to serving people, it also has to serve those places people want to go. Nobody lives at the airport, but we still run MAX there for good reasons.

    Some lines (or pieces thereof) exist mainly to serve destinations, rather than where people live, so residential density isn’t the only thing.

  13. zefwagner
    February 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm Link

    Agreed. That is why I said “residential and employment density.” I could have added “other destinations” too, but in any case what I am talking about is Ridership, and by definition, people will not be riding transit if it doesn’t go where they want to go. If a bus is running around almost empty, it is failing at its basic task unless you think those few people are really more important than lots of other people.

    Jarrett Walker’s recent post on Human Transit, structured as a Socratic dialogue, posits that transit should be scored on how well it gets the most people to the most destinations in any given amount of time. If that was the job of every transit line, we would not have routes that average only 5 people per bus throughout the day.

    People essentially vote with their feet. If a route can’t attract very many people, it is failing and should be changed, especially when other bus routes exist where adding that bus could attract more ridership. As Portland Afoot reported recently, the entire 25 bus attracts fewer riders per day than one single stop along the 9 bus on Powell. Considering that a bus has to have an average of 15 people on it to even have an equivalent carbon footprint as an automobile, this is also an environmental issue.

    Al, your comment about tyranny of the majority is one I hear often, but who is the majority and who is the minority you are talking about? Is it tyranny to demand equal resources for equal population? It is incumbent on you to define the minority and justify why they deserve more than their share of resources. Geographic equity assumes that each square mile of land has equal value. I am suggesting that by looking at density in terms of population density on the bus itself (in other words, ridership), we get a more fair allocation. Anyway, this is all getting very theoretical. The important thing is that TriMet serves a lot of low-demand areas with full-size buses and spends a huge amount of money serving a small number of people. I think they should take the reverse approach and focus resources on high-demand areas and serve a larger number of people, while still being careful to not to unduly impact transit-dependent areas. Given that much of the low-demand service is in relatively affluent areas, that shouldn’t be too hard.

  14. Amanda Wright
    February 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm Link

    “The point is, there is a large gap in the grid that the 9/70 connection will finally solve.”

    However, that gap can be solved with a 73/70 connection without reducing service to the #9 riders who need to get downtown everyday and not almost downtown.

  15. EngineerScotty
    February 10, 2012 at 11:27 pm Link

    One drawback with service reorganizations such as these is that transit lines don’t just create constituencies (of people who like the service the way it is), they create ”communities”. There’s been a lot of evidence presented in this thread (and elsewhere) that 9 riders are frequently headed downtown–and indeed, downtown is a more important destination than things along SE 12th, where the 70 will route. People often structure their lives around transit service, and will give preference to those businesses and such that they can reach without transferring. (A lot depends on the quality of the transfer, of course; but given that the 70 won’t be frequent service, the outbound transfer, at least, will be undesirable).

    Whether the new 70 will function well as a crosstown line, will be an interesting experiment.

  16. Josh
    February 11, 2012 at 3:43 am Link

    zefwagner:
    “I also spend a lot of time around Broadway in the Lloyd Center and am constantly annoyed at the redundant overlapping service. It makes life more difficult, not less, to have two buses overlapping when only one goes where you want to go.”

    This doesn’t sound quite right. Let’s see if it scales:

    “I also spend a lot of time around 5th/6th Ave. downtown and am constantly annoyed at the redundant overlapping service. It makes life more difficult, not less, to have a dozen or more buses overlapping when only one goes where you want to go.”

    Nope, still not right. I’m beginning to think Zef isn’t a big fan of reading transit signage.

    I’m kinda seeing the logic for merging the NE part of the 9 with the 70: current 9 riders headed to downtown destinations can either take the 8 or transfer to MAX at Lloyd Center, while 9 riders who currently transfer to other buses on the transit mall can still make many of those transfers on 11th (especially ones headed to SE).

    However, this plan makes it slightly more inconvenient for riders headed anywhere on the westside outside downtown. Any morning rush-hour transfers from the 70 to, say, the 12-Barbur, are going to be boarding buses that are likely already at crush load, as opposed to boarding those same, somewhat less full buses on the mall. Also, getting from the former NE part of the 9 to anywhere in NW is going to take significantly more trip planning, at least until the eastside streetcar opens.

    I appear to be in the minority here, but I like the idea of merging the 70 and 73 a lot more than the current TriMet proposal. The existing 73 is a kinda-useless stump that forces a transfer to get anywhere besides Lloyd Center, and the 70 would be significantly more useful if it went further north.

  17. TransitPortland
    February 11, 2012 at 7:57 am Link

    Yes, combining the 70 and 73 is a win-win-win. Line 9 riders get to keep their downtown service. Line 73 riders get access to many more destinations in Southeast. And, line 70 riders get access to northeast and north Portland neighborhoods. TriMet gets more riders and community goodwill in a solid urban neighborhood and might save money, too.

  18. zefwagner
    February 11, 2012 at 10:41 am Link

    Josh, I’m a huge fan of reading transit signage, which is one reason I have this position. When a bus stop has three line numbers, all with totally different destinations, plus a “frequent service” sign with no indication as to which of the three is frequent, that is very confusing to new and casual riders, or even experienced riders using new routes in an unfamiliar location. One route per street is simply more comprehensible.

    The Transit Mall is a completely different beast. That is the node of the entire system, the major transfer point. It also serves a shuttle function downtown in which people don’t care at all which bus they are getting on. It is laughable to argue that the transit mall is not extremely confusing to new riders as well, but in this case the benefits outweigh the costs and TriMet has done a good job making it easier by grouping routes with similar destinations at each stop.

    Regarding the 70 and 73, in a normal world it would indeed be the preferred solution, but remember that TriMet is planning to cut the 73’s night and weekend service. If they combine the 70 and 73 in a budget-neutral way, it would mean major service cuts to the 70 as well, possibly taking away weekend service from the new combined route. Just something to keep in mind.

  19. al m
    February 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm Link

    I’m at a loss on any of this.

    These executives are proposing HUGE UPHEAVAL into the lives of transit riders.

    Even BOSTONS MBTA, with ten times the deficit as puny TriMet, who is already much cheaper to ride than TRIMET, is proposing:

    1-fare increases or
    2-service cuts

    NOT BOTH, which is what Trimet is proposing.

    I knew the #$%@ was gonna hit the fan when the first round of cuts happened.

    They downplayed the problem then, and they are most likely downplaying the problem now.

    Whatever they do, I hope they are ready for a huge plunge in ridership, unless of course people have no choice.

    And if TriMet can’t provide the service properly, it’s time to open up the market to other potential bus companies as well as relaxing the restrictive taxi policies.

    The whole transit policy in general which restricts free trade is an example of government failure.

  20. Chris I
    February 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm Link

    Al,

    I’m sure you would love your salary and benefits package at this new private transit company. Just see what the cab drivers have:

    “Drivers pay roughly $500 per week to taxi companies, which provide dispatch, insurance, credit card processing, advertising and vehicle equipment. The typical self-employed driver reports $43,000 in revenue but earns an adjusted net income of $15,800 after deductions for vehicle expenses, fuel, airport fees and self-employment taxes.”

    http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/news/2012/01/26/mayor-adams-sounds-alarm-over-low-pay.html

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