Driving the Bus with Carbon Monoxide?

Readers of this blog will be aware that OPAL has been a leading voice criticizing TriMet service reductions in recent years.

They’re now latching onto a somewhat obscure air quality regulation to try to put some teeth into that advocacy.

The Portland region is under Federal compliance plans for two pollutants: ozone and carbon monoxide (CO). Arguably there are some much more harmful pollutants in our air (benzene and particulates for starters) but regulatory inertia makes us pay attention to these two.

The region has compliance plans for these two pollutants and the plan for CO includes a requirement to increase transit service 1% per year, measured over a 5-year window (essentially a five year moving average).

TriMet has met this requirement in recent history by relying largely on the big increase in service hours from the opening of the Green Line in 2009. But cuts in service in the last few years mean that on a five-year average basis TriMet no longer meets the average 1% increase as of last month.

The regional transportation bureaucracy proposes to fix this by modifying the compliance plan to call out a 10-year average instead of five-year. The State DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) has to weigh in on this, and OPAL’s comments (PDF, 585K) on the proposed change are interesting reading. They make arguments that the actual ridership benefit of rail service is overestimated in the calculations and more bus service would actually be more effective in reducing CO emissions.

It’s a very wonky club to try to pound TriMet with, but I have to respect OPAL’s tenacity. I hope DEQ at least does a serious evaluation of OPAL’s claims.

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