A Portland Transport reader (who may identify himself in the comments if he wishes to) emailed in the following question:
Now that I know PortlandTransport has a whole stable of contributors, I am wondering if any of you may know the skinny on line 84. The other day I was looking at the TriMet map, and noticed line 84 which seemingly goes into the middle of nowhere. Today I rode MAX out and took the whole line 84 loop. It indeed, for almost it’s entire length, goes through areas that would normally not even be considered for transit. It’s western end – while still in Gresham – it hits some good spots but very quickly is out in the countryside and rural area.
The ridership on this line can’t possibly be high, although there were 3 people (counting me) on the 3:06pm loop that I rode – we dropped one off at a fruit company and picked one up at an intersection in the middle of nowhere with nothing much at all in sight…
Why does this line exist? Is there some sort of really strong transit lobby out there which has kept this one going? It seems like we cut services in places where there are tons of riders – yet this line literally is a drive in the countryside. The bus was at highway speeds almost the whole time. It was very pleasant for sure – yet not necessarily a good ROI I would imagine.
Does this exist simply to keep those areas inside the payroll-tax paying boundaries of the Tri-Met service area?
Thanks for any insight…
Discussion after the jump.
There are several reasons why TriMet (or any agency) may wish to run a service that is seldom ridden, some of which are mentioned by the reader:
- To extend the boundaries of the taxing district, and/or justify tax collection within an area.
- Because of political pressure to provide service to a given area
- To increase the “coverage area” of the system, which makes the system more useful overall (due to network effects), even though a particular segment may be underutilized.
- To provide service to some targeted population, often for equity reasons
- To provide a connection to some other service.
- For historical reasons–existing transit lines develop communities who use and/or depend on them; for this reason transit planning is seldom done de novo. Even if cancelling a low-performing service in order to move the busses elsewhere makes sense from a maximum utility point of view, in practice transit agencies will continue to run them to avoid disrupting the lives of existing riders.
Portland Transport has previously asked similar questions about low-ridden lines, such as some of the lines serving the West Hills. The line discussed by the reader, the 84 Kelso-Boring, is a rural line which, as its name suggests, serves the communities of Kelso and Boring southeast of Gresham. The line runs as two separate segments which are interleaved through the day, one to Kelso and one to Boring. There’s only three runs per day on each leg, and no service on weekends. The line is one of the least-ridden in the system, with only 100 weekly boardings on average.
Part of the line (the Boring segment) will be discontinued in the future, as Boring is withdrawing from TriMet. It’s unlikely that either the truncation of the line or the loss of Boring payroll tax will have a significant impact on TriMet’s finances, given the limited service on the line and the mostly-rural nature of the route. I do not know specifically which of the stated reasons justifies the current routing of the 84.
The 84 is interesting for one other reason. It’s Kelso leg comes very close to the city of Sandy, but doesn’t quite reach it. The City of Sandy operates its own transit service (Sandy Area Metro) which provides local service along US26 through Sandy itself, and connecting service to TriMet both in Gresham and in Estacada, as well as the Mountain Express line between Sandy and Rhododendron. SAM’s Estacada-Gresham line uses US26 between the two cities (and runs half-hourly on weekdays). The upcoming cancellation of the Boring line may permit some rethinking of this; if jurisdictional and other issues can be settled, it might be nice to have one connecting route between the cities serving the existing communities along the 84 routing, rather than two parallel routes, one which doesn’t reach Sandy and the other which only travels on the highway. Whether TriMet or SAM should be running this is an interesting question–as SAM is a city agency rather than as a standalone transit district, it doesn’t have any tax base outside the city limits. On the other hand, as a small-town transit operation it has far lower overhead than TriMet does.