Light Rail Service Cancelled Completely, Bus Services to Expand x10 Over Current

There is an article here about neglecting buses for light rail service.  Also Al M & Erik Halstead are notorious for their rants in the blogosphere about how TriMet neglects buses in favor of light rail.  But here’s my question.

Imagine tomorrow, that these people proposing this where in charge;  Lew Church, Jason Barbour, Xander Dunlap, Patrick Ryan, Al M, & Erik Halstead.  What would they do?

If we stopped running light rail tomorrow how would we move the people that ride the blue, red, and yellow lines with buses?  If the budget where to stay EXACTLY what it is today – how would TriMet move the same number of people if we started using only buses?  Please, answer that for me would you guys?

In addition to that explain exactly how TriMet is supposed to not cut service, if they don’t have the money for the service?  If every executive at TriMet and every single office employee was paid the same as the bus drivers tomorrow that would only fund a couple of frequencies, barely enough to even maintain the lines they have.  In addition to that it would mean we’d lose transit tracker, scheduling would have to be printed and we’d probably lose the TriMet website just to point out a few things.  So when the ridership plummets what is the proposal to fix that?

I guess what I want to see among these people are legitimate fixes.  What are their solutions.  Not the mythical fantasy of "if we’d spent all that money on Bus Rapid Transit" or "if we’d only harness the power of the sun" or other nonsense.  Take a look at the current budget (not the odd $900 million that is presented in the Oregon Line Article, but the real operations budget) and tell me how you’d fix the problems.

Another thing I’ve noticed is this Transit Riders Union.  They’re attacking the cuts also, but I’ve seen no real solutions.  Not tangible ones that will actually save TriMet the money needed to maintain operations.  If we stopped building light rail and instead put all that money toward bus operations we’d be bankrupt before the end of the year just trying to handle the rush hour volume of passengers that light rail handles.


So really, where are the solutions of decreased service isn’t it?


  1. OK, Adron, you fished for it…

    First of all I’m not opposed to light rail just because. I’m opposed to something that is supposed to be a "solution" but disadvantages other people because of it. Public Transit (as opposed to a company like Greyhound) is a government service that is supposed to provide service to virtually all citizens within its service district; it’s a public utility. So the goal of any transit agency whether it’s TriMet or the NYCMTA or the Lincoln County (that’s Oregon, folks) Transit District is to provide public transit to as many residents within the district as possible.

    As a government agency it is not supposed to discriminate in favor of one passenger over another. Imagine if the police department set up areas which got better police coverage than others? Or the fire department? What if the water department set up areas which got all the water it needed, while other areas couldn’t get a fire hydrant to work? Or the sewer system in one area was great but the other area continually backed up because of a lack of capacity? TriMet, as another governmental agency, is and should be no different.

    Light rail should not be the goal, it should be merely a progression of the quantity of service based upon a demand – in other words, when there’s so much ridership that streetcars and buses can’t handle it and there’s an established demand that makes sense for a light rail corridor. In this, the original MAX line generally made sense; there was well established demand from Gresham to Portland in which numerous express and local buses ran full. Likewise, the extension to Hillsboro (more specifically, to Beaverton) also made sense for the same reason.

    However at that point TriMet shifted its focus from building transit to provide transit, and started building transit for other reasons – development related. The last time I checked, TriMet wasn’t a development or planning agency, it’s an operating agency for transit. Since then, we’ve seen the bus system start to fall apart – schedules removed, buses got older and less reliable, those buses which were popular never saw service increases, so on and so forth? Why is that? Because TriMet began to run out of money…not because the cost of diesel went up, but because TriMet was too obligated with rail expansions to the airport, the Expo Center, Clackamas Town Center and PSU and now Milwaukie.

    The first thing I’d do if I were put in charge of TriMet would be an immediate moratorium on any and all "light rail planning". If we can’t maintain what we have, we certainly can’t maintain more. Anyone in service planning whose job was specific to light rail would be eliminated on day one.

    The second thing I’d do is tell the City of Portland that I’m not going to subsidize the Streetcar. Again, TriMet is its own operating department and needs every penny it has. The City clearly wanted a Streetcar and the City can pay for it; TriMet doesn’t subsidize anyone else. Along those lines I would actually reduce TriMet service in the Streetcar area (because of competition). Any TriMet buses running through a Streetcar area would simply stop so that riders can transfer, and then express past the Streetcar.

    The third thing I would do is a comprehensive financial audit of the entire system, including every position, every benefit, every facility, every route, and determine which is sustainable and which isn’t. Some bus lines certainly don’t warrant continuation. WES is a good example…why is it being run at such a high cost? Considering that TriMet didn’t want it in the first place, maybe it really belongs as a Washington County program and not a TriMet program (following in the footsteps of the Portland Streetcar). I would slash management ranks and improve purchasing operations to focus on the lowest cost. In this role I would actually take your suggestion and look at the private sector, not governmental agencies, to lower the cost of operations. Why is TriMet paying more than spot price for diesel, especially when TriMet is the largest consumer of diesel fuel in the state of Oregon (even more than Union Pacific, which is the second largest consumer of diesel fuel in the world after the U.S. Navy)? Why does TriMet have a bloated, oversized I.T. department? Why are TriMet’s health care costs so high per person – or are they really high?

    The fourth thing I would do is immediately order new buses to replace all of the 1400-1900s within two years. I would also order (approximately) 100 new articulated (or double-decker) buses for the high capacity routes and (approximately) 100 sub-40 buses to replace the 1600s, 1900s, 2400s and to add new neighborhood service.

    The fifth thing I would do is identify bus stops which need to be upgraded; and work with local communities to target investments in and around bus stops. This would include the bus stop itself, necessary sidewalks within 1,000 feet of a bus stop, and necessary pedestrian/crosswalk improvements including traffic signals or other safety improvements. My target would be 50% of all bus stops within five years would be "upgraded", with an ultimate goal of 80% of all bus stops (there are some bus stops that are so remote and/or low usage that it wouldn’t make sense to upgrade them.)

    These would all be done under the mission of bringing as much transit to as many residents, with the same quality of service to each passenger regardless of whether they are boarding a bus or a MAX train.

    After five years, I would revisit ridership to see where it makes sense to improve/increase transit, and the first rule is "don’t assume light rail". Maybe light rail makes sense, and if so then let’s go ahead and do it. But if a BRT line makes sense, do it. If simply adding articulated buses (or more frequent buses) make sense, do it. Look at cost, look at time to completion, look at the neighborhood needs and build something that everyone wants and doesn’t negatively impact someone else just to make it happen. Sherwood’s service shouldn’t be poor because of something that happens in Northeast Portland. Forest Grove’s service shouldn’t be poor because of something in Tigard. Oregon City’s service shouldn’t be poor because of something in St. Johns.

    And if light rail is the solution, being able to build a solution that is a win-win across the board, and ensuring that if bus service is needed, that it is also upgraded and added at the same time, and not as an afterthought (like it was with WES, in which TriMet upgraded exactly one bus stop (in Tualatin, the southbound 76 stop at Boones Ferry and Nyberg) and did not add any bus routes as promised during service planning). A perfect example is the 43/76/78 bus stop at Hall and Cascade Avenue northbound, where the bus stop was placed in the middle of an ODOT driveway with only a bus stop sign while WES passengers were treated to a brand new platform with multiple shelters, a large electronic display and other amenities.

    In short: Transit planning is more than just talking about light rail, it’s about planning for the entire transit system. Improving transit for 10,000 riders at TriMet means taking money from 40,000 other riders who have waited for improvements, even small improvements like putting air conditioning on their bus, or a place to sit while waiting for the bus. Buses may not be sexy but neither are police cars, jails or sewer systems but they are a necessary part of a major metropolitan area. We expect sewer systems that work, police officers to protect and frankly I expect transit in most neighborhoods even if it is a bus. Many cities have proven that ridership can grow and blossom using buses – even Seattle whose transit ridership is just as high as Portland’s, on a bus-only transit system (until last weekend). A passenger should expect good, quality transit service regardless of what actually provides the service; that means the same amenities, the same service, the same reliability – the only difference is whether a 28′ bus is used, or a 30′ bus, or a 40′ bus, or a 60′ articulated bus, or a streetcar, or a light rail train, or a heavy rail (subway) or a commuter train. The only difference is the capacity, but not the service provided.


  2. I don’t think I posted the youtube link. I looked through this post but it looks like my ref links go to your rantingsofatrimet bus operator link.


  3. Dude, Erik writes made crazy fast. 🙂 I haven’t even read it yet and he’s all done and posted it! :p

    I’m gonna watch your video you posted too Al M… that was some fast production. Between you, Erik, Jason, punkrocker (Chad?), we could start our own transit media agency! 🙂


  4. Adron,

    You’ve misinterpreted the TRU’s position if you think it’s against light rail per se. We’re against the cuts to fareless square and the favoring of rail over buses in those cuts.

    One of TRU’s views is that TriMet has not looked hard enough, or really at all, for new revenues. More specifically, many of us think that various local and state entities constrained by balanced budget requirements ought to band together, in Oregon and with counterparts across the country, to call on the federal government to restore President Obama’s original scale of stimulus spending but enable it to be used for operating expenses, not just capital expenses, in necessary social services like public transit, in times of severe economic downturn — kind of an inverse of Oregon’s "kicker" for revenues above projections.

    Supposedly Oregon & the metro region are promoting green recovery and growth and jobs, yet we’re looking at cutting green jobs at TriMet. We need a People’s Bailout to protect jobs & ability to provide services, rather than cutting more jobs & raising demand for services while ability to provide them shrinks. Those jobs in turn keep income & spending at other businesses up.

    I personally disagree with Erik. Transit planning should be part of an integrated approach to development planning. That’s the only way that development can be made sustainable and equitable (ecologically, healthwise and economically) while maintaining or improving standards of living.

    However, I think transit planning in the Metro purview (in conjunction with cities and counties) is too focused on new population and dealing with growth, without enough attention to the people and neighborhoods that already are here. It is not that the growth issues should be ignored, but they need to be viewed in a more integrated way.

    Doing that might affect the balance of choices between rail and buses. The emerging 25 year planning orientation is strongly biased toward high density corridors, in which rail makes sense. But what about the people and places between the corridors? If we integrate them into the view, along with the question of linking people not directly in the corridors to them, it raises the profile of the need for continued & improved bus service.


  5. Thanks for the elaboration of what the TRU’s position is. I’m in about 80% agreement with you. I however hate fareless for a number of reasons, namely that it is a pain in the ass for bus drivers and it is a completely valid fare generation area. It also gives more legal precedence to police when actually cleaning up the transit services. Productive and useful citizens feel safe and like it is reasonable to use transit at night is a huge motivation for me. The times I’ve seen people leave, not board, and shy away because of some scummy unproductive person screwing around on transit just makes me sick.

    When it comes to bus service, more inventiveness and focus should and could be paid. BRT style service, focused stations in primary corridors like the #15, #75, and others on the east side I do believe should be bumped up.

    However many bus lines, and I know Erik, Al M, and maybe you guys at the TRU might disagree with me on this. Take the #9 for example, should immediately be turned into light rail. After the capital costs are expended the increase in ridership and savings would vastly exceed anything they could do with buses along the corridor. As for planning being connected, as you mention, Powell has massive potential for growth with a light rail line, that will never be achieved with BRT or regular bus service.

    Even though bus service should get some serious priority, TriMet absolutely should NOT decrease the priority of the Milwaukee Light Rail or a possible Powell line. Growth is going to happen, buses aren’t going to guide or help create livable communities the way light rail & such guided pathways can.


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