Bring out the riders. Tonight was a mighty toasty 80+ I'd guess. The #9, down to a frequency of every 30 minutes had a full load of about 38 people aboard. My guess, everyone is wondering around out in the heat since we only get about 2-6 weeks of this heat at the most. Personally I'm hoping on only a few more days of this incessant temperature.
This brought up the ongoing debate us transit nerds have been having time and time again, that bus service needs bumped up and paid attention to in Portland. Yeah, we have a world class system, this is true. But I am afraid I must agree, that bus service does truly need some attention. I'm not saying a lot, but a little TLC would go a long way.
Tonight is a prime example, and I know the union isn't able to handle this type of service level, but TriMet should have been able to dynamically bump up service levels within 30 minutes to get an extra bus into the flow out here. Sure 38 people isn't that many, but there where more, as I confirmed with a friend, standing a waiting within another 20 minutes or so. Unfortunately for them that left another 40 minutes until the next bus. TriMet needs to add some dynamic abilities to their services. There are several steps that need to happen.
- The Unions and TriMet need to come to a flexible work shift agreement to bring drivers in on short notice without getting slammed hard for the hours. There really isn't any point in providing the service if the Union requires excessive pay, especially when they could get drivers to volunteer to be available and would probably be happy for the regular pay rates for the time.
- This is the big one, more so than the Union agreement. TriMet needs to be able to respond flexibly to changes in ridership movements. When there are crowds outside that want to ride, TriMet needs to have a way to track and dynamically flex routing muscle when need be. Currently they don't have that capability, at least not by what I could figure just by thinking through some of the issues from a technological perspective.
I'll elaborate on this second point. With a few observable cameras, that are most likely already in place, and a single observer they could monitor flows of people all over the city at key bus stop locations. Based on that they could call in drivers, or drivers currently ready for deployment, to key routes to get people moving. Tonight TriMet has had an opportunity to move several thousand extra people in the course of a few hours, but service levels just remained the same as the schedule dictates.
In today's Internet age, this is kind of silly that service can't dynamically reflect increased flows of people.
I'll write up some more movement and routing ideas in the near future. Some of the other points I've been thinking about is how to improve the bunching that happens on so many routes. I suspect TriMet could gain a 2-5% ridership increase and decrease buses on the road by about 2-5% also just by a few fixes to bunching. But more on that later, for now I'm off to some more code, transit, and general geekdom.