Holy Bujeezus a Fare Inspector on the Bus!

While heading home tonight on the #9 at the end of fare-less square a, gasp, fare inspector boarded and checked everyone’s fare.  Of course, as expected everyone on the bus had valid fare.  I think 95% of fare evasion occurs on the MAX, since it is inherently more vulnerable.  The inspector was one of the newer guys for sure, I haven’t seen him before and I think at some point I’ve met every fare inspector on the system that has been working more than 3-4 years.

The fare inspector popping on and off the bus was cool, but what got me writing this entry is pondering what the return on investment is for one form of transport over another.  The obvious answer is simply, it depends.  Measuring transport based solely on one measurement, such as per rider, per mile, per gallon, or otherwise doesn’t really tell one anything about returns.  A person, a town or city, or society gets when people travel by one mode or don’t travel by a particular mode varies depending on too many factors that I won’t even begin to list them.

For instance, New York gains billions by slight changes in subway efficiency or a couple lines being shut down for a few days.  Meanwhile, Portland loses service during the winter for days on end, and it doesn’t cause a blip on anyone’s radar outside of Portland.

Another thought, what happens if a couple major Interstates shutdown.  Let’s say the I-405 shuts down in LA.  The city becomes crippled beyond operation, at least, that segment of LA, which is by far a vast segment of LA.  If one Interstate shuts down like that in New York, barely a word would be mentioned outside the city.  But if part of the subway system is shut down, it would make world news.  Why?  Because in LA the Interstates are the primary mode of transport, in New York the transit is how one gets in and out of that city.

In both cities, one mode over another would obviously add or subtract differing positives and negatives.  If New York had an Interstate cut into its heart, it would probably lose more money than it could ever gain from Interstate access.  But add a Subway, and local values skyrocket and billions are netted just from the ridership.  Do the same in LA and nobody notices.  Just ask an average American about the subways in LA, they probably won’t even know they have one.

Either which way, it makes one ponder what are the best avenues of investment for the Portland area.  Overall I see TriMet & Metro making some good steps in the right direction, but there are some that do concern me.

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8 Comments

  1. [i]Let’s say the I-405 shuts down in LA. The city becomes crippled beyond operation, at least, that segment of LA, which is by far a vast segment of LA.[/i]

    Here’s why I-405 shutting down is a problem:

    http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=34.100149,-118.436394&spn=0.178535,0.363579&t=p&z=12

    That’s the terrain view of the freeway through the Sepulveda Pass.

    An I-405 shutdown in this area is an acute problem because, well, it cuts through a mountain. The other Canyons roads don’t provide the redundancy of the street grids that surround most other freeways.

    I can remember being on the Westside in 2006 when a deadly fiery crash happened in the Pass. Boy did it create a traffic nightmare. When I was trying to head east, the bus can only move its length per light cycle. It took about 10 minutes to get through a single block. I remember getting off one bus, walking several blocks, and going into a bank and coming out with more than enough time to walk and catch the next bus.

    Interestingly, though, in the face of disaster the traffic grid had mostly been resilient. In the 1994 earthquake, a section of I-10 collapsed in West L.A. The overpass was rebuilt in weeks, and in the meantime, emergency buses were running on parallel east-west streets like Venice, Pico, Olympic and Wilshire.

    The worst highway collapse was SR-14, which is the only road out of town for the Antelope Valley to join the mainland. Since it’s a ridiculously far-away and isolated exurb, this meant more than 100,000 people had been stranded. Fortunately, there was a busy railway that had not been damaged. Metrolink service was able to be extended to Palmdale and Lancaster. The freeway was restored within a few weeks as well, but an unprecedented high number of riders chose to stick with the train and the emergency extension was made permanent.

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  2. Yes, fare inspectors do surface on a bus once in a blue moon. I have seen at least one in 20+ years.

    Ben,
    I like your positive approach and obvious enjoyment derived from riding public transportation. I will always choose public transport over personal car use and to me public transportation is the "way to go." My perspective is usually evaluating the overall experience keeping in mind that public transportation for many riders is their only option. In that light, my eye is always on improvements in service; the fun aspect of riding the bus/max is an added benefit.

    The new trains, to me, are certainly not as passenger friendly in that the seats are not as comfortable and the seating arrangement is not as enjoyable. There are several seats where one does not have a window.

    I agree with someone’s comment about the "green" line; it seems it is encouraging park and ride more than anything, thus still causing America to be vehicle dependent.

    Comment on Vancouver. Vancouver does not need a max line. The express buses work well for getting people to jobs in Portland. C-Tran needs to establish better pick-up and delivery service to Delta Park, however. At least get us back across the bridge safely and then we can find a way home from downtown since most C-Tran buses do not run past 9 pm once we make it to Vancouver. Why can’t Trimet run area transportation in Vancouver (it is done in other areas of the country). One service covers the Washington, D.C. metro area (includes Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.)??

    A question? If rider fares provide soooo little to the overall income of public transportation in Vancouver, why even charge passengers. The service provided is not that great; it should be free.

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  3. <i>But add a Subway, and local values skyrocket and billions are netted just from the ridership. Do the same in LA and nobody notices.</i>

    Interesting comment.

    Last year I was in Los Angeles and rode the Red Line subway, and I got out at the Wilshire/Vermont station. And when I got up to the top of the station…shocked me.

    I saw Transit Oriented Development like you would <b>NEVER</b> see in Portland. EVER.

    Here was this tall, multi-use building, sitting right on top of the subway station. You got out of the subway and into a plaza with the commercial space surrounding you (not the street)…you had to walk out of the plaza through an opening to get to the intersection of Wilshire and Vermont where you found yourself not just at two busy streets – but two busy BUS STOPS. Including a Metro Rapid line. And there were buses – and lots of them.

    Wait a second – I’m in Los Angeles…

    I saw dozens of gleaming new BRT buses, buses that came with impeccable frequency, buses that went everywhere. I saw a Subway system where dozens of TVMs awaited you (and they all worked!), and Fare Inspectors (they were actually LA Sheriffs Deputies, not "rent-a-cops" or "transit supervisors".) I returned back to Union Station and boarded a Metrolink Train – six cars plus a locomotive, each car a double-decker…rode it out to Orange County and back. When I came back to Union Station, we were arriving into the station while THREE trains passed us – SIMULTANEOUSLY – in the opposite direction.

    No, L.A. isn’t perfect, and yes their freeways are huge and wide. But I saw true investment in their total transit system. You could go places, and you weren’t limited to crappy bus service versus gold plated light rail lines. The buses were good. The subway was good. The heavy rail was good. The light rail was good. The commuter rail was good. And it all worked – and on time.

    And that subway station…imagine it like the Round at Beaverton Central – except that it was actually fully developed and occupied, unlike the Round where it’s half vacant, dead, and surrounded by rubble and undeveloped, bare land…

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  4. Yeah. I’m looking forward to discovering some of this. However I doubt it will change my mind about PDX. I’ve never seen a single part of LA that impressed me enough with decent enough livability to swap for SE Portland. I’ve got two friends matter of fact, who will be heading this way after deciding LA/OC just aren’t cutting it.

    In a week I’ll be collected photos like a mad man down in LA & Orange County. I hope to spend at least a day or two riding transit all over the place too. Then of course, I might stay out on the Peninsula I’m heading to, as it doesn’t require any driving around in the monstrosity of LA’s highways & interstates. It will be interesting, whatever the case.

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  5. [i]Here was this tall, multi-use building, sitting right on top of the subway station. You got out of the subway and into a plaza with the commercial space surrounding you (not the street)…you had to walk out of the plaza through an opening to get to the intersection of Wilshire and Vermont where you found yourself not just at two busy streets – but two busy BUS STOPS. Including a Metro Rapid line. And there were buses – and lots of them.[/i]

    This building can be seen on TV.

    There’s a Geico ad with a caveman with the "Let Me Be Myself" song. There’s a scene where the caveman undoes his shirt and ponytail and runs through a courtyard in a celebratory mood. That’s the building Erik’s talking about.

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  6. I like that fare idea Al M. Again, Government run, they’ve screwed up with the ticket machines for so long they’ll not be able to change easily. It has taken San Francisco about 10 years of ongoing failures to get theirs working. Sometimes, I really with transit authorities would work with other entities that have this mess working already, but instead they seem to screw it up every time they implement these systems.

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