The Comparison So Far: TriMet vs. Metro/Sound Transit

Ok, I am in week three of my new Seattle life.  All is rocking along, but I must say I have noticed some serious differences between the transit options in Portland versus Seattle.

For one, both cities now have pretty much the same type of core modes.

Seattle Portland
Bus (30~ ft, 40 ft, 60~ft) Bus (30~ ft, 40 ft)
Streetcar (Skoda Style) Streetcar (Skoda Style)
Light Rail Light Rail
Oddball Monorail Oddball Aerial Tram
Ferries (big, small, medium)  
Commuter Rail (Engine + Passenger Cars) Commuter Rail (DMU)

The biggest differences I have noticed are those that impact me the most.  I will go through each of those here.

  • Wireless is available on the Express Buses & Commuter Trains.  This absolutely ROCKS and Portland should have done this ages ago!  It is NOT expensive to do these days either.  Point – Seattle
  • Metro & Sound Transit actually have cushy, comfortable, enjoyable seats to sit in.  This is a big step up from TriMet’s Seats except on the WES BRDs.  Point – Seattle
  • TriMet’s fare system is about a billion times easier to use, understand, and in addition it is actually cheaper if one uses it well.  Sound Transit, or Metro, or whatever – the Seattle Transit Fare System is absolutely nutsy.  Major failure in my opinion.  Point – Portland
  • TriMet has a ton more light rail, and if you like light rail as I do, and prefer it over buses, TriMet wins in this category big time.  Buses just are NOT smooth vehicles.  I try to use the laptop, with the awesome wireless and I have to fight to keep the stupid thing on my lap!  The longer buses are even less off a smooth ride.  Not a big issue to me, I deal, but overall it really sucks.  Light rail is generally just a lot smoother.  Point – Portland.

Point wise, Portland and Seattle are even.  2 points each.

However, TriMet in my opinion is doing a much better job of providing transit that is easy to use over the Seattle area agencies.  However the Seattle area agencies are doing a much better job at providing nice, comfortable transit that mostly works (the scheduling and mapping is horrible to figure out – mostly at the fault of Metro).  I am also betting, per area resident, per cost per person, TriMet is probably doing better too.  That however is a study for another time.

The other contender.  If Portland had a Microsoft Transit

Ok, so I am a private (i.e. pro-citizen/individual) operator advocate.  I hate that cities have taken transit (as any long time reader of this blog knows), made authorities, taken control from individuals running and operating transit as non-profit, for profit, or otherwise.  However, there is still private transportation in some areas, albeit often on a small scale.  One example of a not-so-small scale operation is Microsoft’s Transit & Commuter Operations.

Microsoft itself runs its own transit and commuter operations.  It includes taxis, mini-buses, and actual buses.  They operate at efficiencies that Metro, Sound Transit, and TriMet could only dream of.  They all provide wifi, and in normal private fashion, they cost taxpayers a whopping $0.

The dispatch system and other features of the system are integrated into the reception desks, computers, and all sorts of devices to create efficiencies in pickup and delivery of riders.  Metro & Sound Transit in Seattle and TriMet in Portland absolutely need to send people to learn from Microsoft, because there is a LOT to learn from these private operators.

This alone, when working at Microsoft (which I am doing as a consultant right now) makes Seattle ROCK in so many way.  Not a system I have seen compares to the awesomeness of Microsoft’s System.

Point – Seattle!

With that stated, Seattle wins hands down.  Portland needs more private entity involvement.


  1. So I wanted to put my $0.02 in on this.
    Each agency has their own fares, Metro has their odd ball fare system (which i have heard they are working to simplify), Sound Transit has their own Fare system. Even though you have a Metro driver, its not Metros Fare Structure, its ST’s. Sound Transit doesn’t actually run anything. Depending on what community the bus serves is who operates it, 545 for example stays in King Co, so Metro operates it. the 510 to Everett is run my Community Transit, still ST’s Fares and equipment, but they contract with CT for routes north, and Pierce Transit for routes south. Link is run by full time Metro operators, Sounder is run by BNSF and maintained by Amtrak. ST sets the rules, Metro follows them, sometimes with a fist in the air. At least they have always had a way to transfer among each other in some fashion, used to be PugetPass, now its ORCA, unlike say SF, where traveling within SF to a point out of SF could cost you 2 to 3 different fares, because no one cross transfers. I don’t know much about the MS system, except that its not as user friendly as any other agency……..because only employees can ride it. UW also has a small bus operation, despite Metro criss-crossing it in every possible direction. Boeing contracts and pays for some Metro service to Everett and South Seattle campuses, there is a Metro route that runs from Renton to Everett. Light rail is coming, as is RapidRide services all in the next few years.


  2. I’m so happy for your new life in STL!

    Wireless in our trains would be super cool here in Phoenix. (Hello, METRO CEO Stephen Banta, are you listening?) Especially with that long haul between Central Phoenix and Tempe/Mesa – wireless would provide riders with an opportunity to get some extra work accomplished on our ride home. I highly doubt this luxury will come anytime soon… our transit board votes on Wednesday on a proposed budget cut and service reductions.


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  4. Hmmm that was weird, my comment got eaten. Anyway I wanted to say that it’s nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.


  5. Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc.But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Because I was happy to discover how well-designed and fun to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.


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  8. Hands down, Apple’s app store wins by a mile. It’s a huge selection of all sorts of apps vs a rather sad selection of a handful for Zune. Microsoft has plans, especially in the realm of games, but I’m not sure I’d want to bet on the future if this aspect is important to you. The iPod is a much better choice in that case.


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  12. Apple now has Rhapsody as an app, which is a great start, but it is currently hampered by the inability to store locally on your iPod, and has a dismal 64kbps bit rate. If this changes, then it will somewhat negate this advantage for the Zune, but the 10 songs per month will still be a big plus in Zune Pass’ favor.


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