Portland Proper, Maps

Over time, I intend to write some material that I’ll definitely reference these maps in. Here’s a fairly high resolution image of Portland and its respective boundaries.

Portland & Boundaries, Highest Resolution. Click to get a full size image.

Portland & Boundaries, Highest Resolution. Click to get a full size image.

Portland again, with clearly marked border lines. Click for larger image.

Portland again, with clearly marked border lines. Click for larger image.

Portland, focused on northern segment. Click for full size image.

Portland, focused on northern segment. Click for full size image.

Portland, focused around the southern areas. Click for full size image.

Portland, focused around the southern areas. Click for full size image.

There are more where this came from that I’ve sliced and diced on my Smugmug.

Does Amtrak Come Thru?

Before reading this entry you may want to read the first part, where things get entirely messed up in the first place. This part of the story is the ongoing story of my travel woes…

With the whole mess already framed, I awoke on Thursday with intent to travel on Friday. My original travel date, back when I scheduled this trip over a month ago was to be on Saturday. I’d changed it once, and that change went through the Amtrak computer system just fine.

Context of How I Interact and Operate With Amtrak

Generally Amtrak always has my tickets correct. The ticket clerks, at least in the Pacific Northwest are always nice and at worst, respectful in their interactions with me. For me, this is my baseline of interaction with Amtrak. Generally good people that are respectful to me and to other passengers. Overall Amtrak, in the northwest does a good job of performing their jobs too!

Because Amtrak personnel in the northwest are competent, respectful and generally good people. I’ve never had to get frustrated, never been insulted and problems have always been resolved almost immediately. So I operate, obviously conserving my time and energy, by assuming they’re doing these things. In the end, even with the debacle I was fighting earlier this week, I come out on top with time saved, not stressing over travel arrangements, ticket problems or otherwise. Never have I had any remotely significant problem or been insulted by poor customer interactions.

Earlier in the week that all changed. Should I blame myself and consider it my own incompetence that I got messed up tickets? A comment in the previous entry portrayed that I should blame myself. This is a serious victims mentality. If one accepts this mentality they will end up always being the victim, and I have too many things to do in life for myself and for those I care about to suck up my life acting like a victim. It”s vastly less time consumed and I come out less stressed, have more time for myself and those I love, and actually end up being “lucky” and respected by people assuming that they’ll merely do their jobs as best they can. I could go on for hours why this is a superior attribute and better for everybody involved.

Blaming one self first is ridiculous, the first thing to do is to try and determine what the problem is. The second thing is to resolve the problem in a logical and respectful way. That second part is where Amtrak screwed up last time. Not particular Amtrak as a whole, but one single phone operator that doesn’t understand basic customer relations very well. The last thing you ever do when someone is merely explaining the problem on the phone is start blaming them.

So now that I’ve put down some clarification of all this nonsense and why I got so perturbed by the whole scenario, I’ve got more to the story now.

Failing Software?

Amtrak clearly has a software synchronization problem. With a physical ticket being printed out that is for one date, the same reservation being displayed online for a completely different date, we already had one glaring software issue. The consistency between these two mediums was incorrect. When I had called originally these tickets remained incorrect, and the clerk had even reported a different time again. Then the whole explosion of absolutely unacceptable costumer service behavior occurred.

Well on Thursday I called customer relations, or more accurately I went through the phone menu to get to the customer relations line. The first person I talked to, I explained the problem to them, patiently as I do. She seemed a bit confused, but as she is supposed DID NOT IMMEDIATELY BLAME ME. Matter of fact, she didn’t even blame me. She confirmed that the reservation showed the 22nd. I told her that I had the ticket in my had which was not supposed to be for the day, but it showed the 21st. So we both were confused. So before having it become too complicated I explained my original intent, when rescheduling on Monday, was to have the departure date be Friday the 25th departing on the Coast Starlight for Portland, Oregon.

She then noted that the ticket for the 22nd had shown lifted too, so she’d have to send me to customer relations. I confirmed with her, that when she says “lifted” that this means a conductor marked me as on the train?

She said “yes”.

To which I asked her, “so they marked me on the train even though I’m in San Francisco?”

She responded, “it looks that way.”

I merely said, “weird” and she then forwarded me on to customer relations.

I got to customer relations and a lady answered the phone. She asked how she could help and I commenced to explain the situation again, starting from the original purchase on to the Monday when all this chaos started. She then looked at the reservation that she could see. I suppose she has an actual log she could see because the conversation then went like this.

While looking at the ticket and reservation log she asks, “so just to clarify, you’re in San Francisco and left from Denver, completing the first part of the trip right?”

“Yes.”

She continued, “ok, this reservation is completely messed up, it shows a travel time, a printed ticket dispersed for a different date, somehow that then got changed from and to the original travel date of the 26th to the 25th and then to the 22nd, printed the 21st, then back to the 25th and finally shows lifted on the 22nd.”

I responded, somewhat even more confused, “what? I mean, the 25th was listed at some point?”

She says, sounding confused too, “yeah, but it was lifted the 22nd and then just shows as a ticket for the 22nd.”

At this point my mind is completely blown. What the… ¬† there’s nothing really that can explain this, beyond just simply absurd.

She continued, “well let me see, oh forget it. I’m going to cancel this entire trip reservation and get you setup with a completely new one.”

Happily I respond, “that sounds great.”

Meanwhile, I get put on hold a few and she works diligently to fix the tickets and reservation. Finally after about 45 minutes of fighting the battle with the Amtrak ticketing system, she returns to the phone with, “Alright Mr Adron I have you scheduled to depart on the Coast Starlight Friday the 25th from Oakland heading to Portland, Oregon.”

“Perfect!” I say. I’m relieved, and confident that the way I handle these things is fine. My confidence in Amtrak’s intent to keep things on the up and up is restored. I knew they would see this silly mess and fix it.

Now the computer systems and software however, there is still some serious concern there. What exactly is happening. The reason I ask is because this story isn’t over yet.

It Continues

I head off to work and get some things done with the team. It’s a good day, and I return home and check the reservation again via my mobile device.

It shows nothing. NOTHING!

I’m a bit freaked out, Amtrak’s accuracy in ticketing is plummeting fast at this rate. I then click on the mobile app button where it says there are no reservations and it pulls up another screen. What do I see? I see a reservation, but what’s this? Emeryville. I gotta go to Emeryville to board the train? What happened to Oakland? Oh well, whatever, that’s still acceptable. The reason I decide to just go with it is that Emeryville is about 10 kilometers north of Oakland, so no big deal. I’ll just take the BART and do the transfer I generally don’t like to do to get there. Perfectly doable, I don’t want to call service again.

On Friday, I depart for the station in Emeryville. Upon arriving I go to get my ticket. The ticket machine reports I must go to the ticket clerks in Emeryville. Then I notice some things while waiting in line listening to the clerks.

1. The clerks are working, while a third employee sits behind them bitching and whining about how she got a customer complaint from someone. She is doing this so loud that the entire waiting area can hear her babbling on about how it was the lady’s fault and not her fault. At this point, just from how she was whining about it, declaring for anyone that grasps the concept, that she was playing the victims card and is in fact a whiney brat about these situations. She displayed the exact emotions that would make her the person who would behave in such an inappropriate way and then say she was the victim. If I were running this station I’d probably have to fire this person. She was going on with such dispassionate and disrespectful word usage that she actually had waiting passengers go out to the platform because they felt uncomfortable listening to this lade endlessly bitch. The other two clerks continued working but kept nodding and letting her go on and on while trying to work.

2. I pulled up foursquare on my phone and multiple comments about the Emeryville Station came up. A huge number of the comments all revolved around “customer service here sucks” and “if you get the girl with the fake hair she’s a psycho” and “the old guy mopping the floor is the only nice person here” and the list just goes on and on. Usually I’m not one to just follow along with comments and agree. But in this situation, and considering it isn’t always common for people to comment on locations, these had more impact that most would. Maybe the Emeryville Station does have a significant customer service issue?

3. This was the station I received the messed up tickets in the first place. Matter of fact the lady who gave me the tickets was one of the working clerks now, letting this other employee just carry on endless and create a hostile, negative and uncomfortable working environment for everybody and a similar environment for the waiting passengers. She was also, when I changed my tickets, griping about something at the time too.

Emeryville, I give an F for customer service. I had not dealt with this type of crappy behavior since I’d lived in the south, where I was used to this type of attitude problem, hostile and uncomfortable situations, and unnecessary victim mentality. I generally don’t find it in California, and I really don’t experience it in Portland or Seattle or even in downtown San Francisco.

So I walk up and provide ID and state that I’m here to pick up my ticket. The clerk, while conferring and griping with the loud individual, prints it out and hands it to me. What’s on the ticket?¬†Freaking Oakland.

What the hell. I come to Emeryville, which apparently is not a good station experience, and then get a ticket for Oakland. Oh dear the insanity of this. Whatever, I’m downline from Oakland toward the destination. Amtrak has never not accepted a passenger that gets on for a shorter distance than the one originally purchased. I’ve done this a few times matter of fact. Fortunately, this was no exception.

The clerk also reported the train 20 minutes late. The website did not show the train 20 minutes late. I was plenty early so it really didn’t matter. I sat down and started waiting. Sure enough, the train arrived not on time, but 3 minutes early. That works for me.

The Ride Begins

Myself and a few dozen other passengers all jump up throw on our packs and head out for the train. For this particular train (and the California Zephyr) they actually pull past the front of the station. Why, I am not entirely sure, as there is plenty of platform to just be in front of the station. I head out and walk the entire length of the train (which for context, is longer than a whole Talgo train, the Starlight is one of the longest trains in the Amtrak Fleet). I get to sleeping car 1430 and am greeted with a friendly hello and a, “hey, were you originally boarding in Oakland?”

I respond with a smile and a “yes, but online I got Emeryville listed, so ended up here instead, figured it was alright…”

To which the attendant smiled back, laughed, and said, “no worries boss, your room is right to the right of the entrance there. Just was wondering, thought we’d might have missed ya…”

I turned and there was my roomette, bed made up, ready for me to collapse. I stowed my stuff away and plunked down for some sleep. Outside my window was a beautifully clear sky, the train began to roll along at a steady 79mph. I checked a few things and rolled on my side, gazing out of the giant window at the sky, with sparse clouds. It had a grey and white glow against a blue and black back drop. The moon sat high above clearly outlining the detail of everything. The moon, being very full tonight, smiled upon me and I wavered and passed into slumber.

Albeit all this nonsense, it felt really good rolling along at 79mph heading back home with a beautiful view, with everything finally straightened out. Patience, do right by people, and things get settled. Cheers!

I Am Pissed, Amtrak Screwed Up Massively and Now I Have to Renegotiate My Day Completely To Deal With It…

I travel a lot. I travel a lot by train. But today Amtrak seriously did something that is making me rethink how I will be traveling in the future. They completely have screwed up things. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a look at concrete evidence.

I arrived at Emeryville Station to transfer to a Capital Corridor Train to go to Oakland (Jack London Square). I had just boarded and enjoyed a trip from Denver on the Zephyr. Overall a nice trip. The second full part of the trip however wasn’t to start until Saturday the 26th when I would depart from Oakland on the Coast Starlight to Portland. Well, I wanted to reschedule for Friday to depart & to upgrade to a roomette.

I walked up to the ticket agent to make these changes on my ticket. Keep in mind this was a two part trip; Denver to Oakland and then a week later, departing on Saturday the 26th from Oakland to Portland. I asked the ticket clerk if it would be possible to change my ticket from Oakland to Portland from the 26th to the 25th and upgrade to a roomette. She replied, “yes, let me take a look“. She pulled up the information and supposedly made this change. As she printed out the ticket she handed it to me and stated, “here’s the ticket for Friday (she didn’t state the numerical date) and here’s the refund and changes summary on this other ticket“. She held the ticket and exchange receipt like this to show me.

Showing me the receipt, she held the ticket and receipt that where stapled together like this.

Showing me the receipt, she held the ticket and receipt that where stapled together like this. (click for a full size image)

So I assumed, that since she just stated Friday to me and handed me the ticket and exchange receipt that everything was in order. I pocketed the ticket and headed out to board the Capitol Corridor Train to Oakland to complete this first leg of the trip.

Fast forward to Tuesday (yesterday). I looked online to see what the exact departure time was for the Coast Starlight heading north and this is when I realized there had been a mistake. But this simple mistake was only the beginning. The website on Tuesday, at around 11:30pm when I’m looking at the site, all of a sudden shows that I’m supposed to be leaving ON TUESDAY!? This was NOT what I was told nor what I rescheduled. I thought to myself, ok, no biggie I’ll call them as soon as possible on Wednesday and get this figured out. I’m sure that Amtrak will fix it, they generally do. Here’s what the website actually shows now, on Wednesday at 10:30pm. Still the incorrect time.

Yup, it says the 22nd. Ugh, seriously Amtrak, that's three different dates I'm given. (again, click on image for full size)

Yup, it says the 22nd. Ugh, seriously Amtrak, that’s three different dates I’m given. (again, click on image for full size) …and btw, that amount isn’t what was charged to my card, to my company to anybody, nor was it the amount of the full trip or this part of the trip. I don’t even know who this amount of money applies to. I’m so confused at this point, I have no idea and it doesn’t seem anyone at Amtrak has any idea what is actually going on. All I do know is I don’t have a ticket for the day I need to take the train back to Portland.

So at this point I’d still not looked at my physical ticket, which was to have another surprise. I went in to the office to take care of meetings and other things I’d planned on well before that needed taken care of. I finally arrived later in the day to where I was staying and called Amtrak at 10pm. I know, this is outside of hours that anybody that can actually be helpful in these matters is available. I get that, but imagine being a customer that needs this fixed now, they’d be screwed. Fortunately I’m a pretty flexible and easy going guy. I generally don’t bother people and let people do right by me. Almost always, people do exactly that and treat me well and honorably with appropriate intent.

Well I called and the operator answered. I didn’t understand her name, except something like Alisha or something. It was, I’ll admit, hard to understand her since her accent was a little thick. It was an American accent, likely of the east coast with a little southern thrown in. Now, I can understand almost any accent. Especially southern, cajun, Boston, New York and pretty much anywhere in the United States. But her slurring wasn’t very effective at actual communication. Again, I’m easy going so I thought, “whatever, I can deal with this…”

She asked how she could help me. So I explained to her my plight, and this is where she, and Amtrak, screwed up in a horribly dishonorable and inconsiderate way again. After I explain to her the situation, and while looking at the ticket – which, before I go on look at the ticket below.

Hmmm, the ticket I received from the clerk actually shows the 21st. So wait, was I supposed to be on this train on the 22nd or the 21st? Well that isn't what the clerk said, she had told me the ticket was rescheduled for the 25th! (again, click for a larger image)

Hmmm, the ticket I received from the clerk actually shows the 21st. So wait, was I supposed to be on this train on the 22nd or the 21st? Well that isn’t what the clerk said, she had told me the ticket was rescheduled for the 25th! (again, click for a larger image)

Yup, that’s right. The ticket isn’t even for the day that the website shows on the screen. What the hell Amtrak? Somebody screwed up big time on this one. Ok, again, not a big deal we can remedy it. At least I thought that to myself. But this is when things got intolerable and completely unacceptable. The ticket showed that the departure time was supposed to be on the 21st, the website shows a departure of the 22nd, and I was told the departure was rescheduled for the 25th. Then the lady on the phone told me, “since you where a no show, you’ve forfeited the ticket…”

For those that don’t know how to interact with customers, the last thing you do in this particular situation is BLAME THE CUSTOMER. You NEVER BLAME THE CUSTOMER FIRST. You always try to determine if there is way to remedy things without a significant money cost, especially when there is the possibility (which in this case there’s evidence) that the company (Amtrak) is the party responsible for the fault. This was a customer service mistake 101. Completely unprofessional.

WHAT THE HELL?! I didn’t “no show”. I was misinformed, Amtrak’s clerk screwed up. The website shows the wrong information and I screwed up? No I didn’t. I didn’t screw up. Amtrak did. Technically, they screwed up and I’d already overlooked multiple other screw ups. But then their phone line person has the inappropriate and rude training to blame me for screwing up? This is, simply, completely unacceptable. I just wanted my ticket fixed. But instead I get this crap about how its all my fault that I didn’t check the ticket in the email and the physical ticket I have and verify that they’re all the same and that what the ticket clerk said they gave me was the correct thing that they gave me. Seriously Amtrak? I’m supposed to check 3 different things to verify that your clerk didn’t screw up my request?!

That is absolutely, in every way inexcusable. On top of that, which I was willing to forget all of these screw ups, the phone person then has the shoddy training and bad customer skills to say its my fault. I don’t know how many ways to say to Amtrak that you guys owe me big time.

So I’ll be calling on Thursday, tomorrow, with basically one day to go and now cutting it close, to fix this nonsense. I expect things to be fixed and will be sorely upset if they don’t have a roomette to have me in on the north bound trip on Friday of the Coast Starlight. If Amtrak really wants to fix things I’ll receive a full refund and be able to write a positive blog entry after this one commending Amtrak customer service on fixing their multiple wrongs they’ve done me.

No matter what, this is going to cost me customer time with MY CLIENTS tomorrow. Which is even worse, because I actually have to work with my clients, I have no Government to bail me out, I ask for no union to protect me, I just want to provide value to my clients that they find worth paying me for. But instead, I have to break of from my time with clients to call Amtrak to fix this during their “business hours”. So hopefully, I receive a full refund and get this ticket situation remedied immediately upon calling tomorrow.

I honestly want to write a story about how Amtrak fixed all of this. I have my fingers crossed.

PS Amtrak: I’d highly advise two other things in addition to hopefully fixing my ticket and giving me a refund. One is to check out the system and see why it would do this. Something, most likely whatever the last pushes live with various systems were, are causing a bug. The second thing is, fix this inappropriate actions taken by the phone staff. They should have better customer service skills than this.

In Denver, Finding Amtrak…

Today is Friday, the last day of the engineering meetup I came to Denver for, but the first day of city, coffee, transit explorations and finding my egress point from Denver, Amtrak. Currently Amtrak isn’t using Denver’s grand Union Station because it is being worked on and renovated for multiple rail lines, transit connections and other things as Denver’s upcoming intermodal hub. The station is without doubt absolutely beautiful. Here’s a photo of it with the Oxford Hotel sign in the forefront, my residence while staying in Denver this week.

Union Station, Denver

Union Station, Denver (Click for the large image)

I made a short video of my expedition to find the Amtrak Station.

Finding Amtrak in Denver from Adron Hall on Vimeo.

Stay tune, I’ll have more videos, photos and information on Denver real soon. It’s a beautiful city with a lot of upcoming potential. The downtown is booming, even when it’s freezing. Overall I’ve been impressed. You’ll be hearing more about Denver here on the Transit Sleuth real soon.

Hybrid Buses @Trimet

They’re back…

But will they stick? Will they become common place? Will they be cleaner and better and more reliable? Maybe, maybe not. I’m sure we’ll find out. Any bus order that isn’t the 2900 (a purchase from just a few years ago) lot would seem to be better buses. But I digress, I wanted to mention that at least one hybrid (and I’m assuming the others from this order) bus is on the ground, painted up and ready for action here at Trimet for the city of Portland.

So what’s your take? Do you think they’ll do better? Will they be more reliable? Will it actually increase the mileage and efficiency? Will it save money or cost more?

Trimet's new hybrid.

Trimet’s new hybrid.

What Do I Think About The TriMet Performance?

A number of days ago I posted a poll (which if you’d like, I’m still taking feedback and collecting it together). In it I asked a few questions about Trimet, how it is doing as an agency, and a few other simple questions. I’m going to produce a shiny report in the near future with the results, but for now, as previously promised here are my answers.

Name:

Transit Sleuth

Do I think that things could be better in transit for the city of Portland?

Yes

Do I think TriMet is doing a good job as a whole with the revenue they take in and from taxes?

Compared to other transit agencies around the United States, they’re doing one of the best jobs in the United States. Compared to the Canadian cities or even to the United States of the past? I think Trimet is making the exact same mistakes that are forced upon every major US city today. Transit agencies are setup to beg for funding while roadways are setup for automatic subsidies. There’s an obvious and outright discrimination to any mode or thought that a United States Citizen would do anything besides drive. This is reflected in the regulatory and nightmarish transit policies and monopolistic practices that transit agencies are setup with throughout the United States, which also pushes their costs up to often absurd levels. Throw in a heavy dose of monopoly Union control over the agencies, a lack of any clear¬†competitiveness¬†except to beg for money, and transit in the United States is ripe for inefficiencies on a grand scale. Overall though, I find that it could safely be said, that under Government monopoly operations transit is about 20-40% more expensive than private operations. To summarize, do I think we could get more for our tax dollars? No. Do I think we could get more as consumers of a service? History would say yes and I side with history.

Who do I think is responsible for the problems (if you think they have issues) at TriMet?

Let me create a list:

  • The Federal Government and many of the absurd standards and regulations they’ve set on transit. The vast subsidies that control the transportation industry in the United States (which also in many ways has almost destroyed the transit aspect of it) and give little freedom to cities, businesses or individuals to truly setup and operate transit agencies in general.

  • The State has poor management over most of the roadways it controls in Portland. Namely 82nd and Powell are a mess and there is little Portland – even though these are obviously Portland roadways now – have almost zero control over what to do with or how to remedy these massive traffic problems. Trimet, or anyone in the city for that matter, can’t run BRT, light rail, or for that matter many more buses than already run on the street. For this, ODOT shares a large part of responsibility in our transit mess. If they build the monstrous CRC then ODOT will¬†absolutely¬†be responsible for creating one of the largest nightmares in Portland’s history.

  • Portland Leadership (Mayor, etc) is not even attempting to make Trimet run lean. Not that the leadership should, it isn’t technically their¬†responsibility.¬†It is however in their best interest to make Trimet and leaner, cleaner transit machine to improve the livability of citizens in the city. Overall, I blame the leadership at this level only a small bit.

  • PDC, the Portland Development Commission and let’s include the Metro Committee or whatever they’re called¬†has a huge say in how things are developed, what will be developed and how it will be developed in Portland. This inherently bleeds over to Trimet in a large way. I however, happen to agree with the PDC in most cases and actually support it’s existence. I support it for one reason, I’ve seen the opposite of it in other cities and it causes absolute havoc. It is why Portland can act and act quickly, with a clear mission, toward improving livability and other things throughout the city. Many cities in America cannot do this and it shows in ¬†the fact they’ve allowed their downtown cores to be decimated, their suburbs to sprawl for hundreds of square miles, their tax bases to¬†disappear¬†and the cities to almost falter except for the existence of some tall buildings. It is indeed sad. So do I blame the PDC? Yes, but I generally blame them for much of the positive focus and clarity around Trimet’s actions and work with the city to build roads, stops and other amenities that benefit cyclists, pedestrians and dramatically increase safety for both of these peoples. Almost¬†inadvertently¬†auto safety has increased through a byproduct of a lot of these designs.

  • Trimet, we now get to the people that are responsible for the agency itself. At least, responsible for a 90% of everything about the agency. The other part is of course the Union. The union provides Trimet the workforce that drives the buses, MAXs and because they forced¬†the¬†city to use the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) labor, the streetcar. The WES is however serviced by the freight railroad that actually owns the track and trackway, the Portland & Western Railroad. Trimet is also largely responsible for many of the issues, and I’ll even admit that they could stand to replace many of the buses that have been neglected over the years. Some of those buses really shouldn’t be on the road anymore, it’s time to recycle them. I also think it is a problem, however it is somewhat small, that Trimet actually manages capital projects, which seems smart and not. The reason it is smart, there is no closer entity to the problems the capital projects will solve than Trimet and why it is not smart, is because Trimet’s main onus of operandi is to run transit services. The operational needs of services provisions should one up the project management of these projects. Fortunately, this is again a small overall problem. In the end, it’s a boost to the overall local economy for the duration of any capital projects, whether roadway, rail or otherwise.

  • ATU Trimet Union is another huge candidate in the overal scheme of things. They have poor leadership (DUIs and other absurd dishonorable actions on their member’s part are more frequent than one would like to admit, I personally have even received, albeit forgave, a death threat from ATU Members). Do I support unions? These days not particularly. Have I supported and are there situations I might support Unions? Yes. Do I support the ATU right now? Not really, they’ve screwed up far more than Trimet has, overreached their bounds, and battled to get the drivers so much that it makes the labor cost for basic transit service fairly unreasonable – but NOT something the drivers shouldn’t deserve and expect – the Union has just gone about it in a horribly¬†inefficient¬†way and setup Trimet so that the only real option is to start fighting them over costs. This is bad for EVERYBODY involved. The Union, its members, the customers of Trimet and the citizens of Portland.

Do you know about, what they’re for, and how the PDC (Portland Development Commission), City of Portland Mayor, Commissioners, City Council, etc work?

Yes. See above. I often get involved when I can and when I find the issue is truly important.

What would be the #1 thing that TriMet – or any entity – in Portland should do to help improve transit in the city?

This list is huge. The biggest win for the United States and especially Trimet could receive is a dramatic and immediate reduction in road subsidies from the Federal Government and a removal of the arbitrary regulations around road building and Interstates. Setting up where money is allocated to cities based on density, number of people and prospective service while reducing the subsidies and zoning encouragement for large sprawl and allow local cities and states dictate how they will build out their infrastructure, systems and related networks. The only large scale infrastructure the Feds have ever accomplished was the Interstate System, which displaced hundreds of thousands of minorities through¬†eminent¬†domain destroying vibrant downtown cores of once majestic cities and then in turn lumping the costs of almost the entire system on the states even though capital outlay was primarily funded through central planning and implemented in an authoritarian way (yes, those of you that are confused, the Interstate System is indeed an example of how Communism and Socialism can work, if that’s what you consider a success).

Simply put, getting the Feds out of our pockets and out of the decision making in Portland would be the greatest boon for cycling, transit and general livability this city could imagine.

The second best thing, which is probably more reasonable, is to expect a more balanced approach to city building. Even though Beaverton, Hillsboro and Gresham don’t pay in remotely close to the amount that Portland proper pays into the transit budget, they should however be built up further around core city center concepts. For the next 5 years, I’d say the metropolitan area should allocate 80% of all funds for transit, livability improvements, bikeways and related funding to the outer city centers (those stated) and the micro-town centers throughout the metropolitan area. I also agree, that bus line amenities and capital outlay and improvements should continue and be a larger part of the city budget. Trimet should focus more on operations around Light Rail and Buses, connecting and getting the frequencies more closely spaced to make the system easier and easier to use. I do NOT think we should lose focus on building out a core backbone in the system with light rail, if anything we should INCREASE spending to get core backbone with LRT and also BRT, but not wimpy piece meal BRT. If we’re going to do BRT half way, I say skip it and sink the capital for light rail now. BRT that isn’t dedicate ROW is a joke. Seattle is proving that for us right now, as I type this, at how poorly and catastrophically bad it can go for a city. Fortunately they’ve spent almost nothing for it (except they’ve had to further cut core services to make sure they could meet their Federal match for it).

Overall, do I think Trimet is doing a bad job? Considering their regulatory, legal and budgetary restrictions, no. Do I think their doing the best job or even close to the best job they could? no.

So there you have it. My two cents, the Transit Sleuth

Yes transit could improve in Portland. Trimet, PDC, the ATU, Portland Leadership, and especially the Federal Government all play a part in the issues that exist with getting better service. Do I blame any single entity entirely, no.

Do I think things will improve over the next 3-5 years? No, primarily because I don’t think the economy will dramatically improve for 3-5 years. However, until the Feds straighten their nonsense out, this 3-5 years could drag on much longer. But time will tell and there is no point on dwelling.

In the end, I hope for improvement. But in the meantime I’ll keep on contributing, being involved and living as best as I can.

Happy riding, cycling and walking! Cheers

A Trip to Washington Square With The Good People

Today I needed to make a trip out to pick up Lego supplies. Thus my story starts with this simple requirement I made. However simple the trip, there are so many little nuances to life, to the trip, to the day. So many things that make life most excellent and happy or dire and depressing. If you want to hear about a dire and depressing story, stop reading now, because this was one of those nice trips with all sorts of positive aspects of humanity showing through.

The trip started at 6:32pm. I headed down to board any of the buses that would get me to Washington Square Mall, where the only Lego Store in the Portland Metropolitan area is located. I checked PDXBus¬†(probably the best transit app available for Trimet or any agency for that matter, hats off to the coder(s) that put it together and made it FREE)¬†on my iPhone and it looked like 23 minutes until the next departure. That seemed absurd, so I figured I’d just walk down to the bus mall and be prepared.

How It Works – PDX Bus on iOS (the shortened version without technical mumbo jumbo)

The reason the PDXBus showed me 23 minutes is because it does a calculation to determine if it needs to use the scheduled time or a GPS location estimate from where the bus was last identified. Since the bus lines that I was looking for #56 & #54 both start downtown then it gets a little flaky. The buses stop, usually with a wait time of 5-15 minutes. During that time of day they may or may not identify as active, and thus show a GPS location, or inactive in which case the scheduled time would be shown. Since the bus has stopped moving, if the GPS shows up while it is waiting, such as if the driver turns the bus on and a reading goes through, the bus might get a really odd estimate. This is why the bus reading showed 23 minutes when I pulled up PDXBus.

Since I know how the system works and where the beginning of the bus line is, I knew that I should likely go by the scheduled time. As long as the previous bus made it downtown – which is 99% likely, then it would most likely be leaving at the schedule time (approximately 89% change). So with two changes that were really good, that the bus would leave at the particular scheduled time, being prepared was the best option.

It was, in the end the correct hedge too, because the bus showed up on time. I boarded the #54 toward Washington Square. The poor things I believe must have been 15-20 years old. The heater was working like a champ though, pumping out far more heat than necessary. But of course, I have a skewed position on temperature since I’ve got a good tolerance for cold and I’m in decent shape. Two things that put me at odds with the general populace, which is not in good shape and does not have a respective tolerance for cold.

Thus I sat and dealt with the heat. But I’ll admit, it was kind of nice to be in a heated bus versus standing outside, because even though I have a tolerance for the cold, I’m not really inclined to stand outside when it is indeed almost freezing.

The bus winded through the Beaverton and Hillsdale area hills. In and out and in and out. The trees encroached the view of the sky. It being a clear night the trees cut into the skyline like knives. Jutting amidst the clear blackened blue of the sky where the slight glow of lights. Since this is the Portland area, the lights used aren’t the same fluorescents that most cities use, which also gave me a grand view of the stars in the sky above. Simply, the trip was beautiful.

People Are Awesome

Amid all the horrible stories of murders, war and whatever other sicknesses we guans heft upon ourselves we often forget that we humans are actually good beings. We’re often kind to each other and thoughtful. We try and work toward doing well. If one just stops bitching for a short time they can often see this happening around them. Well, I make a point to see this as often as possible.

The first interaction that caught my eye was on the bus ride out. Several people sorted themselves out to help others actually get a seat on the bus, so that two people with leg injuries could get situated on the bus while everyone could still have a seat. When the injured went to get off the bus, several passengers jumped up to help.

Wedging Into Seats

These people did not need to do this, there was no law or regulation, there was no omniscient being manipulating their actions, there was simply a desire to help out each other, each of us and our fellow citizens and even – what might have been – non-citizens. Whatever the case it didn’t matter, because we were together in this trip and people were helping each other out.

Mall Cops

The second thing that came up was a simple conversation in the mall. A young girl was talking to two mall cops. She was a little confused about the layout of the mall. These were two older cops that were obviously on the mall payroll, so they weren’t armed, nor did they have any obligation to speak to anyone in the mall, nor did they have any monetary or other reason to do so. Again, simple friendliness among people.

This girl chatted with them getting the directions and figured out where she was trying to go. The officers then carried on patrolling while she headed off to her shopping.

Lost Things

There are many bus drivers out there that are awesome. They, at their core, are just great human beings. Forget the Union, forget all the drivers that may taint this image, these are the good drivers. They’re the drivers who greet you on boarding and actually look at you. They’re the drivers who report the weather when you’re exiting the West Hills Zoo Tunnel. They’re the drivers who go that extra bit, to make the commute or errands or whatever the trip may be, an enjoyable one.

On my way home from the mall, I boarded the last city bound #45. This is kind of a ridiculous route with really low ridership, but somehow Trimet has managed to find a way to keep it (hats off to them for that, because during the day I know it is actually a fairly frequented commuter route). The driver smiled and greeted me, albeit me being completely unfamiliar to her and unknown on this route. I am by no means a regular on the #45 (I think I might have boarded it downtown once before about 5 years ago and rode out on it once before for a Halloween party).

I sat down, the driver started to pull away, but someone waved to her to ask a question outside the bus. She stopped (mind you, she was on time still, so a short 10-30 second delay wouldn’t hurt at all) to see what the question was. Someone was asking if the other #45 had arrived to Tigard. A fellow passenger said, “yes, it had come by” while another said, “wait, that was probably the #76 to Tigard” and I chimed in with a defacto “it was indeed a #76 that went by, the outbound #45 to Tigard is about 4 minutes away according to the GPS coordinates”. She confirmed it with the inquiring person and off we went. We made it up, around and through two lights and the other outbound #45 could be seen coming down the street.

The driver of the outbound #45 flashed a signal or lights of some sort for the inbound #45 I was on to stop. The driver did and the other driver quickly got out of their bus, walked across the street and handed the driver of the inbound #45 something (if this is against Union policy or Trimet policy, just pretend this didn’t happen until you update your moral codes). I could hear the conversation, “you have a rider, should board in 2-3 stops that left this on the morning bus, they ride everyday and I didn’t want them to be cold”. She smiled at the other driver and said, “I’ll be sure to hand them over once they board and if not I’ll bring them in to lost and found with a note”. Off we went.

A few more stops down the road, about 10 minutes travelled, sure enough he regular rider boarded. The driver handed this rider this set of gloves, which they immediately responded with, “oh my god thank you, this will help so much, my hands were freezing and my arthritis would have killed me. I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I’d put them!” The regular rider then sat down and enjoyed their ride into the city.

The moral of this whole story is, whenever you think humanity is just full of spit and vinegar, hatred and disgust or whatever number of despicable things just stop. Stop and think. Stop and relax. Stop and take a breath. Watch those people around you, watch regularly, breath and realize how many interactions and small good deeds are done everyday.

The vast majority of people; transit rider or bus driver, MAX driver or trash collector, lawyer (ok maybe I’m stretching it) or police officer they’re all trying and they’re all generally good people. Give them a chance and don’t get so down on humanity.

Cheers and happy new year!