Where Does The Money Come From?

I’ve mentioned in the past that cities should think of things from more of a systemic mindset. Currently however that’s almost completely impossible considering how funding and Government is organized in the United States. Even within groups things are pitted against each other that shouldn’t be. Let’s take a look at some.

For Oregon the main transportation organizations that handle budgets, building, and planning are ODOT and Trimet. You might thing, oh, but Trimet is Portland’s transit system. Well, this is true and false. It’s actually headed up by a board and the Governor who mandates much of how they operate. It also is responsible for transit over a three county area: Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington. Portland, actually has little control over anything Trimet does besides some tactical issues around capital project design and maybe funding some of the service. Most of the service falls on the back of income taxpayers. Actually about 78% falls on the backs of the income tax and those who pay it. Only about 22% of operations comes from fares. The remaining bulk of capital projects, which is as much or more than operational costs, rests primarily on state budgets, federal injections of cash, and incurred debt on the back of tomorrows taxpayers (i.e. bonds/loans and related funding structures). Here are some of Trimet’s budget documents.

ODOT is funded out of the gas tax and other miscellaneous funds. The bulk of their money going to road construction and encouraging auto-dependency. Some minor funds go to freight, passenger rail, and related matters. Keep in mind, ODOTs bucket for auto related things is the vast majority of their budget. Here are some quick links to ODOT budget information.

Let’s not forget the feds. The Federal Government provides a large influx of transportation infrastructure spending. Also, they spend the largest amount on auto-related transportation infrastructure and auto-dependency programs (i.e. subsidies for parking, funds for roads, etc) The Federal Government also gets a large chunk, but not all of their money from the federal gas tax. Here are some of the documents if you want to educate yourself on the Federal Budgets and funding from the FHA (Federal Highway Administration).

The other parts of Oregon’s transportation, since almost half the population of the state lives in the Portland metro area, is PBOT, or the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Here are some of the budget documents of their’s.

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Transit Projects: Faux BRT – A Summary of the Situation

Previously written about here.

There are two projects that are either being built or are in the works. There’s the Trimet Powell & Division Corridor BRT Project and north of Portland in Vancouver there is the Fourth Plain “The Vine” BRT Project that is being built right now.

What is BRT? BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit, is bus service over dedicated lanes. This service is generally provided with higher capacity buses that are 60 feet long or longer. Think of current light rail service in downtown Portland it’s basically similar to that, just with buses. The buses run in these dedicated lanes, people pay fare off of the buses at the stations, they have light precedence, and that way the buses are able to move along much quicker than traditional bus service.

The two “BRT” projects I mention above are neither BRT nor regular bus service, but instead a mix of traditional bus service and BRT. The bus service for The Vine and Trimet’s current project will include 60 foot long buses, payment at the stations, but beyond that will have no real features that would make BRT. Thus the reason I labeled the service “Faux BRT”.

Bus Service Improvements : The Current Situation

Even though these lines won’t be real BRT, the good thing is that both of the lines are pretty dramatic improvements over what currently exists. Right now both routes have regular, frequent stop, local bus service style operation. That means they stop about every other block, which makes them timely or efficient if you need to only go a short, very short distance. Otherwise they quickly double, triple, or quadruple the time it takes to simply bike or driver the same distance.

In the case of The Vine in Vancouver, the route will travel along Fourth Plain from downtown Vancouver to Westfield Mall. The route currently has two routes that serve the bulk of the corridor: the Ctran #4 & #44 routes. The #44 is an express bus that currently travels from Delta Park in Portland (the second to last stop of the MAX Yellow Line) and goes to Westfield Mall and past it onward to some other key points. The #4 goes from Delta Park, the same MAX stop, through downtown Vancouver, and onward along Fourth Plain until it reaches the Westfield Mall.

In the case of the Powell/Division Corridor, there are two buses that run this primary corridor right now too: the Trimet #4 & #9 routes. The #4 actually starts far north of Portland in St Johns, travels all the way south into downtown Portland, then back across the Hawthorne Bridge, then over to Division and onward until Gresham. Almost 15 miles form downtown Portland to Gresham, and the #9 completes a similar route, except on Powell.

The Ctran #4 and #44 are low ridership lines compared to the #4 and #9 in Portland. Which will make the ridership of The Vine interesting. Ctran intends to remove or significantly alter or curtail #4 and #44 service when The Vine starts running. The Trimet #4 and #9 lines are actually high ridership lines. Trimet doesn’t intend to entirely cancel either of these lines, but the intent that the ridership that currently uses the #4 and #9 routes in this corridor will likely switch to the new service to get downtown.

Predictions

In both cases the new service will reduce the overall costs for Ctran and Trimet to carry passengers in the corridor while making way for decreased trip time and a potential ability to carry far more passengers than can currently be carried with existing service. The current estimates, from yours truly Transit Sleuth, is that The Vine will like get about 8-10k rider trips per day. The Powell/Division Corridor Service will likely see upwards of 15k passenger trips or more per day and likely climb well past that once it has been operating for several months and people get used to the frequency and faster travel times.

A Major Concern for “The Vine”

There is one other caveat of The Vine, which might be a major sticking point. This bus service improvement actually curtails service in downtown Vancouver, while replacing the #4 and #44 bus. The #4 and #44 bus currently goes to Delta Park, which is one of the top destinations for all of Ctran ridership. The Vine cuts out Delta Park, which could cause a significant time increase and prospectively drop that 8-10k riders a day down significantly. I personally would suggest that Ctran and Trimet both need to figure out how to insure that the riders can get to Delta Park with one trip – one more transfer is unacceptable. Already the vast majority of riders on the #4 and #44 are going to Delta Park specifically for a transfer to the MAX Yellow Line, so adding another transfer would make an already time consuming & rough trip into a relatively unbearable one for the majority of riders.

So that’s my quick review of the situation. More to come on this topic later.