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

Looking Through Just Yesterday

Not long ago, there was a higher speed streetcar route between south waterfront and downtown. It was a single track that ran along the current double track segment. With the construction and build out of OHSU and the light rail, the corridor needed improved. But here’s a shot when there was almost nothing (except the noisy interstate just behind where the shot was taken)

Streetcar heading to South Waterfront past where the new light rail & OHSU Building is going up.

Streetcar heading to South Waterfront past where the new light rail & OHSU Building is going up.

Here’s another shot, from back a little ways.

Streetcar heading to south waterfront, but from a wider angle view.

Streetcar heading to south waterfront, but from a wider angle view.

Transit Sleuth Weekly Picture (007)

A little streetcar & a little MAX

A little streetcar & a little MAX

Phoenix, Huge Light Rail Ridership Increases!

Impressive, Phoenix isn’t my favorite city, primarily for idealogical reasons and the mere physics of a city smack in the middle of a desert. But some people there are trying to improve things and make it…  sustainable? Not sure that’s possible, but this news is a good thing for sure.

The light rail that Phoenix had built a number of years ago has seen a surge in ridership.

Total Boardings for August: 1,166,156 vs 982,776 in July.

Avg. Weekday Boardings: 42,054 vs 34,168 in July.

Avg Saturday Boardings: 28,592 vs 27,935 in July.

Avg Sunday / Holiday Boardings: 21,138 vs 25,585 in July.

My suggestion, if you’re going to go live in the desert (at your own risk) then be sure to live along the light rail line. Better value for your money and less reliance on a single mode of transport (your car) is a good thing.

Learning From Each Other

Trimet, which considering comparative performance, does a great job comparative to King County Metro on a cost basis. Crazy you say, crazy not I say. They carry less per capita in their city core (i.e. the city itself, not the metropolitan area) than Trimet does, yet Metro does so at almost 2x the price per passenger as Trimet. Even though I think there isn’t much Trimet should imitate from Metro, there are two things I absolutely think they should invest in. These two things, would be easy investments since our neighbor Seattle has so much experience with them and has done most of the research and data gathering around it already.

  1. The first one is easy. Let’s get trolley buses back. Trimet’s diesel buses are nasty, especially those older buses. The older buses, based on what information I’ve been able to gather are dirtier than people riding in a bunch of huge SUVs. They’re barely worth running from an environmental pollution perspective. We need to toss those puppies in the recycling bin and get on board with the some trolley buses. If we’re really serious we’ll get trolley buses that can serve in my second suggestions…
  2. 60 ft BRT buses and some BRT routes to go with those buses! I love the light rail and over time the light rail will save the city a huge sum of money over BRT. But right now we need increased capabilities on the #72, the #9, and many other routes. Matter of fact, let’s toss WES and replace it with a nice clean BRT that can be bumped up to serious rail service – ya know – when Portland is like 4 million people. (whenever that happens)

These two things I know have been on the table and off the table, and overall Trimet has done alright. But they really need to start looking at some of these options. Once the city has a complete north, south, east, and western build out of light rail it is time to build up those rail lines even more by interconnecting them with BRT routes. Then the BRT routes can be shifted over the years as the BRT routes are bumped up to LRT or such. But for now, let’s get some serious frequency and capacity along the core routes of the city and build out those areas even more.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. I’m not going to complain like some of the light rail haters do and bus lovers gushing over buses do, but overall, Trimet should put a little emphasis on the services around the light rail.

A Salem Commute, TriMet Almost Messes it Up and a Video of the Trip

Arriving in Tualatin.

Arriving in Tualatin.

Today started at 4:30am for me. I had some business meetings to attend in Salem, Oregon. This seemed like a good opportunity to take a trip to Salem with my girl Kristen. This commute would have us following this trip:

  1. Walk 6 blocks to the MAX Galleria transit stop (check out TriMet’s Map).
  2. Depart on 5:16am MAX to Beaverton Transit Center.
  3. Arrive and depart on the WES to Wilsonville, Oregon.
  4. Then take the Cherriots 1x to Salem, Oregon.

A relatively simple trip really, except for the 3 transfers and a theoretical 21 minute transfer wait to the WES. That’s kind of a bummer. However, what really caused stress is we ended up with zero transfer time. Cuz ya see, the frikkin’ 5:16am west bound MAX NEVER ARRIVED! That meant standing there on pins and needles hoping to catch the next MAX, which at that hour doesn’t come for…  drum roll please… 21 minutes!  Yeah, exactly 21 minutes, which would mean if everything departs on time then the transfer to the WES couldn’t occur, which meant the Cherriots transfer wouldn’t occur, which would mean I’d either be 30-60 minutes late.

WES Train o' The Day

WES Train o’ The Day

But as the trip started, amazingly, we caught that next MAX which was precisely on time 21 minutes later. Amazingly, the WES had not departed when we arrived in Beaverton TC. I guess, TriMet had managed to delay the train? Maybe the conductor or engineer on the train had held knowing familiar faces weren’t aboard. It is totally possibly since the WES crew generally tends to roll that way – they’re good with the passengers.

Either way, I’ve arrived, Kristen is off to work, and I made this silly video with happy goofy travel music (cuz it is canned, and it is a pain to find music that isn’t copyrighted on the Internet).  Next time I might add some of my own custom music, a little shredding for the soul always kicks a trip into overdrive.

Cheers!

Surly Cross Check

As one may know that reads my blog. I bike, a lot. Even by Portland standards I ride regularly. By the regular lazy American’s standards I probably seem obsessed. Well today I just stepped up the ante again. I purchased a Surly Cross Check from Clever Cycles on Hawthorne here in Portland. Great shop, great service. My Giant will become my “secondary” and “loaner” bike when riding with people in from out of town.

Surly Cross Check in Black

Surly Cross Check in Black

So the Surly Cross Check has some awesome Portland features. What do I mean by Portland Features? Read on and I’ll explain.

1. First off, the bike is a great road bike. With 100% Surly proprietary 4130 CroMoly tubing. TIG welded. Double butted main triangle it’s a brutally strong bike. It’s got more in common with my Redline freestyle bike than my other bikes. But that’s a good thing, ya see, I’m not a soft rider. I ride hard, brutally hard sometimes, and sometimes have a tendency to break really strong bikes. That’s one of the first things I’m stoked about, strength is important.

2. The bike fits (and this is one of those Portland Features) on the bike racks on Trimet Buses really well, and easily comes on and off with a single hand. I don’t have to balance it or hold the bike with both hands, making the movement to hook the front wheel much easier.

3. The bike is much lighter than my current main bike. Making it even easier to mount on a rack on the MAX or mount on the WES racks. Another Portland Feature! This of course also makes it easy to mount up on the racks on the LINK in Seattle and other cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.

4. The bike rides with much less resistance than my current ride. It also has a multi-positional handelbar setup. The setup includes the Cane Creek 40, Salsa Bell Lap, Tektro Cantilever Brakes connected to Tektro Brak Levers. Topping all this off with Shimano SL-BS77s. This makes riding for hours or days possible, without me ending up a bent mess of a human being!

So I’m setup, ready for a long ride. I think I might pull off one of those tonight. Anybody in Portland up for a few dozen miles?  🙂

Cheers!