Riders, it’s been a heck of a year.
We had our fair share of challenges—from freezing rain in February to a rare MAX derailment to an early “Snowvember” storm. Plus, MAX reliability really took a hit this year, which is why we’re scheduling some much-needed upgrades to tracks, signals and switches to get us, well, back on track.
Despite the rough patches, 2014 actually brought a bus load of good news for riders. (And no, we’re not talking about the now twice-a-year Streetcar Mobile Music Fest or even the much-anticipated return of Poetry in Motion.) Here are 10 highlights:
1. 90 (more) new buses joined the fleet.
This year, we sent 90 of our oldest buses to the scrapper and replaced them with new, state-of-the-art buses made in the USA by Gillig. They’ve got a ton of new features, but you’re most likely to notice the easy-to-clean vinyl seats, low floors for easy boarding, brighter exterior signs and smoother ride. And, in time for next summer’s heat wave, all of our 650 buses will have air conditioning. (Finally!) By 2017, the average age of our fleet will be eight years—the industry standard. And if you’ve ever wondered what happens to a bus after it’s “retired,” you really should watch this oddly satisfying video of a bus getting scrapped at the recycler.
2. Frequent Service is back.
Remember when “Frequent Service” meant every 15 minutes or better throughout the day, every day? Unfortunately, after the economy tanked in 2008, we had to cut back the frequency on buses and MAX due to budget shortfalls. Now, we’re gradually adding back service: In March, we increased weekday mid-day service to every 15 minutes on Frequent Service bus lines. In August, we bumped up weekday evening service on both buses and MAX. And in November, we added buses on various lines to improve connections and relieve crowding—especially at rush hour. More to come… Stay tuned!
3. There’s a new bridge in town.
It’s hard to miss the striking silhouette of the Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, rising up over the Willamette just south of Downtown Portland. When the new MAX Orange Line opens next September, the bridge will carry trains, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians to and from destinations in the South Waterfront district, Southeast Portland and Milwaukie. Fun fact: At more than 1,700 feet across, it will be the longest car-free bridge in the U.S. This fall, we tested its aesthetic lighting system—a fantastic public art installation created by artists Anna Valentina Murch and Doug Hollis that changes colors based on the river’s speed, height and water temperature. Want more bridge? There’s not much to see now that civil construction is complete, but you can still geek out on our live video feed from our BridgeCams.
4. Ticket machines work better now. A lot better.
For a while there, it was pretty bad. You know, that sinking feeling when you discover that the ticket machine is out of order… again. We felt your pain and made some big changes to the way we service, track and manage the machines we all love to hate. Last year, we replaced our oldest machines, updated software and overhauled our maintenance procedures. Today, our ticket machines are up and running around 98% of the time. Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever see an out-of-service machine—It’s going to happen from time to time. But it’s safe to say the days of “those $#%& ticket machines” are in the past.
5. We have a fair and sustainable labor contract.
If there’s one thing we’re thankful for this year (besides our riders, of course!), it’s a sustainable labor contract. Why is this good news for riders? Our new agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union 757—the union representing the majority of TriMet employees—puts us on a sustainable financial path while providing a fair and competitive benefits package for our team. It’s a huge step forward for TriMet, for our employees and for riders, because it means we can come together and focus on our common goal of making our existing service better and expanding our system to meet the growing demand for transit.
6. Youth fares went down.
In September, we lowered the Youth fare (the reduced fare for ages 7-17 and students in grades 9-12 or pursuing a GED). The Youth 2-Hour Ticket price dropped from $1.65 to $1.25, and the Youth 1-Month Pass fell from $30 to $28. We’re hoping this will make transit more accessible and affordable for our younger riders, and make it easier for families to get their kids to school, jobs and other activities.
7. Tickets will soon be valid for 2 1/2 hours.
Ever wished you had a little more time on your ticket? As of March 2015, we’re extending the transfer time on 2-Hour Tickets to 2 1/2 hours. OK, so “2 1/2-Hour Ticket” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but that’s beside the point: You’ll have 30 more minutes to complete a trip or make transfers between buses and trains. A community advocacy group first brought up the idea of extending the transfer time a few years ago. We knew riders also wanted more frequent service, so we felt it wasn’t something our budget could accommodate, until now. But like many of you, we know that a little extra time can go a long way!
8. Crime went down 20% systemwide.
In April, we got word that reported crime on TriMet had dropped 25% on average in the previous year. On buses, there was one reported crime in every 255,000 trips. On MAX, one in every 91,378 trips. (Most of these incidents involve property crimes such as theft.) We believe this is due in part to community policing efforts and a neighborhood approach to crime prevention, along with increased Transit Police presence and more than 4,400 security cameras systemwide. It’s also worth mentioning that crime on TriMet pretty much mirrors the surrounding communities: A few high-profile incidents might make the evening news, but riding transit is as safe as walking down a busy sidewalk or going to the mall.
9. BRT is coming to Powell and Division.
Another standout in the “good news” category: This summer, the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project selected bus rapid transit (or BRT for short) as the best way to improve transit on Powell Boulevard and Division Street. Those are two of the Portland area’s busiest and most congested streets, and thousands of people depend on the 4-Division and 9-Powell buses to get to work each day. BRT will make commuting between Gresham and Downtown Portland faster, easier and safer, with upgraded stations, limited stops and possibly even dedicated lanes. New service could begin around 2020. Learn more about BRT on Powell and Division
10. Get ready to “tap on.”
It’s official: You’ll be able to use a fare card, smartphone or credit/debit card to pay your fare in the not-so-distant future. This year, we broke “digital ground” on an electronic fare system that will make it easier and more convenient to get around on TriMet. It’s easy: Just tap your card or phone on the reader as you board the bus or train. You’ll be able to load value onto your account by phone, on the web or at grocery/convenience stores. Plus, there will be daily and monthly pricing caps, which means free rides and savings if you ride frequently. Best of all, there’s no need to carry cash, find exact change or keep track of paper tickets. (Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to pay with cash if you want.) We expect to begin testing the new cards with riders in 2016. Sign up here to get the latest e-fare updates by email
It goes without saying the last few years have been a bumpy ride for Portland-area transit riders… Thankfully, with the improving economy—and now a sustainable labor contract—we’re in a position to start growing service again.
In 2015, we’re going to continue focusing on bringing you safe, reliable and convenient transit service. (And more of it!) On behalf of the more than 2,600 employees in our TriMet family, here’s to a safe and happy 2015 to you and yours. See you on board!