All posts by Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s senior marketing communications coordinator in charge of interactive media. I manage online initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

10 reasons why 2014 was a good year for TriMet riders

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:

old_new11. 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.

busblade-frequent2. 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.

tvm4. 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.

youth-pass-ticket6. 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.

metro-brt-art9. 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

10710312_10154858702060473_4404152704493123144_o10. 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!

Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s senior marketing communications coordinator in charge of interactive media. I manage online initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

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TransitTracker now shows “canceled” buses

TransitTracker on m.trimet.org showing canceled bus.
   TransitTracker on m.trimet.org showing canceled bus.

It already does a decent job of telling you if your bus is running late. Now, when the bus is not coming at all for some reason, TransitTracker can let you know.

Starting Monday, May 19, you’ll notice TransitTracker reporting some arrivals as “canceled.” We’re testing a feature of our new bus dispatch system that should make TransitTracker a lot more reliable when it comes to reporting canceled buses.

It’s important to know if the bus isn’t coming so you can decide if you want to wait, catch another bus or make other plans. This was the number one request from riders in a recent survey about how they use TransitTracker. (Thanks again to everyone who weighed in!)

Why would a bus be canceled? Construction, mechanical problems, accidents, weather conditions and other issues can result in a bus trip—or part of a trip—being canceled. That means some or all of the stops on the route won’t be served.

Until now, when a bus was canceled, TransitTracker would typically show a scheduled time (“2:45 p.m.”) instead of a countdown (“4 min”). That’s what the system does when there’s not enough data to predict an arrival time. But this is misleading because it implies that the bus is going to arrive at that specific time.

In other cases, TransitTracker would show an arrival countdown even though the bus trip had been canceled. After Due had come and gone, you’d wonder, “Did the bus just disappear?”

This is the phenomenon many riders know as “ghost buses.” And it’s particularly frustrating when you’ve been waiting at the stop for a while, only to find out your bus has… well, vanished!

Thankfully, our new bus dispatch system can identify canceled trips and pass that information along to TransitTracker. Now that we can flag those no-shows as “canceled,” there should be far fewer instances of ghost buses, and more reliable arrival information overall. (Note: This won’t get rid of all ghost buses, or any ghost trains for that matter. We expect to address those in future upgrades.)

This is a small but important improvement that we hope will make your life a little easier. We’d like your feedback, too. If you notice any issues with the new canceled-bus notices, or if you have any other comments about TransitTracker, please let us know at transittracker@trimet.org.

WEIGH IN: Discuss this post on Facebook

Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s senior marketing communications coordinator in charge of interactive media. I manage online initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

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New bus ticket printers go into action July 1

New ticket printer on a bus
Starting Monday, July 1, riders will grab their ticket/transfer from the printer to the right of the fare box. (No more flimsy newsprint transfers!) Plus, all single-ride tickets will be valid for exactly 2 hours from the time of purchase.

By now, you’ve probably seen (and maybe even used) the new ticket printers mounted to the right of the fare boxes on TriMet buses. Those toaster-shaped boxes allow your operator to print out a 2-Hour Ticket or 1-Day Pass instantly by pressing a button on the dash, instead of manually punching and tearing a newsprint receipt.

We tested a few of the printers on lines 17 and 70 earlier this spring, and we got good feedback from both riders and operators. After making a few tweaks, we installed the printers on the rest of the fleet. Now, they’re ready for prime time.

So what does this mean for riders? For one, it takes the mystery out of getting a bus transfer, as all single-ride transfers are now valid for exactly 2 hours from the time of purchase—just like MAX and WES tickets. You can board any bus or train to complete your trip until the expiration time shown. (It’s OK if your ticket expires while you are on board.) 

The tickets are also easier to read and more durable than the flimsy newsprint transfers. They look like other TriMet tickets, with a foil security strip and the expiration time printed on the front.

Old newsprint bus transfer
Old newsprint bus transfer

The old transfer system required the operator to manually adjust a “cutter bar” to change the expiration time for transfers, and punch each one with the ticket type and day code. The time given varied depending on the day of the week and where you boarded in relation to the end of the route. The new ticket printers simplify and speed up this process, and allow us make all transfers consistent.

Do you have feedback about our new bus ticket printers? Let us know at trimet.org/feedback or call 503-238-RIDE (7433).

Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s senior marketing communications coordinator in charge of interactive media. I manage online initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

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One step closer to mobile ticketing

intro-(1)Heads up: Starting today, you may see riders flashing their smartphones instead of tickets as they board the bus. It’s OK, they’re not freeloaders… They’re testing a new smartphone app that is about to make things easier and more convenient for tens of thousands of TriMet riders.

Today, we released a test version of our forthcoming mobile ticketing smartphone app to around 150 riders as part of a month-long beta test.

We recruited for beta testers back in March, and more than 1,500 people applied. (To keep the test manageable, we unfortunately had to narrow it down to 150, but we were thrilled with the response!)

We’re already seeing some great feedback from riders as they experience the process of buying and using TriMet fares instantly on their phone for the first time. These testers are vital to the success of the app, as they will help us work out the kinks and make it as easy-to-use as possible before we release it to all riders later this summer.

TriMet is the first U.S. transit agency to offer a mobile ticketing app for use systemwide on both buses and trains. iPhone and Android users can just download the free app, register a debit or credit card in the secure system, and purchase tickets and passes instantly–anywhere and at any time.

At least half of our riders have smartphones, so for many this will be a welcome alternative to ticket machines and waiting in lines!

We partnered with the local startup GlobeSherpa to develop the new app, which will be more cost-effective for us than traditional paper ticketing in the long run. 

Don’t worry, we’re not getting rid of paper tickets any time soon. But mobile ticketing is an important first step toward an electronic fare collection system, which we expect to begin testing around 2015. Eventually, you will be able to choose among smartcards, debit/credit cards, smartphones with near-field communication, and mobile ticketing, to pay your fare. Stay tuned!

Learn more about the mobile ticketing app and sign up for email updates

Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s senior marketing communications coordinator in charge of interactive media. I manage online initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

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April 19th: Conference call with General Manager Neil McFarlane

TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane
TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane

Nearly every week this year, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane is meeting with riders throughout the metro area to hear first-hand about their experiences on the transit system. (If you’re not already in the loop, we announce these events a few days in advance on Facebook, on Twitter and via email.)

Here’s another opportunity to chat with Neil, ask questions, and weigh in.

This Friday, April 19, 2013, from noon to 1 p.m., Neil will host a telephone conference call with riders to answer their questions.

To participate in the call, you will need to click this link and sign up for a personalized call-in number and PIN. We ask that you register with your full name and the city where you live. (Enter your city in the “Private Questions or Comments for Host” box.)

Register for the April 19 conference call with Neil

Please note that the conference service may provide a long-distance number for you to call. If you do not have access to or prefer not to use your long-distance minutes, you can also participate in the call via computer or other online calling software. If you need more information about these services, just let us know.

We hope you’ll join us!

Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s senior marketing communications coordinator in charge of interactive media. I manage online initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

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Sneak peek: ticket printers on buses coming this summer

We’re installing new ticket printers on buses to make transfers more consistent for riders and easier for operators. Testing will begin on lines 17 and 70 in mid-March, and the printers will be up and running on all buses later this summer.

We’re improving the way we issue bus transfers, so that they’re more consistent and predictable for riders, and easier for operators.

You may have already seen the new ticket printers mounted near the farebox on some of our buses. (See photo at right.) We’re gradually installing them on the fleet, and testing will begin on lines 17 and 70 in mid-March.

Soon, instead of manually punching and tearing a newsprint receipt, your operator will be able to instantly print out a 2-Hour Ticket or 1-Day Pass simply by pressing a button on the console.

This will take the mystery out of getting a bus transfer, as all single-ride transfers will be valid for exactly 2 hours from the time of purchase, just like MAX and WES tickets.

The easy-to-read tickets will look like other TriMet tickets, with a foil security strip and the expiration time.

The existing transfer system requires the operator to manually adjust a “cutter bar” to change the expiration time for transfers, and punch each one with the ticket type and day code. The time given varies depending on the day of the week and where you boarded in relation to the end of the route. The new ticket printers will simplify and speed up this process, and make all transfers consistent.

Stay tuned for details about the ticket printers and when you can expect to see them in action. Even better, sign up to get updates by email.

Questions? Feedback? Let us know what you think. Contact us at http://trimet.org/feedback or call 503-238-RIDE (7433).

Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s senior marketing communications coordinator in charge of interactive media. I manage online initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

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TriMet’s Myleen Richardson honored as Nature Conservancy “Volunteer of the Year”

TriMet's Myleen Richardson: The Nature Conservancy of Oregon's Volunteer of the Year
TriMet's Myleen Richardson was one of two volunteers to receive The Nature Conservancy's "Volunteer of the Year" honor for 2011.

The Nature Conservancy of Oregon has honored TriMet’s own Myleen Richardson with the conservation group’s 2011 “Volunteer of the Year” Award.

As TriMet’s bus stop planner/analyst, Myleen manages a complex database that tracks our 7,000+ bus stops and rail stations—juggling details about their location, the lines that serve them, their Stop ID numbers and amenities such as shelters, benches, sidewalks and crosswalks. In her role at The Nature Conservancy, she uses similar skills to manage their volunteer database and surveys for volunteer satisfaction. This is a critical task, because the Conservancy depends on at least 20 full-time employees worth of volunteer time every year!

One of the reasons I volunteer is that I enjoy helping others. I volunteer for The Nature Conservancy because it’s a cause I believe in.”

Myleen holds two (yes, two) masters degrees: a Master of Public Affairs and a Master of Science in Environmental Science, with a focus on environmental policy and natural resource management. She began volunteering for the Conservancy in 2000, the same year she was hired at TriMet.

Her behind-the-scenes work is helping to protect critical habitats for nature as well as people.

“One of the reasons I volunteer is that I enjoy helping others,” says Myleen. “I volunteer for The Nature Conservancy because it’s a cause I believe in.”

The Conservancy’s program director, Molly Doughtery, describes Myleen as being “key to the organization’s success and an important part of the team.”

“From complex database queries, to communications, to jumping in wherever needed, I can count on Myleen to do the job right,” says Molly.

Without knowing it, TriMet riders count on Myleen, too. The database she manages is used to deliver service information to riders and to coordinate the maintenance of stops and stations. When you come across a stop name or Stop ID number on TriMet’s website or phone system, for example, Myleen’s had a hand in it. On board the bus, when you hear an automated announcement for the next stop, again, that’s Myleen’s behind-the-scenes work.

It’s a lot of responsibility, really, and it occasionally spills over into her personal life. “It’s hard for me to stay in town for a vacation,” says Myleen, “because bus stops are everywhere, and my eyes are always drawn to them, especially when something is in need of attention.”

True to her small-town Midwest background, Myleen is not one to seek the spotlight. Nonetheless, she is a star here at TriMet, as well as at The Nature Conservancy. Thank you, Myleen, for what you do for us and our community!

DISCUSS THIS ON FACEBOOK: April 15-21 is National Volunteer Week. Do you volunteer or plan on volunteering in your community?

Dave Whipple

I'm TriMet’s senior marketing communications coordinator in charge of interactive media. I manage online initiatives and help build useful and usable online tools for riders. I also moonlight as a musician in my spare time.

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