Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Open data is making transit better, one app at a time

John Canfield

John Canfield’s start-up, Nimbler, just launched its fourth transit app.

John Canfield is the Founder of Nimbler and the VP of Risk Management at WePay. John previously worked at eBay, Zip2 and Creative Labs. John has a masters degree in electrical engineering from MIT and an MBA from Stanford.

I have been in the high-tech industry my whole career, working in start-ups and large tech companies. Over the years, the hot areas of innovation have shifted from the computers themselves, to packaged software, to the Internet, to mobile devices.

But I never heard people talking about transportation being a hot area of innovation until this last year.

Millennials are leading us away from the car-dominated America of past generations. They are looking for options. Start-ups and established players are offering an array new services — carsharing, bikesharing, ridesharing, and transportation apps of every sort.

Transit agencies are offering real-time arrival times so riders can find the best route and get there with a minimum of waiting. Uber, a five-year old start-up, just was valued at $18 billion — one of the highest private valuations ever. Venture capitalists around the world are taking notice.

The Portland area plays a special part in this transportation innovation. In 2005, an engineer at Google started working on a skunkworks project to build transit directions into Google Maps.

The big problem was where to get the data. Transit agencies had schedule data in proprietary systems that varied widely from agency to agency. Even if the data were technically accessible, many transit agencies did not want to publish it for free.

TriMet had a different approach. They proactively reached out to Google looking to partner. The result was the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), which is used to communicate schedule data.

Google launched its transit directions in Portland first. Now, Google and other apps offer transit directions around the world using GTFS.

TriMet also innovated by investing in open-source trip planning. Traditionally, when transit agencies wanted a trip planner for their website, they worked with private software companies to build one just for their agency. TriMet instead started a project in 2009 with OpenPlans to build an Open Trip Planner for the Portland area that combines bike and transit directions.

The start-up I founded, Nimbler, just introduced its fourth transit app: Nimbler Portland. At the heart of Nimbler’s routing lies Open Trip Planner and GTFS. Nimbler offers transit directions, bike directions and combinations of the two. Nimbler also integrates with TriMet’s real-time vehicle location feed to provide real-time arrival predictions that minimize wait time.

Without the innovative approach of TriMet working with Google, OpenPlans and Open Street Maps, apps like Nimbler would not be possible. Because of TriMet’s leadership, apps around the world are benefiting and innovating using open source and open data for transportation.

One bent bicycle wheel. And one bruised butt.

Last September, Ian Sutherland got hit by a MAX train near Gresham and lived to tell the tale.

It was the route he took to work every day. It was like clockwork. Except that morning.

“I was pre-coffee, running late,” says Ian.

So he took a later train. When his train stopped, he got off, put his headphones on, clipped into his bike and set out across the crosswalk. Only he failed to see that he didn’t have a green signal as he usually did.

“Pay just as much attention around the MAX as if you were crossing a freeway. Or operating heavy machinery. Oh and don’t put on your headphones or mount your bike until you’re well clear of the tracks.”

“The other people at the crosswalk were standing there waiting. And I just kept on moving… on autopilot.”

It wasn’t until he was in the crosswalk that he saw the other train. The one that was speeding towards him only 20 feet away.

At that point Ian had two choices: either go for it and ride the bike as quickly across the tracks as possible, or turn back.

He chose to turn back by making a sharp left turn only to get his back tire stuck in the tracks. He unclipped from his pedals just as the train caught up with his backside and his back tire.

He was thrown many feet through the air but landed well.

He blames the accident on his “complacency.” Asked what he would tell his little sister about riding MAX, Ian chose his words carefully:

Ian Sutherland“Pay just as much attention around the MAX as if you were crossing a freeway or operating heavy machinery,” he says. “Oh, and don’t put on your headphones or mount your bike until you’re well clear of the tracks.”

That’s really good advice… Ian narrowly escaped a serious accident.

As a result of this incident, he has graciously agreed to be a model for our “Be Alert” safety campaign. We’re glad you’re OK, Ian!

Watch NewsChannel 8′s story about Ian’s accident at

Tilikum Crossing may look done, but there’s much to do before the Orange Line opens

Crews inspect the deck of the Tilikum Crossing bridge.

Crews inspect the deck of the Tilikum Crossing bridge in late May. Construction work on the bridge will continue for several months.

The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project is progressing well. Like all of the region’s past light rail project’s, this one is on time and on budget.

You might even think we’re almost done if you travel down Lincoln Street in Downtown Portland, or over the Ross Island Bridge with a view of the new transit bridge, or past the project’s MAX station sites in Southeast Portland, Milwaukie and north Clackamas County.

But we still have much work ahead of us before the new Orange Line opens for service on September 12, 2015.

Although construction between Southwest 5th Avenue in Downtown Portland and the Tilikum Crossing in South Waterfront will be “substantially complete” in August (to use construction terminology), there is construction work remaining for the bridge and the five-mile-long portion of the project east of the Willamette River.

From a distance, Tilikum Crossing, the new transit bridge over the Willamette River, may look finished. But crews continue work installing rail, lighting, safety railings and the overhead catenary system that powers light rail trains and streetcars.

The eight new MAX stations along the segment of the project east of the river have more construction scheduled, as do the Park & Ride facilities at the SE Tacoma St/Johnson Creek and SE Park Ave MAX stations. And all along this segment, crews continue to install trackway and electrical systems, which include signals and overhead power.

The project is also making more than $68 million in improvements that will make it easier and safer to access MAX stations and to bike and walk nearby. For instance, crews have been constructing many bicycle and pedestrian improvements between Powell Boulevard and the Willamette River. They’ve also been busy with other infrastructure improvements in Southeast Portland—working on roadways and sidewalks along Southeast 17th Avenue, beginning work on the new Lafayette Street-Rhine Street pedestrian overcrossing, and continuing to install public art.

In Milwaukie and north Clackamas County, crews are working to complete the Kellogg Bridge over Kellogg Lake and Southeast McLoughlin Blvd/Hwy 99E while placing a new multi-use path under the bridge where it crosses the lake. Track construction also continues, as do improvements to on the Trolley Trail where that regional bicycle and pedestrian route is adjacent to the project alignment.

Crew members construct walls for the SE Park Ave Station Park & Ride, in northern Clackamas County.

Crew members construct walls for the SE Park Ave Station Park & Ride, in northern Clackamas County.

And there is more work to be done once the entire 7.3-mile light rail route is substantially complete. Every TriMet light rail and bus operator—more than 1,500 women and men—must be trained to operate on the route. Light rail operators, of course, will be trained over the entire route. Bus operators will be trained on the parts of the project where buses have access—the Harbor structure that keeps the vehicles separated from traffic between Southwest Moody Avenue in South Waterfront and Naito Parkway, and on Tilikum Crossing, if current bus service planning results in the routing of any existing bus lines over the bridge.

The project has connected Portland Streetcar tracks to both ends of the bridge, which completes the CL Line loop, so all streetcar operators will also be trained in operating on the bridge.

Finally, two weeks prior to opening, as TriMet has done each time when opening a new MAX line, simulated revenue service will start. During this time, trains will operate for 14 days on the new line as if in service, but without accepting passengers. This process tests all of the systems and signals along the route to ensure they are working on opening day and allows everyone to be well-rehearsed prior to opening the light rail line.

The SE Tacoma St/Johnson Creek MAX Station and Park & Ride lies just south of where SE Tacoma Street in Portland crosses over McLoughlin Boulevard/Hwy 99E.

Construction continues at all of the eight new MAX stations east of the Willamette River. Above is the SE Tacoma St/Johnson Creek MAX Station and Park & Ride in SE Portland.

As construction and operator training continue over the next 15 months, you can follow the project’s progress with videos, photos and construction updates by “liking” the project page on Facebook. We’re also on TwitterFlickr, and YouTube.

We’re looking forward to seeing you on opening day—September 12, 2015!


Meet our 2014 Operators of the Year!


Newly crowned 2014 Bus Operator of the Year Andy Church (left), MAX Operator of the Year Jason Wang (second from right) and Mini-Run/Part-Time Operator of the Year Fernando Lopez (right). These are some of TriMet’s finest!

At a ceremony on Tuesday, three TriMet operators were recognized as the 2014 Operators of the Year. Operators qualify for the annual award based on outstanding driving records, customer service and attendance, and the winners are selected by their peers.

Bus Operator of the Year: Andy Church

Andy ChurchDuring his 11 years of driving, Operator Andy Church has earned nine National Safe Driving Awards, nine Superior Performance Awards and four years of perfect attendance.

Andy, who lives in Damascus, has qualified a number of times for Operator of the Month as well as Mini-Run of the Quarter when he was a part-time bus operator. He’s an “extra board” operator, which means he fills in for other operator shifts.

Andy has received many commendations from riders that highlight his kindness and helpfulness to his riders. His manager, Lyle Pereira, noted that Andy “has a great attitude, which is not always easy, but for him, it just comes natural.”

MAX Operator of the Year: Jason Wang

Jason WangJason Wang is our newest MAX Operator of the Year. The Lake Oswego resident started driving a bus for TriMet in 2000, and switched to MAX in 2007.

Jason is a high performer who has consistently qualified for operator recognition both as a bus operator and MAX operator.

He’s a Master Operator and has 12 Superior Performance Awards. TriMet’s Master Operator Program recognizes bus and rail operators who achieve overall excellence in safety, customer service and attendance.

You might see Jason up in the cab next time you ride a Red Line or Blue Line train.

Mini-Run/Part-Time Operator of the Year: Fernando Lopez

Fernando LopezMini-Run Operator of the Year Fernando Lopez has been driving for TriMet since 2003.

As a part-time or “mini-run” operator, Fernando has received eight Safe Driving Awards, which means he’s driven eight years without a preventable accident. He’s earned a 100 percent Customer Satisfaction Award and has had perfect attendance for the past eight years.

Fernando was also Mini-Run Operator of the Quarter back in 2009. Because of his long record of safety, good customer service and attendance, he’s qualified for that title for two-thirds of his 11-year career.

Fernando lives in Beaverton and he drives one of the busiest lines in our system: the 57-TV Hwy/Forest Grove.


Congratulations Andy, Jason and Fernando!

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Victor Ornelas becomes first MAX operator to reach “Gold Grand Master” status

Gold Grand Master Operator Victor Ornelas

Gold Grand Master Operator Victor Ornelas

Victor Ornelas recently became the first MAX operator ever to be awarded the distinction of “Gold Grand Master” Operator. He is one of only four operators to achieve this status.

This honor is part of our Master Operator Program, which is designed to recognize bus and rail operators who achieve overall excellence in their duties as professional drivers. Victor has completed more than 58,800 superior driving hours.

This is no small accomplishment. To attain this milestone you would have to drive 6.7 years nonstop. He has 27closing in on 28years of safe driving with excellent attendance.

This award is truly an honor. I didn’t set a goal to become a Gold Grand Master, I just showed up every day and did the job the best I could.

Victor is a seasoned operator who has had some close calls. Ornelas recounted one moment that has stuck with him over the years. While stopped at the Lloyd Center/NE 11th Ave MAX Station, some kids were playing around on the platform as riders were boarding. After the doors closed, Victor prepared to pull out of the station. Transit-MallJust as he began to roll, a teen was pushed by friends between the MAX cars. Fortunately, Victor was alert to the potential hazard. He secured his train and saw that the young woman had fallen between the cars. His attention to his surroundings and driving skills likely saved her life.

Victor and his wife of 34 years, Marilyn, enjoy traveling and spending time together when he’s not working. He joined TriMet right after his service in the Air Force. He was stationed out of Fairchild in Spokane, Washington.

“I came to Portland and applied at TriMet and at the Post Office,” says Victor. “I went to both interviews and TriMet won the draw, thought I would give it a try. Just think, I could’ve been your postman!”

Forest Grove makes investments to improve bike access to transit

Forest Grove bike shelters at 19th and Pacific U

Covered bike parking keeps your bike dry during the rainy season while you hop on the bus or train to finish your trip. Pictured here is the sheltered bike parking near Pacific University on Line 57.

If you live, work, or study just a little too far away from the bus stop or train station to walk, biking to transit is a great option to consider. If there’s room, you can bring your bike with you on board, but often demand is high and bike parking comes to the rescue. Parking your bike at the stop or station allows you to complete the rest of your trip on transit hassle-free without always watching after or worrying about your bike.

Forest Grove bike shelters 19th and B

Covered bike parking at 19th Avenue and B Street

We are very happy to highlight the city of Forest Grove’s efforts in providing high quality covered bike parking at three locations along Line 57-TV Hwy/Forest Grove in Forest Grove.

Forest Grove applied for grant funding for these three bike parking installations through Metro’s Regional Travel Options (RTO) grant program. This program aims to increase the awareness of non-single occupancy vehicle travel options such as biking, walking, transit, ridesharing, telecommuting or working compressed work weeks.

To accomplish these goals, the RTO program provides strategic investments that contribute to economic, environmental and socio-economic health and prosperity for the region. Through this successful grant award, costs for the project were shared between Metro and the city of Forest Grove.

Covered bike parking at 19th Avenue and 19th Street

Covered bike parking at 19th Avenue and 19th Street

We love to see our regional partners making investments in improving access to transit, which helps us to build a better system and allows safe and convenient connections for riders.


Behind-the-scenes at the TriMet Ticket Office

Georgea Edwards and Erin Block

Customer Service Representatives Georgea Edwards and Erin Block assist a rider at the TriMet Ticket Office at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

It’s fitting that Georgea Edwards and Erin Block work in Oregon’s most visited public space, Pioneer Courthouse Square—also known as “Portland’s Living Room.”

For many TriMet riders, Georgea, Erin and their colleagues are like family. They are two members of a Customer Service team that staffs the TriMet Ticket Office, which is adjacent to Pioneer Square’s fountain. Housed there for more than 25 years, it remains a vital resource for transit riders.

“TriMet is often the only lifeline that many of our riders have,” Erin says. “I take great pride in the work I did as a Trip Planner [in TriMet's Customer Service call center] and feel even more privileged to be able to help the same people in person now that I work at the TriMet Ticket Office.”

I take pride in the work I did as a Trip Planner and feel even more privileged to be able to help the same people in person now that I work at the TriMet Ticket Office,” says Erin.

While TriMet offers riders options like a mobile ticketing app and ticket vending machines to buy tickets and passes, the ticket office maintains a steady customer base that visit every month.

DSC_3694“We are part of their regular routine,” says Georgea. “We work with them to update their Honored Citizen identifications cards, help them plan trips and make sure they get their monthly passes.”

Since TriMet opened the ticket office in 1984, the space has seen a few renovations. Previous iterations included the Lost & Found (now at 4012 SE 17th Ave.) and a bike rack where cyclists could practice loading their bikes on buses. But the core mission of the office has remained the same: selling tickets and passes, and helping riders plan their trips.

“The most noticeable change for us was when we added the 30-Day Pass,” Georgea says. “This was a big help to riders who may not have been able to stop in on the first of the month or didn’t have the resources for a monthly payment at the start of each month. Now they get the discounts of a monthly pass no matter when they purchase the pass.”

Her recommendation is to buy a 50-cent vinyl sleeve to protect the pass (available for purchase at the ticket office). “This will help ensure the expiration date doesn’t wear off before the pass expires,” she says.

Nowadays, Georgea and Erin see a steady stream of riders every day of the week instead of huge lines when monthly passes go on sale. That said, they still suggest patience for those who are looking for a quick visit.

“The vast majority of riders visiting the ticket office are Honored Citizens and they come to us because they need our assistance,” Georgea says. “Sometimes processing their requests takes a little longer, and that’s okay. It’s why we are here.”

In 2012, TriMet moved its ticket outlet sales program to Pioneer Square. “We process requests for more than 130 vendors in the region who sell TriMet tickets to their customers,” Erin explains. “We have outlets that have regular standing orders and then others that submit requests as needed. We are distributing more than $3 million in tickets each month.”

Next time you’re down at Pioneer Square during the day, stop by and say hi. Georgea, Erin and the rest of the ticket office staff will be happy to help you!

The TriMet Ticket Office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Note: Questions about citations and exclusions are handled by the courts, not the ticket office staff.