Category Archives: Hot Topics

Mid-day riders: More frequent buses are headed your way!

Frequent Service

Here’s some good news: Starting Monday, March 3, buses on 10 of our popular Frequent Service lines will come more frequently during the day. Thanks to an improving budget outlook, we are now able to add 15-minute service—which had been cut over the last few years due to the recession—during mid-day hours on weekdays.

Buses will arrive every 15 minutes during the day on the following lines:

  • 6-Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
  • 8-Jackson Park/NE 15th
  • 9-Powell Blvd
  • 12-Barbur/Sandy Blvd
  • 14-Hawthorne
  • 15-Belmont/NW 23rd
  • 33-McLoughlin
  • 54-Beaverton/Hillsdale Hwy/56-Scholls Ferry Rd
  • 57-TV Hwy/Forest Grove
  • 75-Cesar Chavez/Lombard

We’re also adding more buses on Line 4-Fessenden/Division during weekday evenings and all day on Saturdays.

This means less waiting, shorter travel times and better connections. Plus, when buses come more often, you have a bit more flexibility in your schedule (and a better chance of getting a seat). Many of our mid-day riders depend solely on transit to get around, so we know that better frequency makes a big difference.

This is just the first step toward restoring our Frequent Service network. It will probably take a year or two to get back to 15-minute service (or better) all day, every day—meaning evenings and weekends, too—but that’s our goal.

We’d love to hear how this change affects you. And as always, we welcome your comments and suggestions about your trips on TriMet. Thanks for riding, and we’ll see you on board!

Preview the new schedules effective March 3

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History in the making: Four finalists are announced in naming the new transit bridge

Transit Bridge

There were nearly 9,500 bridge name submissions to the bridge naming committee. We are very pleased so many people participated. Thank you!

Chet Orloff

Chet Orloff

I’d like to walk through how we came to select the four finalists’ names. During my 40+ year career, in Oregon history I have been involved with many similar ventures and I have to say, this was the most thorough and publicly inclusive and, therefore, the best.

First, the committee considers itself the “general public”—we live all over the region and together bring strong cultural, historical, academic, professional, and geographical experience and wisdom to the naming process. The ten of us represent the diversity of gender, age, geographic and cultural differences that characterize the tri-county region.

We met for the first time last September. We learned more about the bridge from TriMet staff and toured onsite to get a feeling for what the it will look like, its functions and what it may represent. We discussed our hopes and aspirations for the name. We live here like everyone else and like you, want a great name for a great bridge!

The committee reviewed other organizations’ naming criteria, debated what was most important to our region and finalized the selection considerations. Believe me, my 22 years on the Oregon Geographic Names Board came in handy!

  • Origin of name
  • Meaning of proposed name
  • Is it inspirational? If so, why?
  • Regional perspective
  • Does it reflect how bridge connects people? If so, how?
  • Historical significance (if any)
  • Biographical info (if commemorative)
  • Any special cultural meaning?
  • What will it mean 100 years from now?
  • Spelling
  • Pronunciation
  • Sound/ring/flow—does it “roll off your tongue?”

Other members of the public—everyone living here—were asked to help us, to use your imagination, historical research, creativity, cultural awareness, sensitivity, and to send us ideas that “might reflect local geography, Native American and more-recent history, area plants or animals, or other themes relating the symbolic nature of connecting the region.” In addition, we began with the directive that the name of the bridge “can evoke historical moments, remind us of names of noted community leaders, or suggest the beauty, wilderness and or wonder of the entire region.”

Committee members agreed that each of us must be fine with any name going forward being THE final name of the bridge. We also worked to unanimously agree on all names going forward. Unanimity for all final names was essential, we believed.

At the end of the day, committee members feel confident that this has been a thoughtful process, accomplished by thoughtful citizens—members of the tri-county community and of the committee. Our process was not a popularity contest. It was not about lobbying and who has the most clout. It was about selecting a bridge name that best reflects the region’s history, culture, and geography, and that holds the promise to connect and hopefully inspire us—not just now, but hundreds of years from now.

But it is not over, yet. Keep participating and tell us what you think of the four final proposed names. Thank you!

Learn about the final names and send us your comments!

Portland-Milwaukie MAX line is 50% complete, on time and on budget

Lincoln Street/3rd Ave Station Construction

Located between the pedestrian paths of 2nd and 3rd avenues at the southern end of Downtown Portland, the SW Lincoln Street/3rd Ave MAX Station (center) is adjacent to several residential towers and Portland State University facilities, with access to the fountains and paths that make up the Halprin District.

50 percent, and counting!

The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project has reached an exciting milestone: We’re 50 percent complete.

And, we have a grand opening date, too: The region’s sixth MAX line is scheduled to begin transporting riders between Downtown Portland, Milwaukie and north Clackamas County on Saturday, September 12, 2015. (Mark your calendar… There will be festivities!)

We started construction back in July 2011, and crews have been hard at work building 10 new MAX stations: one in Downtown Portland, one in the South Waterfront area, six in Southeast Portland, one in Milwaukie and one in north Clackamas County.

Thanks for your patience with the temporary road closures this summer related to project construction! It will be well worth it come 2015, when fewer cars are on the road thanks to the handy new MAX service nearby.

Have a look at two years of construction progress on the project Flickr page

A convenient new north-south transit option

2015 may be a ways off, but it’s exciting to think about the convenient new transportation option this project will bring for the many people who need to get around in the fast-growing areas of Southeast Portland, Milwaukie and north Clackamas County.

For one, commuters in the congested McLoughlin Boulevard/Highway 99E corridor will finally have an alternative to sitting in traffic. By the year 2030, the new line is expected to increase transit commutes from within this corridor to Downtown Portland by 20 percent, and reduce weekday car trips by more than 9,100. It will reduce travel time between Milwaukie and the South Waterfront by an estimated 58 percent, and between Milwaukie and Portland State University by 29 percent.

Commuters in the congested McLoughlin Boulevard/Highway 99E corridor will finally have an alternative to sitting in traffic.

Bridge over Kellogg Lake and McLoughlin Blvd/Hwy 99E

The Milwaukie/Main St MAX Station will be located in south downtown Milwaukie, on the empty lot at the top center of this photo. Crews are currently constructing the Kellogg Bridge from the station over Kellogg Lake and McLoughlin Blvd/Hwy 99E. The bridge will keep MAX separated from traffic as it crosses over several roads, and the portion over the lake includes a multi-use path for cyclists and pedestrians.

Creating good jobs

There’s another important story behind this project, and it’s about jobs. To date, the project has supported more than 6,800 direct, indirect and induced jobs. This includes contracting opportunities for 111 Disadvantaged Business Enterprises who have so far received $115 million in contracts. 

The product of partnerships

As you may know, light rail projects are regional collaborations that take 12-15 years to go from an idea to construction and opening. Initiated in 1999 as part of Metro‘s long-term regional transportation plan, the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project is the result of a partnership among the Federal Transit Administration, the State of Oregon, Clackamas County, Metro, the City of Milwaukie, Multnomah County, the City of Oregon City, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the City of Portland, the Portland Development Commission and TriMet. Our project partners are picking up 95 percent of the cost of the project, and we are covering the remaining 5 percent.

Stay in the loop

At this important milestone, we’re proud to report that the project is both on time and on budget. As construction continues, you can keep up on our progress when you “Like” the PMLR page on Facebook. And there is much more project history and details at our project website.

(More) new buses are on the way!

3100 series bus

A “3100 series” bus at our prep facility in June

It’s here! The first of 70 new buses is now on site at our prep facility in NE Portland.

The new buses (which we’re calling our “3100 series”) are even more fuel-efficient than the 50+ buses we purchased last year, and they have a few improvements for both riders and operators. They’ll be going into service gradually starting in Mid-July, replacing some of the oldest buses in our fleet.

Fresh from the factory

We expect to receive three to five buses per week for roughly 18 weeks this summer and fall. Each bus will be driven up to Portland from the Gillig factory in Hayward, California.

Then, it takes our crews about two weeks to get each bus ready for service, including DMV title, license and registration.

The new buses will be put into service at our Merlo and Center Street garages. We’ll replace buses that are highest on the “ready for retirement” list first.

What’s new for riders

New passenger seats

New composite passenger seats

  • Seats: The most visible change you’ll notice on the 3100s is the seats. They now have a composite seat frame that weighs less, costs less and should show less dirt and fingerprints than the stainless steel frames in the 3000s.
  • Boarding ramp: We’ve made boarding easier for customers by making slight modifications to the boarding ramp and adding a new ramp guard to help direct mobility devices farther into the bus before turning down the aisle. And a new ramp warning light inside the vehicle will alert riders on the bus that the ramp is going to deploy.
  • Efficient engine: The 3100 series buses have a 2013 EPA-compliant engine that has a bit more fuel and emissions efficiency than previous models. It won’t make your bus go faster, but the innovative cooling system we pioneered improves fuel economy by 5-10 percent. And the ultra-low-emission engine keeps pollutants out of the air.
  • Transmission: The transmission has a load-based shifting program that can tell when the bus is on a hill with a lot of riders, and shift accordingly to match conditions.

Other features

Like the buses we added last year, the 3100s come with standard air conditioning (hooray!), automatic stop announcements, easy-to-clean vinyl seats, larger windows, handrails and a gently sloping floor at the rear exit, a next-generation GPS dispatch/tracking system and improved windshield visibility for operators.

A better bus fleet

In addition to the 55 buses we purchased last year and 70 coming this year, we will be replacing another 184 buses over the next three years. By 2017, we will have replaced all of the remaining high-floor buses in the fleet (those with steps at the door), and reduced the average age of our bus fleet to eight years (the industry standard).

Learn more about the features of our next-generation buses

 

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Meeting with transit riders at Portland-based startup Elemental Technologies

General Manager Neil McFarlane meets with employees at Elemental Technologies

General Manager Neil McFarlane talks transit with employees of Portland-based startup Elemental Technologies. Nearly half of Elemental’s 95 local employees ride buses and trains.

Neil McFarlane is TriMet’s General Manager.

Recently, I had the opportunity meet with employees from a terrific Portland-based startup called Elemental Technologies. Elemental is a leading supplier of video solutions for multi-screen content delivery.

The company is growing rapidly with offices across the United States and in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Singapore and Brazil. CEO Sam Blackman was recently featured on GeekWire (honored as their “2012 Startup CEO of the Year”). He also spoke about the many benefits of low-car commuting at the Portland Employers Bike Summit in May.

Nearly half of Elemental’s 95 local employees use transit. Many others bike to work. Their downtown office features their video processing technology in an array of video screens in their lobby, where a customized app displays real-time bus and MAX arrivals.

Needless to say, the Elemental crew had lots of questions that I think might be on the minds of other riders. Here’s are some highlights from our discussion.

What is TriMet’s process for assessing the efficiency of bus stop spacing?

Bus stop spacing is a question I hear quite a bit. Honestly, we’ve used a variety of processes over the years and we’re revisiting this topic again. Currently, our policy and planning group is working with the community to develop a policy that can be applied region-wide. How far apart should stops be? What are the accessibility needs of riders in the area around each stop? From there, we will begin to review our system line-by-line.

Any plans for digital signage or advertising on trains or at stops?

At this point, the City of Portland prohibits electronic advertising displays in the public right-of-way so as to not distract auto drivers. We may want to revisit this with them. Recently, we received a proposal from a local news station to have a crawl at the bottom of our screens, similar to what CNN does.

Any consideration of removing MAX stops, particularly in Downtown Portland?

No question, the trip should be faster through Downtown. There really are two issues for us: one, each stop has a constituency that moved their business or office there to be near a MAX stop. For example, the Skidmore station was one that seemed viable for a potential closure, but it is located near the new offices for the University of Oregon and Mercy Corps. The second issue is cost. These stations have a lot of hard-wired safety features that would be really expensive to remove.

Any plans to add Wi-Fi to MAX trains?

We’d love to find a solution where we can add Wi-Fi cost-effectively to our bus and rail fleet, but currently it is cost prohibitive. WES has it because it was required for maintenance on the cars, and we chose to also make it available to WES riders. That’s not the case with the rest of our fleet. One solution we’ve explored is looking for a sponsor to help cover the cost of adding wireless service to our vehicles, but that has not panned out yet.

Is TriMet considering changes to the Line 96-Tualatin/I-5 with the move of the 1,000-person Stream Global Services call center from Beaverton to Wilsonville?

Wilsonville is outside our service district. By law, we cannot provide service outside our area without an agreement with the other jurisdiction to compensate us. That said, TriMet’s WES Commuter Rail service opened in 2009 in partnership with Washington County and Wilsonville to provide service to the transit center in the city. WES, which operates only during morning and evening commute hours, was designed specifically around employment centers. The local SMART bus system provides shuttle service from WES to local employers in the area.

Is TriMet considering moving away from the honor system for paying your fare on buses and trains?

We are working to provide riders with tools to make it easier to purchase their fares. We are currently beta-testing a mobile ticketing app, where riders can buy tickets on their smart phones. Plans call for us to move to an electronic fare system in about four years. Last year, we simplified the fare system, eliminating zones, with that in mind.

Will TriMet ever revisit distance-based fares with newer fare technology?

One of the benefits of our region’s Urban Growth Boundary is that our transit trips are generally shorter compared to other cities. We also have heard from riders that the distance-based fares (zones) were confusing. When we look to implement an electronic fare system it would be far more complicated and costly to create mechanisms for tapping on and off, with a distance-based system. What if someone forgets to tap on? How do you deal with it when they exit the vehicle? Our plan is to keep it simple.

What’s the financial impact of eliminating the Rail Free Zone?

Overall, I think we have seen an increase in fare revenue and a decrease in riders on our rail system. What we know thus far, a lot of riders parked near the Rail Free Zone and walked to a station. In the last six months, I’ve heard a lot of feedback from riders who work downtown and miss the lunchtime option of hopping on a bus or train to run errands at lunch to get to a meeting downtown. Eliminating the free zone was a very difficult decision for our board—it was loved by riders. We came to a point where we needed to decide who we were subsidizing—free rides for people during their lunch hour downtown or service for those who needed it most. Transit equity was more important.

Why do you sometimes have 1-car trains on the system instead of the normal 2-car trains?

This situation should be pretty rare, but when it does happen it likely means the car is in the shop for maintenance. We are going through a major overhaul of our Type 2 cars, which are now 20 years old. This is their midlife update, where all their parts are being replaced.

Can you add your current location option to your bus app?

TriMet doesn’t actually own any smartphone apps per se (but we do have a mobile website that provides a “use your current location” option, at m.trimet.org). Years ago we made our data available to developer community so they would innovate and create apps of their own. You may be referring to one of these third-party apps, which are featured online in our App Center. Today, there are more than 50 applications available to riders. Also, Google has a great transit option in Google Maps, which also provides the location option.

I love the Poetry in Motion on your system. Are there plans to keep it?

We would love to participate in Poetry in Motion again. We rely on sponsorships to produce the signs and keep the program going. For example, we had a printing sponsor who produced the last set of signs inside buses. We are always on the lookout for potential sponsors for the program.

 

Congratulations to Sam and his team on their continued success. I look forward to seeing members of the Elemental team on our buses and trains!

Rider Q & A at our first “Coffee with Neil”

Neil McFarlane is TriMet’s General Manager.

Dear riders,

One of the most enjoyable parts of being the General Manager of TriMet is engaging directly with riders. Last Friday, I had coffee with 14 riders and we had a terrific 60-minute discussion on a wide variety of topics. I had a ball answering real questions from our riders—I would argue the most knowledgeable and committed transit riders on the planet!

coffee-with-neil

Last Friday, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane answered questions from riders at the first in a series of “Coffee with Neil” events around the metro area.

By the way, you will see me—and my colleagues—out in the community more moving forward. We know you are frustrated with the level of service, overcrowded buses and trains, and the negative conversation about TriMet in the news. We know you want the facts and want to talk with us directly, and we agree.

Friday morning we touched on a variety of topics—here’s a brief recap:

  • Service reductions over the last three years: Understandably, riders are frustrated and want more service, not less. While we’re not in a financial position to significantly add service, we are investing $1.6 million more this year to reduce overcrowding, extending Line 94 all day and looking to add service to one key route in Washington County to help workers get to jobs. While this alone won’t satisfy the growing demand for transit in our region, it’s what we can afford to do for riders right now.
  • This year’s budget: There is some good news in our budget this year: no service cuts and no fare increases (assuming that our latest labor contract proposal is upheld). We are also accelerating our new bus purchases—70 more buses are coming this year—and continuing our “Access Transit” fare programs for low-income riders. We are hiring more bus operators to accommodate the new Hours of Service policy we agreed upon with the ATU (our labor union), and we will be increasing MAX vehicle and track maintenance, plus improving lighting and other amenities along the MAX system.
  • Pay raises for non-union staff: It was clear that what riders heard in the news was not the full story. These raises went to our 440 non-union employees, most not in management roles. The vast majority of these employees had their salaries frozen for 3 ½ years, and they have been paying more for their health care coverage. I made this decision to be fair to these hard-working public servants who play a critical role keeping our agency and our transit system running. While we informed our Board of Directors and community groups of this decision at the time, we certainly can and will be more transparent about changes such as these in the future.
  • TriMet’s health care costs: With an aging workforce and health care for life for retirees and their dependents, our health care costs remain a structural long-term challenge for the agency. We need to tackle this issue for the future of TriMet and transit service in our region. In order for us to make a case for new revenue, we need to get our house in order. I am confident the region will invest in us if they know the resources are going to new service, and not health care costs.
  • New bus purchases: Our bus fleet is too old. We purchased 55 new buses in fall 2012 and we’ll be replacing 70 more in 2013 and about 40 more each year after that. By 2017, we will have replaced all of the remaining high-floor buses in the fleet (those with steps at the door).
  • Washington County service: Riders are frustrated by the level of service within the county and some of the challenges of bus service on roads where the traffic is too fast and there is a lack of sidewalks and safe crossings. We are continuing to work with our partners to improve access to transit service and we’re seeing progress throughout the region.
  • Reducing stop spacing: Riders continue to express concerns about the number of stops along bus routes slowing down the service. We, of course, need to balance this desire with accessibility concerns of our riders who are seniors and have disabilities. One rider recommended created conditional ADA stops that would only be available to riders with special needs. This is certainly worth exploring.
  • TransitTracker system: Riders are frustrated with the quality of the audio on our TransitTracker by Phone system. I am pleased to report that this system is being upgraded—likely sometime later this year—and we expect the automated voice will be easier to understand.
  • East Portland bus service: One student shared his frustration with the lack of north-south service between 122nd and 185th in East Portland. This is a legitimate concern and a challenge for our riders, many of whom have moved east for more affordable housing. This summer we are starting a planning process to revise service for East Portland, which may help with these kinds of service gaps.
  • The shortcomings of  the Type 4 MAX cars: The Type 4 cars are too cold! We also discussed that some of the seating is too tight for riders. Both of these issues will be fixed in the next generation of MAX cars, which will enter service in 2014 and 2015. We also are working to resolve the temperature control system of the newer rail cars.
  • Interlining the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Line with the Yellow and Green lines: We are still developing the service plan, but, yes, the future Orange Line will be interlined with some Yellow and Green line trains. (Interlining means using the same vehicle and/or operator on multiple routes.)
  • Metro’s work on a BRT line along Powell-Division: Metro is launching a planning process to explore a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line along Powell-Division. It’s certainly a corridor where there is a tremendous need and demand for more service. It’s a very promising opportunity to improve service on the Eastside.

I really enjoyed meeting riders and answering their questions at our first “coffee talk.” This is just the beginning, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with riders all over the region.

If you’re interested in joining Neil at a future “Coffee with Neil” event, please send us an email.

Ask TriMet: How can TriMet afford new buses if there’s a budget shortfall?

“Ask TriMet” answers some of the questions we get frequently from riders. Have a question? Send it to ask@trimet.org and we may feature it in a future post.

3000-series bus on streetWhen we announced that we were purchasing 55 new buses last year, many riders asked us how we could afford them when we’d just raised fares and cut service due to a budget shortfall. Here’s the answer:

Bus replacement is as much a cost of service as the driver and mechanic. We delayed purchasing new buses as we weathered the last two recessions. We now have one of the oldest fleets in the country, and we simply can’t delay buying replacement vehicles any more. Not only are the aging buses uncomfortable for riders and operators, they have become too unreliable and expensive for us to maintain.

The Federal Transit Administration requires a minimum life of 12 years or 500,000 miles out of the type of bus TriMet uses. Thanks to our creative and innovative maintenance staff, we are able to keep our buses on the road a lot longer. Our maintenance staff are able to calculate the life of many of our bus parts and swap them out just before they fail most of the time, which helps prevent in-service break downs. We also go beyond upkeep by making improvements to our active buses in the fleet.

But like any vehicle that is heavily used, our buses are only useful for so long. The buses we are replacing are well beyond their useful life of 15-16 years. (As several of you have pointed out, some are over 20 years old!) As such, they have higher maintenance costs and can only be used to a limited extent in service. We will continue replacing the oldest buses in our fleet over the next few years.

We received $20 million in grant funding from the FTA to pay for replacement buses. The 55 new buses we purchased in 2012 are now in service, and we’ve already purchased 70 more that will go into service this year. We will replace about 60 more each year from 2014 to 2016, and about 40 more each year after that.

By 2017, we will have replaced all of the remaining high-floor buses (those with steps at the door) in the fleet and the average age of a bus in our fleet will be about 8 years. This is an essential investment which will improve the reliability, efficiency and safety of our buses, while reducing our costs over the long term.

Learn more about TriMet’s new buses

Have a question? Send it to ask@trimet.org and we may feature it in a future post.