Category Archives: Q & A

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.

Ask TriMet: What’s with the “Palestinian Loss of Land” ad on some of the buses and trains?

Drew Blevins is TriMet’s Director of Marketing and Customer Information.

Ask TriMet logoSome of you have expressed concern about the “Palestinian Loss of Land” advertisements that are posted on some of our buses and trains. We value and respect this feedback, so we wanted to share with you why we were legally required to post this ad.

In the past, we only accepted commercial ads—those that promote goods or services. Under this policy the “Palestinian Loss of Land” would not have been accepted. However, in 2008, the Multnomah County Circuit Court ruled that our policy violated free speech rights under the Oregon and United States constitutions.

We have requested the Oregon Supreme Court review this decision. But until the court decides the issue, our ad policy has been suspended so that we are in compliance with the law.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: Advertising on TriMet property generates more than $5 million per year in revenue that—particularly in this difficult economic environment—helps support keeping buses and trains in service.

That said, TriMet does not endorse any particular viewpoint or product of an advertiser, and all ads are clearly marked “Paid Advertisement.” The “Palestinian Loss of Land” ad is a paid advertisement.

Again, thank you for your interest in this issue, and I hope this helps clear up any confusion about the ads appearing on TriMet vehicles.

UPDATE: Pro-Israel ads also appearing on TriMet vehicles, more on TriMet’s advertising policy

Ask TriMet: “Why do MAX trains have to slow down in hot weather?”

“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.

MAX Yellow Line traveling to Expo CenterDuring last week’s heat wave, many riders asked us why MAX has to travel slower when it’s hot outside. In short, trains slow down in 90+ degree weather as a safety precaution because extreme heat can cause the rails (which are made of steel) and the overhead power wires (which are made of copper) to expand. Here’s a little more of the reasoning behind this safety measure:

When it’s 100 degrees out, a 1-mile stretch of rail in the MAX system may expand up to a few inches. This rail has to go somewhere, and when it gets too hot it can actually bend or lay over on its side! Our operators and controllers call this a “sun kink.”

The overhead power wires may also expand in the heat. Because copper expands more than steel, and because we can’t allow the overhead wires to sag, we have a system of pulleys with counterweights that tug on the wires to keep them tight. Sometimes, it gets so hot that the counterweights touch the ground and the wire starts to sag anyway.

Our operators have to watch for both sagging power wires and “sun kinked” rails when it’s really hot out. To be safe, they slow down to make sure nothing goes wrong. As it gets hotter, they have to slow down more.

So what does that mean for riders?

When temperatures rise into the 90s, trains traveling in speed zones above 35 mph will need to run 10 mph slower. This will affect segments of each MAX line and cause minor delays to service.

If temperatures climb above 100 degrees, trains cannot go faster than 35 mph, resulting in delays up to 15 minutes throughout the system.

Like in other cities, the MAX system is designed for the average temperature ranges of our local climate. When temperatures are at the extremes of that range, the materials in the system are sometimes unable to adapt.

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

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Ask TriMet: “Does TriMet enforce the smoking ban?”

“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.

Ask TriMet logoRiders ask us variations of this question from time to time, usually after they see—or smell—someone smoking in or near a TriMet stop. The short answer is, “Yes.” Enforcement actions can take the form of a verbal or written warning, a $250 fine, or even an exclusion from the system.

What is the ban?

If you’re not familiar with the smoking ban, here’s the rule according to TriMet Code 28.1 A(2): “No person shall smoke an electronic cigarette, tobacco or any other substance, or shall carry any lighted or smoldering substance, in any form aboard a District Vehicle, in any elevator or underground area of a District Station, or within any space or area where posted signage prohibits smoking.” The ban took effect in 2005.

Where are No Smoking signs posted?

Currently, all of our MAX and WES stations and about 80 percent of bus stops with shelters have No Smoking signs.  By the end of the year, all bus stops with shelters will have them.

At stops without shelters, the smoking ban does not apply. These stops are technically considered public property, so we can’t prohibit smoking there.

No smoking symbolSo where exactly are smokers allowed to smoke?

One of our lead supervisors, Jim Waddington, explains the boundary where the ban applies as “inside the drip-line of a bus or MAX shelter, or anywhere on a TriMet-only MAX platform.” TriMet-only MAX platforms are those that don’t share space with public sidewalks (at Hollywood Transit Center, for example).

So that means that at all bus shelters and at MAX stations along public sidewalks, such as in Downtown Portland, smoking is allowed as long as it’s outside the drip-line of the shelter. If someone is standing just one step outside of the shelter and smoking, they’re not breaking the rule.

How we enforce the ban

Of course, we can’t patrol all of our stops and stations for smokers 24/7. But in a month on average, fare inspectors, supervisors, and local police will take actions against over 80 smokers. Enforcing the smoking ban often leads to opportunities to stop other prohibited behavior, such as riding without a valid fare. Police have even caught a few criminals with outstanding warrants by running a background check after first catching them smoking.

By the way, if you see someone smoking regularly at a stop or station at around the same time of day on the same days of the week, let us know. Our enforcement staff can then visit the stop and, if they catch the smoker breaking the rule, they can take the appropriate action.

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

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