Category Archives: Rider News

2016 Year in Review

It was a big and busy year for us.

That’s the simple explanation. Though we didn’t have a marquee event like last year’s Orange Line opening, we added a lot of service and made some significant improvements. We also dealt with weather (hot and cold), protests and planned disruptions that required some significant service adjustments and plenty of your patience. And in the end, 2016 left us with plenty to be happy about — let’s take a look at the numbers:

2 MAX Improvement Projects

Back in January, chief operating officer Doug Kelsey shared our plans for improving MAX on-time performance. Since then, we’ve completed two major projects along segments of the original, 30-year-old alignment. In May, we spent two weeks replacing track and switches along First Avenue in Downtown Portland. Four months later, we did similar work in the Rose Quarter.

3500 bus

77 New Buses Arrive

Our newest buses (the 3500 series) hit the streets in March. Once all 77 were delivered we were able to say that new-model buses comprise over half our active fleet.

Over the next few years we plan to add more than 175 new buses, starting in a few weeks when we begin rolling out the 3600 series. This process will bring the average age of our fleet to the industry standard of eight years and — more importantly — ensure your ride is more comfortable and reliable.

97 Becomes Our Newest Bus Line

The growing communities of Tualatin and Sherwood got their first direct transit connection in June. Line 97-Tualatin-Sherwood was our first new bus line in years, and though it’s just a commuter line now we plan to extend it to Bridgeport Village and downtown Tigard in the future.

And thanks to the increased employer payroll tax that took effect this year, this is just the beginning of more and better service. We’ve got plans for increasing, expanding and introducing bus service throughout the region over the next 10 years.

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3 Operators Earn Top Honors

Justina Carrillo, a mini-run (part-time) bus operator; Jeffery Evans, a MAX operator; and Alex Ohly, a bus operator joined exclusive company this year when they were selected by their peers as TriMet’s Operators of the Year. The three combined represent nearly five decades of safe driving experience and multiple Superior Performance Awards, and we are truly grateful for their service.

2 Weeks of Protests in Downtown Portland

Running safe transit — an essential service to many — amidst demonstrations in the city center — a right protected by the Constitution, as long as it’s peaceful — isn’t easy to do. But with cooperation between different groups and the diligence of our operators and field staff, it became possible.

How We Roll bus

3 Hours in Pioneer Courthouse Square

We set up shop in Portland’s living room one afternoon this summer to debut our How We Roll bus, which features 16 rider portraits on its sides. (There’s a wrapped train, too!) While we were there we handed out goodies and took photos for the next time we wrap a bus or train.

12 Year Absence from the Sellwood Bridge Ends

For the first time in over a decade, TriMet service is using the Sellwood Bridge, as Line 99 began its new route this month. It was all possible because the old Sellwood Bridge, which had a weight limit that restricted heavy vehicles, was replaced earlier in the year.

1 Year of MAX Orange Line

Our newest light rail line, along with Tilikum Crossing, celebrated a year of service in September. The time seemed to fly but in retrospect, a lot happened — including 3.5 million rides on the Orange Line and 775,000 bike trips over the bridge.

30 Years of MAX

After a proposed eight-lane freeway was nixed in the mid-1970s, the pioneering decision was made to consider how transportation affects quality of life. This led to the creation of MAX, one of the first modern light-rail systems in the country. On Sept. 5, 1986 service debuted between Gresham and Portland.

Thirty years, four new lines and millions of trips later, we continue to move a growing region.

MAX in snow

2 Snow Storms…in Two Weeks

Plus one back in January. Orchestrating transit in snow and ice isn’t easy. It requires extraordinary vigilance and quick responses to constantly changing situations from our staff — especially operators and field staff working out in the freezing cold. It also takes a lot of preparedness and patience from our riders, and we appreciate the understanding we were shown amidst the inevitable frustration and exhaustion.

20 New Operators Hired Every Three Weeks

We’re hiring drivers at a serious pace because in order to give riders more service, we need more people. We sweetened the deal, too, and boosted starting pay for part-time operators from $11.21 to $14.25 per hour during training. Ever thought about driving with us?

Hop testing

225+ Employees Begin Testing Hop Fastpass

Our new fare card is almost here — you probably noticed the readers on your bus or at the MAX station. Earlier this year, a small group of employees from TriMet, C-TRAN and Portland Streetcar began testing the system, tapping Hop cards to board buses and trains and managing their accounts online.

The first public beta test begins soon, so be sure to sign up for email updates if you’re interested in participating.

OK — that’s enough for this year. Thanks for riding, and see you in 2017!

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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How Transit Works in Snow and Ice

The National Weather Service recently confirmed what heavy rains have hinted at: La Niña is here.

Get ready for this.
Get ready for this.

Below-average temperatures and above-average rainfall — and perhaps snow and ice — have been observed in the Pacific Northwest this fall, and both could continue through the winter, according to NWS predictions.

What do you think when you hear this? Are you the type to buy a season pass to Mt. Hood Meadows, assured that the snowpack will stretch well into spring? Perhaps blankets and board games (and Netflix!) is more your thing. For us, preparation for the inevitability of snow and ice events has already begun.

Related: Learn your snow route

Making the Call

We value safety, so determining whether to alter service in a winter weather event is simple: If a situation is potentially unsafe for riders, operators or equipment, we take action.

Bus in snow

In practice, this means being ultra-aware of conditions across the system. To make this easier, we set up an Emergency Operations Center that’s staffed 24/7 during winter weather events, and allows us to streamline and speed up the process of gathering information, making decisions and disseminating information. (Activating an EOC during an emergency is standard practice across all types of agencies.)

We rely on and share information from the field and from regional partners like PBOT, ODOT and local media outlets. We track storms as they approach and coordinate with other agencies to plow and sand streets — we even have a few sanding trucks of our own to run on high elevation bus routes.

The Plan for Buses

Preparing buses for snow and ice often begins before service starts for the day. Specialized crews (affectionately known as “Snowbirds”) assess bus routes, specifically at high elevations, to see if they’re safe for normal bus operations. They might call for a sanding truck, put the line on snow route or cancel a run entirely.

Bus at curb in snow

Like other cars and trucks on the road, buses will often be chained if they’re running on snowy or icy streets. Just under half our buses have drop down “insta-chains,” which operators can deploy at the push of a button. (Otherwise, crews will chain the fleet at the garage or in the field, which takes just 10 or 15 minutes per bus, respectively.)

For riders, it’s important to keep in mind that chained buses travel slower — no faster than 25 mph — so they won’t stay on schedule. And in winter conditions your bus won’t pull up to the curb, lest it slide or become stuck. If that happens, we have rescue teams on standby to get it moving again.

MAX Service

MAX typically does well in snow, and we take measures to prevent ice buildup. Throughout the system, switches on the track are equipped with covers (some have heaters, too) and portions of the overhead wire have ice caps to keep ice at bay.

MAX in snow

The trains have pantograph heaters that are activated in snow and ice, and these also help prevent ice from accumulating. (The pantograph is the arm that connects the train to overhead power.) If necessary, we’ll run some trains overnight to keep ice from building up on the overhead wire. And if you’re at the station when one of these trains pulls up — for whatever reason, at whatever time — we’ll let you board!

If ice does begin to accumulate on the overhead wire, we have six MAX vehicles equipped with heated ice cutters on a second pantograph that can shave approximately 1/32 inch of ice off the wire with each pass.

Related: Tips for riding in winter weather

What You Need to Know

We’ve already mentioned that your bus will likely be late and perhaps on a different route (learn yours!) during snow and ice. If it gets too far off its normal schedule, we’ll turn off TransitTracker so estimated arrival times (which aren’t accurate when buses are traveling slower) become approximate distances — much more useful for planning your trip.

But don’t assume that snow means your bus is on snow route. We often need to alter service in the face of unpredictable weather, so instead check with us for updates on your lines: You’ll find service alerts and snow route updates at trimet.org/alerts, on Twitter and through our email list.

people in snow

Aside from checking your bus or train’s status before starting your trip, make sure your phone is charged and that you have water and warm clothing — don’t forget gloves and a hat. Leave plenty of time to walk to your stop or station and be extra careful on slopes. We (and our regional partners) do our best to de-ice roads, bridges, garages, platforms and parking lots, but you’ll likely find some slippery spots along the way. And if your bus stop is on a hill, head to the top or bottom to board — the bus can’t safely stop on a slope.

Finally, don’t approach the bus until it comes to a complete stop and the driver opens the door. There’s always a chance it could slide toward the curb once the brakes have locked the wheels.

If we’re faced with severe weather, we might need to reduce service to certain bus lines running on plowed streets. The idea is that by reassigning buses where they are most useful and less likely to get stuck, we can serve more riders.

As we mentioned at the top, our goal is to keep everyone safe. So even as things slow down, know that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to coordinate safe travel in difficult circumstances. Winter weather requires extra effort from all of us, and we appreciate your trust, patience and preparedness when the time comes.

Which reminds us: Have you learned your snow route?

 

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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5 Tips for Commuting in the Rain

Fall is finally upon us. This means days are shorter, nights are colder and — more often that not — it’s raining. And it won’t be stopping anytime soon.

So, as we adjust to the changing seasons, here are some tips for commuting in wet weather to help hold you over until the dry days of summer return.

#1. Dress in layers.

Weather in Oregon can be unpredictable. One minute, the sun’s out. The next minute, it’s a downpour. It’s best to layer up before you head out so you’re prepared for whatever weather conditions come your way. (And yes, umbrellas are allowed!)

#2. Check trimet.org/alerts before you go.

It’s always best practice to check our Service Alerts page before you go to make sure your bus or train is not experiencing any detours or delays. You can also sign up for email updates to get service alerts that affect you delivered right to your inbox.

#3. Light up the night!

Bring a small flashlight or blinky-light with you (or use the flashlight on your smartphone) to help you see and be seen. It gets darker much earlier and stays dark later into the morning, so having a personal light on you keeps you safe and helps our operators see you better!

#4. Heads up while walking, please.

It’s so easy to be distracted by our devices, but walking while looking at your smartphone poses a safety risk for yourself and everyone else around you. When out and about, please pay attention to where you’re going, especially when crossing streets or MAX tracks. In addition to keeping your eyes off your phone, do make sure that you can see out from beneath your umbrellas and hoods!

#5. Be aware of your surroundings.

In extreme weather conditions, unforeseen incidents may happen, like a fallen tree or downed power lines. A downed line doesn’t have to spark to be dangerous. It can be dangerous even if you’re not touching it: Water, metal, tree branches, concrete or other materials touching the wire can conduct electricity to you. Please be extra safe and take extra precautions if you must travel during intense weather situations.

Jessica Ridgway

Jessica Ridgway

I'm TriMet's Web and Social Media Coordinator. I develop content for our website and social media channels. I'm a daily MAX rider and an adopted Oregonian.

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Thanks for Your Patience During the Rose Quarter MAX Improvements

Like we mentioned in our Rose Quarter Progress Report, the MAX improvements work this time around was much more complicated — and disruptive — than the First Avenue project from May.

Crews replaced and upgraded tracks, signals, switches and more around the Rose Quarter Transit Center.
Crews replaced and upgraded tracks, signals, switches and more around the Rose Quarter Transit Center.

Over the last two weeks, as we installed upgraded track, signals and switches near the Rose Quarter Transit Center, many riders became very familiar with the Lloyd Center–Rose Quarter shuttle buses. These were our best option for replacing the service between the three closed MAX stations, though they made for a disjointed commute.

Shuttle buses carried MAX riders between the Rose Quarter and Lloyd Center stations.
Shuttle buses carried MAX riders between the Rose Quarter and Lloyd Center stations, and between Kenton and Portland International Airport.

For others, the commute just became longer, as trains arrived less frequently (and more packed than usual). Finally, some chose to do something altogether different and took the bus, biked or shared a ride instead.

(We should also mention that the Kenton–PDX shuttle became an unexpected highlight of the project — thanks for all the positive feedback!)

In the end, nearly everyone had to plan for an altered commute.

Volunteer Ride Guides and Customer Service staff helped riders get around the Rose Quarter construction.

We asked a lot from you — more than ever — and throughout it all, your patience and understanding shone through. This attitude allowed us to focus on improving the 30-year-old trackway at the Rose Quarter safely and efficiently.

Here’s to you, and to a more reliable ride for decades to come!


 

Related:

MAX Reliability Improvements
Charting MAX On-Time Performance
• Rose Quarter MAX Improvements Progress Reports: 1, 2

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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Minimizing Heat Delays on MAX

Last year, we shared a bit about why our trains slow down when it heats up — basically, temperatures above 90 degrees bring the possibility of rails expanding and kinking, or overhead wires sagging.

We know how it feels to slow down in extreme heat.
We know how it feels to slow down in extreme heat.

Before we go any further, we should answer a common question: Why didn’t we build track that can withstand higher temperatures? Surely, places like Phoenix don’t have this problem — right?

It’s true. Hotter places like Phoenix, which experience many 90+ degree days, don’t have this problem. But they do have trouble at the other end of the spectrum, when it’s cold out. This is because transit agencies build systems to work within the temperature range of their region, with the rails and overhead wire resting (neither expanded nor contracted) at the average temperature. For reference, the average temperature here is about 55 degrees, compared to 75 degrees in Phoenix.

Nobody wants a slower trip in extreme heat. You’ve got places to be, and we’re trying to stick to a schedule. That’s why we’re looking into ways to speed trains up when it’s hot out — we’ve already come across a simple solution that seems to work: track anchors. These were initially installed along the new Orange Line track for other reasons, but later we noticed that the rail here didn’t seem to affected by high temperatures.

So last spring, crews installed similar anchors to the rail ties of a segment of Red Line track that we knew to be especially prone to sun kinks. These have kept the rail in place, even on warm days (when rail temperatures can approach 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature). This simple step, which didn’t even require disrupting service, saved approximately 25 to 30 minutes of time throughout each service day, adding back over 150 hours of increased on-time performance over the course of a year.

There’s also the issue of overhead wire sagging in the heat and potentially damaging the pantograph (the arm that connects MAX to the wire) if it drops far enough. So we’re looking into ways to give the counterweights — which keep the wire taut — more room to move.

This summer has been curiously mild, but we’ll use the hot days ahead to gather more data on how these potential solutions hold up in real life. Eventually, when we’re confident that they’re worth the investment, we’ll implement these upgrades on a wider scale. And we’ll be able to keep moving, right through the heat.

Related:

Why Our Trains Slow Down When It Heats Up

Monitoring MAX On-Time Performance

MAX System Reliability Improvements

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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BIKETOWN launches at Tilikum Crossing

Last Tuesday, BIKETOWN — Portland’s new public bike share system — hit the streets. We were at the launch event at Tilikum Crossing:

Ready to try it? Check out our tips for getting the most out of BIKETOWN.

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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Speeding up MAX reliability improvements

Throughout TriMet, we have been focused on improving MAX on-time performance (OTP) — our measure of reliable service — and doing it safely. Back in January, I shared our plans to improve. We’ve made some progress, and we hope it’s making a difference in your ride. MAX OTP improved from 75 percent last November to an average of just above 85 percent in June. We still have a ways to go, but we are on track and remain dedicated to achieving our long term goal of 90 percent.

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The MAX system is very complex. Over the course of a day, it is in operation for about 22½ hours and provides more than 120,000 trips. It has many moving parts that include 145 vehicles, more than 130 miles of track and overhead wire, more than 250 track switches and nearly 200 rail operators. (And that doesn’t include the many mechanics, cleaners, rail controllers, yard workers, engineers, field operations staff and others who keep our system running safely every day.) There are many events that can cause delays to the system — here’s an update on how we are addressing some of them.

Starting on time, staying on time

To get you where you need to go on time, our trains need to start their day on time. We have improved how we track which trains are ready for service, along with how that is communicated between our maintenance and operations departments. Using the new web-based system speeds up that communication and gives us more time to focus on getting vehicles ready for service safely.

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Our managers, operators and maintenance teams also are working to ensure that our maintenance and operational checks are completed safely and in a timely manner, so our trains depart from the rail yard on schedule. But that’s just the beginning. To stay on time, we’re adding a portable data display to trains that will provide our operators with the current time and the time their train is scheduled to be at the next few stops. These mobile tablets are like the mobile data terminals on our buses that provide operators with key information, such as the time points for where they should be on their routes. I’d like to note that these are important tools to help our rail operators do their jobs, and operators will be instructed on how to use them while safely operating the train.

Uncovering common culprits

We’ve struggled with debris building up in switches, rail joint and track boxes on the Steel Bridge. This has given false indications that the track way on the bridge is occupied when it is not, leading to some significant train delays. The area of issue was in a section of the embedded track where all the MAX lines converge on the west end of the bridge. Crews have now removed the concrete around the track, which has improved drainage and gives our staff better access to keeping debris out of that equipment and also trouble-shooting any electrical issues which can rise from time to time.

Improving the tracks

Our maintenance of way department has been hard at work tackling several track projects. Some have temporarily disrupted MAX service; some have not. On the Red Line, near the Mt Hood Ave Station, crews worked overnight during non-service hours several days in a row last spring, installing anchors to the rail ties. In extreme heat, rails — which are made of steel — can expand and kink, requiring trains to run slower through the area. The new rail ties keep the rail in place. This summer we have experienced several warm days above 80 degrees, where rail temperatures can approach 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the ambient temperatures — so far we have not had any rail movement. This saves approximately 25 to 30 minutes of time throughout each service day, adding back over 150 hours of increased on-time performance over a one-year period.

rq (6 of 8)

During our 1st Avenue MAX Improvements project in May, crews installed new switches and rail and improved the track bed. This disrupted MAX service on 1st Avenue for two weeks, but it has paid off with the removal of slow orders along that stretch of rail.

Now we have another big project approaching fast: From Aug. 21 through Sept. 3, the Rose Quarter MAX Improvements project will replace switches just east of the Rose Quarter MAX Station and redesign the trackway, which will create a smoother ride. We will also upgrade the signal system, which will keep trains running on schedule into and out of the station. Like the work on 1st Avenue, this will require a major disruption to MAX service. Once again, we are asking for your help by adjusting trips to avoid the rush hours, using bus service or other transportation options. Learn more at trimet.org/rosequarter

Thank you for your patience as we continue our work to increase MAX on-time performance. We have much more to do, but we appreciate you staying with us as we keep MAX moving.

Doug Kelsey

Doug Kelsey

As chief operating officer, I oversee our transportation, maintenance and information technology divisions. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with family and being active outdoors, especially cycling. I'm a huge basketball fan, and I'm proud to be a co-founder of one of Canada's largest high school tournaments.

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