Friday, November 15, 2013

Proof that New Sign Programmer Doesn't Know Portland

To all the residents of the SW Portland suburbs: you may want to sit down when you see this pictures. No more words are necessary.

UPDATE (2/22/14): A couple weeks after this was posted TriMet's exemplary sign programmer went through and changed the signs to spell the cities correctly. They also added double-lined signs on overheads for 54-Beaverton/Hillsdale Hwy and 35-to University of Portland.

I was informed by one of the veteran bus drivers out of Merlo that the reason these signs were wrong was because TriMet had Gillig Corporation program the signs before the buses were shipped. That way, the signs were ready to go upon delivery. Apparently, the person reading the list didn't have particularly good vision and therefore we had poorly represented cities on our buses.

Someone told me a humorous story about the 3100-sign misspellings that may or may not be true, but nonetheless is entertaining. According to the account, the mayor of Tigard was walking down the street and saw a 76/78 bus go by with the word 'Tigran' clearly written on the sign. He immediately called TriMet and told them, "Hey, you misspelled my city's name!"

Thursday, November 7, 2013


You know that saying, "**** happens?" Well, it's true, regardless of which four-letter word you insert there.

This morning, MAX broke. First, a car ended up in the right-of-way up on Interstate Ave, causing delays on the Yellow Line (and, hence, the Green Line, as they are interlined). After that was resolved, a piece of plastic got caught in the wire between SE Fuller Rd and Clackamas TC, delaying the Green Line again. (That darned plastic! Shouldn't it be outlawed? It kills whales and delays MAX trains.) About the same time, there was a switch problem on the Aiport alignment, shutting down the Red Line between Gateway and PDX. Now we have shuttle buses running between Fuller Rd & Clackamas AND between Gateway and PDX. After this, we had another switch problem (maybe we should switch to buttons?) on the Steel Bridge, delaying EVERYTHING. So basically, at this point, everybody is screwed. Sorry, riders.

This is the primary downfall of light rail: an incident affecting one train affects every train behind it because no one can pass. And since the Blue Line can't go around the Green Line, all the trains would be delayed along the Banfield. And then out to Hillsboro and North Portland. But regardless of the mode of transportation, there will be disruptions and delays because of weather, and to a greater extent, humans, two things we have very little control of.

Now, TriMet does a decent job of planning for the weather. They've been known to go overboard in preparing for any possible snow-pocalypse that never happens (because this is Oregon), but you have to give them credit for being ready. And with all the 2600-3100 series buses having automatic drop-down chains, TriMet is basically geared up for any weather situation that may come.

BUT, TriMet is notorious for ineffectiveness when dealing with human errors and technical malfunctions. Now, I'm not talking about actually fixing the problem -- I'm talking about keeping people moving around it.
Whenever something breaks, the story used to go something like this:
   -1000am Problem occurs
   -1010am Sup announces that yes, we do have a problem
   -1017am Twitter announcement says there is a problem
   -1019am Someone says, Let's do a bus bridge
   -1029am Bus bridge in place
   -1030am Problem resolved; trains rolling

Do you see the problem here? Granted, they have done a better job of keeping things moving lately. But there's still a problem. In business school, we call this 'reactive,' as opposed to 'proactive,' management. It's like they run the system expecting nothing to break, and if something breaks, they manage it as though it will be fixed in minutes. This sometimes happens, but it's not what people see. People see the big breaks, and when those do break big for TriMet, they break bad.

Any good manager knows to be prepared for when things go wrong. We call this 'risk management,' which is the art of predicting potential problems and coming up with a plan to make the company work if it does occur. Depending on your industry, you as a manager will have different priorities when it comes to getting the company up and running. If you are a manufacturing firm, for example, maybe maintaining production flow will be your priority.

As a transit agency, the most important thing for TriMet is making sure people get from Point A to Point B (which, in reality, is really its only purpose in existence). I'm not implying that keeping people moving is not TriMet's priority, they just simply do a terrible job of making it happen in the case of a major service disruption. Again, keep this in context. Our maintenance crews do a fairly good job of getting the mechanical systems back up and running. It's the people who are supposed to make sure passengers keep moving who are failing here.

A major problem with this is the use of bus bridges. When the MAX system breaks, shuttle buses are dispatched to fill the gap. (It is important to note that usually the gap is much larger than the actual problem area, as trains need to be able to turn around and there are only a few places where they can.) Sometimes the bus bridge is effective, such as when the person walked in front of the MAX train at Goose Hollow on Tuesday night. This is because many buses were heading back to the yard, and so they quickly diverted them to the problem area. But other times they have to either (1) dispatch buses from the yard, or if there's no available operators, (2) pull buses from other lines. This really ticks people off, because it makes it look like TriMet cares more about keeping the MAX system running than providing bus service. But one of the public communications officers told me once that there is a great absenteeism problem with bus operators, making it impossible to pull enough people from the yard. For example, there was a Red Line breakage between Gateway and PDX a few months ago, but although the break lasted over an hour, they were only able to dispatch one shuttle bus from Powell Garage to fill the whole five-station gap. This was because there simply weren't enough operators in the yard. This is a really big problem, one that no one has ever addressed.

My point? I want to point out two major conclusions:

The system is going to break. We all want a system that doesn't break and flows smoothly on-time everyday. And while the agency should strive for this, we can't expect everything to go perfectly all the time. Things are bound to break. For example, who would have known that a car was going to fly off the I-5 bridge over Rose Quarter TC and smash into the signal box, thowing off train and car signals for weeks until they got if fixed. The agency was criticized for not having the replacement parts, but the reality was that in the 26 years of MAX this device had never had to be replaced. It was an inconvenience, but again, crap is going to happen no matter how much you try to stop it.

Be proactive. Risk Management means having contingency plans in place for the instances that have the highest risk or worst consequences. Having the replacement for the indestructable part may not be necessary, but having a solid bus bridge plan in place (with the necessary resources) to fill the gap due to a switch problem issue is very important. It tells the riders that the agency cares about getting the people where they need to go as close to on time as possible. This means having at least 3-4 buses and operators on call at all times to make this possible. (I don't want to hear any "we don't have the resources right now" stuff---you should budget this before you budget other projects that don't help the current system.) Also, instead of building a light rail line to Tigard (which I do think is important eventually, but not now), we need added spur tracks, passing tracks, storage tracks, and crossovers to help get trains around problems in the current system. That takes money and time, but if you want to do it well, you have to do it right.

I hope that in the future TriMet does a better job of handling these situations, and that everybody understands that things do happen and cuts them a little slack. However, this slack is only possible when TriMet proves that they've done everything they possibly can to make the system work right.

That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Restoring Frequent Service

This last Wednesday, the TriMet board approved an internal transfer of funds so that service can be added to the "Frequent Service" bus lines. But what exactly does this mean? What are the implications? And why can't we have it start right now?

The funds, according to the agency, are being directed from unexpected extra revenue from the new advertising contract, and cost savings generated from changes to the non-union benefits package. The board unanimously approved the transfer, allowing the agency to add the new service in March 2014.

Fifteen-minute service will begin on 10 bus lines, from the beginning of the morning rush through the early evening (basically 5am-8pm). Late night and weekend 15-minute service will be added as the funds allow. These lines getting back to truly Frequent Service during the day are:
  • 6-MLK Jr Blvd
  • 8-Jackson Park/NE 15th
  • 9-Powell Blvd
  • 12-Barbur/Sandy Blvd
  • 14-Hawthorne
  • 15-Belmont/NW 23rd
  • 33-McLoughlin
  • 57-TV Hwy/Forest Grove
  • 75-Cesar Chavez/Lombard
  • 54-Beaverton/Hillsdale Hwy & 56-Scholls Ferry Rd (together acting as Frequent Service between W Burnside and Raleigh Hills)
The other two "Frequent Service" lines, 4-Division/Fessenden and 72-Killingsworth/82nd, already have such service. Line 4 will get extra weekday late night and Saturday service. Line 72 runs 12-17 minute service until 10:30pm on Sundays, proving that it really isn't lacking anything significant right now.

Honestly, I was shocked that they made such an effort to restore service. While I still think that there are some issues in management strategy that have caused the need for service reductions, I do totally understand the effect that the economy has had on the revenue stream. I think that the fact that they made the effort by transferring internal funds shows that they do actually care about restoring the service. I hope that they continue to follow through, which will prove to me that their priorities are really in the right place.

Let me point out that the restoration of this service will bring a hidden benefit. Remember, before the last major service change, Line 9 only ran 15-minute service between Downtown and 98th & Powell (Powell Garage). When they split off the Broadway portion, they made the frequency consistent down the entire line, with the 98th Ave shortline trips added during the morning and afternoon rush hour (of the 157 weekday trips, only 25 run the shortline). When Frequent Service is restored during the day on Line 9, it will be across the full length. My point? There are more added benefits to these service changes than meets the eye, just like there were during the last service reduction (which streamlined the system so that service is less redundant, meaning more service in total when service is restored to prior levels).

But one of the questions people have about this, including board member Joe Esmonde himself, is why TriMet can't start the increased service immediately, or even at the beginning of December (usually the next time when service changes take effect). This answer isn't that complicated. First, the service planners have to "cut the runs," or design the blocks and their respective operator duty shifts. These shifts are required to be in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement. They couldn't start cutting the runs until the board passed the resolution to increase the service. Second, they have to go through the process of operators bidding for their next sign-up. These sign-ups run for three months, which is why service changes generally happen at the beginning of September, December, March, and June. For the Winter runs (December-February), the sign-ups have likely already been selected, a process which takes a total of ten days and goes in order of seniority. If they were to start the new service in December, TriMet would have to make operators go through the process of signing up all over again, which would add extra resources and frankly wouldn't be fair. Third, there are a lot of other things that go into the process of major service changes, such as replacing schedule information in bus shelters and transit centers, reprinting new paper schedules, updating the app data and online schedules, programming the CAD systems, and printing the paddles for the operators. These things are all likely done or in the process of being done for any minor schedule changes planned for December (which usually involve shifting a few block/trip combinations or tweaking a couple trips by up to three minutes, which they can do without notice), and would have to be done all over again. So although it may look as simple as telling Joe and Teresa to go drive the 75 today instead of the 17, there really is a lot more behind the scenes to take into consideration, besides the fact they they haven't finished hiring the new drivers to be able to cover these new runs (which isn't really important anyway; our buses drive themselves, don't they?).

So, to close, this restoration of service is historic and should serve to silence some of the naysaying going on. But it is only the beginning, as Neil McFarlane himself said at the board meeting. I hope they follow through with this and remain committed to getting back to where we were in the progress of building the total transit system. Only when "Frequent Service" again means 15-minute service all day, every day, will the criticism cease.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What's Coming Down the Wire

Thank you all for continuing to make this blog a success. A couple days ago, I passed the 2500 page views mark, which I think is a major milestone. It's the support of all y'all that makes me come back to the screen and keyboard again and again.

After a long layoff due primarily to (1) laziness, (2) busy summer work, and (3) not being at my computer very much, I am happy to have re-entered the blogosphere which some pretty exciting posts lately. But do not fear! There's more on the way. Here's some of the ideas I'm crunching for posts for the near future:
  • A critical assessment of WES ridership
  • Updates to the external bus announcements (and my plan to make them change it)
  • A comfort comparison of 3000 and 3100-series buses
  • Remembering a rebel I-Beam
  • Breaking down the distribution of the bus fleet per garage
These are just some of the bigger ideas I'm working on. These may show up sooner or later, depending on how everything works out. But I am super excited to finally be able to be making this blog into what I originally envisioned it to be. I will keep up with current events at the same time, though, giving you interesting variety while not overloading you with technical details.

Thanks again for your support! Hope you all enjoy what I got down the pipe.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Make Him Learn

The common theme right now is Lane Jensen's telephonic mishap. Again, there are about 7.1 billion people in the world, and all of them would agree that he shouldn't have done what he did. But there is a lot of debate as to what the consequences should be. Here I offer my take.

First, let me reiterate that I was one of the people who verbally told him multiple times that he shouldn't be calling and texting TriMet managers and board members. There was no excuse for that, regardless of the reasoning. Maybe if he had done it a couple times, he would have been fine. But repeated messaging is not a good idea and all it becomes is an annoyance. So there was a wise way to go, and he didn't choose that way.

Nevertheless, there is much disagreement about how he should learn his lesson. Which is the point, learning a lesson. He is not a criminal. He didn't rob a bank. He didn't kill a dog. He didn't physically assault anybody in TriMet blue. He was telephonically annoying. He had a message, and he felt that they weren't listening to him through normal channels (i.e. not taking his emails seriously). So he found a way to get his point through, and instead of sending it and hoping for the best, he decided to keep sending it until he got the result he wanted. It was a bad choice, but as one of my mentors who is from Jamaica always says when things don't go as planned, "Nobody died."

So my question is: What should be done to make him learn? Isn't that the point of all of this? If he stops doing that, this won't be a problem ever again. So an arrest? Okay, that serves as a great wake-up call. A court trial? Maybe, as it gets Lane out of his own little TriMet bubble and helps him realize what he can and cannot do. But a large fine, potential jail time, and a ban from board meetings? That's too much. He's not a threat to attack people. If the person who reported it doesn't want him talking to her, then the police should make it clear that there would be consequences if he makes the effort to start a dialogue again. However, this type of treatment is blowing the thing way out of proportion. Let Lane learn, and be done with it.

I'm not fully on board with Al Margulies' opinion of this being an example of a 'police state.' But I know that TriMet has wanted to silence Lane for some time. They fear not for their safety or their comfort personally, but they know that he brings such potential to thwart any questional practice they undertake. He has already made waves and forced change through valid research and actions that the average person may not know about. He has become the leading face in the fight for TriMet's future, regardless of certain opinions of him. And since we know that they want him to be quiet, it makes me wonder whether their efforts in this are less about making him learn his lesson and more about trying to silence the most prominent voice for change.

So, I challenge the critics to not ignore the actions but also not ignore the reactions. He did goof up. But by supporting TriMet's attempts to take Lane out, you may be playing right into their plan to get rid of him. I truly hope I am wrong in this.

Please prove me wrong in this, TriMet management.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Lost Bus

I remember the story of a guy who received paperwork from the government because, apparently, he had died. He had to work really hard to convince the government that yes, in fact, he was still alive. Well, this is a similar situation. There is a bus that the system thinks has never been used when, in fact, it has been running for four days now.

The bus is 3159. It is one of the new Gillig buses running out of Merlo Garage (the newest, actually). I have been watching the new buses on the Rose City Transit SystemMapper as they get their CAD/AVL systems installed at Powell Garage, get transferred to Center Garage for some final preparation (probably farebox installation), and then are moved to Merlo Garage. This bus got its CAD system installed, then was moved to Center Garage and seemed to sit there for some time.

Thursday morning, I checked the bus feed to find that all buses up to 3158 were in service, 3159 was still at Center for some reason, and 3160 was still lacking a CAD system (thereby placing its coordinates at 0,0, which is in the Atlantic Ocean just south of the African nation of Ghana). At about 4:23pm that day, I was walking down the street talking to my mother on the phone when bus 3159 turned left from SW Harrison onto SW 6th Ave as a line 56 bus. I was shocked to see that it had gone from Center to Merlo and out on the roads that quickly. But when I looked at the SystemMapper, it was still broadcasting as being at Center (buses continue to broadcast their true current locations even when the time stamp isn't up to date), and there was no 56/69 on the map where it should have been. Of course, I wrote it off that I must have misread the vehicle number. Maybe I had seen 3149, and confused the two.

Later that night, I was at Pioneer Square North when I looked down the road and, behold, 3159 was coming toward me. It still was registering on the app as being at Center. I have seen it every day since, either on a 54/56 or 57, and it still showed itself as being in the north lot of Center Garage. I wanted to go find the bus to snap some pictures and ask the operator if anything was weird on his/her side, but it's kind of hard to do that when I can't track the bus to go find it.

Tonight, I was coming home from PSU when I happened to check the SystemMapper Interactive to see which buses were sitting at Beaverton TC as I passed by. It showed one, 2940. When I pulled in on the MAX and saw a 3100 sitting in the 52 bay, I knew immediately that it was my bus. Although it left before I could get to it, I caught up with it at Willow Creek TC. The bus driver was nice enough to let me get on board and take the picture of the vehicle ID number (as it was night and I couldn't get a good exterior shot).

So, all this to say, here is proof that this bus has absolutely no idea where it is:

Notice that on the picture on the left, my watch says 9:49:11 on 10/20 (today). The right screenshot is time stamped as 9:48:48 on 10/20. My watch is running a little fast, so in reality I snapped the left picture about 5-6 seconds before I took the screenshot on the right. Regardless, you can see clearly that this bus has no idea where it is.

Now, I asked the driver if she had noticed anything strange on the CAD system. She told me that she had not noticed anything, and that everything seemed to be running smoothly. However, the app data being sent on the new Vehicles feed (which the SystemMapper uses) isn't showing it. As of yet, the only times when there are glitches in that feed are when (1) the bus dies somewhere where it has to be completely turned off, even the CAD system (i.e. when 3008 got crashed into head-on at Clackamas Town Center), or (2) when the CAD system isn't sending smooth location data (I have only seen this happen with one bus on one day; even if the bus is having issues signing in as a block or a line, it still sends accurate GPS data).

The point is: don't go looking for bus 3159. You will have no idea where to start.

UPDATE: On October 21, I was contacted by an insider at TriMet who informed me that the bus was not showing up on internal systems either. I was usually able to find the one Merlo block that didn't show up on any of the trackers or maps and decided it was probably 3159 running on it. On October 24, I was informed by the same insider that the bus was now registering on the system, and I confirmed this as I found the bus sitting in Merlo Garage. It has since moved within the garage, telling me that the system is active.

You can find the current location of the bus here.

One more to prove: this bus is running!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Apology from Lane Jensen

Lane Jensen has been silent for a few days after his arrest (and subsequent release) for telephone harassment. Now, first being released here at Transit Rider PDX, Lane has issued a statement in response:

To Whom it May Concern:

I need to issue an apology for my recent actions. Texting those managers was not the right thing to do. I was trying to get answers about safety on the buses and I took it too far. I will be taking a break from blogging until my trial is complete. 

Again, I apologize for my actions. I can assure you that I won't go that far again. 

Lane Jensen
Portland Transit Lane

Friday, October 18, 2013

Safety First!

One major question is whether TriMet truly cares about the safety to which they pay so much lip-service. And this is making people very concerned. Nonetheless, we still must have a realistic perspective on this.

My friend Lane got in trouble for calling and texting TriMet managers repeatedly. We all can agree that this was not a good idea. But what gets lost in this is the whole point he was trying to make: Are we doing all we can to make the TriMet system safe?

I think that there are plenty of resources being used to improve safety at TriMet. There have been good results, such as increased amounts of security cameras (I'm much more confident in the safety of my car since they installed the 15 or so cameras at the Willow Creek TC P&R). But, just like everything else TriMet does, there are significant missed opportunities. A good example is the layover restroom (porta-potty) at the SE Flavel St MAX station where the Line 19 operator was assaulted last year. They did address the issue: from what I understand, they put a stone walkway from the sidewalk to the door of the bathroom, and added an occasional security guard to stand around. Yes, this was something, but it really doesn't solve anything in the long run. Two solutions that have been talked about would be to (1) come to agreement with one of the nearby business for a decent bathroom, or (2) spend a couple thousand dollars and build one that will last for 40 years. But instead, we have bus drivers having to wait on their bus in the middle of the night and then brave the trail to the dark bathroom if they can't wait until getting to Gateway. Case in point, the two ends of Line 17 (134th & Holgate and 2500 Block Saratoga) have no nearby established layover structures like those at transit centers.

So, yes, there is room for improvement. And while it will never be perfect, I can still recall Joe Rose's tweet from the board meeting (the one where Lane got himself kicked out) when Harry Saporta was talking about the safety initiatives, and Joe turned to notice union president Bruce Hansen in the back of the room shaking his head through Harry's entire speech. Makes me wonder who's serious about safety.

However, we must consider that the world is the world. While we all would like to live in a city where children can roam free without fear, that ain't gonna happen any time soon. Simply put, this world is a sucky, sucky place. And while the westsider I am automatically stereotypes any safety concerns east of the Willamette as defining our discussion, I must remember that there is a house not too far from mine that is condemned because the homeowner killed somebody and cut up his body in the house, storing the pieces in the house. I'm sorry about putting such a gory image in your mind, but I just want you to remember that this is the world we live in, and the future doesn't look bright in this respect.

People point to the SE Holgate Blvd MAX station shooting as an example of a safety "#trimetfail." I would argue that, while I'm not trying to sound insensitive, these things happen and we need to remember that every time we ride. TriMet can only do so much to make this place safe. They do have video cameras there. I did just see some pictures those cameras snapped that hopefully will help bring the right people to justice ( But the rest is up to us. We need to be vigilant of our surroundings, make sure we're dressed visibly, have some way of protecting ourselves if we do need to, and, please, don't be involved with gangs!

The point: by stepping out of my house, I am risking my life every second. This is why I pray every day, because I don't have too much control about what might happen to me when I am out on the lines. I just have to do my best at being vigilant. I can't put all the burden on TriMet with this one.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Oh Lane...

Lane Jensen got arrested today by Transit Police officers for telephone harassment. He had it coming. I told him so many times that calling TriMet managers and board members is a really bad idea, and he didn't listen. He was released quickly and now has time at home and work to ponder his actions.

If I didn't know the guy, I probably would avoid him from now on. Fortunately for him, he's become a good friend, so I am not going anywhere. He still has some growing up to do, but hopefully he learns something from this. He's got too much work to do to save TriMet, let alone the rest of his life.

On a side note, I've been absent from the blogosphere for some time. This isn't exactly how I wanted to return, but anyway I'll be trying to get going here again. Gotta fill in for my friend while he is away.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Nudepocolypse 2013

Nothing makes me more mad than a bunch of people expressing their "rights" to something at the expense of everyone else.

Saturday night, June 8, the Portland edition of the World Naked Bike Ride went through downtown, starting at Jefferson and the Park Blocks, heading toward 12th, up to Burnside, and then over across the Burnside Bridge to Grand Ave. The police helped corral the people, but they just kept coming. More and more people, until the end of the starting line ended up back at Madison and 4th.

My question: Did the organizers of the event stop to think about the impact this would have on TriMet, its operators, supervisors, and riders? My guess: NOT. To me, this is a level of arrogance above all else, basically saying "screw you" to all people who happen to be in the way. I think this is one of the greatest detriments to society, and it brings out so clearly the selfish and arrogant attitude that so many people have that they are owed something by society.

Last night, on the TriMet Scanner Twitter feed, the tweeters had a heck of a time keeping up with all the radio transmissions from the dispatchers, supervisors, and operators who were trying to navigate the ship through this mess. Below is a sample of tweets to demonstrate the impact of the Nudepocolypse.

I think this speaks for itself.

Now, I love my school, Portland State. But the person who runs the Facebook page made a post supporting the Nudepocolypse. As a perfect example of the difference between ignorance and awareness, I took the opportunity to express my distaste:

My hope is that efforts like the TriMet Scanner will not only make people aware of the issues going on within TriMet, but also how people's actions affect others. TriMet's riders and operators did not deserve to be so adversely affected by the Nudepocolypse, neither did the dispatchers and supervisors need the extra stress.

Portland, let's not let your "weirdness" become a detriment to innocent bystanders. But then again, that's what it will always naturally become.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

3 Kinds of Blocks

If you were to ask me, the defining characteristic of any TriMet buff is whether or not you can identify the three definitions of 'Block.'

If you are studying TriMet, you will encounter the term 'block' in three different, completely unrelated contexts. This can get confusing, but understanding what they are is essential to any other study of the system.

First, a 'block' is the area inside four intersecting streets, or the distance between one numbered street and another, or the distance between where one numbered street should be and another numbered street, or the equivalent distance overlaid upon a numbered street. I could go on and on, but I think you know what I'm talking about. For example, the stop at 7500 Block SW Canyon would be where 75th Ave would intersect Canyon. However, the stop at 4900 Block SW Barbur would be where a hypothetical 49th Ave would intersect Barbur if the numbered streets were going north/south as well. It is, in effect, 49 blocks south of Burnside.

Now, one interesting point is that when TriMet names bus stops, they may not be named based on the precise address point on the street where the stop is located. Instead, TriMet names them based upon the address sign you see most prominently when standing at the bus stop. This is why the stop at 18200 Block SW Boones Ferry is directly across the street from the 18400 Block SW Boones Ferry: these are the numbers you see most prominently at the bus stop.

Here's an example: if you are standing at the eastbound bus stop on Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy outside the Raleigh Hills Fred Meyer, the most prominent number you will see on that side of the street is the "7700" above the door on the Fred Meyer. Hence, the stop is 7700 Block SW Beaverton-Hillsdale. This is why there's some strange names, like 21907 SW Sherwood Blvd, 18882-19040 SW Tualatin Valley Hwy, and SW Canyon and Red Robin, because that's the best they could come up with based on what you see from the bus stop.

Second, a 'block' refers to the distance between two ABS signals on the MAX system. While MAXFAQs has a really great explanation here, for simplicity's sake, at each signal, a rail operator waits for clearance to proceed past the signal into the block. That block ends at the next signal. Dividing the system into blocks is what keeps trains from running into each other, because two trains cannot be in the same block at the same time. ABS (Automatic Block Signal) territory is on the westside between Washington/SE 12th and Goose Hollow/SW Jefferson and on the eastside between Lloyd Center/NE 11th and Gateway TC, between Gateway TC and PDX on the Red Line, between Gateway TC and Clackamas Town Center on the Green Line, east of Ruby Junction on the Blue Line, and north of Kenton/N Denver Ave on the Yellow Line. The rest of the system does not use blocks to control train locations.

Third, and most importantly, a 'block' refers to a set of trips a bus or train is scheduled to take each day. You see a timetable for Line 6-MLK; it has 64 outbound trips on a weekday. Some bus has to be assigned to each trip, and the block identifies which bus or train is assigned to the trips. Below is the weekday timetable for Line 6, with the current block assignments for each trip.
6-MLK Jr Blvd to Jantzen Beach, Weekday

Each block is assigned a number. For example the bus that serves the first trip on this timetable is Block 603, also referred to as Line 6, Train 03, meaning it's the third train assigned to Line 6. (Don't be confused by the usage of the term 'train;' it is a term that has been used for many years. the Line/Train designation interchangeable with the Block designation.) All buses, MAX and WES trains, Streetcars, Trams, and Trolleys in the system have a block designation. LIFT shuttles use a different system, but we won't talk about those here.

Weekday schedule (paddle) for 603
I make these for all blocks. This is the style you will see
throughout my blog in the future.
An image of the real paddle the operator of 603 uses. Each operator has a
copy of this in his pouch (bus) or on her clipboard (rail).

For buses, a three or four digit number is used. The first one or two digits represent the line number that block is assigned to, such as Line 6 in our previous example. Block 603 runs only on Line 6, but this is not always the case. Block 2901 runs on both Lines 28-Linwood and 29-Lake/Webster, but it has to be assigned to Line 29.

The last two digits represent the train number, which identifies the specific block of schedules that bus/train covers during the day. The numbers usually are ordered by the time they pull out in the morning (i.e. 601 pulls out before 602) but rare instances do exist where they are not ordered correctly. In our previous example, 603 pulls out after 601 and 602, but because it starts its first trip at SW 18th & Jefferson instead of Jantzen Beach after both 601 and 602 are running inbound, it ends up before 601 in the order all day long. However, 603 did still pull out of the yard third after 601 and 602.

Bus 2635, with the digital block display

Now, for buses, the train digits also distinguish which garage the bus pulled out of and will return to. Buses out of Center Garage will feature numbers 01-32; buses out of Powell Garage will feature numbers 34-65; buses out of Merlo Garage will feature numbers 67-89. A bus will never pull out of one garage and end up at another under normal scheduled circumstances (this can be different in the case of a bus trade or a mechanical failure).

The three or four digit block number is always clearly visible in the bottom left of the front window of the bus. Older buses (through 2500-series) have manual signs; newer buses (2600-3000s) have electronic signs.

Bus 1904, with the manual block display

All MAX trains have block numbers assigned under Line 90, and the train number designates which actual MAX line the train is assigned to. Trains 01-19 are Blue Lines out of Ruby Junction Yard; trains 20-39 are Blue Lines out of Elmonica Yard; trains 40-59 are Red Lines (all out of Elmonica); trains 60-79 are Green and Yellow Lines (always out of Ruby), which change colors at PSU. Trains may run as different colors, and all trains run as Blue sometime each day as both yards are only served by the Blue Line. In example, 9021 is the second Blue Line train out of Elmonica Yard (although strange numerical exceptions do occur, as in the fact that 9006 pulls out before 9005). For MAX, the number is most commonly referred to without the '90,' usually just called "Train 21." This two digit number shows up in the bottom right window on each end of the coupled or uncoupled trains (not the cabs facing each other where they are coupled).
Car 217 with manual block display (left); Car 404 with digital display (right)

NS-line Streetcars have block numbers 9380-9389, but they are not seen on the train. Likewise, CL-line streetcars are numbered 9470-9479. WES has 2840-2849. For all these cases, not all numbers are used (i.e. WES only runs three trains currently, 2840-2842).

In review, here is a list of numbers and what they mean:

  • 804: the fourth bus out of Center Garage on Line 8-Jackson Park/NE 15th
  • 2235: the second bus out of Powell Garage on Line 22-Parkrose, which also serves Lines 23 and 25 weekdays
  • 5272: the sixth bus out of Merlo Garage on Line 52-Farmington/185th, also serving one outbound trip on line 36 from downtown weekday afternoons
  • 9004: the fourth Blue Line train out of Ruby Junction Yard.
  • 9071: the twelfth Green & Yellow Line train out of Ruby Junction Yard, serving Blue stations from Gateway to Ruby Junction on pullout and pullin trips.
  • 9473: the fourth (not necessarily consecutive) Streetcar on the CL-line.
Three last considerations:
  1. A bus may pull out and pull back in the morning, and then pull back out in the afternoon. These are called "split-shift buses," and are usually pulled back out in the order of the number available. The actual bus assigned to the second pullout will likely be different than the first pullout. However, MAX trains that return to the yard in the morning will not pull back out in the afternoon. Any new pullouts would be assigned a new block number.
  2. Three-digit Line numbers (152-156) are assigned Line/Train numbers using the last two digits. For example, 5534 is the first bus out of Powell Garage on Line 155-Sunnyside (also on 156). This is not to be confused with 5567, which is the sole bus on Line 55-Hamilton. Buses like this will never pull from the same yard, because that would be too confusing. They would be assigned to a different line.
  3. Sometimes when writing block numbers, a slash is used between the line and train numbers (i.e. 52/72). This helps (1) note the difference between which numbers are line and which are train, and (2) distinguish between Block ID and Bus ID (i.e. there is a block 20/02 and a bus 2002, and there's only a slight chance that that bus would be running on that block, although I have seen it).
TriMet Scanner tweet using the slash to differentiate block from bus

This is a very exhaustive breakdown of the three types of blocks, although there are even details I left out. I will be talking more about these as I write, but this is a good introduction to three concepts that make up the backbone of the study of transit. If you have any questions or your mind is exploding trying to figure this information out, email me at; I would be happy to try to answer any questions.

(Block graphic from, via Google Images)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fact Check

TriMet issues a series of press releases defending its position and trying to "correct" the facts in the KOIN report. What really gets me, however, is the email.

Some of the rebuttals on the Fact Check posts are truthfully valid, while others make me wonder. However, on all the rebuttals, TriMet's missing the point yet again. It's not strictly about the numbers; it's about the perception of the numbers.

I was at first pleased when reading the email that was sent with the link to the second Fact Check post, which was repeated in the first paragraph of the actual post. But then I thought about it again and laughed a little. Here's the content of the email:

We welcome public and media attention regarding all matters related to TriMet. Being transparent helps the public understand the direction and priorities of the agency. At the same time, some of the statements made by the media and public can contain inaccurate information about TriMet. We will “fact check” any communication that misstates the facts. Today, TriMet fact checks the second part of a KOIN report about the agency.

Now, in Al Margulies style, I will break down the email with commentary.

We welcome public and media attention regarding all matters related to TriMet. (Really? Seems like in the past any time there was criticism it was either attacked or ignored.) Being transparent helps the public understand the direction and priorities of the agency. ( took you how long to figure that out?) At the same time, some of the statements made by the media and public can contain inaccurate information about TriMet. (Maybe a better word for "inaccurate" is "uninformed." Because I know Jeff did his best with the information he had, which is how we have all historically operated when the agency doesn't give us enough information to come to the "right" conclusion.) We will “fact check” any communication that misstates the facts. (That's quite an undertaking. You have been doing that on my blog. Why not Al's? Why not Lane's? There are more people listening to their blogs than mine.) Today, TriMet fact checks the second part of a KOIN report about the agency.

Looking at the content of the Fact Check document, there is one point I would like to make. Here's one of the first "facts" Mary explains (concerning where the money for the raises came from):

The promotions and salary increases for Capital Projects staff, those working on the rail project, are initially funded through the contingency funds, but then the agency is fully reimbursed by project funds. Again, project funds are restricted to the project and cannot be used to restore service or reduce fares.

Later, she disputes the comparison of the $100K employees between TriMet and Denver's RTD in this statement:

While both agencies are expanding their rail systems, Denver contracts out all of the work to a consortium of companies. For our light rail expansion, TriMet is managing the design, building and operation all in-house.

Do you see the contradiction here? In the first paragraph, it separates the funds, saying that TriMet is reimbursed for the raises from the project funds. In the second paragraph, it explains that TriMet is doing the project in-house.

Now, I do completely understand the distinction between the Operations and Capital Projects budgets, and I do understand the distinction between doing something in-house and contracting it. However, from the riders' perspective, what's the difference? And more importantly, from the taxpayers' perspective, what's the difference? It's still our tax dollars TriMet is using to build PMLR. Again, the numbers may say one thing, but it's the perception of those numbers that is really where the disagreement is at. And if Denver could contract out the RTD light rail construction, why didn't TriMet?

So, TriMet, when you check the "facts" for accuracy, remember that it's the implications of those facts that is in the public's mind. It's not just all about the numbers.

KOIN Story

Do we need a hero? Well, we have one in Jeff Gianola from KOIN-TV.

Sometimes, these days we wonder whether a journalist is really tough enough to step out and tackle the hard issues. Over the last two nights, we have seen that this phenomenon can still exist, as Jeff Gianola took on TriMet management directly, asking questions challenging the integrity of TriMet.

Actually, in all honesty, he grilled him.

When Neil McFarlane got on board bus 3051 to do an interview, I'm sure he had no idea what was about to hit him. I'm not the kind of person who likes to see someone get shot down, but seeing Neil squirm in his seat as he tried to answer questions without making the agency sound like a bucket of total corruption was rather pleasing. This is because, for once, management was forced to address the things that we riders and bloggers have been calling for them to address for a long time. And his answers were very, very weak.

Jeff worked long and hard to analyze numbers from multiple agencies in order to see where TriMet falls short. It's true that TriMet has the advantage in some details. But it is the issues that really matter, such as base fare for a short distance bus trip, that makes TriMet fail epically. Jeff brought these to light, and didn't shy away from attacking them head on. One could easily tell that Jeff personally cared about this story, which is what greatly affected the impact this story had as a viewer.

Some people (i.e. Joseph Rose at the Oregonian) had issues with some of the numbers. To those people, I'm sorry you feel that way. They are correct. But regardless of what you feel about the numbers, the main point is very clear. There are things that are wrong in the agency, and we can no longer sit back and watch them go untouched and unfixed. It is work like what Jeff did that makes these repairs possible. But it's not only skill that one needs to do such work; it takes a lot of guts and a real passion for change. Kudos, Jeff. You have done well.

My hope, however, is that this is not the end of the heroism. This is only the start. It's going to take the talents and fortitude of more people to turn this boat in the right direction. Look for opportunities you have to make an impact. Because the more people there are fighting, the closer victory will become.

At the end of the interview, Neil asks the question, "What is broken with TriMet?" Apparently, Neil isn't seeing clearly. He isn't seeing it from the viewpoint of the rider, who in reality, is the only reason TriMet exists in the first place. I hope not going forward Neil opens his eyes to see what is wrong. And if he doesn't, then we might need a change.

Read more:

Saturday, May 11, 2013


So, now I finally get to the real point of my blog: all the fine details!

I first envisioned this blog as a way to disseminate all the interesting information about TriMet that I have uncovered over the last 13 years. Due to all the mismanagement, my blog has sounded more like Lane Jensen's blog than just a technically descriptive blog. But priorities have to take precedence. I will certainly be continuing to keep track on here of all the madness that goes on in this environment, and will continue to dive into making sure information is being sent from both sides.

But now I get to delve into the details that excite me the most and inundate all of you with the highest quality set of useless TriMet facts that has ever been beheld by humankind. But it'll make you go, "Oh, now I get why that's like that," and will make you realize just how complex such a system like TriMet really is.

So here's a list and absolutely non-exhaustive list of topics that will be covered on this blog:
  • Bus lines
  • MAX stations
  • Bus fleets
  • Block details
  • Technical systems
  • Web features
Plus much more. So, sit back and enjoy all the facts and useless technical banter that will be here for the foreseeable future.

Because, really, it's all in the details...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sock Puppets

Boards of directors are not necessarily purposed to represent specific stakeholders. The problem is, TriMet's board IS designed that way. But it's not working.

TriMet's Board of Directors features (at most) seven people, each representing one district in the TriMet service area. Each board member is highly qualified in the business sense, and some of them (i.e. Dr. Bethel in N. Portland) truly understand the community s/he works in.

However, the problem is that each board member is appointed by the governor. This can work, but hasn't so far, mainly because the people appointed currently, respectable as they may be, are not able to identify with the riders in their districts.

The idea of the republican form of government (used in generic terms, not political parties) is that people are chosen from their represented bodies to bring their issues before those in charge of making decisions. While this is a board of directors and not a senate, the fact that they supposedly "represent" their constituents makes it seem more reasonable that they should be chosen from among their constituents by their constituents. Also, although it is operated more like a corporation (which is advantageous in many ways, the stuff of future blog entries), TriMet is a government agency, which means it should represent its people and have accountability from said people. The current structure does not allow for that.

TriMet Board of Directors District Map,

Here is an example. Tiffany Sweitzer is the board member for District 2, which covers NW Portland and an area of SW Portland north of Mountain Park and east of SW 63rd Ave. (See map here) She is obviously a sharp businesswoman, as she is the president of Hoyt Street Properties, a firm that develops property mainly in the Pearl District. However, she is not a TriMet rider, nor is she as informed about the system as she should be for a board member (she didn't know that the Portland Streetcar was not owned by TriMet until recently). It would be too easy for someone like her to represent the best interests of her company over the best interests of the riders the agency actually serves.

Now, I don't mean to pick on Tiffany. She is not alone, as there is only one board member who actually uses TriMet enough to write home about. But the problem's not just that they aren't necessarily looking into the best interest of the riders. They rarely speak up in meetings.

This is where the term "sock puppets" came from. I don't advocate calling people names, but the purpose of a sock puppet sometimes feels eerily similar to what the board does. Neil presents something, they vote it in. Neil presents something else, they vote it in. Maybe they express some concern. But they still vote it in. I'm sure they really believe it's the right choice of action, but that's because they are picked from the same vine as Neil. That's a good thing to some extent, and there should be people on the board thinking along the lines Neil thinks. But the main point of the board is accountability, as they are the only entity beside the governor who is over the general manager. And without people who think differently than Neil, there is no accountability.

So this is why HB 3316 is important. It seeks to put the power of the board back in the hands of the people, where it belongs. Because this is a public agency. The only way TriMet will truly serve the best interests of the metro area is if something like this is passed.

And seriously, if I have to vote for Soil and Water people on my voting ballot, why can't I vote for the TriMet board, something I actually care about?

That We May Know the Truth...

My goal in running this blog is, first and foremost, to facilitate the transfer to true knowledge.

I often tack a tagline to the bottom of my blog posts that reflects my desire to communicate information that will help people understand both sides of the issue. Up until now, I have been enjoying getting to know the bloggers and tweeters who are fighting for the issues that they feel TriMet is failing to consider. It has truly helped me be constructively critical and understand the issues that people (including myself) feel are crucial to making TriMet the best it can be.

However, recall that I have made it clear that my position is one of moderation and not one of taking sides. While I have my own opinions, some of which I have no problem venting on Twitter, I try to keep my position effectively neutral, because I feel that taking this position is the best way to be able to bridge the gap between one side and the other.

So, Tuesday, I had the opportunity to sit down with TriMet's Public Relations Officer, Diane Goodwin, and discuss what issues the fighters are concerned about, namely, the issue of the public's waning trust in the agency. Diane was incredibly sympathetic, even being willing to share with me things about what the agency does that makes her frustrated. This meeting opens a dialogue allowing future opportunities to communicate to the agency what needs to be communicated. It also serves the original purpose of this blog, which is to communicate information from TriMet that it has incessantly failed to put out. Much of this information can dispel controversy and close the door for pointless speculation.

Now, I know that some of you (bloggers in particular) are going to shun me getting information from the agency and posting it here. That's because you no longer trust anything the agency says. I understand this, and people in the agency understand this, too. This is what I hope to remedy, helping facilitate the transfer of useful knowledge that will make things finally make sense.

However, as I am a moderator, as well as a blogger with opinions of my own, it doesn't mean that I will not continue to be critical of what the agency says or does. Just because the reasons for doing something are factual, it doesn't make them right. But you'd be surprised about how much information TriMet gave me to explain their actions actually makes sense. The reason for the distrust is twofold: (1) the information is not being spoken loud and clear, and (2) their ways of implementing some decision have been faulty or untrustworthy.

But that was then and this is now. I will try to help clear up the confusion so we can see why things are the way they are, but I will also continue to give advice, both here and in person, to those who are responsible for TriMet so that people can regain their trust in them.

So stick with me on this blog and don't turn it off because you think I'm spreading lies. I say this to both sides.

(I will have more information that Diane gave me coming soon here.)

That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

CRC Bridge Solution

Because the people we pay millions of dollars to find a solution can't find a good one, I'll just give you one for free.

Build a separate bridge. You're planning on making one alongside the highway bridge anyway. Have it run parallel to the river for awhile so it can ramp up to go across at a high level and a grade the MAX can climb. Do the opposite on the other side.

You surely have two problems with this:
   (1) This will cost more.
   (2) This will make an inconvenience for riders to
         take time to make the loop.

But I answer with these suggestions:
   (1) The longer you government people take to bicker
         about the bridge being too low, you could have
         built this by itself and be running MAX across it.
         And it would probably cost less than being tied in
         with CRC.
   (2) I ride the Blue Line around the loopty-loop at
         Sunset TC all the time. I'm used to it. We have
         another in the Red Line looping under itself at
         Gateway. I don't hear people complaining about
         either of these.

Problem solved. And you just saved millions in the planning phase by reading this here.

Like Night and Day

TriMet's wonderful! TriMet's awful! Which is correct?

Look at comments on TriMet's Facebook posts. Search for #trimet on Twitter and read the tweets that come up. Ask your friends about what they think about TriMet. It is clear that the public approval of TriMet is waning. People are getting more and more frustrated by the unreliability, the crowded trains and buses, and the other undesirable aspects that we all know so well.

But, you also see a lot of people writing about how wonderful TriMet is. These positive comments usually follow TriMet's Facebook posts and are intermixed with other people's complaints and Erik Halstead's extreme calls for radical change (which are warranted but unrealistic; but that's worthy of its own post.)

But the question remains: why the severe discrepancy in these opinions? Which is correct?

Well, both. You see, it totally depends upon the lense you are viewing it through.

We bloggers incessantly inundate you with all the things that go wrong with TriMet. I think we do this for two reasons: (1) it's fun to nitpick and get attention for it, and (2) it's true! We know this because we are experts in the field of TriMet, and it doesn't take much digging to find the dirt we uncover. Many casual riders who couldn't tell you the difference between the three definitions of 'block' are completely oblivious to the issues that go on, and are perfectly content to stay that way until their 1400-series bus breaks down going down I-5 on a 95-degree day. Then, they may get a taste of this reality.

If we know it's this bad, why are there so many people who think TriMet is the best? Either they are such optimists that they would still be smiling if an opossum pooped on their foot, or there is something else at play here. Look closely at the comments. What's the common pattern? They are comparative. Almost all of the comments are worded something like, "TriMet is SOO much better than Dallas" or Phoenix or Washington DC, or wherever. Although they don't see the problems that we who have been around Portland for awhile see, they do see all the good things that we do have, and are thankful for it.

TriMet has its problems, that is for sure. But sometimes it's easy to forget how good we have it compared to other cities. That's why I'm fighting for it, because I don't want the good in it to die at the hands of someone who doesn't have the best interests of the agency at heart. But it can be better. And I hope the trend turns in that direction soon.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hang On

Hang on, TriMet fighters. There's breakthrough is a-comin' and you don't wanna be left outside.

Change is in the air: trust me. The tide is turning, and victory is in sight.

But the war can't be won if there is division among the cavalry. Internal bickering and fighting only places power back in the hands of the very force that we're trying to disarm.

We are all people from different backgrounds. We have different tactics, different reasons for fighting, even different political views. We are motivated by different reasons. But we all have a common goal: to get our beloved transit agency back.

Believe it or not, but I have issues with all of you people. There's something about your personalities, tendencies, and/or tactics that frustrates me. HOWEVER, I'll save that until after we've won. I can look past those problems. That's because I'm looking to the goal.

Unlike TriMet, there is little that unites us. We are not being given a paycheck by the same company. The other side is very strong, because they actually have an established existence. This little club isn't even a real club; it's just a bunch of people who have a strange hobby or other connection (like former employee) that makes us all run into each other a lot on Twitter. I mean, the fact that this movement even has power is incredible.

But the reason why this is happening is because we all want the same thing. And the common goal has gotten so important that we put aside our differences (and differences of opinion) to see this through to the end. If someone has a problem with that and can't stand strong, then they won't be helpful to the cause.

I am taking a team processes class right now. Teams are made up of different people, all with different talents and skills. Some are good at standing on soapboxes. Some are good at holding signs and making posters. Some are even good at, I don't know, blogging? If we all did the same thing, it would just be a club. No one can take that club seriously.

But the fact is that cause is too important to let this slip away. I understand and respect that each of us has a part to play in this. No one is more important than another, and no one is less important because they aren't on the proverbial 'front lines.' Together, victory is sure. Separated, we are as strong as Jello.

I am the newcomer to this. It took me a long time to jump in, but I realized that instead of fighting apart I should fight with the rest of the army. Many of you know I don't support unions most of the time, but I do agree with the basic premise behind them: one employee has no voice; 200 employees have a voice. And if there is injustice, strength in numbers can fix these problems.

So, thank you for letting me in this funny little club. I hope that you all continue to work together to see this through to the end. I'll do my part.

That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

You Lost Me

TriMet, you lost me.

You lost me. Not forever, but you could have had me sooner. You missed that opportunity.

Now, I'm not one to say outright that I am something special. I am no hero, I am no genius. But I am someone who can make a huge difference at TriMet. There are few people, if any, who know more about TriMet than I (who don't already work there, and I still know more than many of them). I've had many ideas of how to improve the system, some they figured out themselves after I did (like the 48-Cornell going to Sunset). And the only activity I am more passionate about is work at my church. I love all things TriMet, I know most things TriMet (and continue to learn more).

And, I'm also close to completing my Bachelors Degree in Business Logistics & Human Resources Management. So I have that going on, too.

I once was given a tour of TriMet headquarters. I talked with many people, all of whom were supportive of me and thought I was, as many TriMet employees over the years have called me, a "shoe-in."

But you lost me. I had every intention of working out an internship this summer. I would have even taken an unpaid internship. I was hoping to get in the door as soon after I graduated in December as I could. But, due to your true lack of transparency and trustworthiness, my desire to get in the proverbial door has been somewhat squelched, enough to make me go to the PSU job fair last term. And now I intend on starting out in another logistics field.

Is this because the opportunities weren't there? No, because I truly believed (through faith in God) that the opportunity to get into TriMet would be there at the right time. But as the events over the last few months have unfolded, what I so longed for became undesirable. Why would I want to work at place that has management I don't trust? Why would I want to work at a place that has taken actions that have made me lean more toward the other side, the side working to dethrone the leaders?

So, for now, I am happy to write my blog and challenge the agency to become transparent, honest, and trustworthy. The only reason this matters to me is because I love it so much. After God and family, there is nothing that excites me more, nothing that I care about seeing thrive more than TriMet. And I will get there. Someday, when the time is right, I will walk in those doors with a TriMet employee ID badge.

But for now, you lost me, I'm sorry to say. You don't realize what you're missing. Please recognize that your actions do have consequences. Together, let's work together to do things right so that there won't be any more consequences. Because I know we both want you to be the best.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Angela Murphy

A new name appeared on the most recent press release from TriMet. Angela Murphy is now listed on the sidebar as "Communication Coordinator" under Mary and Roberta. This was her third post.

I liked her writing style. It was professional and not obtrusive, even when mentioning the labor issues. Maybe there's hope for the PR department. However, it's getting more and more confusing to figure out what each person actually does in that department based on their increasingly convoluted job titles.

I hope to have more about the most recent press release tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Now (Apparently Not Yet) Blocking Retirees

So, what looked like a blocked Twitter account appears to have been a simple Twitter glitch.

Twitter still shows Al as being followed by, and still following, TriMet, which would change if someone was being blocked. Also, TriMet took notice of this issue through viewing this blog and the corresponding tweets, taking the time to not only comment on it but also ask around in the communications department to see if anyone blocked Al.

This happens from time to time, where someone in the blogging community sees something wrong and jumps to the obvious conclusion that may not be accurate. I am guilty of this here this time as well, but you can't blame us -- it looked like the obvious answer.

I give kudos to the TriMet communication department for being so prompt in trying to help get this problem resolved. This shows that there are people in that department who are trying to do the right thing, and it also shows that the aforementioned feedback is, in fact, still being received.

However, the words I said in the prior blog entry still stand as a warning. If someone does take the action of cutting off the communication between the agency and the stakeholders, these would be the perceived results. I hope no one ever takes such rash action, as it would be a detriment to both the bloggers and the agency.

Open communication is crucial to building TriMet to be the best in the business again. Hopefully, this communication is allowed to thrive; but it is also important that both sides actually listen to what the other one is saying and take it to heart. Because, maybe, it is something that can result in benefits to everybody.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Now Blocking Retirees

TriMet's communications department went off the deep end today, by blocking Al Margulies on Twitter. This is the most ridiculous and pointless tactic the agency can use. They have missed three basic points:

1) Blocking him won't stop him from tweeting about TriMet,
2) All they're doing is depriving themselves of a valuable source of feedback and information, and
3) By blocking Al on Twitter, they are simply proving what he is saying.

Now, there was a time when I didn't listen to what Al said. I didn't like his negativity and I didn't agree with him on certain vital issues issues. But I soon found out that his voice was one of the few voices that cared so much about making sure that the agency's future is bright that he would put his back-side on the line to fight for it. And though I still don't agree with his views on things in general, I tend to agree with all his views pertaining to TriMet.

So, TriMet, I continue to call on you to prove to all your stakeholders that you are looking out for their best interests. By attempting to close off the communication between you and your strongest naysayer, you are in effect blocking out your strongest source of feedback on what's going right and what needs to change. And we both know that the goal is to be the best transit agency in America, right?

That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

New Technology

Apparently, TriMet's main computer system crashed this morning and didn't come back online until about 11am. Everybody is quick to blame the "faulty" new CAD/AVL (computer aided dispatch/automatic vehicle location) system that is nearly completely rolled out throughout the system. People say it was a $30 million waste of money.

However, the thing about the implementation of new technology in a business, especially when it is large and complex (like the CAD system), things rarely go completely smoothly at first. It takes time to get it right, but when they do get it right it will work well for a long time. So, in the context of the CAD system, just give it time: it's a good system, and once it's fully in place, it will be a great asset for the agency.

One more thing to remember: computer glitches aren't always the fault of the technology: there is the human factor, too. But we'll get to that in a later post.

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's the Bomb-Sniffing Dog All Over Again

TriMet's latest security-related email concerns the new inclusion of police in plain clothes to enforce fare and code policies on MAX. It also concerns me, as it leaves me wondering if it is really necessary. (That was a pun; I'm sorry.)

Ask me two years ago and I'd tell you it's a good idea. But now? No. And here's why.

TriMet is trying to fight the fare evasion war by attacking the evaders. Which is okay - there are plenty of people who just think they are above paying their fair-share. But it's not getting to the root of the problem.

We all know about the dreaded Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) at the rail stations. The unreliability of those devices is astounding, but TriMet's unwillingness to admit the chronic issues that exist with the machines is really what is making people mad.

The other issue has to do with public perception, which TriMet PR doesn't seem to know how to manage. Public perception is created through both words and actions, and neither that TriMet is putting out makes the average rider want to trust them. If the PR department would just admit that the TVMs are faulty and assure the public that they have every intention of fixing it, then I'd be okay with the undercover cops. But they won't admit the real state of the TVMs, and even if they did admit it and promise to make amends, I don't trust that they would actually follow through.

TriMet, please convince me that you are honest and operating in the best interest of the community. Because frankly, right now I don't trust that you are. And that's sad, given how much I love the agency.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Simple Solution

So after about five months, the ATU finally agreed to enter the negotiation process with TriMet over a new labor contract. The squabble began when the union, desiring to see more transparency and figuring it wouldn't see it without a significant change, asked TriMet to make the negotiations open to the public. TriMet refused the request, but offered to allow a few members of the media to attend the session. The ATU wasn't content with this, as they knew the members would be hand-picked by the agency and would certainly show bias toward the agency.

So, they sat at a stalemate for five months, the agency using every press release (regardless of the relevancy) to get the public on their side of the squabble and both sides throwing different laws and regulations at each other trying to convince the other that "this law proves I'm right!"

The kicker is that they took the issue before a circuit court judge to determine whose legal reasoning was valid. But, to quote ATU president Bruce Hansen, "TriMet’s process for negotiations remains murky and confusing. That confusion left the judge unable to make a decision without first obtaining additional information" ( In other words, even the judge couldn't figure out who was correct, given the facts.

While I generally don't support unions, in this situation I've been forced to agree with the ATU in most things because of TriMet's obvious errors that have significantly decreases my trust. I applaud the union for holding firm for these months, as their doubt of TriMet's honesty seems more than valid. As this is a public agency and therefore an issue that the public truly cares about, forcing the agency to be transparent would be beneficial to all parties: the union and the public for obvious reasons, but TriMet also because it would give them the chance to prove to the public that they are telling the truth.

But I also am glad that the union decided now to come to the table. It is crucially important that the bargaining process begins. The union has made their point, but TriMet's incessant and needless attacks on the union will only continue and get even more crazy if things don't get going. And who knows how many years it is going to take to come up with a contract this time.

So, here's a simple compromise: TriMet gets to handpick five members of the media, and the union can't reject anyone. The ATU gets to handpick five more members of the media, and the agency can't reject anyone. And no one can reject anything they write. Now we have accountability and it still doesn't have to be public. Both sides get what they want.

It would be good practice for coming up with a contract.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cast of Characters

This wonderful ongoing story of TriMet is made complete by the interesting and diverse characters that join me in the story.  For those of you who are new to the story, and for those of you who want a mention, I thought I'd share with you the cast before we get too deep in the story.

And yes, I'm sure you are all now sick of reading the word 'story.'

(Note: these perspectives are a combination of objectivity and my own personal views; please don't be offended if there's something you don't like, but I wrote the following in such a way as to minimize any offense.)

This cast can be broken into two parts: TriMet and the the bloggers.


Neil McFarlane: TriMet General Manager. Former Director of Capital Projects at the agency. He's very good at opening a MAX line on time and on budget, but whether he's good at running the whole agency is currently up for debate.

Mary Fetsch: Media Relations Officer at TriMet. Her press releases are notoriously very professional and highly ambiguous, leaving some people wondering what may have been purposely left out.

Roberta Altstadt: Another TriMet communications officer. Her press releases can be more informative, but are fewer in number compared to Mary's. She has been front and center lately in management's attacks on the union.

Bruce Hansen: Bruce is the current president and business representative for the Amalgamated Transit Union 757, the union that represents many of TriMet's front-line workers and maintenance personnel. He has worked as a TriMet bus operator for 20 years, and therefore he knows well what goes on inside the agency when dealing with management. His tactics appear to be non-violent but firm, and he's currently leading the union to hold their own versus management's current tactics.

Jonathan Hunt: Union vice president, Jonathan gains most of his experience from working as a TriMet mechanic.

Randy Steadman: TriMet's recently hired Director of Labor Relations. Apparently, the only "relations" he's had with unions in the past was trying to bust them. Which is odd, because why would you hire someone notorious for busting unions to deal with a union you're required by law to have?

The TriMet Board of Directors:
Bruce Warner , board president
Rev. Dr. T. Allen Bethel
Tiffany Sweitzer
Craig Prosser
Consuelo Saragoza
Travis Stovall
TriMet's Board of Directors is appointed by the Governor, with each representing a certain section of the metro area. These people are sometimes derisively called the "Board of Sock Puppets" because of their tendency to approve pretty much anything placed before them by management. And while they are highly qualified as businesspeople and community leaders, whether they truly represent their transit-riding constituents is sometimes questionable.


Al Margulies: Former bus driver at TriMet, Al has been blogging about TriMet for years, writing about the problems he saw working there on (what is now known as) Rantings of a Former TriMet Bus Driver. While I don't agree with many of his views, many a Tweet debate with him has opened my eyes to see past my optimism to see the real problems in the agency. He advocates open communication in the agency, as well as fairness to employees and retirees. ( @APMargulies

Lane Jensen: When he lost his job because of the unreliability on the 81, he set out to expose any corruption he perceived to exist. His tactics have made him a target for transit cops and fare inspectors, although he never breaks the rules. It seems he has angered someone high up in the agency, causing some to believe he's trying to be silenced. ( @pdxtransitlane

Jason McHuff: Jason is a scholar of TriMet's past, and also works as a sustainably-minded software designer. He used this skill to design one of the most useful transit arrival tool, TransitMapper, and well as making the TriMet radio scanner feed publicly available (with the help of Al). His views tend to be less controversial than the prior two. ( @rosecitytransit

Adri C: Adri is a Portland high school student who is a regular rider of the 51 and absolutely loves taking the little old 30-footers to school every day (I am being extremely sarcastic). She makes her point often via photography, which almost always speaks for itself. ( @PDXtrimetrider

Alex Hawk: Alex is the glue that connects Adri, Lane, and Erik, although they don't always get along as a group. He maintains one personal Twitter handle and one transit-oriented one, and he just started his blog this year (being inspired by Al). One notable action Alex has taken is starting a campaign to be appointed to the TriMet board. Although almost guaranteed to be unsuccessful, just making a stand in this way is unprecedented in itself. ( @AJHTrimet

Erik Halstead: Erik is just an ordinary guy from Tigard who has watched his 12/94 service slowly deteriorate to the point that he now often commutes via auto. Always one of the first to criticize TriMet's postings on Facebook, I always used to argue with him supporting the agency. Well, until I realized that, although his facts are sometimes errant, his points are extremely valid. He has no TriMet blog, but is active on Twitter. @sp_redelectric

"Camelopardalis": Whether this blogging pseudonym is a derivation of this person's actual name or a nickname to shield his/her identity I do not know, but I know that s/he is a very intelligent and loyal rail operator who started the MAXFAQs blog to tell people all the interesting technical information about the rail system, especially answering questions people ask that the agency doesn't answer well, like "Why don't the MAX door buttons work?" S/he tends to understand the strategy of the agency more than the other bloggers, but though his/her blog entries are usually more technical in nature, his/her critical entries are some of the most poignant and inspiring entries in the blogging world. ( @maxfaqs

Joseph Rose: Joe writes about commuting in Portland for The Oregonian. In the past, he's been less critical and more receptive of what the agency would like him to write, but lately he has taken them less at their word and has called for the agency to do better, most recently in regard to the Hours of Service for bus operators and the "secretive" raises given to many non-union workers. Joe's blog on the Oregonian website also talks about other aspects of your Portland commute, not just TriMet. ( @pdxcommute

Dan Christensen: Another of the TriMet bloggers, Dan is currently a TriMet bus operator out at Powell Garage. ( @dan_christensen

Michael Andersen: Michael is the lead author of Portland Afoot magazine, an online magazine about issues pertaining to a low-car use lifestyle. Therefore, transit issues are really important to him. He tends to be less critical of the agency than other bloggers, but if there's some major issue, he'll always try to be the first to report it. ( @portlandafoot

PLUS A FEW MORE PEOPLE, such as Adron Hall (@transitsleuth), Scott Johnson (@engineerscotty), Doctor Jeff (@doctor_jeff), Cameron Johnson (@camofportland), and Joseph Edge (@josephedge), each of whom writes or tweets about TriMet to a varying extent. OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon (@opalpdx, is a riders union that also contributes to the story by fighting for better transit service, honesty and transparency from the agencies in the local area.

AND THEN THERE'S ME, Patrick Stanley, PSU student and future TriMet manager who hopes to someday be able to make a difference from the inside. TriMet expert and scholar since I was seven years old, I am blessed with the opportunity to try to make an external impact right now. I see myself as not in either of the aforementioned groups but in both groups, as a moderator of sorts, hopefully being able to connect both sides to see what the other side has to say. Not until mutual communication exists in this environment will there be any improvement in the situation. And I hope to aid in that communication.

So what you hear from me won't be as harsh as Al's or Lane's blogs. I won't call anybody names or say anything that may jeopardize my future career. I will, however, analyze both the good and the bad, and try to keep my bias out of it. Because, if there is anything gnarly to report, it will certainly speak for itself.

So, now that we know the characters, let's start the show...

That you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.