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.