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.


  1. Your much kinder and gentler than I am about this.

  2. Yes, because I have greater hope than you do. And saying the same thing as you wouldn't make an impact, being the same voice. It adds balance.

  3. And Patrick, I don't remember Mr Wonderful telling anyone that his prediction for 70% service cuts in about 10 years has been retracted. Did you hear that?

  4. "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,"

    So, what is the "hidden benefit" for those in Tigard, King City and Sherwood, who no longer have 12 route service, and presumably TriMet will not increase 93/94 service to match? Or those on East Sandy who now are on the 23 route, not the 12 route?

    It's ironic that TriMet claims that the solution in one place (9-Powell) was to de-interline the route. Which I wholeheartedly agree with. But, the same solution is not workable for another route that had the same problem (12-Barbur). The solution, in Tigard, is to force riders to inconvenient transfers at a poor transit center, and the 12 Barbur/Sandy route still suffers from horrible timekeeping.


Please keep it clean! Thank you.