Thursday, December 11, 2014

Better Late Than Never

While the title of this post does sound like the mantra of TriMet's on-time performance, that's not what I am referring to. I make a special appearance to provide somewhat of a compliment to TriMet management.

Effective March 2015, transfers will be effective for 2 1/2 hours instead of just 2 hours. Now, the standard in the industry is two hours, and some major agencies don't even offer transfers. But TriMet takes the high road and offers a fair and equitable solution to the problem of rising fare prices.

It is particularly important that the extra time be present, given the lack of frequency on some lines (i.e. 25-Glisan/Rockwood, 28-Linwood, 37-Lake Grove, and 80-Kane/Troutdale) and the consistent breakdowns on the MAX system that make it hard for people to get to these lines at a reasonable pace. Also, regardless of TriMet's opinion on this, many people use the 2-hour ticket for a round-trip shopping trip or the like. This is because many people simply can't afford to drop five dollars at a time. The extra half-hour will help these people be more confident that they can get home without missing their bus and having the time expire.

So, great. TriMet followed through with this. Awesome. I really do think this shows that management is on an upward path toward higher levels of integrity. But at the same time, they still are far from perfect with the implementation.

Imagine two football teams. First, we have the University of Oregon Ducks. (I am an all-Oregon fan and root for the Beavers too. Even the Huskies. But allow me to continue with the Ducks example.) The Ducks are fantastic at getting the ball after the punt or turnover and moving the ball down the field in the fewest plays possible. They consistently have a shorter time of possession than the other team, even though they score a heck of a lot more points. Why? They know how to make each play count. Other than the occasional false start or holding call, they keep each play clean and effective, so they basically don't have to fight themselves.

But imagine a second team. I can't name one, but there are teams who really make work for themselves to get down the field. So many third downs, too many penalty calls, and usually either they are a passing team or a rushing team because they can't do both. Still, they somehow manage to get the ball down the field and into the endzone. The extra point is good, but only by a foot or so. Every fan has lost five years off their life for each third and long, but in the end, it was still successful. Not easy and not close to perfect, but successful.

TriMet management is the second team. They scored the touchdown with the extended transfer, but they took the hard route to get there.

Did they acknowledge who first suggested the idea? Surprisingly, yes. Multiple times they mentioned OPAL. But how long did it take management and the Board to take OPAL's request seriously? Often they treated the suggestion as some kind of joke, even when we all went up and told the board that we thought it was a good idea. Somehow, they actually opened their minds, and kudos to them for not taking credit for the idea. Still, I hope that any future such interactions with stakeholder groups would be better handled.

There were two different things mentioned in the news release that somewhat rubbed me the wrong way. First, they gave the excuse that they couldn't have made the change earlier due to the budget crisis and service cuts. There is some legitimacy to this statement, but it also comes across as just an excuse. And really, the darkness of the great recession was the time when the 2 1/2 hour transfer would have been the most beneficial. Second, the emphasis of the estimated loss in revenue seems like something that exists solely for the purpose of guilting the reader. To me, the revenue lost is the revenue the agency forces the rider to pay because of delays that caused the rider's usually valid ticket to expire prematurely. And wouldn't we attract more riders who find it convenient to use the 2 1/2 hour ticket because they can actually get more places easier and more confidently? It's why we should take the estimated revenue loss figure with a grain of salt.

So, in conclusion, I applaud TriMet for doing something I honestly thought they would never do. Riders will greatly appreciate the benefit of not having to worry about their transfer expiring as quickly. It also is a way to build back that trust that has been lacking for far too long. But I hope that the next time something good happens like this, they look more like the Ducks than the second team.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dear Ellen

An open letter to Ellen Fox, bus operator and writer of the Cyber Stalking and Workplace Bullying blog.

Dear Ellen,

I'm sorry for what I wrote about you in my blog recently.

I know that other people in the blogging world are going to probably scold me for doing this, but I believe an apology is necessary.

You see, Lane Jensen is one of my best friends. He is also one of the levers we TriMet bloggers pull if we want to get pageviews, since any time his name is mentioned our views go up significantly due to his quasi-celebrity status. So I felt that writing a story summing up my impression of certain recent events regarding your interactions was warranted. It was also my opportunity to support my friend.

I recognize that Lane has done some stupid things in the past. While I support him as a person and a friend, I haven't always supported his actions. There apparently were things he did that made you afraid of him that went on before I knew him as well as I do now. These were things that certainly weren't good and should never have happened. Please know that he has grown a lot from consequences of his mistakes and has matured to be a person who wouldn't do anything like that again.

But I am not here today to vouch for Lane. I am here because I have realized my mistake.

It has become standard procedure in the blogging world that if one finds someone they disagree with, it's okay to make a public statement/attack on one's own blog. A story is a story, especially if it is informing people about events that they may find interesting or pertinent.

So I decided to point out what I perceived about your interactions with Lane on my blog in the name of being informative. I thought I laid out my argument pretty well, but when I went back and read it tonight I realized all I did was rehash everything everybody else says about you, things which really aren't that nice.

I do have opinions about some of your tactics regarding Lane. And I will always side with him in a dispute as much as is reasonable. But shame on me for speaking such hurtful things to you, turning myself into one of the very types of people you speak against.

The Transit Rider PDX blog is designed to be informative and moderate, seeking for all to know the truth, and where it is lacking that together we find the truth. It is not supposed to be a place where people are bashed and bullied. Although this blog is portrayed as a sort of news source, it is really just an extension of me, Patrick Stanley. I cannot separate from what I write, because this blog is fully mine and no one else's. The person I want to be and the person this blog portays me to be need to be the same thing.

I do have opinions about people. For example, I disagree with Al M about more things than we agree on. But I have made it a point to not alienate him, to find common ground, so that we can strive as colleagues to see real change at TriMet. If I can keep a level head with Al, I have no excuse for not keeping a level head concerning every other person. No one deserves to be made a target or humilated.

So please forgive me for what I have done. I know I don't have to apologize. I just want to take a stand for doing what is right. I want to be the bigger person and not just disappear in the crowd. I hope that my integrity is not lost in your eyes.

Patrick Stanley
Transit Rider PDX

P.S. If Lane ever accidentally ends up on your bus, I have instructed him to not do anything other than show his pass and take his seat. Please do not call the police on him. He really doesn't want a confrontation.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Love Is All Around...Sure

I am so tired of writing about the battle between TriMet and the ATU. This is why I haven't said that much about it. But I have to give my two cents.

First, I must say again that I think the health care package for the Union workers is a bit higher than it should be. I think that their overall package is actually pretty balanced considering the remarkably low pension, but I think that the Union should be willing to make some consessions. Regardless of how well TriMet is managing their finances, remember that health costs are rising and will continue to rise. It won't be long until these costs do become a hindrance to TriMet's ability to put buses on the road even if all the other finances are managed perfectly.

However, why would you want to be willing to make consessions when you are always being treated like second-class citizens? I continue hearing saddening comments from reputable Union employees about how management is not really listening to them, that management's seeming obsession with safety doesn't translate into any actual improvements on the part of the driver. I've heard people say that TriMet used to be a "fun place to work" when management and Union employees were treated as equals. But things have changed and that TriMet has taken a coffee break and never came back.

It doesn't help that the only TriMet communications to the public concerning the Union, besides the Operators of the Year awards and the occasional heroics by one driver (which takes TriMet a week to even point out), is their endless quest to "beat" the Union at the bargaining table. Management has set up an environment of "them vs. us" that leads only to division and the breaking up of common ground. This isn't fair to anyone, especially the people on the front-lines who are literally risking their lives every day to get people where they need to go.

Now, unions aren't always very reputable. Some, like the Longshoremen running the terminals at the port, aren't really supporting the employees they represent but are instead supporting their agenda and their very existence. This is why I am very skeptical of unions and I am never quick to support them. Unions were very good when they started because employees were truly lacking rights and were treated very poorly. Times have changed, unions had their success, and now employees have rights and are (way) more often than not treated appropriately. I have always looked at most unions and seen people complaining that they are not getting everything they want from a corporation that has limited resources, while I watch my family's small business struggle to get by on a daily basis because of those same limited resources.

But the ATU 757 is different. The ATU division here in Oregon and SW Washington which represents employees for all Oregon transit agencies (plus C-Tran in Vancouver) has proven to me that they are much more reputable. There is one major reason: ATU leaders are current and former TriMet employees. They actually care about, understand, and have a vested interest in the success or failure of the agency itself. They get what operators and maintence workers have to deal with on a regular basis. They aren't just in it for the survival of their local union office.

Also, the ATU was quick to jump at the chance to negotiate a relatively rich healthcare package in the early 2000s when the TriMet managers at the time didn't have a firm hand on what was going on. But the ATU isn't offensive. They go about their business and try to make the city get where it's going. Then, one day, TriMet came at them, blaming them for all their budget problems that were really caused by their obsession with building light rail. It was a joke around the blogging world how predictable it was that every email would include a statement at the bottom stating that any good future events were based on victory over the Union. The Union didn't attack TriMet management; management made the Union its dartboard when anything went wrong.

TriMet fighting the Union is not like fighting an external agency; it is literally fighting your own people. No, the Union is not perfect. But they certainly have done nothing wrong to make management take it to them like they have. It's hard to bargain in good faith when you can't have faith that the other person is going to not stab you in the back.

So, TriMet, send out emails telling how much you love your operators. I won't believe it. It's going to take years to undo the damage you have already done. Please make all union and non-union employees feel appreciated and cared for, since without them the agency wouldn't be able to do anything.

Sending email bursts saying you have been victorious over the Union doesn't make me support you more. It alienates me. And it alienates them. You can't afford any of that, not now.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ellen vs. Lane

The Lane Jensen saga continues. Except that this time Lane is not the aggressor.

Meet Ellen Fox.

Ellen is a TriMet bus operator who runs the Cyber Stalking and Workplace Bullying blog. It's supposed to be a blog about TriMet, but it's actually more of a hate blog against Al M himself (hover over the link above to see the URL). She has this thing about being the victim, and is always looking for opportunities to show how one of the other bloggers or employees is out to get her.

Have you heard of her? Maybe not. You've heard of Al M and Lane Jensen. Maybe you've heard the names Jason McHuff, Erik Halstead, Alex Hawk, and others. But Ellen is always on the outside. Why? She spends more time attacking the other bloggers than she spends attacking injustice at TriMet. She keeps herself on the outside of the core blogging group. Her credibility has always been questionable, which is sad considering the impact she could have made had she sided with the rest of the blogging community instead of burning bridges from the start.

So what does Lane have anything to do with this? Well, Ellen has always disliked Lane, as Lane has also always disliked Ellen. Lane, in his lack of restraint as far as speaking his mind, used to post occasionally about Ellen and her antics. It's no surprise that Lane spoke his mind concerning Ellen, but then again everything he said about her was as reasonable as one could be considering we can't get into Ellen's mind to really understand why she does what she does.

So what happened to start this? (I know you are going to be like this when you hear this.) Lane got onto Ellen's bus. That's it. Lane got onto Ellen's bus. And Ellen told Lane that she would call the cops if he got onto her bus again.

Okay, okay. So Lane used to know exactly how to find Ellen before. But here's the thing: things have changed. Lane's actually focused more on baseball than TriMet now (that's a fact, I know 'cuz I got him into it). He wasn't trying to 'track her down,' he was just getting on her bus to go somewhere like a normal person (because, of course, he is transit dependent). And also remember, it's not her bus. It's TriMet's bus. She has authority of what goes on while driving the bus, but there's no distinction between this bus or that bus. (For the record, Lane had to actually ask someone else for information about what Ellen is currently driving so he could avoid her. He didn't have that information himself.)

Well, Lane tweeted about it. Because that's what people do. Then this shows up on Ellen's blog:
(From Al's blog here)

What is going on here? I have no idea. As a blogger, why would you even think of putting something up on the internet that is actually technically a threat? It is a mystery to me. Notice that the "tweet" in question is actually dated 1/27/14. Things have changed. The post in question lists a bunch of things Lane "did" against her, many of which were likely not necessarily against her personally.

Now TriMet has actually responded to the complaint by Lane and has taken appropriate action concerning her (see here). We'll see if there is any sort of good that comes from this.

And FYI for all potential TriMet bloggers out there: If you don't want the blogging community to alienate you, don't alienate them. We're all in this together, regardless of our personal opinions.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Positive Fare Changes

Youth fares are going down! That means, fares are going down!

The Adult and Honored Citizen fares are staying the same (i.e. they're not going up), but Youth fares are going down. And not just a few pennies. Two-hour ticket prices are being reduced by 40 cents, day passes by 80 cents, and monthly passes by $2.

Now, we would all like to see that all fares go down. But the Youth fares are probably the least used of the three types, which means the fare price can be lowered more with less financial impact on TriMet's bottom line. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some unspoken and mildly controversial reason for this change, but I'm choosing to take the high road and simply celebrate the first TriMet fare reduction in at least the last twenty years.

It will be interesting to see how the completion of the PMLR project in FY2016 affects TriMet's budget. The construction is a huge chunk of the current expenditures. Maybe when that big give-out is cleared off the books and filed to a less expensive operations budget, there may be even more fare relief then.

But I'm not keeping my hopes up. Further fare decreases are more of a pipe dream than anything, which is an even greater reason to celebrate this one now.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Shaking My Head Yet Again

I was on a bus one day recently when something ridiculous caught my eye.

Due to the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project, SE 17th Avenue has been basically rebuilt, causing delays and closures. Significantly, the northbound bridge from SE 17th to westbound SE Powell was closed for a significant period in order to rebuild it. (At one point, Powell itself was closed. What a hassle.)

From March 19 through June 9, southbound 17th between Powell Blvd. and Rhine Street has been closed, causing buses to not be able to turn from Powell onto 17th Ave. Lines 17 and 70 had to be detoured onto SE Milwaukie Ave. and SE Center St. (Inbound 17 and northbound 70 remained on 17th to Powell.) This was actually better than the northbound closure, as the turn from Center onto Milwaukie was precarious to say the least, and the opposite direction is signficantly safer.

The 17 and 70 detour route, from TriMet's Interactive Map

On Powell at Milwaukie Ave, there are two eastbound bus stops. The nearside stop is served by Lines 9, 19, and 66, while the farside stop is served by Lines 17 and 70. For the detour, Line 17 served the nearside stop and Line 70 served a temporary stop on Milwaukie Ave. just past Powell.

The nearside stop at SE Powell & Milwaukie

I was riding a bus through that area when something caught my eye. It was one of those moments when I thought I had seen something I shouldn't have seen, and it took me a second to realize what I had noticed. It was the maps in the information box on the blue bus pole. They weren't right.

The simplified maps of the lines that served SE Powell & Milwaukie during the detour (these are correct)

So I decided to drive over to the stop and actually go make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Much to my delight, I had seen it clearly. I just shook my head and said to myself, "Oh, TriMet."

As you can tell, that isn't right. It's been years since Line 9 went to 27th and Saratoga and Line 17 went to Sauvie Island. Not only that, but this is the new design of the stop information on the pole. (The old one was the blacker version with the maps in the square boxes, the original box design before the QR codes were added.) These routing changes were made years before the new design was even invented. So who made the conscious effort to take the old maps from the archives and stick them in the new info sign template?

In a similar vein, here's a stop at Barbur & Bertha eastbound. What's wrong with it.

First, it's not called "Milwaukie Transit Center" anymore. It's just "Milwaukie" or "Milwaukie City Center."

Second, Line 65 doesn't go to Milwaukie TC anymore. Actually it hasn't gone to Milwaukie since June 28, 2004 when the Sellwood Bridge has closed. In other words, this sign has been wrong for ten years.

Oh, and finally, it's going the wrong direction. The old 65 travelled from Marquam Hill down Terwilliger to Barbur and then made the loop around 19th & Spring Garden before proceeding down Taylors Ferry Rd to the Sellwood Bridge. It's the same as now: this stop has always gone to Marquam Hill.

Okay, TriMet, I give up. Makes sense why you come up with ideas like this:
"Deer Baby," via

Thursday, June 5, 2014

More and More New Buses (Update)

TriMet has released more information about the new buses coming in the next two years. This has disproved some of my assumptions in my previous post, but has validated the gist of it. Let me break it down for you.

You can read my prior post here. Note the updated information in red. Also, you can read TriMet's news release here. This is where I am sourcing most of my information.

Today, buses 3201 and 3204 began running on Line 70. These were the first two of sixty buses in the 3200-series that TriMet is currently receiving. According to the news release, and in line with prior precedent, three to five new buses will arrive from the Gillig factory each week. It will take about two weeks to prep the bus, which includes registration and DMV paperwork, installation of the CAD/AVL system at Powell Garage, and installation of the fare box at Center Garage. This process will continue throughout the summer.

The 3200s will be delivered to Center Garage (replacing the 1400s) and Merlo Garage (replacing the 1700s). Sixty new buses will be replacing about 48 old buses, meaning that there will be more buses when the 3200s are done being deployed.

The 3200s are almost identical to the 3100s. The primary difference is the reconfigured driver controls. For once, and I'm still having a hard time believing it myself, TriMet actually listened to drivers complain about not being able to reach many of the controls, primarily the CAD/AVL screen and the kneel switch. The kneel switch has been moved from next to the CAD screen to the driver's left by the door button. The CAD screen has been brought closer to the driver so they don't have to reach as far. Also, the steering wheel has been made smaller, more like the wheel found on the 2900-series New Flyer buses. For passengers, a new "porch light" is being installed by the rear door so riders can see better when they disembark.

The 3300s are in fact 40-foot buses, not 30-foot as I assumed. These 30 buses will be deployed beginning in the Fall. The reason they are a different fleet is because they are a different order from a different fiscal year (the 3200s are on the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, while the 3300s are in the FY15 budget). These buses will either replace half of the 2100-series high-floor buses or a few of those plus all 22 of the 2000-series, the first series of low-floors TriMet purchased. In early 2015, eight more of this series of buses will go into service, bringing the total to 38 (and thereby assuring that my OCD dreams will be realized: there will be a bus 3333).

There will also be four more hybrid buses arriving in 2015. These will likely be in this same series.

And here are our 30-foot buses. Twenty-two new shorty buses will go into service to replace the 1600s running out of Center (on lines 34, 39, 51 and 152) and Powell (on lines 80 and 81), and the 1900s running out of Merlo (on lines 18, 50, 59, 63, 83, and a couple of other random lines), coincidentally totaling 22. It will be interesting to see where they distribute these buses, as all three garages run lines that require their shortened length.

The reason that the news release separated the eight 40-foot buses coming next year from the 3300s listed is because these eight, the four hybrids, and the 22 3400-series shorty buses are part of the new contract with Gillig. According to this news release from last September, TriMet signed a contract with Gillig for bus deliveries every year from 2015-2019, separate from the contract that is being completed this year with the 3300s. This goes way beyond just eliminating all the old 20+ year old buses riders complain about. In 2016, another 70 buses will show up, and 60 more a year later. This will help TriMet's fleet become comparably aged in respect to similar agencies.

But let me show you what that looks like.

Figure 1 shows each year through 2019 and how many buses are being deployed each year. It also shows which buses these will be replacing (assuming TriMet doesn't do like they are doing this year and bringing in more buses than they are retiring).

   Figure 1
   TriMet Bus Purchases by Year

   40-foot Buses (incudes Hybrids)
   Year   # Buses   Buses Replaced
   2015   42        All 2000s, 20 2100s
   2016   70        45 2100s, 25 22-2300s
   2017   60        60 22-2300s
   2018   40        33 22-2300s, 7 2500s
   2019   40        40 2500s
   30-foot Buses
   Year   # Buses   Buses Replaced
   2015   22        All 1600s, All 1900s
   2016   18        N/A

As you can see, by 2019 TriMet's fleet will look significantly newer. 120 of these buses, purchased in 2016 and 2017, have an option clause to make them Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueled instead of the normal diesel bus. I do not believe TriMet will actually activate this clause, given that past experience with getting this fuel to the buses has not been that good. Fourteen of these listed, however, will be hybrid buses, and should include the "super-hybrids" TriMet ordered last year that were going to take a few years to build.

So let's jump ahead to 2019. Assuming the information I provided in Figure 1 is accurate, what will the fleet actually look like?

   Figure 2
   TriMet Fixed Route Bus Fleet, FY2019

   40-foot Buses (includes Hybrids)
   Series  No. of Buses
   2500    12
   2600    55
   2700    25
   2800    39
   2900    40
   3000    55
   3100    70
   3200    60
   3300    42
   3500    70
   3700    60
   3800    40
   3900    40
   Total  608

   30-foot Buses
   Series  No. of Buses
   3400    22
   3600    18
   Total   40

   Grand Total = 648

If you go back to earlier in this post, you see that this year, there will be 12 more new buses than buses getting retired. Therefore, we can assume that those 12 2500s will be retired in 2019 also, making the grand total 636, and causing every bus in the system to have the new blue, yellow and white color scheme.

Talk about night and day, right? This is late in coming, but at least it's coming.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

More and More New Buses

I must officially be a journalist because I wrote information I thought was accurate but really wasn't. I was close, and I assumed. Please see an updated article here.

The Vehicles app feed updated its list of vehicles with placeholder for the new buses, and it included a big surprise.

TriMet's developer tools page includes a few different feeds for apps. The newest of these feeds, "Vehicles," provides a list of all the vehicles in the system for bus and MAX. You can see this feed at Jason McHuff's (@rosecitytransit) SystemMapper here.

Just like last time (when the 3100s showed up), the placeholders for the new buses have been added to the feed ahead of the installation of the radio systems on these buses. And as expected, there are a lot of them. The new Gillig 40-foot buses include numbers 3201 through 3260.

But in a shocking turn of events, also present in the list are 3301 through 3330. What does this mean?
TriMet used to start a fleet number series and then include add-on orders if the buses were similar enough (i.e. 1701-1853 were all one series, although they were purchased over a period of three years). But when TriMet changed their color scheme a year after starting the 2500-series in 2001, they couldn't just keep the list going since the buses looked completely different. Hence, we have the 2600s being only one year younger than the 2500s. Last year's 3100s were nearly identical to the 3000s from the year before, but the number series changed, and the 3200s follow suit.

But what does it mean that there are two different number series coming this year? It means that the buses have to be different somehow. But how?

THE 3300s ARE NEW 30-FOOT BUSES. (No, no, no. The 3300s are 40-foot buses. The 3400s, coming early next year, are 30-foot buses. Just assume that we're talking about the 3400s and read on.)

The 1600s (25 years old) and the 1900s (22 years old) will finally be retired, along with all the remaining 1400s and 1700s (totaling 48 buses on the list, meaning some 2000s or 2100s might even be retired this year). (The TriMet adopted budget for Fiscal Year 2015 shows the number of buses from year to year is increasing. Therefore, I now assume that they are simply replacing 48 buses with 60.)

Riders of shorty-bus cursed lines 18, 34, 39, 50, 51, 63, 80, 81, 83 and 152 will rejoice as their old decrepit dinosaurs will be replaced with new clean low-floors with ramps instead of lifts.
Behold, the dark ages are coming to an end, and not a moment too soon.

Retired bus 1905, sitting in Merlo Garage.

Bus 1612 at Oregon City Transit Center

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why the Big Pause?

Thank you, readers, for almost 6,000 views on this blog! You are all awesome and I appreciate you making this blog a thriving spot, even when I haven't posted in awhile. I have a lot of ideas for posts I've been thinking about, some I have mentioned on this post from awhile back, and others I am just coming up with. I have begun writing the second installment in the CAD/AVL series, which should drop sometime this week.

But, unlike past times of silence, this break has been because of something really awesome coming down the wire. I can't tell you what it is yet, but trust me, you will be excited. It is something I have been spending a lot of time on, and it will be one of the things that will define this blog. Stay tuned, you will not be disappointed!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CAD/AVL (Part 1): History

Three months ago, TriMet's public relations representative Diane Goodwin organized a meeting with me and three men in charge of the development, design and operation of the new CAD/AVL system. They wanted to hold the meeting with me so I could disseminate "accurate" information about the CAD system. This post, and the few that follow, will discuss what I learned in the informational meeting and other sources pertaining to the new CAD system.

Why did this meeting happen? A few months ago, during the roll-out of the new 3100-series buses, I made a post called "The Lost Bus" that told the story of how bus 3159 wasn't accurately reporting its location on the Vehicles data feed, TriMet's Interactive Map, TransitTracker, or even internal systems. Apparently, this post sent waves of mild panic through the IT department as they tried to figure out if there was something really wrong here or if there was a misunderstanding. Turns out, the radio on the bus was not functioning properly and therefore all data was not being transmitted to the system, something that wasn't as major of a problem as it could have been.

Why did it take me so long to write this post? My last post explains a bit about why I have been silent lately. Besides my frustration with all the negativity and my desire to focus my attention on other things, I also started feeling pressure from both sides to post stuff on my blog. Don't misunderstand, I love posting what my reputable sources want me to post, but I don't like pressure to do things and so I just disappeared. So, I am deeply sorry for how long this has taken. I'm not going to let pressure get to me like that again, because life will always be full of that pressure and it does no good to run from it.

Here's how I will go about this. The post you are reading will discuss the background of the CAD/AVL system project and the meeting I was in that provided me with this information. I will follow up this post with more specifics about the system and roll-out in near-future posts. This will help me organize my thoughts and not feel overwhelmed by getting all the information in one post, and it will also allow me to provide information at a rate that is reasonable to the reader. This topic is very complex and is filled with a lot of information, and it deserves a lot of focus because of its importance to TriMet's operations and how greatly it affects riders and operators.

So now I will begin. If you have any questions, comments, or suggested corrections, please feel free to post them in the comments on this page, or you can email them to Remember, although I know we all have biases and opinions (and I certainly do have my own), my goal here is always that you may know the truth, and where it's lacking, that together we find the truth.

The Meeting
On Tuesday, December 17, 2013, I entered the TriMet building at NE 7th & Holladay to meet Diane Goodwin, TriMet's Public Affairs Manager. Diane has been the one person in the agency who has reached out to me so that I can know what is really going on. She knows that I am skeptical and that I take everything with a grain of salt (from both sides), but she has always shown a level of honesty and integrity that encourages me to trust TriMet a bit more than I would otherwise. In this case, she wanted me to see a demo on the CAD/AVL system, given by the most expert people in the agency on such matters.

The demo was delivered by three men who obviously knew the system inside and out, and who showed the same level of integrity that Diane has shown. A.J. O'Connor, the Manager of IT and Operations Systems, served as the project manager for the CAD/AVL system. He told me about the history of the system: why they decided to implement it, why it is designed the way it is, and details about the actual implementation. Paul Hess is the System Engineer for the CAD/AVL system and provided me with a demo of the system's back office functionalities, showing me what the dispatcher sees and what they can do with the software. John Lutterman is the manager of on-vehicle IT systems technologies and explained how some of the internal systems are designed on board the buses. He also gave me a demo of the "Bus in a Box," a tabletop system that simulates the inner workings of the bus and features an actual touch screen display and a internal stop display. (It was in this part of the demo that I lost my professionalism and started geeking out, smiling incessantly, giggling, and repeatedly declaring, "This is so cool!" Can you blame me? I got to drive a virtual bus!!!)

I also took the opportunity to defend my blogger friends. One of the themes was getting the right information out there so that people are not misinformed. These people were under the impression that my other blogger friends were misinforming the public on purpose because of some hidden agendas. I told them that this wasn't the case, that because the information wasn't out there, we were doing the best we could with what we had. So I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be a voice of honesty and truth to help the right information become available. I was impressed by the integrity I saw in the people at that meeting, and I was reminded that there are still respectable people trying to do the right thing, even in management. It is unfortunate that there are other people who continue to make unwise decisions that make the whole agency look untrustworthy. Remember that there are thousands of people in the agency, and it only takes a few making unwise decisions to take TriMet along a path of disrespect. This is glaringly obvious, as Lane Jensen's second arrest took place literally hours after this demo ended.

TriMet obviously needs a system that can track each vehicle in their fleet. There are up to 430 vehicles rolling at one time, and they can't roam freely without some oversight. (Some would argue otherwise, but that's the subject for a future blog post.) So, back in 1995 TriMet implemented a revolutionary system known internally as the Bus Dispatch System (BDS). It was one of the first of its kind in the country, allowing dispatchers to monitor the "real-time" locations of every bus. (This system transmitted locations every two minutes or so, which was remarkable and effective, especially for its time.) It also allowed dispatchers to send messages directly to individual buses or lines about reroutes, police activity, bus bridges, etc. The radio systems on the bus were very old, as that technology hadn't changed in many years. The BDS helped control incoming and outgoing radio communication with the driver, and the two systems were tightly integrated, but they were still two distinct systems made by two different companies at different times.

Between 1990 and 2004, the FCC wrote up two plans to reconfigure the radio frequency allocation (known as "narrow banding" and "rebanding"). TriMet has used two different sets of radio channels for their various vehicles. Buses used frequencies in the 450 MHz frequency, communicating via their 30-year old Motorola radios. The FCC determined that the frequencies were not being efficiently used by public safety and transit agencies, so they instituted a requirement to migrate all radios from using 25 kHz efficiency technology ("widebanded") to 12.5 kHz ("narrowbanded") technology, allowing for more airwave space. All radios made after 1997 could use both technologies, but as TriMet's were so old, they had to upgrade the system completely to meet these requirements. Anybody not in conformance could have their license to operate the radios suspended. (See FCC website, or this FCC PowerPoint presentation.)

TriMet also piggybacked the City of Portland's set of frequencies in the 800 MHz range for their light rail and non-revenue vehicles. This frequency segment was also primarily used by emergency response agencies, and the FCC wanted to make those frequencies stronger and less likely to be affected by non-emergency channels. So the FCC instituted a plan known as "rebanding," where the 800 MHz range was basically rearranged so public safety agencies were all in the same broad range, and private commercial radios were in a different range. This didn't really affect TriMet, it just added to the confusion about all that was going on at the same time. (See FCC website for more on rebanding.)

Remember back in 2009 when we all had to make sure that our televisions either had digital receivers or had that analog-to-digital converter box? Well, the reason the FCC did that was so there could be more room in the analog range for public safety and service radios. TriMet knew they had to vacate the 450 MHz range by the deadline the FCC prescribed, and it made sense to move the buses into the newly vacated 700 MHz range. But TriMet was faced with a choice: should they continue to have two separate radio systems, one for light rail and one for buses, one they essentially rented and the other they owned, or should they have one radio system in one range for all vehicles? As this requirement to vacate the 450 MHz range was inevitably approaching, it made sense to pursue a unified radio system in the 700 MHz range. At the same time, the old BDS system had ceased to be supported by Orbital (the company that made it). TriMet therefore also decided to replace the dispatch system along with the radio system, which was logical since replacing only one system would still leave the need to spend money on the other later (like spending money to replace a motor on a car when the body is rusted out). In summary, TriMet decided to consolidate both the bus (450 MHz) and rail/non-revenue vehicles (800 MHz) radio systems into one system in the 700 MHz range, while also replacing the first-of-its-kind dispatch system that itself wasn't supported anymore either.
TriMet's consolidation of their two radio systems into one.
TriMet then needed to determine whether to contract the systems to two different companies or one who could handle both systems. They did some research, and found out that Seattle had recently implemented new systems and had used multiple contracts. The experience Seattle had with multiple vendors wasn't as great as expected, and TriMet didn't want to face the same problems Seattle had dealt with. So, the decision was made to use one contract for the whole project, thus eliminating any architecture integration and compatibility problems (and, as the saying goes, allowing for "one throat to choke if things go wrong").

The next step was to determine which company would be the main provider. They decided to do field research by traveling to cities who had recently installed new systems and use this experience to help determine the system to use. They travelled to Chicago (which was using a system by Siemens, that has made/will make the Type-2 through Type-5 MAX trains), Tampa (using a system designed by Xerox, which had purchased Orbital, the company that had made the old BDS), and Vancouver, BC (which was using a system designed by INIT, a German company with 30 years of transit expertise). INIT came in with the highest technical score while having the lowest cost, and therefore it was selected to be the vendor. (People have accused TriMet of not including dispatchers in the selection of the vendor. This is untrue, and the people in the meeting validated this statement by telling me that the dispatcher who was taken along on the selection trip was named Ron Dockter.)

INIT then subcontracted the radio architecture design to General Electric, who then subcontracted the actual construction of the radio system to Tait Communications. The decision to have INIT control the overarching project meant that the radio and CAD systems would be integrated as one as opposed to two separate systems. (You can read more about INIT at their website.)

This concludes why TriMet decided to use the system they did. I will post more about what the CAD system does and the actual implementation of the system in the next posts. Special thanks to A.J. O'Conner for his help in providing additional technical assistance in ensuring the accuracy of this post.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Steel Bridge Closure 2/24

The problem with sharing a bridge: sometimes your bedfellows need to do repairs. And because of the Union Pacific Railroad planned repairs, TriMet had to detour buses off the bridge and run MAX shuttles overnight for the last two weekends. Being the curious investigator I am, I decided to see what happened for myself.

The situation: On February 6, 2014, TriMet emailed a service alert informing the public that Union Pacific Railroad would be doing scheduled maintenance overnight for the two weekends immediately approaching. Because of the Snowpocalypse, UPRR deferred the first weekend of work to a future weekend, later determined to be the weekend following the original second weekend. On February 13, TriMet sent out the email with the finalized times.
Overall, the service disruption was expected to last from 11pm-8:30am the nights of Saturday and Sunday for both weekends. And yes, you counted correctly: this meant the disruption was to run into the Monday morning rush hour. Fortunately, the first weekend was Presidents' Day, so we had a lighter ridership load by default. But this would mean significant impact for the second Monday, especially if things didn't go right and there were delays. (You can see the real news release from TriMet's website here.)

What we learned: I decided to head down there for the second Monday rush hour and observe how the bus bridge was designed, how MAX trains were being moved through and turned around, how riders were reacting, and what supervisors and customer service personnel were doing to make it all work. I took Lane along and we traveled down to the Steel Bridge to experience the bus bridge for ourselves and share with you what happened over the last two weekends.

(Special thanks to Lane for making this video so cool and informative. It sure beats me just writing another essay.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It Snowed A Little

I'm doing such a great job of "filling the gap," aren't I? Not one post since I said it. It's hard wanting to write about TriMet when everything to write about is so negative.

Actually, since the last blog post, I had basically lost interest in TriMet temporarily. You see, unlike some other bloggers seemingly (you know who you are), I actually have other hobbies and things that I want to focus my time and attention on. I am a musician, songwriter, and music producer who has dozens of songs waiting to be recorded. I also am an aspiring author with a story I've been playing around with in my head for the last ten years. And this is all happening before Spring Training starts (pitchers and catcher reported Wednesday -- woot!).

So, I have a legitimate reason for dropping out like a call on a cheap cell network. But these times of apathy toward TriMet tend to reignite the fire in me for what I love about it. I am so excited for March, when the new sign-ups go into effect and I can do my quarterly study of each and every block in the system (I'm put that off for a few quarters). I have been refreshing my memory regarding bus stop lists, and am happy with the results. Yes, you read that right. I am in the process of memorizing every stop on all 80 bus lines. At the highest point I had only 12 lines left to go; it looks like I've only completely forgotten one, Line 71. (Can you blame me?)

But the Snowpacalypse we experienced over the past weekend helped me focus my attention back on the 'Met. I inadvertently got stuck in the mess myself with my father. We went out Saturday to the Portland International Auto Show at the Convention Center. That was a lot of fun. We decided afterward to venture out to Clackamas Town Center to eat and we were shocked to see what a ghost town it had become. By my estimation, 70% of the businesses were closed, including Nordstrom! Quite a strange and slightly disappointing sight, to say the least. But that meant we had to venture home on the MAX.

Oh, did I mention this was Saturday evening right before everything stopped?

Well, if it wasn't for the great people at the TriMet Scanner Twitter feed, we would have certainly gotten stuck somewhere along the line. But we were able to divert to a bus in time and get back to our car at the Park & Ride. On the plus side, I finally got to share a bus ride with Dad (he has heard me talk about buses incessantly for the last 14 years; thought it was about time). But by the time I walked in our house I found out quite shockingly that MAX had shut down. Like, totally shut down. I'm pretty sure that this is the first time in the 28 year history of MAX that this has happened.

Did TriMet do a good job of handling the situation? Some yes's and a ton of no's. Yes, the people on the front lines (mostly union workers and some non-union staff) did risk their lives to try to keep people moving. Think about all the rail operators with their trains that they couldn't move, trying to explain to people why they would have to wait for buses to come pick them up the rest of the way. Think about the hundreds of bus operators who pushed through the snow and ice for three days watching their schedules get as much as 400 minutes late, trying to remain as flexible as they could while still trying to serve the customer. And think about the supervisors who were stuck in terrible positions to have to make decisions like shutting down MAX, taking into account all the people still riding in the trains trying to get home. There were a lot of people who did their very best to make the system perform as best as it could given the circumstances.

But then there's Dan Christensen's tweet that says it all:

TriMet thinks their Titanic of a rail system will never sink. But it sunk. It's kind of hard to deny that they had to stop MAX, but they won't come out and say "Our rail system may fail." If they acknowledged that, we would have more spur pocket tracks for dead trains, more third rails for bypass, and a faster response when a bus bridge is needed. But instead, we have ice building up on the rails faster than what we expected (because there apparently is no worst-case-scenario in the planning stages) and then it's left in the hands of the supervisors on the streets to say, "Yep, this train ain't moving." Something's wrong with this picture.

Here's another picture that paints more bad news.

Many buses went on snow routes. This makes sense, because there was, uh, snow. But somehow one service cut slipped through the cracks:
The 78 went on snow route, which meant it did not go past Tigard TC either, but this makes sense since everything is hills along that route. And this was Saturday, so no other lines were coming into Tualatin. What does this mean? The entire city of Tualatin was cut off from the TriMet system. Let me show you:
Map source: Google Maps
The dark lines are the bus lines that were running that Saturday. The red dashed line is the part of Line 76 that was cut off for 30 hours. The yellow area is the area that was not served by TriMet that day. The people in this area are paying the same taxes as everybody else. And if you notice, the entire cities of Tualatin, Rivergrove, and Durham are in this excluded area.

Poor planning? I'd say. I bet it had to do with the the snow being too heavy to get buses through or something like that. But it's SW Hall Blvd! It's flat and straight! It's a main arterial! Why wouldn't it be clear enough for a heavy rectangular box on chained wheels to get through? And if it wasn't clear enough, then send the bus down Pacific Hwy and have it cut across Tualatin-Sherwood Rd. Just get it to Tualatin somehow! (I should add that according to this map at TriMet's website, the snow route for Line 76 is the same as the regular route!)

So, again, we see where TriMet failed again. Weather does happen. Closures do happen. And occasionally, things break. So instead of pretending your ship is unsinkable, be forthright about the fact that your system does break and encourage cooperation to find ways to improve it.

And also, don't forget the cities that are paying taxes to fund your existence. I'm sure the mayor of Tualatin loved having his city become nothing more than an afterthought. Actually, it wasn't even that.

Coming soon: The long-awaited series featuring an insider scoop of the CAD/AVL system.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Shutting Lane Up

Congratulations, TriMet. You have succeeded in shutting down Lane Jensen. Hope you're proud of yourselves.

We all know he's had it out for you since the beginning. We all know how much of a racket he makes when he senses a problem or disconnect somewhere in the agency. And we know he's never afraid to speak what his heart feels.

But he has also proven to be one of the most influential naysayers in this little story. While other people are comfortable sitting on their derrières and writing about things they have no intention of doing anything about (with all due respect, I have been you sometimes), Lane has been out in the field trying to make a positive impact. He's been looking out for your future during times when some of you have been making that future look pretty bleak.

Now, it's been almost a month since Lane's second arrest, one that had no valid reason, one in which Lane was not even read his Miranda rights. Fortunately for Mr. Jensen, he has people around him who support him and who are not afraid to tell him to his face when he needs to make changes. These changes, if you haven't noticed, have included the deletion of his Portland Transit Lane blog (see here if you don't believe me), the changing of his Twitter handle to no longer reflect his TriMet connection, and the deletion of his podcast. While he still is involved with TriMet-related things (considering, like me, it's a hobby of his), his web presence is all but gone.

I know I may sound a bit extreme here, but I have valid reasons. First, Lane is one of my best friends, and I get really, really miffed when people mess with my friends. Second, TriMet top management has given me no good reason to trust them. It's hard thinking that there are no alterior motives when everything you have ever done screams alterior motives. Third, my friends on the blogging side are in agreement on the injustice here. I even had one bus operator tell me all about the injustices here before I even had the opportunity to give my opinion. Finally, there are so many details that just don't make sense if one is trying to explain that these actions have been just. Below is a partial list:
  • Lane was arrested by both Portland Police and Transit Police officers on both arrests.
  • On the first arrest, they seized his phone and his laptop. The text messages were sent on his phone. What did his laptop have anything to do with it?
  • They arrested him the second time because he called a TriMet employee names on his podcast (the one who had him first arrested). It was not explicitly made clear to him that this was not allowed, and it still doesn't look like that was really not allowed. And his comments were in regard to a public press release, aimed at whoever wrote it, not specifically the person who filed the charges.
  • On the second arrest, he was never read his Miranda rights. ("You have the right to remain silent..." Or should it be, "You don't have the right to not remain silent?")
  • The repercussions of his second arrest virtually silenced Lane's voice. The most vocal critic of TriMet is virtually silenced. What are the odds of that?
  • His bail was set at $46,500. The bail for the man who assaulted the Line 4 operator in St. John's was set at $10,000. What do we value more: operator safety or not annoying TriMet managers? (Somebody ought to ask them that. Oh wait...somebody already tried.)
You see, when there are too many details pointing to the same conclusion, it's hard not to come to said conclusion. Even if TriMet issued a press release stating that they are not trying to silence a TriMet critic, I still wouldn't believe them and I'm sure few others would. (They would probably just blame the whole thing on the Union contract anyway.) The way for TriMet to prove that they are being honest here is to drop the case. This would make it clear that they respect the voices of criticism that have been speaking. But I don't expect them to drop the case at all. It's hard to accept criticism when you're always right.

So, to conclude, this act of shutting Lane up has only enraged the already ticked-off riders and bloggers, and has lowered the level of trust even further. It's like going out and claiming your own coffin from will-call. I want to see that TriMet's future is a bright one. At this point, it sure ain't looking very good.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ringing in the New Year

FWHOOH!!! Sorry, that was just me blowing the dust off this blog. It's been too long.

So we start 2014, and things are different. I find myself in a slightly different position that I had been before. For the past year, I was the kid who just floated about on the blogosphere, agreeing or disagreeing with whomever I wished, and playing more of a supporting role to other, more well known players in the field.

But things have changed. TriMet has successfully shut down Lane Jensen, the second most well-known blogger in the TriMet world. I look around trying to find anyone else to fill that void, and I see no one. Lane used his blog to post facts or his interpretation of facts in order to make people aware of TriMet's issues by the numbers. That voice is gone, unfortunately. And unfortunately, that void will not be filled unless someone rises to the occasion.

I don't want to be that person. I want to just sit back and write about autoblock signals, random facts about transit centers, and why bus 2809 has this strange band wrapped around its roof at the front by the side ID numbers. But, TriMet is the nonhuman thing I love most in this world, and letting that void be left unfilled would be like letting a good friend die of starvation when you have the biscuit in your hand. So, therefore, I will step up to the plate to help make the change I want to see.

One of my main demotivators, besides the holidays, has been the pressure I have from both sides. The same day TriMet IT people graciously met with me to go over the inner workings of the CAD-AVL and radio systems, my friend Lane was arrested a second time by the Transit Police. Now I had two posts to write, one telling of the great complexity and promise of the IT system, and the other to call out another part of TriMet for its continued devaluing of transparency. One side trying to get the truth out, another trying to shut up people from telling the truth. This saddens me, and my trust in the agency drops to a near all-time low. (My trust in certain people and departments in the agency, however, has gone up. I wish I could say the same about everybody.)

So my hope here is that, as you read what I post here, you will become more aware of the truth. This truth is really hard to find sometimes, and it will take some real digging to find it. And just because you think that you know what the truth is, you may be wrong. This goes out to both the blogger side and the TriMet side. I hope that whatever truth I can find helps everybody to see what's really going on, what is actually good, and what is actually very, very bad.

I won't be Lane Jensen. He had a knack for facts, but at the same time he had a knack for ticking people off. I don't seek to ruffle anyone's feathers. I'm not going to call people out on podcasts. I'm not going to try to arrest board members. That's Lane's thing, and he was remarkably successful in it. But what I will do is try to make public what is hidden in a way that maintains levels of respect and decency.

I would rather just go ride the lines, memorize bus stops, and compute bus schedules. But unfortunately, desperate times call for desperate measures. Let's hope and pray that by the end of 2014, we see improvement and much brighter future for the agency.

Next up will be the posts about Lane Jensen's silencing and the development and design of the radio system. This should kick off a very interesting and enlightening year for everyone in the TriMet world.

And, oh, I should leave you with this picture. I don't know why it's there, or even why the font is so very different but there is something weird about this bus and that band going around it. If anybody knows, please email me or comment. Thanks!