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.