Recently TriMet announced that after two years of planning for an expensive new “bus rapid transit” line from Gresham to Portland, the new service would actually take 8-11 minutes longer than current buses.

Over in Southwest Portland, TriMet is planning a $2 billion light rail line to Bridgeport Village near Tualatin, a suburban shopping mall.

Agency planners are fascinated with shiny new objects, but most riders don’t benefit. For example, between 2000 and 2015, TriMet opened five new rail lines, but the total vehicle-miles of daily transit service actually dropped by 5%.

It’s time to admit that TriMet’s basic business model is becoming obsolete. The agency is a sluggish monopoly that takes years to bring new service to market, while customers live in a smartphone world where they have millions of choices and same-day delivery.

In particular, the coming era of driverless vehicles will create entirely new businesses that will free riders from the tyranny of fixed-route transit service. Legacy systems such as TriMet will be stuck with a vast network of aging infrastructure that will be too expensive to maintain.

We don’t need another light rail line to Bridgeport, or a bus rapid transit line to Gresham. What we need is new vision of mobility in Portland.

(revised 4/6/16)

6 thoughts on “TriMet’s Edifice Complex

    1. How about privatizing public transportation? Many times private companies are much more creative in finding funding them TriMet one-size-fits-all business tax.

  1. Driverless vehicles won’t solve congestion. Light rail and improved BRT systems will certainly help; this is not a one-size fits all solution, but meanwhile our roads are not getting less congested and we don’t want 10 or 20 lane highways everywhere

  2. A bridge across the Columbia for cars, buses and trucks only, at about NE 181st would really help. We have 11 bridges across the Willamette (9 of them for trucks). A third bridge across the Columbia would do wonders to relieve traffic congestion.
    Oh! And a rebuild of the interstate bridge and its approaches. But politicians: please stay away and leave the job to highway engineers!

  3. Kind of reminds me of Yogi Berra and a Yogi-ism: [Yogi talking about a popular New York restaurant] “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Kind of like Nobody drives an motor vehicle anymore, because the roads are too crowded. Building more automobile road capability will likely refill in time, but this is the truest expression where people’s actual want and need is. Most of automobile travel is user financed whereas light as in light capability, light rail is hugely subsidized out of a payroll tax with very little correlation to actual service. One way of expanding road capacity I have observed is to use artificial intelligence to adjust traffic signals in real time. I often sit at a light when there is no actual traffic flow the other way. Just think if cars talked to each other, too. Computerization is capable of working wonders, and this is not appreciated, by the stone age top down planners at Metro. I should think Metro Councilor Bob Stacey might be willing to pursue this, but the tug of large federal subsidies clouds the vision of most of our local government officials such that we actually are ending up worse off even with this so-called “free” federal dollars.

  4. The career bureaucrats and politicians love these expensive capital projects because of the way the Federal Transit Administration doles out money. TriMet can spend it on constructions but not on operations or maintenance. So no wonder why riders have to pay more in recent years to support the operations. Then there is the failure of MAX called Green Line – infrequent service that quits too early in the evening. Thank goodness TriMet did not do away with Line 72.

    I believe TriMet should be folded into Metro (TriMet was established just before Metro came into existence, and the state law appears to hint that it was the original intention to have Metro absorb TriMet eventually) and function solely as a transit planning and policy agency. Private operators then could bid on a 10-year franchise on a BOT (build-operate-transfer) basis through a competitive process. This model is implemented successfully in many parts of the world, including Communist China.

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