Portland: A Chat with the Transit Board of Directors

On November 8 I was the guest of the Board of Directors of the Portland area transit agency, TriMet, for a two hour workshop on issues facing the agency.  It was not so much a presentation as a freewheeling discussion, where Board members got to engage with me, question some of my ideas, and sharpen their own views.  I rarely have a chance to engage with transit planning in my own home town, so I was really honored by this opportunity.

Most of you have much better things to do than listen to two hours of this, but for those special folks who love these things, it’s here.  There’s some cool new philosophical stuff at the beginning.

My part runs 0:24:26 to 2:28:30. There’s some further relevant Board/staff discussion, about where to go with the agency at 3:50.


10 Responses to Portland: A Chat with the Transit Board of Directors

  1. Suzanne November 12, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    This is exciting. I will absolutely be listening! Thanks for posting, Jarrett.

  2. Suzanne November 12, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    This is exciting. I will absolutely be listening! Thanks for posting, Jarrett.

  3. Jeff Wegerson November 12, 2017 at 9:24 pm #

    It was fascinating to watch people work through the implications of the coverage/ridership continuum approach to making decisions. In Chicago where I live a couple of bus routes were cut a while back for lack of ridership (#31 31st street and #11 Lincoln.) There were continuing complaints about the loss of these two routes. Local aldermen became involved (rightly) and convinced the transit authority to reinstate the routes. The authority agreed to run a trial for the routes.

    And that is where it became interesting for me. Most of the arguments for the routes centered around coverage issues. Senior and low income service needs were often voiced. Indeed the service trial provided was one of limited hours and low frequency, that is a classic coverage type of service. In fact the authority pointed out that the reason one of the routes was originally cut was that the service was duplicated within reasonable walking distance. A ridership reason for cutting and a coverage sort of reason for the trial.

    Then when one of the routes (#11) was again cut because the trial did not generate sufficient ridership there was again a hue and cry.

    For my part I attempted to defend the authority reasoning by introducing the Coverage/Ridership paradigm (pardon my French). I argued that the authority was muddying the waters by not having been consistent in presenting their own reasoning within that conceptual framework. It is likely that they do not use it consciously internally even for themselves. I argued that the authority would likely save itself some public relation headaches if they did use the concepts of Coverage/Ridership to justify their reasoning.

    The nut of the problem was that the authority created two coverage routes and then demanded that they be judged by ridership criteria. Had they instead said something like we have some money in our coverage budget allotment to trial a couple of routes but can likely only make one permanent. And then had they made coverage arguments to defend the one that remained, arguments like the kinds of people who actually used the remaining route were of the type of people for whom our coverage standards were developed, say elderly and job constrained, that then the authority would have educated in addition to have defended their decisions. It was not that there were not enough riders on the cut route but rather that there were not the kind of riders that the authority wants to serve on a coverage route. The authority needed to in effect pit the routes against each other and (via aldermen or other community representatives if need be) decide which coverage route best met established coverage criteria for use of limited coverage budgeted money.

    • John D November 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

      I enjoyed watching the video. Thank you for sharing!

      It’s true that agencies need to balance between coverage, and ridership or focus at one side. But, in my opinion the can do both if they figure out how to lower the operating cost in low productivity routes (Coverage area). For example using mini van with low wage drivers to run these routes. Or partner with Uber/Lyft to cover these area for them.

      • Jarrett Walker November 20, 2017 at 6:49 pm #

        John D. Sorry, these tools might get you another 10% in coverage service, but none of them get you around the ridership-coverage problem.

      • John D November 21, 2017 at 4:57 pm #

        Thank you Jarrett for correcting me. In the video, you mentioned that one of the solution is to figure out how to localize the service in the future, do these tools help or can be use?

  4. Sam November 13, 2017 at 4:56 pm #

    This was such a fantastic listen. Super informative and great inside information. Having read your book, it was really nice to hear the concepts discussed out loud.

    I’m sure you’re quite busy, but have you ever considered recording your own podcast? You do a really good job distilling the ins and outs of transit planning into pretty understandable bits of information.

  5. Brent November 15, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

    It is helpful to have it on Youtube because you can play back the video at 1.25x or 1.5x. (If a frequent network is transit for people in a hurry, the 1.5x function is YouTube for people in a hurry!)

  6. TransitPlanner November 19, 2017 at 2:40 am #

    Indeed the most efficient use of space is the key question in transportation planning. Good you showed it is also valid concerning new fashionable trends like Uber or indeed car sharing and is independent from the engine technologies used.
    The original photo comparing the efficiency of space was made in Münster, Germany in 1990, 27 years ago, by the city of Münster planning department. Münster is by the way a true bike capital of Germany with almost 40 percent of all trips made by bike. Still 45 million rides are made by bus in a city with 300,000 inhabitants.
    Here is the original photo:
    And here the advertisement by Münster Transit using the illustration to show the benefits of bus transit:

    In reality the space needed by cars and also bikes would be even drastically larger, considering the space between the cars and bikes when moving. But that would not fit into such a photo of course. But the comparison could be made by time – 60 cars would take 2 minutes to pass when driving in one lane, while the bus passes in a few seconds…

  7. Kem Marks January 30, 2018 at 1:51 pm #

    One of the comments in the presentation was in essence that if low income people transit, they will locate where transit is available, e.g. instead of living on 148th where there is no service, the person should move to 122nd where there is. With all due respect, this is completely divorced from reality of low income people. It is also not in line with the housing market out here. Low income people locate in non-accessible places with respect to transit because they have few or no options. Making such a comment to the board of directors does them a disservice as well as to low income people.