TriMet has launched an online budget tool to get input on how to address the anticipated $12-17 million shortfall. Users are presented with different options that are under consideration and can see how different combinations of them can be arranged to reach the $17 million goal.
Among the options are several affecting Red Line service: not changing it at all, running it just between Gateway and PDX, and running it between 11th Ave and PDX. Oddly enough, that last one is how the Red Line used to be run for the first two years before it was extended to Beaverton TC in 2003, which helped accommodate growing ridership on the Blue Line.
Several years later, additional trips during rush hour extended the Red Line further west. In the evening rush hour, for example, several Red Lines become Blue and terminate at Elmonica, Willow Creek, or Hatfield, and they’re replaced by other trains out of the Elmo yard or Blue Lines that turn Red.
For example, Train 45 (a Red Line) leaves PDX at 4:42pm and becomes a Blue Line to Willow Creek. Instead of ending at BTC at 5:45pm to go back to the airport, it continues to Willow Creek, discharges any remaining passengers, and goes back into the yard. But then there’s no airport-bound Red Line sitting at BTC, so something else has to be there to take passengers to the airport. Enter Train 10, which is Blue all day until it leaves Hatfield at 5:24pm, when it becomes a Red Line arriving at Beaverton TC at 5:53pm (8 minutes after Train 45 went through westbound and 14 minutes after the previous airport-bound train departed), so there’s no gap in Red Line service after Train 45 is done. This type of process is repeated for several trains (e.g. Red Line Train 51 comes out of the Elmonica yard, arrives at BTC at 5:24pm, and essentially replaces Red Line Train 48 which leaves PDX, goes to Willow Creek, and then back to the yard out of service).
Overall this arrangement works well – Red Lines bringing passengers further west than BTC during rush hour takes some of the pressure off of westbound Blue Lines, which otherwise could potentially pick up another train’s load of people onto already crowded trains at BTC. The timing doesn’t seem to affect eastbound passengers because Blue and Red trains are still passing through at the same frequency, the only difference is that boarding isn’t done in the pocket track for the Red Lines since they come through in the eastbound main track.
Now, the budget tool doesn’t go into any of this, it just says that the Red Lines would only run to Beaverton during rush hour and terminate at 11th Ave or Gateway otherwise. So then I wonder how the scheduling of those runs would work.. would any of the the rush hour ones continue to go further west than BTC? I’m assuming fewer Red Line trains overall would be needed to maintain the same frequency of trains to the airport, so maybe not.
For the passengers’ perspective, I also wonder about crowding conditions. According to TriMet’s ridership statistics in November, MAX (all lines) weekday trips were 124,900 and rush hour trips were 38,300. Which means that 86,600 weekday trips on MAX are not during rush hour. I don’t have ridership statistics from the early years of the Red Line handy, but I’m assuming that ridership on the Blue Line & Red Line are higher now then they had been when decisions were made to extend the Red Line to Beaverton in the first place (heck, I remember at least 5 years ago discussions around extending the Red Line to Willow Creek due to passenger loads!) Granted the Red Line isn’t a crush load in the middle of the day, but it’s not empty either, and this would put heavier passenger loads on Blue Line trains. Additionally, if the decision is made to have Red Line stop at Gateway, the infrequency of east/westbound trains downtown (15+ minutes between trains) would certainly have an impact on ridership and customer satisfaction.
And there are other costs to consider if Red Line changes are made – road relief pay if the decision is to terminate at 11th Ave, as well as a Wackenhut or other transit officer on the platform at Galleria to clear the cars before the train goes into the terminus, etc.
There are other considerations from that budget tool and several issues that raised red flags to me. To be continued…