December 21, 2009
Check the classifieds in this issue for information about numerous managerial and supervisory positions!
|2009: THE YEAR IN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
At TriMet, Much to Celebrate Even in Tough Economic Times
BY CAROLYN YOUNG, Executive Director of Communication and Technology, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon, Portland, OR
Young is a member of the Passenger Transport Advisory Board.
What a difference a year makes. To the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet), 2008 brought record ridership and, at times, too much of a good thing. Buses and trains were overcrowded and agencies did not have enough revenues to expand service to meet the demand.
Fast forward to 2009. The deep recession meant fewer jobs, fewer riders, less revenue, and reduced service.
While TriMet juggled these challenges alongside our peers across the country, 2009 did bring some high points. The agency—now in its 40th year—opened two new rail lines, revitalized Portland’s downtown transit mall, celebrated record ridership levels, and introduced a number of web-based and mobile tools to help riders use our system.
Growing the Transit System
In February, we launched Westside Express Service or WES, a 14.7-mile commuter rail service connecting four Portland suburbs.
WES is the first commuter rail service in Oregon, operating with self-propelled cars on existing freight tracks. It provides a much-needed transportation alternative for commuters in the busy Highway 217/I-5 corridor. While the double-digit unemployment has impacted the ridership on the weekday commuter service, we expect to see more riders once the economy begins to recover.
The riders who have discovered WES enjoy the fast travel times along with free Wi-Fi and beautiful scenery.
In September, we opened our fifth MAX light rail line: the Green Line, an 8.3-mile extension that finally connects all three counties in the TriMet district by rail. The Green Line carries riders between downtown Portland and Clackamas County, the third most populous county in Oregon and one of the fastest-growing communities in our region.
The Green Line project also included a new alignment along the downtown Portland Transit Mall which, after two years of construction, has been revitalized with renovated streets, sidewalks, and storefronts. These projects allowed us to expand and improve our system at a time when riders need it most.
TriMet was created 40 years ago when the previous transit provider was facing bankruptcy. Over the decades of providing bus service and introducing rail, the agency finally reached a key milestone when ridership topped 100 million trips in one year. We held a celebration event in June 2009 to thank our riders for helping us reach this milestone.
Hosting a party in tight economic times is challenging, but we cleared out our closets of trinkets from past celebrations—such as posters, umbrellas, and other goodies—and gave free day passes to 100 lucky riders. Riders appreciated the low-cost event, which highlighted the critical role transit plays in this region and garnered a lot of earned media.
Helpful Online Tools
In terms of the rider experience, we have focused a lot of our efforts on things we can do in-house to benefit customers without extra cost. For example, making our schedule, stop, and arrival data available to third-party developers means that TriMet’s riders now have access to dozens of useful transit tools for the web and mobile devices. These tools provide significant value to riders, and we don't have the resources to develop them ourselves.
Also this year, we introduced a new interactive system map on our web site, trimet.org, that combines a trip planner with a Google-like interactive map to provide a map of your trip that includes stop details and street-level views.
We launched TriMet’s presence in social media, exploring new ways to engage with customers on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. And we recently initiated a complete facelift of our website, integrating new features and navigation that will make it easier for passengers to plan trips, get service information, and share it with others.
I am proud of these achievements as TriMet employees continue to look for ways to improve the rider experience, while working within our existing resources.
Stimulus Funds Improve Service
Many agencies faced budget shortfalls this past year. For TriMet, our budget gap was $31 million. We made tough choices including budget cuts, doing more with less, a hiring and salary freeze, and executive furloughs. Eventually we had to cut service to help fill the shortfall. But we are looking ahead, and determining what service to restore as the economy recovers.
Federal stimulus funds we received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act softened the economic blow while allowing us to invest in making our transit system more robust. We built a new transit police precinct to help us patrol our new Green Line and a new park-and-ride, and added flat-screen displays to MAX light rail stations and major bus stops so riders can see real-time arrival information and service alerts. We’ve added heated switches and ice caps to keep our trains running during winter storms, and made improvements to MAX stations that opened nearly 25 years ago.
The past year brought as many challenges as it did successes for TriMet. However, I believe our agency is poised to emerge from the recession strong and financially stable, with a plan to restore service and grow the transit system to meet the needs of our riders.