TriMet wins $289 million grant from US Dept of Transportation

Posted by on December 13th, 2021 at 1:40 pm

TriMet ridership and Covid. Off. This money should help.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Big news for the Portland’s region’s main transit provider. The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced that TriMet has won a $289.1 million grant through the American Rescue Plan act.

“These funds are intended to help TriMet with preventive maintenance and capital expenses as the transit agency and the region recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is a press release Monday.

Here’s more from the release:

Transit has played a crucial role throughout the pandemic, bringing essential workers to jobs and helping the American people get to vaccine appointments and increasingly travel where they need to go as our nation opens back up.

“Public transportation has been a lifeline for communities and the American people throughout this pandemic,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This funding from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will help protect transit employees from layoffs, keep transit service running, and ensure people can get where they need to go.”

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“As our nation’s transit systems recover from COVID-19, the American Rescue Plan funds ensure that they continue to provide service to the many Americans who depend on transit to get to essential jobs, healthcare and vaccine appointments,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez.

The funding is part of more than $30 billion for public transportation as part of the ARP signed into law by President Biden back in March. Even better news for TriMet — who just announced brutal service cuts due to a driver shortage last week? The grant comes with no local match requirement.

Those service reductions were due to go into effect January 9th. It doesn’t appear this grant will stave off that step, since stipulations require it to be spent on maintenance and operations, not payroll.

TriMet ridership tanked in March 2020 with the onset of the Covid lockdowns and has come nowhere close to recovering. As you can see in the chart above, ridership across their system was at 1.9 million estimated weekly boardings in February 2020 and plummeted to just 598,000 in March 2020. It has It’s been a slow uptick ever since and it’s high point of October 2021 wasn’t even half that previous high.

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WattsmaxDsorenLisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)RipCityBassWorks Recent comment authors
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This is great news. Well done, TriMet. While the funds can’t be spent directly on hiring drivers, maybe they can shift $$ from maintenance and operations to personnel and backfill with the new money? Switchy-switch.

Todd/Boulanger
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Todd/Boulanger

As a transit user, this is good and bad news of sorts…it will help keep transit moving for the interim BUT I wonder if it will stymie any local innovation to do things differently…especially as many CBD offices (and their supporting service sector jobs) only return to in-person work at a ~30% level in 2022?

AND since we are talkin’ transit….where is the [Blumenauer] Bikeshare Transit Act? of 2021…I was really hoping that this tweak in how transit is defined for FTA funding was going to make it into the IIJA (or similar) in 2021.

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Via the Regional Transit Plan webiste, this much money could fund enhanced transit corridors on Sandy ($30M), Hawthorne/Foster ($30M), MLK ($30M), and 82nd ($30M); a streetcar extension to Montgomery Park ($80M); and region-wide stop amenity improvements ($20M) with about $70 Million left over. Bicycle facilities are called out explicitly in the Enhanced Transit Corridor plan, so this could really make a difference in establishing a main street network.

Adam
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Adam

I personally think TriMet would have been better investing these funds in better policing. Has anyone who reads this site actually *taken* TriMet lately?

The MAX stations downtown are all lined with tents, mountains of trash, hyperdermic needkes, and rats scurrying from trash pile to trash pile. Homeless people stagger around everywhere behaving erratically on the platforms, smoking meth, yelling things at strangers, and even sometimes threatening strangers by swinging punches st them, or even a giant metal pipe bar on one case.

Those same homeless people all ride TriMet en mass. Thet are almost all entirely maskless. They are sprawled out across multiple seats passed out. Talking loudly or yelling to to themselves. Walking aggressively up and fown the carriages demanding money. Fighting. Oh god, the fighting. Physical bustups on the train between them all.

How do I know all this? My wife took the MAX every morning and evening to and from the hospital she workes at. She was frustrated that about 15%-25% of the entire passenger population were maskless at pretty much all times, with zero enforcement. She waa scared she was going to contract covid from one or any number of these maskless riders. She was scared for her immuno-compromised patient population. And often, ridership was so ghostly light, early in the morning it was oy herbsnd groups of aggressive or mentally unstable homeless people on board. She would train herself to take a seat as close to the drivers cab as possible. She saw Trimet ticket enforcement officers once that entire year, who did nothing about maskless riders.

After a year of this, we bought a second car and she drives to work now. She does not plan on riding MAX again for many years. None of my friends that used to ride MAX ride it anymore, whether to work, the airport, Tombers or Blazers games etc, all citing the same reasons. Trimet trains are often ghost trains these days. And without Trimet stepping up to police the situation, nothing is going to stop them haemorging ridership numbers and therefore income.

Watts
Guest
Watts

I believe TriMet is basically screwed for the next decade from a ridership standpoint. Most people who can use other modes now do (many of them driving, sadly).

I’m not sure how they rebuild given the challenges you described.

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Guest
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Big time disagree. I probably ride Trimet about 5 round trips per week, been riding it since I was a kid. Spending $280 Million on policing would be way crazier than anything I’ve ever seen on the bus. Increasing frequency, connectivity, & reliability = good, heavier policing = bad

SolarEclipse
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SolarEclipse

Bus experience MAX experience.
I too, before COVID, rode Bus and MAX. Bus was safer as driver did keep some activity in check. MAX is the wild west with the driver in their isolated cab. In the mornings, before 6 AM, I NEVER saw security or fare checkers.

RipCityBassWorks
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RipCityBassWorks

I agree. The bigger issue in regards to safety is the rise of assaults on bus drivers. TriMet needs to crack down hard on this and also increase frequency. I ride the MAX almost daily and there really isn’t any difference safety wise between now and 2019…

maxD
Guest
maxD

My daughter took the Max from school in 6th and 7th grade until covid. Now she is in high school and we chauffeur her. The MAX has sadly become a non-option because it so sketchy and unsafe

ROH
Guest
ROH

I’ve taken Max to the last few Timbers games and it was packed each way. And everyone was wearing masks. I ride the bus from west side to Providence Portland a few times a month and lately ridership has picked up. Again, every person has been wearing masks. Trashing the riders is a disservice to the people actually riding. I’ve been impressed with how Trimet is moving forward, despite the pandemic’s effect on ridership. Yes. there are homeless people and tents all over Portland – a huge failure of leadership, IMO, but trimet isn’t causing or contributing that. They are providing a service in difficult time to a difficult population that doesn’t support public transit, or even public good. I welcome the federal funds and hope they can find the funds to prevent the service cuts. Good, reliable, and frequent service is the only thing that will lure people from their cars.

donel a courtney
Guest
donel a courtney

The bus seems fine to me; the Max is often scary and I don’t ride it much anymore even though its a 6 minute walk from my house. And I weigh 200 pounds of less than pure muscle 😉 For all those reasons above.

Like so much of our town’s physical and social infrastructure Max was designed for a time when people followed the rules, (as were many of PBOT’s ideas). That time is over, the new thing is to buck rules because they come from the patriarchy.

The difference with the bus v Max is and why it still works is: you can’t get on without paying without at least a discussion with the driver–this is too much for the P2P D-meth user who is intensely claustrophobic.

(Check out the amazing work by Sam Quinones from the LA times which is being covered by KGW 8 about the new meth and its anti-social psychotic qualities. He says “gasp,” D-meth, NOT LACK OF HOUSING, which is expensive in many places, is causing West Coast homelessness because people want to be alone in a tent, high by themselves in their psychosis).

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Guest
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A) I don’t think that’s a fair summary of Quinones’ work. I haven’t seen him claim that housing supply & affordability has no impact on homelessness, but feel free to link if you have a citation, I’d love to see it.

B) To argue the point, there are decades of research showing the link between housing scarcity, vacancy rates, costs, and the prevalence of houselessness. Here’s a book about it. Here’s an article in the Economist. Here’s a pretty graph.

Matt P
Guest
Matt P

Some great reward for such sub-par service. : (

J_R
Guest
J_R

I think we reached “peak transit” usage in 2019 and that we are unlikely to achieve that number of riders for at least 5 years – maybe never. I agree with other commenters about the perceived dangers of riding. I also agree with those who note that the number of office workers (including many downtown government employees who were regular transit riders) have shifted to telecommuting and will likely not return to 5 days per week in the office.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Despite my co-workers being told how great and productive we are at working from home we are being forced to start going back to the office next year. Security concerns have been brought up by many, but management doesn’t care as they want rear-ends in the offices.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I’ve been reading about the Spanish Flu of 1918-1924. It too vastly reduced transit ridership and over-promoted that newfangled automobile thingy, but that was over the first 3 years; by 1921-22 transit usage was back to 1918 levels.

The point was, people generally have never used public transit because of its convenience or environmental goodness, they use it because all the alternatives are so much worse – car congestion and gridlock, biking in cold rainy weather, walking is too far, etc.

I also remember a brief period when TriMet and various local police agencies temporarily (for about a month) engaged in heavy-handed policing and fare inspections not only of light rail but also city buses, even in the suburbs, with fines and arrests left and right (it must have been around 2008 or so). The public drunkenness, fighting, drug dealing, and general scofflawing on the buses and MAX not only dropped off dramatically, but then stayed at a very low level for years.

Watts
Guest
Watts

The public drunkenness, fighting, drug dealing, and general scofflawing on the buses and MAX not only dropped off dramatically, but then stayed at a very low level for years.

I don’t know if a month would be enough at this moment in time, but resetting the expectations of acceptable behavior on public transportation will be a necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) component of rebuilding ridership.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

Hi David, may I recommend that you include Virginia Woolf in your deep dive into early 20thC history? We are so living in a Mrs Dalloway moment. Clarissa has just recovered from the Spanish Flu, WWI is over, and damn it, she’s gonna have a party. She is going to will her world into normalcy.

Regarding policing, I wonder if there is a parallel with comment moderation. My impression, as a comment moderator over the past half year, is that BP is getting fewer comments that have to be rejected or edited. It’s as if people know that certain types of comments will be rejected and they no longer bother to try. So it’s not as much work as it was a while back.

soren
Guest
soren

Spanish Flu

The 1918 influenza pandemic was first detected in the USA.

Watts
Guest
Watts

And “influenza” is the name of the bacteria originally thought to cause the flu.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I hope they use the $$ to get started on a tunnel from the Rose garden west under the river and downtown! Make the MAX fast and reliable and ridership will soar. It is just too slow.