TriMet’s long-awaited Frequent Express (FX) line on SE Division Street is finally here. On Saturday, the transit agency celebrated the occasion with multiple events along the bus line, and eager transit lovers showed up in droves to ride the new “bendy buses” and mark the historic opening.
We took a more in-depth look at the new bus service recently, but I’ll outline a few highlights of the buses themselves.
You’ll notice the first one right away: the buses just look really cool. They’re 60-feet long and articulated (or “bendy”), with an accordion extender in the middle so they can fit more passengers. Articulated buses aren’t new by any means – they were included in TriMet’s fleet in the ’90s – but the Division FX buses’ bright green color gives them a modern, sleek look. The other cool thing about the bus design is that each bus has three sets of doors, which TriMet hopes will reduce delays at the bus stops because people will be able to get in and out quicker.
At the celebration on Saturday, people with bikes were very eager to test out the FX line’s internal bike racks, which replace the front racks that you’ll see on other TriMet buses. There are two racks on the ground of each bus for people to store their bikes, and there’s no major lifting required to get them into place. Though I think the bus drivers may be a little stricter in the future, operators let us take more than two bikes on the bus on Saturday (it was a special occasion!), which was a good way to test out how crowded these vehicles can get. The verdict? Even with three or four bikes, there was plenty of room to get around. (Check out our how-to guide for some tips for bringing your bike on the new Division buses.)
The other big selling point of the FX bus system is its speed and frequency. The new bus stops along the line were built to speed up passenger loading times, and the buses are set to run every 12 minutes as opposed to the 15 minute headways on other popular TriMet routes. On Saturday, however, it seemed like they were figuring some kinks out. The buses took a bit longer than 12 minutes to show up, and there were delays at the stops. An operator on the bus line I was on acknowledged the problems, saying “we’ll get better the more we do it!” which garnered a round of applause from passengers, most of whom were in no hurry and just came to enjoy the event.
One problem that might be out of TriMet control: the rail crossings in inner southeast that intersect with the new bus line. At least one bus was blocked by a freight train on Saturday, which really dampens the whole “express” idea of the bus service. The city is making some moves to try to fix this problem, but it seems like it will present some unfortunate impediments for the foreseeable future.
Beyond getting to check out the new infrastructure, my main takeaway from Saturday’s event was how cool it is that so many people are willing to come out to celebrate a new bus line. And with all the stops TriMet pulled out, it’s clear they’re aware they have some transportation nerds in their audience. (Those who were willing to travel to Gresham had the chance to get a Division FX bus LEGO set – need I say more?)
The gathering at Division and 82nd Ave featured an Asian food market and a traditional Japanese drumming show from Portland Taiko, a Portland Chinese Women’s Group fashion show and a performance from Mexican youth dance group Ballet Paplotl, among other acts intended to showcase east Portland’s cultural diversity. I think this was a perfect encapsulation of how good public transit can bring communities together and truly connect people from all over the city.
It will be interesting to see how people respond to the new FX service. Overall TriMet ridership is just starting to recover from the big dip seen during the pandemic, but the agency has fallen on more hard times with its operator shortage. With luck (and hard work on TriMet’s part), this new line can herald a public transit renaissance in Portland.