How TriMet’s big service changes would impact Portland’s largest employer

Photo of TriMet bus with few passengers.
TriMet Line 61 bus from Beaverton arrives at first stop on Marquam Hill with few passengers on Monday morning. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/BikePortland)

Last week, TriMet announced its proposed 2023-24 bus service changes. Most of this year’s service changes target lines west of the Willamette River, with the bulk of those running through southwest Portland, particularly Hillsdale and the Marquam Hill campus of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and VA Hospital. Taken together the changes amount to a bold rethinking of area bus service.

The proposal arrives on the heels of TriMet’s Revised Forward Together Service Concept for reshaping regional bus service that, “will guide TriMet’s annual service improvements over the next 3-6 years.” Forward Together was done in partnership with Jarrett Walker + Associates, a Portland-based transit consulting company with national and international clients.

One of the most decisive changes proposed by the Service Concept is the discontinuation of five express lines from various points in the city to the Marquam Hill campus. Affected lines originate in Beaverton, Tigard, Barbur Blvd, the Hollywood transit center and Goose Hollow, and currently run with few stops between those points and the hill.

The Forward Together Summary by Area explains the reasoning behind this move to restructure access to Portland’s largest employer:

We received many comments that asked us to restore the existing structure of the 60s Marquam Hill expresses. In designing the pattern of services shown in the Service Concept, we were focused on making Marquam Hill easier to access for everyone, not just 9-to-5 workers.

Because the 60s expresses run only at rush hour, on weekdays, they are not relevant to a great portion of the Hill’s visitors and workers, who need to arrive at all times of the day. The Hill workers for whom rush hour services are most relevant are also more likely to be office and administrative workers, the same workers for whom working from home has persisted the longest, and is most likely to continue in some form in the future.

Ultimately, with the Service Concept’s twin goals to build ridership and improve equity, we cannot afford to offer a separate set of services that are useful for only a portion of the many people who need to travel to Marquam Hill. We believe that making Marquam Hill easily reachable all day long from the southwest part of the region is an important step in building ridership and enhacing access to this critical destination for people whose travel patterns do not neatly align with the traditional rush hour. For these reasons, we continue to suggest these changes to Marquam Hill services.

I quote at length from these paragraphs to give an idea of the quality of the work that has gone into the new Service Concept. It is thoughtful, well-researched and responsive to feedback.

On left is the current TriMet route map for Marquam Hill. On right is the proposed Forward together restructuring. (Source: TriMet)

The reconfiguration also reroutes Lines 56 and 43 through Hillsdale to Marquam Hill. Thus, Hillsdale, with its new Rose Lanes, becomes a key transfer point between buses continuing to downtown and the Hill-bound 43 and 56. This configuration achieves 15-minute service from Hillsdale to the hospitals “so that people coming from the southwest can reach the hill all day without having to go all the way downtown to transfer to Line 8.”

I reached out to Michael Harrison, OHSU’s director of local government and neighborhood relations, for comment about the OHSU-related changes. He replied that,

“Over the years, bus service to Marquam Hill has been particularly helpful to our on-campus employees who work a typical day schedule. This system has not always served our patients or employees who work early and swing shifts quite as well. Since COVID, many of our typical ‘office’ employees have shifted to telecommuting. While we are still analyzing the sweeping changes TriMet has proposed, we definitely agree with the overall approach they are taking to improving the equity and efficiency of the system.”

Three lines will serve Marquam Hill under the Forward Together plan. (Source: TriMet)

A visit to the VA hospital yesterday morning during rush hour—the first stop for several 60s-line buses —confirmed that those buses are arriving on the hill with only two or three passengers on board. Pre-covid, buses on the hill could be seen full of passengers. Forward Together’s bold redesign appears to be warranted.

Although I have focused on Hillsdale and Marquam Hill, this year’s service changes will modify twenty-one lines. So there is a lot I didn’t cover, and there is still much change to come over the remaining 2-5 years of the plan.

For readers who want to learn more, the Revised Service Concept by Area provides maps and a description and discussion of changes to thirty-one areas in the regional network, as well as the big ideas guiding the project. It also provides information about implementation and the possible effect of the bus operator shortage on roll-out.

TriMet will be holding 12 in-person and virtual events between January 14 and February 4 to answer questions and share information about the service changes, and also to gather feedback about a possible fare increase.

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blumdrew
blumdrew
26 days ago

Frustrating that TriMet is cutting the bus I take to work (the 94) to no longer serve Portland (from Sherwood). The 94 gets overall more ridership on the Portland – Tigard leg than the Sherwood – Tigard leg where it operates essentially as an pseudo express version of the 12.

Cutting this bus makes my to work commute 7 minutes longer, and my from work commute 3ish minutes longer. I can take the 12 instead, but it is much slower (especially during busier times) and having an extra 100 to 200 daily passengers spread out over the same number of 12 buses is going to be annoying (especially since I take my bike, so rack space is always a bit nerve wracking). At least one of my friends who commutes from Tigard into Portland will have to transfer in Tigard to take the 94 to 12 (which I would suspect is not unique).

Also – Sherwood is already barely connected to the rest of the TriMet network, with the 94 being the only regular bus they get. A small bump in frequency is good, but I’m not sure the loss of connectivity to Portland proper is really worth it – I’d love to hear from someone who lives in Sherwood on this.

Chris I
Chris I
26 days ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Out of curiosity, how many passengers were typically on the 94 runs with you? Had ridership changed much in the last year?

Fred
Fred
25 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

When I took the 94 before the pandemic, it was always pretty full. If you needed to get to Barbur TC or beyond, that was the bus to take b/c once you cleared the downtown transit mall, it was fast fast fast.

I wonder if telework has reduced the number of riders on the 94. Seemed to be mostly downtown office workers.

blumdrew
blumdrew
25 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

Somewhere between 10 and 15 usually, so not full by any means but there are always a handful of people. I get a fairly early bus (7:26 from 5th and Madison), so I imagine I’m not on the peak hour service usually

Jimbo
Jimbo
26 days ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I am also a bit sad about 94 being cut from downtown. I commute from Tigard to Hillsboro, but will occasionally take the bus downtown on weekends.

I remember this was talked about on the Tigard Transportation Advisory Committee and apparently ridership for the 94 was way down post pandemic. Like Chris, I would like to know if you have been riding lately and what ridership looks like now.

With the SW Corridor stalled and 94 getting cut, I feel like Tigard is more disconnected than ever before. With public transit ridership down across the board (but recovering!), I worry that the pandemic has set us way back. On top of this with the car shortage being driven mostly by way higher demand for autos than the industry anticipated, I think cars have never before had such a strong foothold in the USA.

blumdrew
blumdrew
25 days ago
Reply to  Jimbo

Yeah usually 10 to 15 other people on both my morning and afternoon bus. When I miss the 94 in the afternoon and end up on the 12, I’d say the 12 is usually more crowded for whatever that’s worth. I think the 99W corridor is one of the most important regional transportation corridors, so it’s a shame to see any service be cut from it

Chris I
Chris I
26 days ago

I think Trimet is making the right moves, given the limited operator hours they have. The rush-hour only, commuter focused services have not seen ridership recover. It seems that these workers have either gone remote or found alternative transportation methods. For Pill Hill, the Tram has changed the equation. For many from the east side, taking frequent transit or cycling to the south waterfront and taking the tram up is a better option than trying to catch an express bus that has very limited runs.

The biggest impact will be to riders coming from the west side, but hopefully shifting the 43 up to the hill from Corbett will mitigate this somewhat.

Christopher of Portland
Christopher of Portland
26 days ago

The 8 is already often packed on the way down the hill. As a fan of a bus that isn’t at standing room only, I’m not a fan of the removal of the express lines. The tram is nice but walking to it then walking all the way to the Tilikum to catch a different crowded bus is quite a time investment compared to catching a bus with several stops on campus.

Fred
Fred
25 days ago

That’s a good point, Lisa, about the increased importance of the rose lanes in Hillsdale. I hope you will agree that they are making a huge difference for every transit rider who goes thru Hillsdale. I have certainly experienced it, and continue to experience it.

Paul
Paul
25 days ago

Trimet keeps complaining about their operator shortage, but I have several friends who have applied to be bus drivers but weren’t even given interviews. They have squeaky clean records and one even drove bus for a number of years in another city. They’ve had no luck trying to reapply or call/email to see what’s up. Apparently the bus driver shortage isn’t that bad (I type this while waiting another 15 minutes for a bus that was “cancelled due to operator shortage ”). What gives?

Not a fan
Not a fan
24 days ago

I ride the 66. I’m irked. I was never one of the people who worked from home. My job requires that I’m there in person and remained that way through the entire quarantine. I’m happy with the rush hour/commute time service. It makes me have to drive to work which is the antithesis of public transportation. I hate the Tulikum bridge bus stop…poorest design for keeping anyone out of the elements on a wind tunnel of a bridge. So I’m not in favor of the proposal and I’m heartsick about it.

rick
rick
24 days ago
Reply to  Not a fan

How about a transfer to bus 8?