As TriMet's new general manager, I'm grateful for the warm welcome from so many employees, riders and partners, as well as columnist Dave Lister ("A little advice for TriMet's new boss," July 8). His column speaks to the important role transit plays in our region, and provides me with an opportunity to share some thoughts.
We do face challenging times, but every day, more than 320,000 trips are taken on our system, and that number is growing. We're seeing record numbers of riders on MAX and WES commuter rail. Our most frequent riders -- some 76 percent -- ride both buses and MAX to get to jobs, school, medical appointments and other community activities. They rely on the system, and I take seriously the responsibility to continue to deliver great service every day.
Following the tragic fatal bus accident in downtown Portland in April, I'm committed to doing everything we can to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. Work is under way to improve the safety of our bus and rail system, starting with a top-to-bottom safety review and other initiatives to follow.
Every transit district across the country has been hit hard by the recession. With lower revenues, most have cut service and raised fares. TriMet is no exception. We made tough budget decisions, and the last place we look to balance our budget is with service cuts. My goal is to first restore our frequent-service bus lines as the economy improves. These 12 lines provide 57 percent of our bus trips.
Dave Lister raised the issue of the honor system on MAX and ticket vending machine performance. Light-rail systems across the country have been built as open systems. MAX is part of the streetscape, and many stations share the platform with sidewalks. This open system adds to the vibrancy of the neighborhoods it serves.
Even with an open system, thousands of fares are checked each day. More than half of our riders have passes, so a rider may not realize that the person sitting next to him has a valid fare. And the excuse of "the machine wasn't working" doesn't hold much water. TriMet doubled the number of ticket vending machine technicians, and the machines have gone from a 75 percent performance rate to a 95 percent performance rate. Riders risk a big fine if they don't have a fare, and we'll continue to focus on fare collection.
Our transit police also check fares every day as they patrol the system, spending up to 70 percent of their time on transit vehicles and at platforms. Their presence is paying off with a significant reduction in reported incidents. And we're hearing from riders that they are seeing a difference and are more comfortable riding.
Lister also suggested that some MAX stations be eliminated to speed up the system. It's an idea worth considering, but not without challenges. Most stations see more than a thousand riders a day, so which stations should we close?
Our MAX system has now expanded to all three counties, and communities across the region are asking for more. The investment in rail has brought $1.3 billion in federal discretionary funding over the past 20 years. That money could have gone to other cities and communities across the country, but it was awarded to TriMet.
Obviously it created more transportation alternatives, more transit riders, reduced fuel consumption and eased congestion, but it also created thousands of family-wage jobs. It also helped prompt more than $8 billion in development within walking distance of the stations.
Our sixth MAX line, the Portland-Milwaukie segment, is poised to start construction in the next year. It will provide high-capacity transit to that growing corridor, where nearly 100,000 new jobs are projected. It will also create 14,500 jobs just when we need it the most.
Leaders from communities across the country and even the world come to the Portland region to see our transit system with hopes to replicate it. Our model of linking land use and transportation to build and support livable communities has made transit an integral part of what makes this a great place to live, work and recreate.
I invite Dave Lister and others to join me on my frequent bus and MAX rides to experience our great system and to share ideas on how to improve it.
Neil McFarlane is general manager of TriMet after working 19 years in the agency's capital projects division.