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TriMet’s Per Capita Ridership Declines as Billions are Spent on Light Rail

Monday, September 29, 2014


Photo Credit: transitpeople via Compfight cc

TriMet’s per capita ridership has been declining over the last several years, while the region continues to invest billions of dollars in new light rail projects.

But during the period from 2009 to 2013, per capita use of TriMet transit systems has declined, according to an analysis by GoLocalPDX.

While the actual number of TriMet riders has increased, the rate of growth in ridership has not kept pace with the growth in the region’s population.

In 2009, the average person in the TriMet service area took 48.68 rides per year. By 2013, that number had fallen to 46.18 rides per person per year, according to population data from TriMet’s 2015 budget and TriMet’s ridership report.

At the same time, some $2 billion has been invested in new light rail systems.

TriMet’s soon-to-be-completed Orange Line, due to open in 2015, will eventually cost some $1.49 billion. That project came on the heels of TriMet’s Green Line from Portland State University to Clackamas Town Center, which cost $575 million.

National trend in transit ridership declines

The decline in ridership has largely been blamed on the recession.

“The whole country was down in ridership,” said Art Gazzetti, vice president of policy at the American Transportation Association in Washington, D.C., concerning the effects of the recession on transit ridership nationwide.

“TriMet has done remarkably well at minimizing ridership losses given dramatic cuts to its budget,” said Jarrett Walker, a public transit consultant based in Portland.

In spite of a general economic upswing in the last two years, the absolute number of rides on the TriMet transit system decreased 0.06 percent from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014, according to performance statistics released by TriMet.

Despite the decline, TriMet and regional leaders are studying two new possible light rail corridors. One area under consideration for light rail or a bus rapid-transit system is in Southwest Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. The other is along Southeast Powell Boulevard and Division Street from Portland to Gresham. If both lines were built out as light rail it could cost over $2.5 billion.

Some still see light rail as a good investment

Not everyone sees the investment in rail as a bad thing. Gazzetti points to the fact that light rail systems are being built by cities around the country, not just in Portland. In fact, Gazzetti says many cities are following Portland’s example.

Once light rail infrastructure is constructed, it costs considerably less per rider to operate than a bus, because the per-vehicle capacity is much greater. In 2013, each bus ride cost TriMet $4.02 and each light rail ride cost TriMet $2.58.

“We are providing a transit network,” noted Mary Fetsch, a TriMet spokeswoman. “Our most regular riders, somewhere in the range of 75 percent, ride both bus and MAX to complete their trip.”

Walker agreed that rail and bus service work together, and that one is not necessarily superior to the other.

Homepage Photo Credit: ColbyAley via Compfight cc


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