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TriMet needs fresher fleet

My View • Agency should update buses and boost capacity
by: JIM CLARK, Some of TriMet’s buses are 18 years old.
For one reader, that’s a signal that the transit agency should be investing in newer, cleaner, higher-capacity vehicles.

As described in the Tribune’s sustainable news briefs, the Portland-Multnomah County Sustainable Development Commission wants to establish diesel standards for publicly financed construction projects (Group comes down on diesel emissions, March 4). What is surprising is that there is no attention given to the state of TriMet’s almost purely diesel bus fleet — more than 600 fixed-route buses on the road each day, some of which are 18 years old. While most transit agencies are quickly reinvesting dollars in new, modern buses that are cleaner and in many cases higher-capacity, TriMet is literally standing on the sidelines while its bus fleet gets older. TriMet’s plan to replace older buses is not keeping up with the bus fleet demands — as the demand for transit increases, TriMet is decreasing capacity, experiencing more maintenance issues (which causes missed runs and overcrowding) — and is directly encouraging people to get back in their cars. While King County (Seattle) has made a significant investment in more than 250 hybrid-electric articulated buses on the road today, with orders for an additional 500 hybrid buses in the near future, TriMet has had a mere two such buses “in testing” for several years. Memo to TriMet: The test is over; start buying them. Further, TriMet’s bus replacement plan calls for only small quantities of buses beginning in more than one year, of more diesel buses, and absolutely no plan to increase service despite an increasing demand for public transit service. Metro, the lead agency for transportation funding, is collaborating with TriMet in refusing to allocate regional transit dollars toward new buses, instead focusing efforts on a select few light-rail lines. While light rail is a good investment, it has resulted in disinvestment in transit service to those who don’t live near a planned light-rail line. It also should be noted that while King County Metro Transit increased bus ridership 7 percent last year (not including bus service in Snohomish and Pierce counties or regional Sound Transit service), despite operating only bus service, TriMet’s tricounty bus ridership has decreased two years in a row. It’s time for Metro and TriMet to start investing in bus service. A good start is to invest in environmentally friendly hybrid-electric buses and high-capacity articulated buses, as well as to improve overall service, increase frequencies and start new bus routes, making riding the bus a pleasant way to get to work. Erik Halstead is a frequent TriMet bus rider between his home in Southwest Portland and downtown, where he works as a customer-service representative for a Portland-based utility company.