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TriMet survey: Approval up, ridership down

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The regional transit agency's annual survey also found respondents prioritize increasing road capacity over transit improvements.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - TriMet surveys regional residents every year to determine how they view the agency's bus and MAX systems.There was good news and bad news for TriMet in the regional transit agency's most recent annual Attitude & Awareness Survey.

On the positive side, TriMet's overall job approval rating in 2016 was 80 percent. That is up 8 points since last year and the highest approval rating since 2008. Job approval from frequent or regular riders was 93 percent.

In addition, most riders, 85 percent, are satisfied with their experience on TriMet, while 91 percent of frequent and regular riders say they are satisfied.

On the other hand, ridership declined for the second year in a row, down 4 percent over 2015. While frequent and regular ridership increased one to three points, occasional and infrequent riders dropped four points each over the last year.

According to TriMet, a slight methodology change, which raised the respondent's minimum age to 18 from 16, may also be partially responsible for the decrease.

And, with transportation improvement funds in short supply, the survey found that expanding roads to increase traffic capacity and reducing were the respondents' highest priorities. They were the top priority of 49 percent of respondents. In contrast, public transportation was the number priority of only 13 percent of respondents, followed by 12 percent who picked road maintenance and repair.

The 2017 Oregon Legislature is currently working on a new statewide transportation funding package. Metro and TriMet officials have said regional voters may need to approve an additional review source to help finance the next MAX line proposed for the Southwest Corridor Project. TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane has acknowledged that it will have to fund a mix of road, transit, bike and pedestrian projects to win voter approval.

The most desired TriMet improvements included expanding service and frequency.

The telephone survey of 800 residents in the region was released on Thursday, March 23. It was conducted by Portland-based DHM Research in mid-November after the 2016 general election. It included both landlines and cell phones, and included a representative sample of residents in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, which are all served by TriMet. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

The survey found that respondents consider both bus and MAX systems to be operated safely, with ratings rising to 75 percent and 78 percent, respectively. Overall reliability ratings held steady at 76 and 82 percent, respectively.

An internal TriMet audit released in December found an increase in safety rule violations, however. Agency managers have promised to make improvements.

The overall approval rating for the MAX system was 82 percent, up two points over last year, with riders giving a higher rating of 88 percent. The overall bus approval rating was 76 percent, up two points over last year, with riders giving a higher approval of 82 percent.

The survey found riders use TriMet most often for recreation or to commute to work. The vast majority — 77 percent — are choice riders. They have a car available or choose not to own a car because they prefer to ride transit. This figure has been steady over the past two years, TriMet says.

While frequent and regular ridership increased one to three points, occasional and infrequent riders dropped four points each over the last year. Work trips increased 8 percentage points. Trips to the airport and recreational trips decreased 15 and 9 percentage points, respectively, the survey found.

Although most of the questions concerned TriMet, some dealt with other issues. For example, fewer than half of the respondents — 48 percent — think that the Portland Metro area is headed in the right direction, with a significant jump in those who think the region is on the wrong track. Thirty-nine percent now believe it is heading in the wrong direction. This continues a trend that began several years ago.

And, when asked the most important major problem that local government needs to address in the metro region, social issues, including homelessness and affordable housing, ranked highest. The total was 43 percent, with homelessness and hunger first at 26 percent. They were followed by transportation at 21 percent, which dropped from being in the top spot last year.

You can read the survey at tinyurl.com/l3d9exj