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It’s time for TriMet to admit the westside commuter rail line was a mistake, cut its losses and abandon the line.


The first step should be for TriMet’s board of directors to rescind its approval for TriMet to bid on acquiring more cars for the Westside Express Service (WES) train, which runs a 14.7-mile limited schedule between Wilsonville and Beaverton.

On May 25, after just six minutes of consideration, the TriMet board voted unanimously to approve bidding on the purchase of two used Budd RDC passenger diesel rail cars from the Dallas Area Rapid Transit for a total of up to $1.5 million. An additional $550,000 is expected to be needed for retrofit work to make the cars service-ready.

“We need to plan for ridership growth,” TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch told The Oregonian.

“Staff believes that these cars would meet the expected demands for the growing WES service for at least the next 10 years ...” Neil McFarlane, TriMet’s general manager, relayed to his board in a May 25 memo.

Oh sure, plan for massive ridership growth.

In early 2009, TriMet predicted WES would have 2,400 daily riders its first year of operations and 3,000 by 2020.

But things started to go south quickly. WES began operating in February 2009. By December 2009, weekday boardings averaged 1,140. By June 2010, the last month of fiscal 2010, weekday boardings for the year averaged 1,200, less than half the number TriMet had predicted.

Then-TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen said that it was too early to say whether the agency’s heavy-rail gambit was a mistake.

He was wrong.

In fiscal year 2015, weekday boardings averaged just 1,869. Equally disturbing, operating costs per boarding on WES were stubbornly high at $13.50, versus $2.83 on buses and $2.14 on MAX.

Operating cost per boarding ride measures the direct cost of providing each ride. Operating costs are expenses for labor, energy and expendable supplies to provide transit service and to maintain vehicles and plant facilities. It does not include general and administrative costs, interest or depreciation.

Here we are in 2016 and the situation is still appalling.

As of April, the most recent month for which I was able to obtain data from TriMet, average daily boardings in fiscal year 2016 are just 1,779. Operating costs per boarding ride are also still substantially imbalanced, at $2.67 for buses, $2.01 for MAX and $12.56 for WES.

The WES figure translates into a fare recovery ratio of operating costs of just 8.1 percent.

And these figures don’t even take into account the $161.2 million spent to build WES.

Even if WES reaches 3,000 average daily boardings, operating costs per boarding ride will remain much higher than for buses and MAX.

The fact is, WES is a train wreck. It’s time to shut it down.

Bill MacKenzie is a former communications manager for a major

technology company. He blogs on public policy issues at www.thinkingoregon.org

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