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Transit Investment Priorities (TIP)

We're here to make the Portland area a better place to live by providing transit service that is safe, dependable and easy to use. To this end, our goals in Fiscal Year 2014 are: 1. Continue focusing on rider needs, 2. Enhance financial stability, and 3. Build partnerships for growth.

What is the TIP? TriMet's Transit Investment Priorities (TIP) process is our guide for investments in bus and rail service, capital projects and customer information, as well as strategies to improve financial stability and build partnerships over the next five years. We develop the TIP with input from our jurisdictional and community partners, riders and the general public. The TIP addresses short-term issues as well as our region's long-term transportation and livability goals.

How is it used? The TIP process helps local governments leverage our investments in transit service with their own investments in infrastructure (such as sidewalks and safe street crossings), and supports their visions for development.  It also helps portray TriMet’s planning process and future plans so that local governments, social service providers, private developers, and private businesses can leverage the current and future service we provide. It is the basis for TriMet and its partners to improve transit service and access to that service.

Priorities for Fiscal Year 2014  (July 2013–June 2014)

In recent years, TriMet has experienced extreme budget pressures that have affected service, fares and planned investments. Now that the economy is recovering, TriMet is able to put some more service on the street, including improvements to a dozen bus lines in September 2013, but must continue to reduce growing health care and other post-employment benefit costs to allow for long-term financial stability. Below are key efforts for the current fiscal year covering July 2013-June 2014.

1. Continue focusing on rider needs

Create a culture of safety by implementing a Safety Management System.

Safety is the focus for all of our operational, planning and strategic decisions. Rather than think of it as a single priority, we are creating a "culture of safety" in all TriMet employees and all TriMet efforts.

To ensure that bus operators are in a position to perform their jobs safely, TriMet and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, which represents TriMet operators, agreed on a new hours of service policy in early February 2013. The policy was fully implemented in June 2013.  In addition, we continue annual safety-focused training for all operators and supervisors.

TriMet continues to implement a Safety Management System, which requires self-examination and promotes continuous safety improvements by using formal methods for predicting hazards, gathering feedback from employees and collecting meaningful data. The information will be analyzed and assessed to identify and control the safety risks. Such a system will allow TriMet to determine the need for further actions by sharing knowledge and information. Ultimately, it will continue to lead toward the culture of safety we envision.

Prioritize restoration of 15-minute or better service on Frequent Service Bus and MAX lines.

Because they benefit the most riders (carrying 75 percent of weekly trips), Frequent Service bus lines and MAX are a high priority when funding is available to restore service. Resources reinvested into Frequent Service will first be put toward improving reliability and overcrowding on these lines, while taking into account ridership and transit equity considerations (many of the reliability improvements for September 2013 were on Frequent Service bus lines). In October 2013, TriMet’s Board of Directors approved restoration of $3.1 million worth of service on 10 of the 12 Frequent Service bus lines during mid-day hours on weekdays, taking effect in March 2014. Currently, two of the 12 Frequent Service lines, Lines 4 and 72, meet the 15-minute weekday mid-day standards. The $3.1 million will also restore Frequent Service on Line 4-Division/Fessenden on weekday evenings and all day on Saturdays. As TriMet continues to work toward achieving financial stability (see section 2 below), it may still be a number of years before funding is available to fully restore Frequent Service on bus and MAX lines and substantially expand service beyond that. Each year’s balance of service restoration will include public input and technical analysis regarding ridership, equity and support of regional and local aspirations through our annual service plans.

Expand service to relieve crowding and improve service reliability and comfort.

TriMet is always looking for ways to improve the reliability and comfort of existing bus and rail service. As such, every year or more often we are improving service efficiency and rider comfort by making small adjustments to schedules and routes. The improvements implemented as of September 2013 include increased frequency during weekends on the Line 4-Division/Fessenden due to very high demand and increased evening frequency during weekends on the Line 12-Sandy/Barbur to relieve overcrowding.

Ridership jumped anywhere from 28 to 39 percent on certain lines based on relatively small service improvements in Fall 2012. Here are some highlights of how these new connections increased weekday ridership while saving operating costs, allowing more funds to be reinvested in more and better service:

  • Line 9-Powell buses now run more frequently in East County east of SE 102nd Avenue to Gresham. Ridership in that area has increased 29 percent.
  • Line 87-Airport Way/181st, a long-anticipated cross-town line on NE 181st/SE 182nd Avenue, was created by combining Lines 82 and 87. Ridership has increased 28 percent on that stretch.
  • Mid-day buses on Line 87 run along NE Airport Way for the first time, improving access to jobs including flextime options. Ridership there is up 39 percent.
  • Line 70-12th/NE 33rd Ave, a new cross-town line linking Southeast and Northeast Portland neighborhoods, was created by combining Lines 70 and 73. Ridership on NE 33rd Avenue increased 34 percent.

Expand bus service to enhance local community connections.

After four years of having to trim service, including two years of large cuts in 2009 and 2010 due to extreme budget pressures, there are no service cuts or fare increases in the FY2014 budget. In fact, modest improvements on a number of bus lines effective in September 2013 are providing some much needed relief to our riders. We are also reconfiguring service in a number of places to make our bus lines more efficient and enhance local community connections. The following are noteworthy changes that took effect September 1, 2013:

  • Line 47-Baseline/Evergreen now provides a direct connection to PCC’s Rock Creek campus, instead of running to Sunset Transit Center. The same change also means more frequent buses between Orenco/NW 231st Ave MAX station and neighborhoods north of Highway 26 and PCC Rock Creek on weekdays. This is a first step of implementation of the Westside Service Enhancement Plan.
  • Line 48-Cornell now runs approximately every 15 minutes during the weekday morning and afternoon peak periods between Sunset Transit Center and NW Stucki Avenue. This improvement will better serve Cedar Mill, Sunset HS, Tansabourne and Kaiser Perrmanente’s new westside medical center. This is also a first step of implementation of the Westside Service Enhancement Plan.
  • Line 93-Tigard/Sherwood (a newly designated line) will serve all stops between Sherwood and the Tigard Transit Center seven days a week.
  • Line 94-Pacific Hwy/Sherwood will continue to serve Sherwood, Main Street in Tigard, Downtown Portland and all the areas in between along Pacific Hwy/Barbur Blvd. It will provide service from approximately 5:45 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in both directions between Downtown Portland and Sherwood on weekdays.

As part of our Service Enhancement Plans (see section 3 below for more details), we will identify a vision for service restructuring and expansion to improve local connections. In 2012, the process focused on the Westside. As of Fall 2013, we have released a vision for the Westside and are working with stakeholders on the Eastside and Southwest over the next year to develop visions for those parts of the region, with the work in Southeast to begin in 2014 and the North/Central to follow in subsequent years. The Westside vision includes the expectation of close to a doubling of service in the future, on Frequent Service, existing and new lines. Given projected population and employment growth, congestion, climate change challenges, regional and local demands for mobility, and the need to support economic development throughout the region, we expect the visions for other areas will include substantial increases in service in the future as well.

Continue efficient, safe and timely construction on Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail.

Construction on the 7.3-mile Portland Milwaukie Light Rail Project celebrated its 50 percent completion milestone in July 2013. The new MAX line will connect Downtown Portland and Portland State University through South Waterfront to Southeast Portland, Milwaukie and North Clackamas County. The project is expected to create up to 14,500 jobs and generate up to $573 million in income through its opening in September 2015. Our emphasis will be on sound management to continue completing the project safely, on time and on budget.

Increase TriMet presence on the system through a focus on fare inspection.

Over the last two years, we have strengthened our focus on fare enforcement by adding more staff dedicated to fare inspection on the system. TriMet’s FY2013 budget provided for 10 additional staff on top of the six new supervisors hired in FY2012 exclusively for enforcing fares and the TriMet Code. This is part of a policy shift from education (i.e., focus on issuing warnings) to enforcement (i.e., focus on issuing citations, even for first-time violations, and exclusions for repeat offenders). In the first year of the focus on enforcement, citations rose 84 percent and warnings dropped 55 percent, as a result of this policy shift and staff investment.

Continue making customer information improvements.

We have essentially completed the task of deploying new two-sided bus stop signs, recognizable by their unique shape and distinctive blue poles. The signs include Stop ID numbers and stop-specific Quick Response (QR) codes for use with our popular TransitTracker real-time arrival information system. We expect to have Stop IDs posted at all of our bus stops by the end of 2013.

Digital information displays will be added to all of our most active Eastside and Westside MAX station platforms over the next three years. This will enhance our ability to provide service and safety alerts to riders and further increase access to TransitTracker real-time arrival information.

To help riders plan their trips, a new multi-modal Online Trip Planner (OTP) was launched in August 2012. It can plan transit, bike and pedestrian trips (and combinations of those modes), and will eventually include enhanced accessibility features, such as information about wheelchair-accessible trips. The text-based version of OTP will be released in early 2014. 

2. Enhance financial stability

Increasing the share of health care costs paid for by employees and retirees and COLA reform are key to TriMet's long-term fiscal stability.

The current benefit package for active union employees and retirees, which pays nearly all costs, is unsustainable. In 2009, our Board of Directors adopted a policy to bring the agency’s health care and other post-employment benefit costs in line with a sustainable financial forecast. With this direction, TriMet proposed a labor contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 that was more financially sustainable. In July 2012, TriMet’s Last Best Offer was selected in binding arbitration and took effect through its expiration in November 2012. After a challenge by the ATU, the Employee Relations Board ultimately upheld most elements of the decision in July 2013.

While this arbitration result relieves the pressure for additional budget cuts this fiscal year, TriMet still faces the fundamental budget challenge of large and increasing deficits starting in just a few years. The largest contributors to the budget deficits are costs of active and retiree health care benefits and annual wage increases that exceed inflation for represented employees. Between 1993 and 2013 active and retiree health care costs increased 599 percent, while underlying payroll tax revenues (revenue excluding rate increases) grew just 167 percent. TriMet has taken many actions to correct the unsustainable path we are on, particularly through changes to non-union benefits. However, TriMet has not fully addressed growing active and retiree health care costs or cost of living increases (COLAs). If unchecked, the growth of these costs would lead to more service cuts and fare increases in just a few years. TriMet continues to work with the union to negotiate a benefits package that is in line with the market and peer agencies, and therefore includes more contributions from employees and retirees.

Increase employee productivity through improved attendance.

In addition to unsustainable benefits costs, another major cost is repeated low attendance among a relatively small percentage of union employees, forcing costly staffing substitutions to keep buses and trains running. To address this problem, we are increasing management attention and supervisory support for operators who are experiencing attendance problems. This will also help increase the productivity of all employees by reducing the burden resulting from others’ absences.

Increase fare system efficiency by moving to a "flat fare" structure and preparing for electronic fares.

In September 2012, we switched to a "flat fare" system (no fare zones), which made it simpler and easier for riders to understand and get around. This change is helping to speed up boarding and reduce travel time for riders, while reducing the fare collection burden on operators so they can focus on safe and comfortable vehicle operation.

The flat fare system also makes it easier to switch to a more efficient and convenient electronic fare collection system (or “e-fare”) in the future. This summer, TriMet sent out requests for proposals from contractors who could provide elements of the e-fare system. By September 2015, when the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project opens, employee testing is expected to be underway. In 2016, we hope to move to limited customer testing and then launch e-fare system-wide in 2017.

As a first step towards an electronic fare system, TriMet has worked with local mobile-payment provider GlobeSherpa to develop the nation’s first mobile ticketing system that lets riders purchase and use fares instantly on their smartphones for the entire transit system. Of course, smartphones are only one possible method of electronic payment, but it is a good way to test the potential of such a system. Within the first two months after launch, the free app had been downloaded over 43,000 times, and over 235,000 mobile tickets and passes had been sold.

Improve operating efficiency by meeting maintenance and replacement needs.

Due to the recession, we deferred bus replacements over several years, which helped avoid cuts in service. While this was a necessary choice, it had become a long-term threat to our transit system, as many of these buses have become too unreliable and expensive to maintain. They are also uncomfortable for our riders and operators and could start to pose safety issues if not replaced in the near future. This is still a serious issue for the next several years until the accelerated replacement strategy approved by TriMet’s Board is completed and the average fleet age returns to the desired level.

Using money from grants and TriMet funds, we replaced 55 of our oldest 40-foot buses in 2012, with 70 more hitting the streets during the summer and fall of 2013 and about 40 more each year after that. The new buses are low-floor buses that are easier to board for all riders (especially those with mobility devices) compared to our older fleet, and also feature air conditioning, automatic stop announcements, easy-to-clean vinyl seats and large windows. By 2017, we will have replaced all of the remaining high-floor buses in the fleet (those with steps at the door).

The new buses are also more efficient and have much lower emissions. Four of the new buses we received in 2012 are hybrid-electric vehicles, which we are testing for performance, maintenance needs and fuel efficiency. In partnership with BAE Systems, we've also developed four experimental "super hybrid" buses with technology similar to the Chevy Volt, which are expected to be delivered in 2015.

3. Build partnerships for transit growth

Engage customers and constituents through a series of Service Enhancement Plans.

Starting in 2012, we began taking a fresh look at how transit service and access to transit can be improved throughout the region. By talking with our customers and constituents about service needs, improvements and funding, we can expand service to be more responsive to the region’s needs, become more efficient, streamline service and engage in continuous improvement. As such, our Service Enhancement Plans directly advance our goal to develop more and better service for the region to support economic development and improve access to jobs, education and other everyday needs.

The first in a series of these planning efforts focused on Beaverton, Hillsboro, Cornelius, Forest Grove and Washington County, including Aloha/Reedville, Bethany, Rock Creek, Cedar Mill and Cedar Hills. This Westside Service Enhancement Planning process has resulted in a new service vision that will inform the TIP process. The Westside Service Enhancement vision identifies areas for future service and opportunities to partner with jurisdictions and the private sector for access to transit improvements including biking and walking to bus lines and MAX. The result was a vision of almost doubling of service currently provided in the area. It will take years to implement this, as resources are available, but this gives us a clear guide for how to improve service each year.

The first service improvements implementing this vision were making a single continuous bus line on Cornell Rd (instead of two discontinuous lines) in FY2013 and connecting expanding high tech employment areas, residential areas and PCC Rock Creek with Line 47 and increasing frequencies on Line 48 to meet peak period needs in FY2014. This service change went into effect in September 2013.

In 2013-2014, we are focusing on the Eastside, including East Portland and cities of East Multnomah County, as well as the Southwest, including Southwest Portland and the cities of Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood, King City, Durham, Lake Oswego and West Linn. Then in 2014 we will begin the process for the Southeast part of the TriMet district, including the service plan for the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project opening, followed by Central and North Portland.

Key local issues on the Eastside include increasing service overall, identifying more north-south transit service and building on the Powell-Division corridor planning effort. While equity is always a key consideration in TriMet’s planning, it is a particularly important consideration on the Eastside. In Southwest, key issues include increasing overall service and improving connectivity between cities with local service, while preparing to leverage the potential development of high-capacity transit through the Southwest Corridor planning effort.

Continue leveraging jurisdictional partnerships to improve access to transit.

We are working collaboratively with our regional partners on the Pedestrian Network Analysis Project, which developed an objective, data-driven system to prioritize places around the region where sidewalk and crosswalk investments will provide safer and more comfortable access to transit. Here are some recent “shared wins” in improving access to transit:

  • The City of Portland is building more than six miles of sidewalks in East Portland in 2012 and 2013, including along SE Division between 148th and 174th and on Stark Street between 122nd and 162nd. The City's East Portland Active Transportation to Transit grant includes bike access and parking, and sidewalk segments along SE Division between 100th and 148th to be completed through the 2014-2015 Regional Flex Funds Allocation from Metro. Also on Division, the City of Gresham is building a “Complete Street” path/sidewalk project. These combined improvements should result in continuous sidewalk coverage along Division from the Willamette River to Downtown Gresham, for the first time ever.
  • Using its Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program (MSTIP), Washington County has committed to building sidewalks and improving crosswalks that will help people walk to transit on Cornell Road, Farmington Road, Walker Road, Walnut Street, Baseline Road, Farmington Road, the Pacific Highway/Gaarde Street/McDonald Street intersection, and 198th.
  • Funded through ODOT Flexible Funds, Multnomah County’s Arata Road Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements Project includes pedestrian access to transit.
  • ODOT and the City of Portland are improving SW Kelly Avenue between 1st Avenue and the Ross Island Bridge for pedestrian safety and access to transit, including bus stop improvements and pedestrian/bike and lane reconfigurations for safety.
  • TriMet has partnered with ODOT, cities, and counties to secure some $11.5 million in future funding (FY2016-18) for transit access, safety, and operational improvements in East Portland (MTIP Regional Flexible Funds) and on three major corridors: Powell-Division, Barbur-99W, and Hwy 8-TV Hwy (STIP Enhance funds).    

Continue building new and existing partnerships for priorities identified in the region’s high-capacity transit plan.

TriMet is a partner in the Southwest Corridor planning effort led by Metro. The project partners are working together to define a set of land use, transportation and community building investments and strategies that best achieve local and regional goals and develop an action plan for local and regional agreements to build the vision.

TriMet is also a partner in the planning effort being launched for the Powell-Division corridor, which the region has decided would follow planning for the Southwest Corridor. Metro has launched the Powell-Division Transit Project, which will be looking at potential transit capital improvements in the Powell Boulevard and/or Division Street corridors. Though we must fully engage the public before any decisions are made, the corridor appears to have a strong potential for a mostly on-street version of Bus Rapid Transit taking advantage of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail transitway to avoid the worst congestion in and out of Downtown Portland and then a mix of improved transit stops/stations, queue jumps, signal priority and other improvements with buses.

The study of options for the Powell-Division corridor will be done in concert with TriMet’s Eastside Service Enhancement Plan, which will work with the public and stakeholders generally east of I-205 to create a vision for future increased transit service and identify near-term service enhancements to bus lines. At the same time, TriMet has led efforts to get more funding for sidewalk and crossing improvements on the eastside. Our intention is to create a comprehensive set of improvements over time for transit and access to transit on the Eastside.

Due to the effects of the Great Recession on payroll tax revenues, combined with uncertainty in state and federal transportation funding and unsustainable health care costs for union employees, TriMet has experienced multiple years of extreme budget pressures, resulting in repeated budget cuts, including service reductions. This funding instability comes at a time when there is increasing demand for transit service.

In developing our FY2013 budget, we framed the challenges and choices we are facing in today's difficult economic environment, while detailing how the agency is working to control its own costs. This dual task is a central focus for us for the foreseeable future and is the underlying basis for our Transit Investment Priorities.