Staying ahead of the curve
The Portland area is one of the best places to live in the country, and it’s also one of the fastest growing. To curb congestion and keep our economy moving, we’re investing in more and better transit service.
The quality of life we enjoy here is hard to come by.
We’ve got the ocean and mountains nearby, a mild climate, great food and drink, a thriving arts scene, abundant parks, vibrant neighborhoods… not to mention a transportation system that makes it easy for everyone to get around (even without a car). It’s no wonder the Portland area is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live, work and play in the country.
But the secret’s out: a lot of other people want to live here, too.
Four more Hillsboros?!
We’re pretty lucky to call the Portland area home. But according to Metro growth projections, we’re on track to add the equivalent of four more Hillsboros to our population in the next 20 years. That’s about 400,000 people and 260,000 jobs.
Our region is growing, and as a community, we have a choice: Do we want to shape the growth, or do we want the growth to shape us? For all these new residents to add to our economy — and not just to traffic congestion — we’re continuing to invest in roads and transit.
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Congestion has a cost
Traffic jams aren’t just frustrating for drivers. The delays and related costs add up to a real drain on our economy. Here in the Portland area, freight and cars move more freely thanks to our highly used transit system. In fact, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, our region saves $150 million per year in congestion costs because of TriMet buses and trains.
But what will our commutes be like with 400,000 more people in the mix? It’s not pretty: Without new investments in transit and roads, analysts predict traffic congestion will increase three-fold over the next 25 years.
The good news is a 2014 Portland Business Alliance study found that investing in transit and roads would reduce that impact by almost half, while generating nearly $1.1 billion in economic benefits and over 8,300 more jobs per year by 2040 — a return of $2.40 for every $1 invested.
TriMet service eliminates 202,000 daily car trips. And Westside MAX can carry the equivalent of 2½ traffic lanes on the Sunset Highway.
Our communities WANT more and better transit
The demand for transit is growing. Buses and trains are full, and every community in our region is asking for more service. We hear from employers, riders, residents and civic leaders that more and better transit is key to achieving their visions for their communities.
- Earlier/later service
- Better connections
- Faster trips
- Less waiting
- Better coverage
- Access for customers
- Access for employees
- Parking remedies
- Freight mobility
- Foot traffic
- Less traffic congestion
- Clean air
- Walkable neighborhoods
- A thriving local economy
- Transportation options
New service starts now
Starting in 2016, thanks to new revenue from an increase in the employer payroll and self-employment tax rate (detailed below), everyone can get more of the transit they want and deserve. Here’s an idea of what’s possible over the next 10 years:
More Frequent Service
Frequent Service is efficient, carrying the most riders to many of our biggest destinations. That’s why our vision for future transit service calls for increased Frequent Service in the following areas:
- Burnside Street/Stark Street
- Farmington Road/185th Avenue
- NE/SE 122nd Avenue in East Portland
- NE/SE 181st & 182nd avenues in Rockwood
- Hall Road/Greenberg Road
- Cornell Road
- Beaverton–Hillsdale Highway
- Capitol Highway
- Evergreen Parkway/Laidlaw
New lines and more connections to more places
New lines and new connections are a key part of the Future of Transit vision we’ve developed with employers, riders and community partners. Here are some new lines we’re looking at:
- Sherwood–Tualatin Road
- NE/SE 162nd Avenue in East Portland and Gresham
- A connection between Gresham, Wood Village and the Troutdale Reynolds Industrial Park
These new or reconfigured bus lines will provide new access to jobs, educational opportunities and other neighborhoods. Some will be placed in areas with current service gaps, while others will serve growing areas—all will make trips easier and more convenient.
Bus Rapid Transit on Powell/Division
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines use transit lanes, smart signals and other efficiency improvements to provide faster, more reliable trips for riders. Along with Metro and the cities of Portland and Gresham, we’re currently designing the region’s first BRT line on Powell Boulevard and Division Street.
Direct MAX Red Line service to PDX from Hillsboro
Extending the MAX Red Line west to the Fair Complex/Hillsboro Airport Station would make a new one-seat connection between PDX and areas in Hillsboro with high-tech employment. The growing employment and residential areas around Orenco, Amberglen and Willow Creek would directly benefit from more MAX service through this corridor.
Community and job connectors in suburban areas
Fixed route TriMet service is often not economically viable in areas with low-income residents or entry-level jobs, because the number of residents or employees is too few or the street network is under-developed. However, even when TriMet cannot operate transit services, it has a long history of helping economic development opportunities by passing on federal funds to other organizations to operate their own shuttle services to meet the needs of residents and employees. Called Community/Job Connectors, these circulators provide “first mile” and “last mile” connections tailored to an area’s specific needs, like GroveLink and the Tualatin Shuttle do now. Other areas in the region where TriMet could pass through federal funding include the East Columbia Corridor, the Clackamas Industrial Area, and future growth areas like River Terrace in Tigard. This would serve low income residents and entry-level jobs where fixed route transit service is lacking due to the street network or population size.
How we’re paying for it
More and better transit service is needed to meet the rising demand, stay ahead of population and job growth, and help with congestion.
In order to make these improvements, we’ve increased the employer payroll tax rate by 1/10th of 1 percent (phased in over the next 10 years) to pay for new service and the capital financing to support it. The employer payroll tax funds about 59 percent of our transit operations.
Starting in January 2016, the tax rate will increase from 0.7237% to 0.8237% over the next 10 years. The new revenue will be dedicated to new service, equipment and technology to serve riders, with changes beginning to take effect in September 2016.
The 0.1% increase in the employer payroll tax will be phased in over the next 10 years. It will help us expand transit service to meet the rising demand, stay ahead of population growth and ease congestion.
How much does it cost?
TriMet is efficient and financially strong
While the Great Recession forced us all to tighten our belts — and in TriMet’s case, cut some service — we’re on solid financial footing, service is above pre-recession levels and we’re operating more efficiently than ever before.
- In 2014, we reached an agreement with our union on a new labor contract, putting us on a sustainable path forward.
- Our finances are well managed, earning triple-A ratings from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s — the highest rating among tax-based U.S. transit agencies.
- Our Strategic Financial Plan helps us keep costs in check, maintain adequate reserves and fully fund our long-term liabilities.
- We’ve cut costs over the last 10 years — achieving ongoing savings of over $65 million per year.
- Our operating cost per rider is 22% below the average of peer transit agencies. We also rank near the top in ridership per capita, rides per hour and fare recovery.
Good for Business
- For every $1 spent on roads and transit, there’s a $2.40 return for our economy.
- Transit riders in the Portland area can save up to $9,800/year on their transportation costs.
- MAX has spurred $13.2 billion in development near stations.
- Freight and cars move more freely on our roads, thanks to transit.
- Transit delivers workers to jobs and brings shoppers to stores.
Our region is growing, and we need to make smart investments now to stay ahead of growth and help curb traffic congestion. Expanding transit will connect more people with their community, while boosting our economy and preserving our quality of life.
I heard TriMet is broke.
Before we negotiated a new labor agreement and adopted a Strategic Financial Plan, we were facing the possibility of major service cuts — as well as $1 billion in unfunded employee healthcare and pension liabilities. We have successfully aligned our costs and revenues, which puts us on solid financial footing for the long term and allows us to pay as we go in the decades to come.
In recent years, TriMet had to cut service. What’s changed?
Due to the recent recession, we made the hard decision to cut service, including reducing Frequent Service, back in 2009. In 2014, we were able to begin restoring it in steps, beginning with mid-day buses, weekday evening service and weekend MAX trips.
Service hours are now above pre-recession levels, but we’re not stopping there. Bolstering our system with more and better service remains a priority, from opening the new MAX Orange Line to realizing our Future of Transit visions.
Where did the money from the last payroll tax increase go?
We’ve used money from the past payroll tax increase (2003–2013) for a number of projects:
- Expanded the MAX system with the Green and Orange lines
- Introduced WES Commuter Rail in Washington and Clackamas counties
- Expanded the Frequent Service bus network
- Increased service for the Portland Streetcar
- Increased our federally mandated LIFT paratransit service
Revenues from a new payroll tax increase will be invested in new service, equipment and technology to serve riders, to meet the growth in population and jobs in our region.
Is TriMet efficient? What’s been done to reduce costs?
Yes. In fact, with the help of a Strategic Financial Plan focused on the sustainability and predictability of our financial future, we’re operating more efficiently than ever before. We’ve cut costs over the past decade, now saving the agency over $65 million per year. We’ve also updated our labor contract to address retiree healthcare benefits for new employees, reducing our future liability by 37%.
Overall, our operating cost per rider is 22% below the average of our peer transit agencies, while we rank near the top in per capita ridership.
How is TriMet funded? How much comes from fares?
On average, fares make up about 24% of our operating revenue, while the employee payroll tax contributes 59%. Additional service revenue comes from government grants (10%) and other sources (7%).
Is this for more light rail?
Funding to operate the existing light rail system, including the new Orange Line, is already in place. TriMet’s Service Enhancement Plans — developed with extensive community input — are focused on more and better bus service, Bus Rapid Transit and innovative ideas like "community connector" shuttles. These new funds are critical to making those plans a reality.