Friday, November 05, 2010

Boosting Bus Service with Streetcar

The prototype streetcar (tram) built by United...Image via Wikipedia
Whenever a new light rail system opens, we often see bus routes being modified to service the light rail stations. While some complain about the loss of a one seat ride, others complain that preferential treatment is given to light rail.

Meanwhile Portland will soon be in a different situation as its streetcar system continues to expand.

The starter Portland Streetcar which has become famous for many reasons does not duplicate any existing bus service except for the northwest section where the existing 77 travels along a portion of the streetcar line.

However, as the streetcar system expands as it is doing right now, it will soon start to duplicate existing transit lines. The new eastside loop will follow a portion of Tri-Met's existing route 6 which itself was modified from parts of old route 5 with the opening of the Yellow Line several years ago. Whatever Tri-Met decides to do with route 6 when the streetcar line opens in 2012, it would not have a dramatic effect on transit service in that area. My observations from riding the 6 line while at Railvolution is that most of the ridership tends to be from the Convention Center north (although my observations where limited so if someone from Portland wants to correct me on that...).

What will have the ability to dramatically change transit service in the region is the next set of route proposals for the street. Specifically one of the top candidates to get another streetcar line is Sandy Blvd and Burnside which currently hosts one of Tri-Mets longest if not the longest line Route 12.

Not only is the 12 route a very long bus route it is also a very busy route specially in its spine territory from Parkrose/Sumner Transit Station to Tigard. While many buses shortline in King City and Parkrose/Sumner, a bus traveling the full route from Gresham to Sherwood takes more than two hours to complete the journey.

However once the Sandy/Burnside trolley line is built there will be new opportunities to change the 12 for the better doing the opposite of what is normally done when a new light rail line opens.

If this was a light rail line opening the natural inclination would be terminate buses at the end of the line in the Hollywood section of Portland and in downtown for buses coming from the Sherwood area. The main reason for this is if you continue running the bus route that parallels the light rail line the light rail line doesn't perform up to its potential and the bus becomes a major drain on resources with little ridership.

Instead of terminating the 12 at the end points, you can instead have the 12 become a limited stop route along the portion that will duplicate the streetcar line. As I have already said the 12 is a very, very long route. While it currently takes only 20 minutes to get from 42nd street to downtown currently by making the 12 a limited you can shave off about 5 to 7 minutes by making the 12 a limited. One good place to drop the number of stops is on Burnside where there is currently multiple bus stops within a few lock area.

Also to improve the route even more Tri-Met should look at making the 12 a limited all the way through downtown and down Barbur to Beaverton-Hillsdale Road since that portion of the route is also has the 44, 54 and the 56 in the corridor. With these improvements you could shave off 10 minutes off the route.

While 10 minutes is not anything earth shattering in speed increase, you would be saving 20 minutes over a round trip which could save you bus or two on the route. Those hours could either be used to increase service on the 12 or provide additional service on other routes that could use additional service.

As the Portland Streetcar expands to new markets in the future, it will create new opportunities to make the existing bus service more efficient. This will create new marketing opportunities as streetcars provide the close to downtown urban service and buses providing faster regional service in areas that do not have light rail service.
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