Thursday, December 09, 2010

Transit Service, Transit Service Area and Equality

Boring, OregonImage by shoseph via Flickr
Does a transit system provide service to the largest coverage area possible, or does it provide the most possible service to its highest ridership areas? In an perfect world a transit system would have the funding to do both. However, 75 years of government induced pro automotive growth has made it impossible for a transit system to do both.

At one time, most transit systems tried to provide service to the largest service area possible. While this allowed more people to use transit, the question had to be asked whether the transit system was loosing more passengers due to the lack of frequent service on its most important lines.

Over the last couple of decades transit systems have gone away from the philosophy of providing the maximum coverage to a system of maximum efficiency by providing more service and busy corridors and cutting service to outlining areas. The problem is that you leave some areas with only limited service and sometimes they do not feel they are getting their money's worth from their tax dollars.

This is a situation currently happening in Portland, Oregon. The city of Boring (yes, the town is called Boring), is not happy with the amount of transit service it is receiving from the local agency Tri-Met. The city of Boring contributes about $2 million a year in tax dollars to Tri-Met but only gets limited service primarily during rush hour.

It is easy to understand where the city of Boring is coming from. A large amount of tax money leaves the city and they do not see a lot of return from their investment. While it would be nice if they could see the big picture cities only look to their own self interest and over the next few years that may only get worse.

It is difficult for Tri-Met to justify increase spending to areas such as Boring. If you look at a map of the Boring area you would see that it is largely semi-rural exurb that is difficult to service with transit. One alternative Tri-Met could use for Boring would be to provide a cutaway van flex route that agencies such as the Utah Transit Authority and Denver RTD have implemented.

A few of Boring's Neighbors have chosen to leave Tri-Met and start their own transit systems. With the investment they are making in Tri-Met they could provide better service than they currently receive from the bigger agency which is what happened when Wilsonville, Oregon started its own transit agency.

The problem would be for the citizens that have to travel out of the Boring area into Portland proper. Wilsonville's SMART transit agency and Tri-Met do not accept the other agencies transfers which means riders have to pay twice to make a one way ride (however SMART is fare free so if you are using Tri-Met's WES commuter rail line you would only have to pay once but it runs during rush hours only).

Portland is not unique when it comes to having battles over the amount of transit service being received. Ultimately the area in question needs to decide for itself whether going on its own will out way the pitfalls of not having a single integrated transit system with the most service being provided where ridership is the highest.

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