Is the IBR setting up another transit failure?

IBR administrator says demand for transit across the Columbia River will increase 10 fold

IBR administrator says demand for transit across the Columbia River will increase 10 fold

At the April 7 meeting of the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) program’s Executive Steering Group (ESG), Administrator Greg Johnson answered a question previously asked by Sen. Lynda Wilson (Republican, 17th District).  “What does substantial demand look like” for high capacity transit,’’ Wilson asked on March 23.

Johnson’s answer last week – 26,000 to 33,000 riders a day using the Interstate 5 corridor and replacement bridge. 

“What does that mean,” Wilson wanted to know. She asked to see the information (data) that backs up the statements. She pointed out the 50 percent decline in transit ridership due to the pandemic. “It’s being underutilized,” she said. 

Wilson asked if people were merely expressing “interest,” or if they were dedicating themselves to riding the new transit if it was built. She also wanted details on how they could project ridership out to 2045.

IBR Administrator Greg Johnson tells the members of the Executive Steering Group that substantial demand for transit on the replacement Interstate Bridge means 26,000 to 33,000 riders a day. That is a 10-fold increase over what his team reports is using transit across the bridge today. Video courtesy IBR

Current transit ridership

In 2019, before the pandemic lockdowns devastated transit ridership both locally and nationally, C-TRAN had 5.9 million annual boardings. That would equate to 16,410 boardings per day, or about 8,205 people who rode a bus both ways to and from work, etc. on the entire C-TRAN system.

Looking at it another way, C-TRAN has 122 buses. This would indicate each bus had 134.5 boardings per day, serving 67 people making round-trip travel. C-TRAN financial records report they carried 21.6 passengers per in-service hour in 2019.

C-TRAN offers the only transit service across the Columbia River, as there hasn’t been enough demand for TriMet to offer service as well. C-TRAN’s ridership to Portland peaked in 2016 and has been in decline ever since. 

Average weekday ridership on C-TRAN express routes to Portland:

2016 – 3,040

2017 – 2,874

2018 – 2,844

2019 – 2,892

2020 – 971

C-TRAN experienced a 61 percent drop in passenger boardings on the express bus system over the past two years. The agency shared numbers for nine separate routes traveling over the river for the past three years. In 2019, it had 1.4 million boardings which then declined to 555,000 last year.

For Portland’s TriMet, the Yellow Line MAX had 13,430 boarding rides in the fall of 2019. That dropped to 5,290 a year later, a 61 percent decline. If people traveled round trip, they served 6,715 people a day before the pandemic. TriMet has said they don’t expect its ridership to return to pre pandemic levels for six years. 

Going from 3,000 C-TRAN cross river boardings to just under 1,000 boardings and then increasing to 26,000 or 33,000 boardings is significant, if that demand actually materializes. 

At last week’s ESG meeting, Johnson told the 12 members he had been asked for details relating to there being “significant demand” for transit on a replacement Interstate Bridge. There are currently 3,400 transit trips using the Interstate Bridge according to the IBR, he reported, with 1,700 using the C-TRAN express bus service.

“With our modeling efforts showing high capacity transit crossing the bridge, both numbers now jump up to 26,000 to 33,000 average weekday trips projected on high capacity transit,” Johnson stated. “That is substantial; 10 times more folks using transit than (are) using it currently.”  He further elaborated “we did not pull these numbers out of the sky.”

Clark County Today has asked for details relating to who created those numbers and where they expect the ridership demand to come from. None have been provided.

Is it even possible to handle 26,000 to 33,000 weekday transit trips across any new bridge? TriMet has a history of broken promises related to their new MAX light rail lines. Will this be any different if light rail is chosen by Johnson’s team?

TriMet officials report that during rush hour, 40 light rail trains cross Portland’s Steel Bridge every hour, or one every 90 seconds. They hope demand will increase to 60 an hour in the next 20 years, which they do not believe the 110-year-old bridge can handle. Graphic courtesy TriMet
TriMet officials report that during rush hour, 40 light rail trains cross Portland’s Steel Bridge every hour, or one every 90 seconds. They hope demand will increase to 60 an hour in the next 20 years, which they do not believe the 110-year-old bridge can handle. Graphic courtesy TriMet

The two forms of high capacity transit under consideration are an extension of TriMet’s Yellow Line MAX light rail or C-TRAN’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). It is logical to assume the majority of increased transit service “demand” would be during rush hour, roughly three hours in the morning going into Portland and three hours in the evening returning across the bridge.

How many can MAX serve?

The majority of MAX light rail cars can carry 64 passengers seated and another 102 passengers standing per car. Because of the short length of a downtown Portland block, TriMet can only put two cars on a MAX train. Each train can carry 332 people, with only 38 percent seated. Those Yellow Line trains travel about 14 mph on their journey to downtown Portland.

The maximum TriMet light rail service presently offered is 15-minute headways, or four trains every hour. This would indicate 1,328 people could be served each hour, or about 4,000 during a rush hour commute. If TriMet were to double service, a promise it has made in the past and failed to actually deliver, it could offer crowded light rail service for about 8,000 people.

But there are obstacles for TriMet attempting to double MAX service to 7.5-minute headways on the Yellow Line. Presently during rush hour, TriMet reports there is one MAX train crossing Portland’s 110-year-old Steel Bridge over the Willamette River every 90 seconds. There is minimal room for adding service. MAX currently runs “on time” only 88 percent of the day. 

Furthermore, assuming ridership returns to pre pandemic levels at some point, TriMet would have to add even more capacity. If Vancouver and Clark County residents fill up existing MAX trains, what will north Portland riders do? How many Oregon riders would use transit from Hayden Island, Delta Park, and Lombard Street stations if light rail trains are already full? TriMet would have to add more trains or put their north Portland customers on buses.

TriMet’s MAX light rail is limited to just two cars in a train. Service presently runs at 15-minute headways, or four trains per hour. Each MAX train can carry about 330 to 340 people, or about 4,000 riders during a normal 3-hour morning or evening commute period. Even if TriMet were to double the capacity, it is not able to carry the number of projected riders the IBR team indicates will want transit service. Graphic by John Ley
TriMet’s MAX light rail is limited to just two cars in a train. Service presently runs at 15-minute headways, or four trains per hour. Each MAX train can carry about 330 to 340 people, or about 4,000 riders during a normal 3-hour morning or evening commute period. Even if TriMet were to double the capacity, it is not able to carry the number of projected riders the IBR team indicates will want transit service. Graphic by John Ley

At some unknown date in the future, TriMet officials hope to persuade the citizens of the Portland metro area to spend up to $4.5 billion to build a new tunnel under the Willamette River exclusively for light rail. It reports 40 trains an hour now during rush hour, and expects 60 an hour in 20 years. 

TriMet officials say they can’t accommodate that 50-percent increase without a new tunnel. It would allow TriMet to schedule current light rail trains at 10-minute headways. That would only allow a Yellow Line extension from Vancouver to serve an additional 600 passengers an hour, with over 60 percent of those people standing. 

“The bridge slows down travel and impacts on time performance,” TriMet says about the Steel Bridge. They call it a “pinch point”.

“Downtown congestion and slowdowns at the Steel Bridge don’t just impact the central city–they ripple throughout the entire region,” TriMet says. “This is particularly challenging for people who live farther out and travel into or across downtown Portland.”

Presently there are 13,000 boardings (pre pandemic) of mostly Portlander’s heading north and south. Light rail capacity would have to be increased to handle at least 40,000 boardings a day on the Yellow Line if the IBR projections were accurate. Otherwise, those Portlanders would have to be offered buses or get in their cars.

To accommodate 20,000 people (two way travel), most traveling during work hours, MAX would need four to five times the 2-car MAX train capacity running at 7.5-minute headways. Or it would need the ability to have 8-car MAX trains, an impossibility given the current system of running trains on city streets.

Can BRT handle the increase?

C-TRAN offers the only bus rapid transit service in the region, but TriMet officials hope to offer new BRT service soon on a single route along Division Street. The Vine began service five years ago, using double-articulated buses that can carry 100 passengers, 60 seated and 40 standing.

Looking at simple vehicle capacity, you would need three BRT buses (300 people) to equal one 2-car MAX train (330-340 people).

In order to equal the hourly capability of a 2-car MAX light rail train, (1,300 people an hour presently), 13 BRT buses would be needed an hour. That would be about one BRT bus every four and a half minutes. But those buses could start from several origins, i.e. one or two from Salmon Creek, one from Kiggins Bowl, one from Hazel Dell, and perhaps one or two from the Turtle Place Transit center. If there were demand from East Clark County, it could add service from the Vancouver Mall and their new Mill Plain BRT systems.

At five-minute headways, one BRT line could handle 3,600 people during a three-hour commute period. With 26,000 to 33,000 boardings, that is 13,000 to 16,500 people traveling both ways. If one were to assume the majority of people were willing to travel on high capacity transit during the three-hour morning and evening commute, it would take about eight separate BRT lines running at five-minute headways. 

The flexibility of BRT to serve different communities far exceeds the ability of light rail, which is limited by where you put the tracks down, and the “pinch point” of the Steel Bridge. 

TriMet has future plans to build a 3.5-mile tunnel under the Willamette River. The current cost estimate is up to $4.5 billion. This is needed because presently it has one MAX train crossing the Steel Bridge every 90 seconds during rush hour. Graphic courtesy TriMet
TriMet has future plans to build a 3.5-mile tunnel under the Willamette River. The current cost estimate is up to $4.5 billion. This is needed because presently it has one MAX train crossing the Steel Bridge every 90 seconds during rush hour. Graphic courtesy TriMet

“Once you lay down the tracks, that’s permanent,” Wilson said last month. She expressed concerns about people being forced to live along the light rail corridor to access that form of transit. Whereas the BRT and even the express bus service is very flexible, she noted.

A C-TRAN BRT bus carries 100 passengers. To accommodate the 13,000 to 16,500 people presumably traveling two ways, 130 to 165 BRT buses would be needed for the three-hour commute period. Cut those numbers in half as each BRT bus could easily make two round trips during a 3-hour commute period.

Transportation architect Kevin Peterson has pointed out that one vehicle lane can handle about 1,800 vehicles an hour. If that’s the case, it would seem all those BRT double-articulated buses could easily travel in a vehicle lane, alongside cars and trucks and freight. They would only occupy at most 10 percent of the vehicle capacity one lane provides. Why not allow other vehicles to use that lane when buses are not present?

Johnson has promised his team will be “data driven.” The data shows that light rail cannot accommodate anywhere close to the 26,000 to 33,000 daily trips on MAX his team is projecting. 

At current service levels, the Yellow Line could only handle about 4,000 people during a three-hour commute period. Where will the other 9,000 to 12,000 people go? Will they choose to drive their cars? Or will they choose the other “multi-modal” option the IBR is offering, walking or biking?

BRT buses allow 60 percent of passengers to be seated. That is just the opposite of light rail trains. The MAX Yellow Line travels an average of 14 mph, slower than BRT buses. Which mode of transit would people prefer?

The IBR team apparently believes demand for transit across the Columbia River could increase 10 fold in the not too distant future. Do they believe the people want to stand while traveling in slower light rail vehicles? Clark County residents have said multiple times they do not want light rail.

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Rhonda Gibson
Rhonda Gibson
7 months ago

All I’ll say about mass transit is this. When they took light rail out to Gresham the crime rate rose with it.

Margaret
Margaret
7 months ago

With our modeling efforts showing high capacity transit crossing the bridge, both numbers now jump up to 26,000 to 33,000 average weekday trips projected on high capacity transit,” Johnson stated. “That is substantial; 10 times more folks using transit than (are) using it currently.” By 2045? This is unbelievable. What are the assumptions used by the secret model?
Has the fact that many residents continue to work and go to school remotely been factored in? This will reduce traffic and transit demand, as shown by the dramatic pandemic transit demand decreases.

So how, exactly, do officials figure out how many people will use mass transit projects?
“In a seminal 1992 study of the effects of the federal funding system, however, transportation economist Don H. Pickrell found that cities favored expensive capital projects over improved bus systems, largely because that was where the money was. The funding system had produced an incentive to overestimate ridership and underestimate costs. And why not: local agencies weren’t held accountable for the accuracy of their forecasts….
In 2003, an FTA-sponsored study looked at 19 mass transit projects completed between 1990 and 2003… “All told,” the agency concluded, “eight of the 19 projects included in that study either achieved or had a good chance of coming within a reasonable range (plus or minus 20 percent)” of initial forecasts. The other 11, though, remained well below their forecasts.

Last edited 7 months ago by Margaret
John Ley
John Ley
7 months ago
Reply to  Margaret

Excellent additional information and perspective. Thank you!

Jim
Jim
7 months ago

BRT or light rail. The discussion will go on until the tracks are laid. And perhaps, if not used a bus can drive in that lane.
But arguing light rail will lead to increased crime is fallacious. It is also racist.
I can still remember the signs “loot rail.” Really, really. “I took light rail to the Couve to go thevin’?”
There are reasonable arguments to make but increasing crime is not one of them.

JimK
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim

But arguing light rail will lead to increased crime is fallacious.”
NO – IT IS FACT. I expect to see a listing of hundreds of pages of evidence in a few days!

You claim it is racist! Do you see racism everywhere? Doesn’t that make YOU the racist?


Susan
Susan
7 months ago

What’s the saying?…. “figures don’t lie, liars figure” or something like that? IBR sure seems to me to be spittin’ out figures without adequate data to backup those figures.

As stated before on John Ley’s recent related article, it’s all unicorns and fairy dust if you listen to Greg Johnson and his Portland lackeys. But the cold hard reality (i.e. FACTS) is that what Johnson & crew says is simply not true. John Ley continues to present readable, easy-to-understand facts about this boondoggle that is being spewed by Johnson & crew.

To bring the Portland choo-choo to Vancouver will be one the greatest mistakes ever made in this metropolitan area, if it is allowed to happen. Busses? Sure! But not the choo-choo train.

JimK
7 months ago

Of course Transit Agencies lie to trick people into paying for their expensive toy, light rail. Here is what Randal O’Toole wrote about it:
Lie Rail Supporters Keep On LyingBy The Antiplanner 
|April 13, 2022
 Transportation
The Antiplanner has previously written that light rail should be called lie rail because everything its advocates say about it is a lie. The latest proof comes from Capital Metro, Austin’s transit agency, which now admits that light-rail projects voters approved in 2020 are going to cost at least 78 percent more than originally projected.

http://ti.org/images/ProjectConnect.jpg Capital Metro persuaded voters to support light rail by claiming it would reduce congestion when in fact it will make it worse by taking lanes away from autos and dedicating them to empty tracks carrying empty light-rail trains.
The original projection, of course, was one of many lies told about the project. Almost every light-rail project ever built has cost far more than the original projections, overruns so systematic that Oxford researcher Bent Flyvbjerg says they are “best explained by strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying.” Other lies included overestimated ridership numbers and the claim that light rail is “high-capacity transit.”
The news report on the Capital Metro cost increase claims that “it won’t affect taxpayers,” but that’s just one more lie. In fact, what Capital Metro said was “that there will be no additional tax increase to support this program.” In other words, Capital Metro won’t raise taxes above the rate approved in 2020, but it will charge that rate for many more years to pay for the rail construction. Construction may also be delayed as the agency waits for sufficient funds to pay for it. Both of those changes from the original proposal affect taxpayers.
Austin transit ridership in February was only 51.6 percent of pre-pandemic levels. It seems practically certain that light-rail will open in Austin after years of planning and construction only to find that it is carrying almost no passengers who weren’t previously riding a bus — and very few of those.
Reprinted with permission: http://ti.org/antiplanner/?page_id=209

Last edited 7 months ago by JimK
Miss lucky
Miss lucky
7 months ago

I just got done reading that clark county,wa. Has 1 demacrat left that is retiring. Only to find clark county,wa. Shaking hands with the state of Oregon’s loose cannons!! Haven’t you heard? Next to inslee for U.S. governing,Katy brown was rated #1 worse governor in U.S.!!!!

Doug
Doug
7 months ago

As I recall, the projections used to justify the prior CRC bridge/light rail project were wildly optimistic and ultimately wrong. With a track record like that, why should we believe their new predictions? Even so, as this article points out, if the predictions turn out to be true the need for public transportation can easily be met by buses and/or BRT in a flexible fashion sharing lanes with cars and trucks, at no additional cost to the bridge project. Drop light-rail, and the bridge can go forward.

JimK
7 months ago

The fact that they are proposing numbers that simply will not happen, indicates that moving people is not the real goal. It is well known that the real goal of massive public works projects is SPENDING MONEY! YES, spending is the goal. Some of that money makes it way back to the re-election campaigns of the supporters!
I wonder how many of the local rail supporters have gotten money from the transit industry & it merry band of profiteers?

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