Letter: ‘There is no evidence that demand for transit ridership will increase any time in the near future’

Portland resident Jim Karlock states ‘there is even less demand for service across the Columbia River’

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com

Your recent article about a data driven Insterstate Bridge solution 50 years into the future included promises by Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBR) Administrator Greg Johnson, Governors Jay Inslee and Kate Brown that the Interstate Bridge project would be “data driven.” One reality they totally ignore is US transit data. 

Jim Karlock
Jim Karlock

The first thing to recognize is that transit has been losing market share for over 100 years, since automobiles became affordable. The only exception was during WWII when gasoline was rationed. Why would anyone think this is about to change? 

There are many reasons most people move from transit to cars as soon as they can. They include: 

  • Transit takes twice as long to get people to work as cars. 
  • TriMet’s Yellow MAX light rail line travels at an average speed of 15 MPH; too slow for most commuters. 
  • It stops nearly every mile as it travels Interstate Avenue through north Portland. 
  • Once you own a car, transit costs more for most trips. If you travel with your spouse and children, transit is many times more expensive than your car.
  • If you need to make multiple stops enroute to your final destination, then transit wait times add up quickly. 
  • Costs skyrocket if you have to pay a new fare each time you board. 
  • If you do not have a car, grocery shopping on transit is highly impractical. You will be forced to shop several times a week instead of once (or less) per week with your car, due to the inability to carry large volumes of food and groceries on transit. 
  • Transit can only cover a small percentage of jobs in a reasonable commute time. Most people are only willing to make one transfer to ride transit. That means your choice of jobs is restricted by transit availability and you may have to settle for a lower paying job. Furthermore, most jobs are no longer in the central city or “downtown.” Many cities including Portland and Vancouver have increased housing in downtown areas. Downtown retail stores and jobs have been in decline as more people shop online or work in suburbs or from home.
  • Transit has become a magnet for criminals, drug dealers, homeless and other obnoxious people that most citizens do not want to be around. A car provides safety from these dangers. 
  • Walking to a transit stop can be time consuming. It subjects people to hot weather, snow, rain, icy sidewalks and the elements of Pacific northwest weather. Add to that security concerns of encountering criminals, homeless, or people fighting addiction problems. 
  • For older people, driving is much easier than using transit. There is little walking involved and little exposure to crime or the elements. A Pew research poll found cars are rated as the most needed item by 88 percent of people. The 2018 PEMCO survey revealed that 94 percent of people preferred to use their privately owned vehicles for transportation.

There is such limited demand for transit across the Columbia River, TriMet refuses to offer service to Clark County. Additionally, existing C-TRAN ridership across the Columbia River has been in decline for many years. They recently slashed their express bus service in half as pandemic related ridership plummeted.

Furthermore, C-TRAN ridership peaked in 1999. Ridership today is roughly 1.7 million fewer annual boardings compared to the peak. TriMet ridership peaked roughly a decade ago and has also experienced a significant decline. This is contrasted with a population boom as the metro area continues to experience significant growth.

C-TRAN has now been operating its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service for nearly half a decade. Yet ridership remains at half or less of projected ridership within Clark County. Furthermore, BRT hourly costs were originally projected to be $20 an hour more than serving people with normal buses.

There is no evidence that demand for transit ridership will increase any time in the near future. Furthermore, there is even less demand for service across the Columbia River.

Jim Karlock


    1. Margaret

      The pattern of using unrealistically high ridership forecasts to sell a light rail expansion is concerning. TriMet has never attained the ridership they predicted for their gold plated light rail, vastly more expensive than buses, reaches fewer destinations, doesn’t work in heat or cold temperatures due to the overhead electric lines used to power the light rail. See TriMet’s broken promises on getting people to use transit

  1. Margaret

    So sad that 2 pedestrians hit by a MAX light rail train this month, one died, and the other hospitalized with life threatening injuries. These trains run on city streets, and cannot stop easily. Many pedestrians have been seriously injured or died after being hit by a MAX train.

  2. Paul Edgar

    Thank you Jim Karlock, in getting the truth out there Going back to the early days of what to do with the I-5 Corridor and the initial studies and possible solutions within the Portland to Vancouver Trade and Transportaion Studies, there was a recommendation to create a new westside bypass corridor and bridge link. This new corridor would follow the BNSF Railroad tracks and would replace the old swing RR Bdge and go south across the Willamette River and end at Hwy 30. A route like this could divert significant Freight Traffic and those big truck out of the Urban I-5 Corridor. The Urban, I-5 Corridor is effectively broken and to expensive to fix. We need alternatives and Transit is not the solutions. The plan to put very expensive Tolls on the I-5 Corridor to suppress anyone from using it will hit the economy hard, killing more Brick and Mortar Businesses, kill jobs. Teh net economic impact will be over 10% and in some businesses it will be 25% and just kill them. The foreseeable problems and diversion, without compensation to those harmed creates impossible to address conditions. The proposed Tolling of the I-205 Corridor and the I-205 Abernethy Bridge is just an example of the ODOT Urban Mobility office not knowing what to do and they may have to setup a Half a Billion Dollar, Compensation Fund as diversion and re-routing will kill the downtown of Historic Oregon City, with traffic divertign to just not pay these tolls on to side streets, roads, highways and bridges that do not have the capacity or safety consideration to handle what could be 40,000 vehicles going anywhere and everywhere and just stopping the ability to move around. ODOT and Metro apparently do not care and that is scary. Ridership on Transit is so low in how much revenue it brings in, that the fully encumber cost to provide those services so expensive that an entity like TriMet maybe losing $10 Million per month in the real difference. Their off Balance Sheet Retirement and Healthcare obligations are not supported by funds necessary to met them. If TriMet gets to put their taxing on into Vancouver and Clark County residents to help fund this short-fall in what is needed, they will be crazy.


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