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

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