After the Orange Line

Alan Lehto, TriMet’s director of policy & planning, shares a few thoughts on ride sharing and more nimble bus services.

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The MAX Orange Line connecting Portland State with Clackamas County opens September 12. The line includes a grand, car free bridge across the Willamette and the promise of revitalization for the city of Milwaukie. What’s next on the TriMet agenda? I asked Alan Lehto, TriMet’s director of policy & planning, to share a few thoughts on ride sharing and innovative bus services.

How have car sharing and ride sharing services impacted TriMet ridership?
We’re always interested in how transit can work better with car sharing. Car sharing is complementary to our transit system, not competition. Although we don’t have access to car-sharing data, they are part of our extensive network of mobility options in the metro area.
Salem launched a new, on demand bus service last month. Do you see a place for on demand bus service in the Portland metro area?  
We’re continually looking at how best to serve our riders. On-demand services are generally low in productivity so they have to be targeted to places where they are really needed. We do have what we call Community and Jobs Connector areas identified in our vision for future growth that could be provided in that way.
Does the future of transit hinge on more nimble service?  (See Bridj in Boston, for example.)
We already support community shuttles in Forest Grove and in Tualatin, and both have been fairly successful. We’re looking at how to extend this type of service.   
Ride sharing and car sharing have “disrupted” car ownership and taxi service alike. Will these new transportation models have a similar disruptive impact on legacy transit agencies?  
Car-sharing services actually can help with people’s first or last mile of their trip. They also encourage people to travel in other ways than driving themselves. For example, more people may attend an evening event because they have other options to return home past our more frequent operating hours. In the long term, these services will probably allow people to depend less on cars, which we expect would increase in long-term ridership.
What obstacles exist to introducing innovation? 
We were the first transit agency to introduce a mobile app for people pay for bus, MAX and WES service. In 2002, we pioneered the TransitTracker system that gives passengers real-time arrival information for buses and trains. We were the first to partner with Google in 2005 to release schedule and arrival data to the public, now about 50 private developers have created apps for riders at no cost to TriMet. Our next innovation is that we’re installing a new electronic-fare system where people can pay with a smartphone, fare card or their own credit or debit card. We continue to look for ways to innovate.
Can public private partnerships help expand service?
As the region grows by 400,000 people over the next 20 years, more transit service gives our riders more options to get around and help ease congestion. Our focus is to expand transit service and options in our region to meet customer demand. As noted above, we have Community and Jobs Connector areas identified which would include partnerships.

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