Thursday, January 13, 2011

TriMet's Performance Dashboard

TriMet: Performance Dashboard is an interesting means of tracking TriMet. It is offered by TriMet so one has to be skeptical of the data it represents.

It needs more definitions but the definitions presented are important to review. E. g., "ridership" is really "boarding." It can be counted twice. Thus as the site states if one takes two buses to get to work - that is two boardings. It follows that if one takes a bus and a train that it is counted as two boardings.

It is important to click on the "more" for additional information. One can obtain more information by following the  monthly analysis link. But TriMet makes bold faced statements without one shred of data for verification.

Questions abound though. E. g,  how is the boarding counted? Arguably the bus, and possibly WES, counts ought to be relatively easy and accurate since fares are required - unlike MAX. But the use of transfers would seem to undercut that ridership counting.

And TriMet's counting is never utilized - at least not for public consumption - to track effects of its decisions. The change from Fareless Square to Fee Rail Zone touted as a means of increasing revenue should have been easy to demonstrate whether there was an increase in revenue - by the increase in bus fares.

However, one might notice that the increase in MAX boardings are nearly equal to the decrease in bus boardings between two recent fiscal years. Is this because of the bus line cuts?

It is more interesting though to read the monthly reports. In the November report TriMet explains the loss in bus ridership as due to the economy, but if so, why was there an increase in MAX ridership?

And giving the number of bus (45,492.000) users versus MAX (38,037,600) it would seem that policies would favor bus transit - but that is not the case. In TriMet's view - buses have little value to its overall transit scheme - it is light rail whether it can be cost justified or not. Revenue is easy to come by when it is primarily from taxing.

One wonders about a government agency whose existence is dependent on taxing revenue to operate giving glowing reports about ridership.


4 comments:

  1. Your right on the money with your skepticism on this.

    Ending fare less square on the buses obviously plays a big role in Max ridership increases as cutting bus service obviously would reduce the number of people taking the bus.

    I drive west side Trimet and know about a dozen people that were forced to move from a bus line onto an apartment on the rail line.

    So that is basically social engineering come true.

    Then the ridership numbers are comparing the current month with that month a year ago rather than comparing the ridership in sequential months so its hard to really get true picture of what is happening now on the system.

    It looks to me based on THIS that ridership has actually decreased month to month in equal proportion on bus and max.

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  2. A few things -

    1) Ridership is counted using infrared counters found near the doors of MAX cars and buses. Next time you ride a bus look for the large metal square boxes on the left & right sides just as you enter the bus (or just before you exit in the rear). On the MAX they are located above the doors.

    2) It's likely that MAX ridership went up and bus ridership went down due to the opening of the green line.

    3) Bus ridership is greater yes, but consider that there are 4 MAX lines and almost 80 bus lines. 4 MAX lines that account for ~40% of total ridership. It's a much more complicated topic than that, but I think that's a key fact worth mentioning.

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  3. No Max, the biggest influence in the figures is the ending of fare less on buses.

    All those riders moved to Max.

    We won't bring up the subject of the bus cuts making it less likely that the "choice" riders would bother with the bus anymore.

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  4. I didn't know about the infrared counting - thanks. Thanks too for the link to the "Ranting of TriMet Bus Driver" blog - I had forgotten about it. For some reason I had thought he stopped.

    From the dashboard or its data links, I am not sure that any conclusions can be made about the effect of eliminating the Fareless Square.

    It has never been clear to me just how many passengers rode the buses or MAX in the Square. And it doesn't seem possible to use either ridership or fare revenue as a means of estimation.

    The Square or Free Rail Zone is quite small. Since MAX doesn't do any fare checking in the Zone - it seems unlikely that any change from bus to MAX can be measured by fares.

    And there has been a ridership and revenue increase for buses and MAX shown in the TriMet data between two recent years. Thus, from their data it seems impossible to pinpoint any reason for increases.

    It appears that the effect of eliminating the Square for buses has been negligible or at least not measured.

    It does seem that dropping the bus lines has had to cause an increase in MAX ridership. One would guess that most bus riders would have no other option than to take MAX. But is that true?

    It may depend on many factors. One choice as noted has been to move close to the MAX line - social engineering works? Another choice is to drive or ride a bike?

    It may be argued that ridership increases, and therefore revenue increases, are the result of the economy. Thus, e. g., taking MAX or the bus is less expensive than driving. But isn't that rationale more of a guess?

    But having said all of this I am not sure that the Dashboard or any of TriMet data leads to any verifiable conclusions.

    Does the numbers themselves do anything else other than demonstrate trends?

    What may be needed is a public auditor to keep the public accurately informed and TriMet honest.

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