After nearly 12 years at TriMet, General Manager Fred Hansen will soon be leaving his post to pursue other opportunities. While he wasn’t ready to share any potential plans for the future, livability and the transportation connection will remain an important focus, as well as promoting greener transportation.
As one of our reader-chosen locations, TriMet ranked high as an agency people wanted to read about. Going to meet with Hansen after the announcement of his departure was a first for Mass Transit magazine, but it provided a great opportunity to get an update on what’s happening in the Portland area and to get Hansen’s perspective on the transit industry and sustainability.
Keeping Service Running
The morning I visited TriMet it was in The Oregonian, the local paper, for service reduction and a fare increase. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation (the state is still at about 10.6 percent), the payroll tax, the principal funding for TriMet, is down.
Hansen says they haven’t had to take as serious reductions as other properties in the country, but as he puts it, it’s been, “exceedingly painful.
“We took a $31 million dollar reduction and then another $27 million we’re having to take in the upcoming fiscal year,” he states. “That’s about 12 percent and that’s serious.
“When we have to get to those kinds of numbers, we have to do some service reduction.” He continues, “We focused it on some of those frequent service lines that are every 15 minutes and pushed them up to about every 17 minutes.
“Of course that’s a little less convenient because there’s one bus out of the cycle, but it still is providing service.” Along with that, they looked at low-performing lines and either eliminated them or drastically cut them back.
TriMet also proposed a challenge to the community in areas where they were looking at reducing or eliminating lines. When people came forward and said not to cut those lines, TriMet proposed extending service for another six to nine months and the riders and local businesses along those lines are challenged to get ridership up.
“You who want this, you’ve got to work with us to be able to get ridership up because it just isn’t justified in these budget times to have as low ridership as we do on that particular line,” Hansen says. “We have to see whether the businesses and the individuals are going to step up to the mark or not.
“People wanted to say, ‘You’re the transit agency, you guys have to deliver,’” he says. “No. This has got to be a partnership; businesses have got to maybe provide transit passes or encourage their employees, individuals on the bus have to talk to co-workers, ‘Why don’t you come with me?’”
This process was started in April with results to be determined sometime this fall.
Riding the 17 to the TriMet office, I saw first hand TriMet leading by example as a business that encourages transit use. It’s standard that an agency provides its employees with free access to transit, but the amount of use I saw in my brief time at the agency was surprising with so many employees getting on and off at the stops in front of the agency.
Hansen stresses, “I think it is important to be a role model. People know that I’m a regular rider for my commute.”
Making Transit an Asset
Thinking of transit as a community asset as opposed to a utility is one of the things Hansen thinks is very important. In Portland, he says it really is about how they build neighborhoods, how they build communities, how they really connect people.
“There isn’t a travel magazine that writes about coming to the Portland region that doesn’t talk about using public transit,” he says. “It’s really become a signature of this region.
“Every area needs to be able to think about how do they make their transit system become, likewise, a signature of that region.” He adds, “I don’t think there’s one simple answer that fits.”