Exclusive right-of-way was an integral part of this new service. Whether traffic gets worse, there’s an accident, no matter what happens, the headways won’t be controlled by what’s on the road if it has its own dedicated lane. Pangborn stresses, “What you’re selling with BRT is speed and convenience.
“We’re going to have a product over here that guarantees that it won’t become more congested: that, in fact, would take 16 minutes to get between the two downtown stations now, will take 16 minutes 10 years from now.” He adds, “This is the brilliance that our board member Rob Bennett saw way back, 12 years ago.”
EmX has sensors in the ground for signal priority and works with block signaling. “In much of the corridor we have a single lane,” he explains. “It signals two sets of lights, one is the traffic light that says ‘I’m here, ready to go’. It also signals to the other end of that block that if we have another vehicle coming the other direction, it says, ‘Hold up, you have got to stay’.”
The block signaling is part of traffic signals. Pangborn mentions that both Eugene and Springfield have the same company. “So luckily for us it works the same way.
“It was really fascinating because we could get them on a cell phone, and as we were doing that training with the drivers, we would say, ‘You know, is there any way you could squeeze another second because we have to go too fast to get through, just give us another second’,” he says. “So he got on the computer and he would adjust the phasing.”
There are four vehicles running at a time, two in each direction. The EmX vehicles leave the stations a minute before the buses, so it is ahead of all the other buses that are pulling out, kind of a que jump.
“You’ve got to beat them on speed,” he emphasizes, striking his fist on the table. “Everything we did on that corridor, starting with exclusive right-of-way was for speed. You have signal priority so you don’t get stuck in everything. Then you have raised platforms so that you can have level boardings. It’s really convenient to get on and off, no lifts going up and down. We’re eventually going to have prepaid fares. The system is free now, but we will have prepaid fares so you don’t have to have that barrier where you have to go by the driver. You just get on and off and you make it fast.”
Funding this New Service
The payroll tax has been a key component in the building of EmX. Pangborn explains, “Portland and Eugene operate off a payroll tax. The payroll tax is essentially, every employer, they pay a thousand dollars to their employees’ salary, they are taxed an additional $6.20 or so, which then goes to pay for public transit. It’s a very unique source.”
He elaborates, “Salem and Medford operate off of property tax. The thing with the payroll tax, it’s indexed to the economy so the good news is; the population grows as salary goes up.
“There’s a property tax limitation in Oregon of essentially 3 percent. Costs grow at least 6 percent a year and so you’re always losing money on an annual basis.”
During the ‘90s the economy grew at a much greater rate than LTD. “We knew the ‘90s were going to be over so we took some of that excess revenue and we put it into a reserve fund for EmX, for the 20 percent federal match,” Pangborn says. “When we built the first corridor, we had the match. When we built, getting ready to build the second corridor, we had the match.” He emphasizes, “We don’t have match for the third corridor.
“When we started out planning, it was before there was even Small Starts,” Pangborn says. “We had been on this BRT Committee and urging FTA and Congress to look at, with SAFETEA-LU reauthorization, something that would provide some sort of set funding for BRT.
“And they did,” he emphasizes. “They set aside $200 million out of the New Starts money.” The next obstacle he mentioned was that there were no rules. “There are interim rules now, but the final rules are not coming out until next year.”
Preparing for a process that doesn’t quite have the rules hashed out creates an obstacle. LTD wanted to be at the front, before a wave of applications came in once people knew what was happening. “So we said, ‘Well, the worst it could be was that they could say you have to do it like New Starts, which is very complicated’,” says Pangborn. “Probably doesn’t make sense, but if we learned how to do New Starts, we would be ahead of the game for Small Starts.” And that’s just what it did.