Mass transit use to Portland continues its decline

CTran’s Express Bus ridership declines again

Clark County Today published my Op/Ed here.

In the battle over the CRC, citizens were told by the Oregon Supreme Court that the CRC was simply “a light rail project in search of a bridge“. TriMet’s desire to extend its MAX light rail into Vancouver drove the entire $3.5 billion project. (Willamette Week: A bridge too false here.)

The CRC was killed in 2013 by the Washington legislature. Citizens thanked Senators Don Benton and Ann Rivers and the republican-led Washington Senate. The demise of the light rail driven CRC was for many reasons. There were TOLLS, light rail concerns, it was “a bridge too low”, a host of pork barrel spending for non-bridge related projects, and the huge mismanagement by David Evans and Associates, to name just a few reasons.

Fast forward and today citizens are told we must replace the Interstate Bridge. It’s too old, and either stated or implied is “it’s not safe”. In fact it remains “safe”. Read here.

Just below the headlines of the current debate is a battle — must it include light rail? Or is “light rail ready” enough? Some say “it should include Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT) in a dedicated lane across the new bridge. Most of these special interest driven people mention that we must include “transit” in order to get federal dollars towards the cost of replacing the bridge. Yet even the CRC budget called for getting $400 million federal dollars NOT tied to transit, in addition to the $850 million for light rail.

The unasked question

Is there a need for ANY transit component on a replacement Interstate Bridge?

In late 2018, WSDOT told our Regional Transportation Council (RTC) that we now have 310,000 vehicles crossing the Columbia River via our two bridges, on an average day. That’s almost 3 times the 109,000 vehicles crossing in 1982, just prior to the opening of the I-205 transportation corridor and the Glenn Jackson Bridge.

Portland has been named as the metropolitan region with the 10th worst traffic congestion in the nation. (Story here.) Surely there is significant demand for mass transit, right?

In a word: “No!”

People prefer their cars. The recenct PEMCO survey indicated 94% of people in the Pacific Northwest prefer their privately owned vehicles. (Read more here.)

CTran operates the only mass transit service to cross the river. It presently operates seven “express” bus routes into Portland. Five of them run the I-5 corridor and two run the I-205 corridor.

How many people ride these express buses a day? Have those numbers increased, as traffic gets more congested?

No. In fact, the ridership is declining.

The Columbian used to do an annual news report which included an updated graphic on express bus ridership each year. They stopped doing this in 2017. Here’s their last graphic.

I made public records requests seeking updated information. In 2017, “Express” bus ridership declined to 1,437 daily riders. In February, I received the 2018 numbers. Just 1,422 people rode CTran “express” buses into Portland on an average day. The decline continues.

That 1,422 people figure represents a 13% decline from 2013. Yet the number of vehicles crossing the Columbia River have jumped by 13%. Furthermore, assuming one person per vehicle, the 1,422 people on the buses represents just 0.45% of the daily traffic crossing the river.

CTran ridership history

One might logically wonder, how is the overall CTran ridership doing? Is it increasing or decreasing?

As reference and information, Clark County population has grown from 347,525 in 2000 to 474,643 in 2017. (here). That’s a 36 percent increase.

A 2010 CTran stakeholder survey indicates “improving service to Portland” is low on the list of CTran rider preferences.

And what of CTran ridership history?

The short term history shows a peak in 2011, and then a decline. Here’s a Columbian graphic.

It too has been in decline. This CTran chart shows total ridership peaked in 1999 and has been in decline ever since. There was a small increase in 2017, but overall, ridership is down significantly.

With CTran’s 1999 bus ridership peaking at 7.75 million riders, we now have about 6.1 million bus riders annually. That’s over a 20% decline during which Clark County population increased 36% from 347,000 to 474,000 people.

Looking at the numbers, there is NO NEED for “more” mass transit service into Portland, be it light rail or Bus Rapid Transit.

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