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TriMet looks at service improvements, cleaner buses

The TriMet Board of Directors will consider increasing the frequency of bus service on the agency's most heavily-used lines this week.

According to TriMet, the frequency on the 12 lines that carry approximately 58 percent of daily bus riders has been cut in recent years because of funding shortfalls caused by the Great Recession.

At its Wednesday meeting, the board will vote whether to spend $2.8 million to increase the frequency on those lines to 15 minutes or better during most hours. They have been cut to 17 minutes or better during rush hours, and 17 to 20 minutes most other hours.

“The priority will be on buses and corridors with the most transit-dependent riders,” TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane said when he presented the proposal to the board at its last meeting.

According to McFarlane, the service increase will be funded by $1 million in non-union health care cost savings and $1 million in additional revenue from a new advertising contract. TriMet fares will fund the balance of $800,000, McFarlane says.

Labor savings in the current contract and the improving economy has already allowed TriMet to commit $2.1 million to improving service on 20 bus lines and adding a new bus line between Sherwood and Tigard to better serve Washington County this month.

McFarlane says that all of the budget costs must hold to forecast levels and revenues must come in as projected for the improvements and restorations to continue. They must also fit into the Board’s Strategic Financial Plan, which is currently being finalized.

The board will also consider purchased up to 120 new buses that run on Compressed Natural Gas at its Wednesday meeting. The 40-foot long buses are cleaner and more fuel efficient that the diesel buses that TriMet currently uses.

“TriMet has been exploring numerous green transit options and is currently analyzing the costs and benefits of adding CNG buses to the fleet,” says McFarlane. “The option to buy CNG buses is part of TriMet’s ongoing effort to increase our sustainability and improve air quality throughout the region.”

The CNG buses cost around $55,000 more than diesel buses, which are priced at approximately $240,000, however.

The purchases would be part of the accelerated bus replacement program that board has already approved through 2019.