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About 1,200 commuters ride WES on the first day
by: Leah Weissman, WES RIDER – Tigard resident David Leinberger (left) waits for a WES commuter rail Monday at the Tigard station.

Tigard resident David Leinberger sipped his cup of coffee as he waited on the Tigard WES station platform Monday morning for his train to arrive. He had missed the last commuter rail by one minute and huddled further into his coat as his breath turned to fog in the frigid air. It would be a half hour wait before the next train came.


'This is my first time taking WES, and I plan on using it every day,' Leinberger said.

He said he was determined to make the switch from his car to the new public transit option.

'I got on my bike and rode here this morning,' Leinberger said. 'It was actually kind of nice.'

Monday marked Westside Express Service's first official day of carrying commuters back and forth between Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville. The suburb-to-suburb commuter rail - the first in Oregon - has been talked about the last 15 years by mayors, Washington County commissioners, state dignitaries and residents. It's characterized as everything from a new frontier in public transportation, to a waste of public money.

On Monday, all the hype boiled down as WES made its first stop at the Wilsonville station at 5:19 a.m. At the end of the five-hour rush hour morning shift, commuters had already made about 610 trips on the train - a far cry from the anticipated 2,500 passengers a day, but not a bad start.

Leinberger was at one of the last stops at 9:07 a.m. As he waited, other people filed onto the platform. A mother with her daughter in a stroller, a man in a camel coat eating a bagel, a young couple eager to see if WES would make a difference in their commute to Portland.

'It'll be fun; something different,' said Tigard resident Erica Cooper. She passed the time by playing with the station's art - a table of movable cast-bronze 'Interactivator' heads intended to be hands-on art.

The sound of two WES trains arriving at the station was loud enough to make people wearing headphones at the bus station look up from their books. And as the doors opened, the automated voice in the train announcing the name of the station vied with the sound of people talking and rushing down the station's ramp. (Residents in Tualatin are already stepping up their complaints about the horn blasts in the early morning hours.)

One major frustration of the day for some passengers was that the fare machines at the stations only accept credit and debit cards. TriMet employees spent the day positioned in front of the machines at each of the five stations, selling tickets to passengers who only brought cash.

According to TriMet Director of Communications Mary Fetsch, TriMet employees were to be there the rest of the week, but after that passengers need to remember to bring credit or debit cards if they want to buy tickets from the machines.

City volunteers also paced the stations, handing out WES schedules and information and answering commuters' questions.

'There are more people using this than I expected,' said Tigard city volunteer Louis Babcock. 'I figured maybe half a dozen would get on each train, but I counted once and there were 12 to 15 people getting on.'

At the end of the evening rush hour shift Monday, Fetsch said passengers made about 1,200 trips on WES.

'A lot of people came out just to try it,' Fetsch said.

She noted that the Beaverton Transit Center was the busiest of the five stations with Wilsonville trailing behind. Some people also showed up for the city ribbon-cutting ceremonies and festivities at each station.

Many wonder what a suburban-to-suburban commuter rail can offer with its limited route, but Fetsch said it's not just about the five stations, but about being part of TriMet's public transportation system by linking WES commuters with bus routes that link to MAX lines.

'WES just provides a new option,' Fetsch said.

Leinberger said it usually takes him 25 minutes to drive from his home in Tigard to his job at Xerox in Wilsonville - just seven minutes longer than it takes to get there on the commuter rail.

'And (WES) probably won't save me money, either,' he said.

So why even bother taking WES?

'Because I don't want to drive,' he said. 'I get to ride my bike to the station and can relax on my way to work. I think I'll start bringing a book with me to read.'

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