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WES at 5: Still a Financial Train Wreck

February 2 marked the five-year anniversary of the Westside Express Service (WES), the 15-mile commuter rail line that runs from Wilsonville to Beaverton. While the train’s owner, TriMet, has emphasized the steady growth in ridership, the truth is that WES has been a failure.

A decade ago TriMet predicted that average weekday ridership for WES in its opening year of service would be 2,500. The reality was less than half of that: 1,150 in 2009.

After five years, ridership is only up to 1,880 weekday boardings.

Moreover, WES is TriMet’s most expensive fixed-route service, with an average per-ride cost of $12. Thus, even if ridership continues to grow, it will not help TriMet, since the agency loses about $10 on every trip.

Meanwhile, the independent transit district in Wilsonville―South Metro Area Rapid Transit (SMART)―began its own express bus line along the same route as WES in 2013, to service customers when WES does not operate. The costs per mile of the bus are only 3% of WES: $1.30 per mile versus $43.74 for WES.

Express Service from Wilsonville Station to Beaverton Transit Center

Operating cost/mile

Operating cost/hour

TriMet Express Rail

$43.74

$949.84

SMART Express Bus

$ 1.30

$ 83.17

When the train is 34 times more expensive than the bus alternative, there’s a logical policy response: Get rid of the train. It’s time for regional policy makers to consider this option.

 

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