Monday, August 31, 2009

Portland WES disappoints in first six months

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Portland, Ore.’s seeming magic touch with rail transit startups is missing from its launch six months ago of WES Commuter rail—at least so far. Average daily ridership is 1,200, just half of the line's projected first-year target, though observers point out that the line still has six months to reach that estimated ridership level.

The service has received good reviews from patrons, but some riders note the commuter schedule–with no trains running between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.–limits options for many people, including some who ride when they can.

Washington County Chairman Tom Brian, who helped spearhead the project in its decade of development, said he's heard people ask for midday service. "One of the things people are concerned about is if they go to work, if they're working part time, or if one of the kids has a problem at school, how do they get home?" Brian said.

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The struggling economy also is blamed for lagging ridership. A WES conductor said he lost 60 riders from one company's layoffs earlier this year. "This service is targeted to commuters, and with record high unemployment, obviously the ridership is lower than we had anticipated and growing more slowly," said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch. "As the economy begins to rebound, we will restart our outreach efforts."