By Gosia Wozniacka
The Associated Press
PORTLAND — While the use of buses, trains and subways is on the rise in many U.S. cities, ridership in the Portland region’s much touted TriMet system has fallen off.
New data released by the American Public Transportation Association shows it was down 3.8 percent from the past year.
In 2013, TriMet recorded 98.8 million rides, compared to about 102.7 million rides in 2012.
TriMet’s spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says the recent decrease is due to the elimination of the Free Rail Zone in Portland, fare hikes, more fare enforcement and service cuts made during the recession.
The agency says it has added back more bus service in September and plans to restore frequent bus service on its busiest Portland routes. A new Portland-to-Milwaukie light rail line is also slated to open in 2015.
Ridership on MAX, the TriMet’s light rail, saw the largest dip, 6.1 percent. Some 38.4 million trips were taken on MAX in 2013, about 2,000 less than the previous year.
TriMet bus ridership also decreased 2.4 percent, going from about 60.4 million rides in 2012 to about 58.9 million in 2013.
The area’s commuter rail line saw more success. The Westside Express Service or WES, which connects Beaverton and Wilsonville, saw a 10 percent increase in ridership. Rides increased from 430,000 in 2012 to 480,000 in 2013.
Federal officials have previously hailed Portland area’s public transportation as visionary, easy to use and a model for other cities. TriMet’s bus and MAX routes carry a combined 312,000 riders on an average weekday.
Over the past two decades, ridership of TriMet has steadily increased until the Great Recession and then leveled. It declined, especially on MAX, between 2012 and 2013.
Other mass transit systems in Oregon also didn’t see much rise in ridership.
The Salem-Keizer Transit, popularly known as Cherriots, also saw a decrease of 2.4 percent. And ridership of Wilsonville’s South Metro Area Regional Transit — aka SMART — remained stagnant.
Nationally, public transit systems saw the highest total of rides since 1956 — nearly 10.7 billion trips in 2013. Cities such as Houston, New York, Seattle, Miami, Denver and San Diego saw large ridership gains.