BRU Organizer Orlando Lopez recently traveled to Chicago with the Transit Center, a foundation that that assists in research, advocacy and leadership development to improve public transportation. We sat down with Orlando to talk about the experience and how it relates to OPAL’s work in transit justice. Read the interview below.
Thanks for taking a moment to catch us up, Orlando. What you did you do in Chicago?
Mostly workshops. The workshops that I attended focused on the improvement of bus services and how to best advocate for these improvements at a time when many of our decision makers want to improve transit with new light rail services. This is especially true in our region: we have a proposed light rail in addition highway expansion by the Rose Quarter, on I-205, and highway 217. The transit system has been losing ridership while we have seen increased congestion. We must shift the conversation towards proven solutions such as improving bus system reliability. We must get regional partners to help implement solutions like light prioritization (where buses enter intersections first), dedicated bus lanes, off-board payment options (paying before you get on the bus), and all-door boarding. These improvements will help with on-time performance which is exactly what bus riders in our region have complained about.
It seems like there are a lot of good ideas about improving transit. What ideas got you most excited?
Our region does not have the same population and ridership density as Chicago, so off-board payment options and all-door boarding system would not have the same level of impact as they would in a much larger system like Chicago. This isn’t to say that there wouldn’t be increased efficiency, but buses will continue to deal with congestion and the time savings will be negated. Light prioritization and bus-only lanes would drastically improve on-time performance and therefore need to be part of the conversation.
What are some problems with these new ways of running transit?
Most decision makers balk at the idea of adding bus only lanes for fear of the political backlash. Single-occupancy drivers are sometimes the folks who voice their concerns the loudest. We need to make sure that transit riders’ voices are heard when these decisions are made. Congestion affects public transit. This is why on-time performance has been declining, and why I believe TriMet ridership is suffering. The number of decision-makers we have to target [to win these changes] increases since some of these solutions go beyond the jurisdiction of TriMet. Changes to street signals or bus lanes may have to go through Portland, Gresham, Beaverton, or even ODOT. We hope to bring together our partners and allies to discuss these issues with the different stakeholders, but that also brings the challenges of building coalitions.
Where do we go from here? Can you talk about how BRU might incorporate some of these ideas in future campaigns?
PBOT has begun to look into the corridors within Portland where congestion has caused major delays to existing lines in our bus system. We need to make sure that rider voices are heard in these discussions, and we need to follow these conversations and advocate for our solutions to be implemented. This could become a campaign of its own, with new partners to engage, but for now we need to engage the city and look at their proposals and see how BRU members would like to get involved.
What’s the next opportunity for people to engage with BRU, and what are you currently focused on?
We are currently engaged in our campaign to improve Safety and Security on transit. Our Research and Advisory committee are doing research for a Rider Advocate program. I encourage people to reach out to me and I can get them involved in advocacy to make our system work better for our communities.
You can reach Orlando Lopez by phone at 503-774-4504 or by email at email@example.com