WES at 5: Still a Financial Train Wreck


By John A. Charles, Jr.

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



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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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Transportation, TriMet, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Randdal

    I use it almost every day for safe, cheap transport to homes and businesses I “visit”.
    I just wish the cars had storage racks for the “goods” I bring home on my return trips.
    Oh well….

  • Bob Clark

    There are certain long stretches of highway 217 where an additional car and bus lane could be added. I would much prefer this transportation investment over new commuter rail.

  • rharris

    Rail is the perfect special interest project. Government expands its budget and scope of operations. Large contractors and suppliers of expensive steel, concrete, technology, get wealthy. Unions get massive amounts of prevailing wage construction jobs that go on for years and years, then get permanent public employee jobs, and the rails lines and support systems need to be maintained (public jobs) and repaired (private jobs for unions and money for the contractors). And, of course the environmentalists are on board as well as the urban planners.

    So, you’ve got the Republican Party base loving it, and the Democratic Party base loving it. So who doesn’t love it? the 70% of us that see minimal benefit (OK I like to ride light rail from Hillsboro to the Timbers games), but get to pay all the taxes associated with these projects.

    Ever ask yourself why The republicans all supported the Bruce Starr sponsored gas tax increase during our last recession? Because it went to highway construction and maintenance.

    So complain all you want. These massive transportation projects are supported by your Republican elected officials as well as the Democrats. So, maybe the strategy should be to accept that these large projects are going to happen, but at least get something that works better. Though you’d have a better chance if you could split the transportation spending alliance in some way.

    Here is one possible solution: Electric buses without the need for large batteries or overhead lines that are costly to install and create right of way and overhead issues. THis solution also has Minimal impact to current roadways, has less sunk costs in capital so has more flexibility than rail in changing routes based on community growth and public demand.


    • .

      Go WES naive ones – albeit a machination of michael moore stuporcilious left bling machination incalculable obominationizing. .

      • .

        Wail then, try this on for surmise: Go WES, Youngman and take this along: “A Jewish woman had two chickens. One got sick, so the women made chicken soup out of the other one to help the sick one get well.” Urf, urf!

  • Geoff

    This analysis is propaganda: an element of truth embedded in a polemic designed to persuade the reader of a broader, untrue principle. Himmler and Madison Ave.
    The figures are correct. Any such analysis ignores the *quality* of the ride. Drivers voluntarily leave their cars at home and take LR – 70% of Charlotte NC LRT riders are new to public transit. How much should we pay for *quality* in public life – LRT, lighted bridges, art? This Institute would say zero, I assume.
    And as to the cost, this nation alone refuses to honestly attribute the actual cost of exclusive car-highway dependency. How much is each life lost worth? Ambulance costs? Lost taxes? Noise pollution?
    Lastly, there is no such thing as an “express” bus on 217 during rush hour. Sitting in traffic, the pax can watch the WES, on a parallel, augmenting right of way, zoom by.

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