Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hailng the Hillsdale Hop-Along

Anyone with experience in journalism knows that government bureaucracies are up to mischief when they release stories on Fridays.

TV audiences are smaller on Friday nights, and newspaper readership drops on Saturdays.

So it was that this Friday, TriMet announced that it is considering dropping 12 bus routes and making service generally less frequent.

Too bad, TriMet. In the era of new media, this story isn’t going away.

As I read the headline in The Oregonian, I could almost feel Portland gasp and bloggers turning to their keyboards.

This move by TriMet is wacko.

What happened to the "truth" part of Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth"? TriMet is causing inconvenience and ignoring the truth.

Just as we should be using transit more — and in fact have been — TriMet is forcing us to use it less.

I followed The Oregonian story into the folds of the Metro section to see the impact on Hillsdale.

Most damaging is the proposal to drop the #55 "Hamilton" line that passes two blocks from my house. It’s a commuter route that runs only on weekday mornings and evenings. I don’t work downtown so I have used it rarely. But plenty of other people hop on board the little buses. The times I’ve boarded the Hamilton, the atmosphere has been downright familiar and friendly.

I confess I’ve felt more and more rebellious about urban governmental bureaucracies of late. City Hall, the schools, Metro, the county, TriMet. They really care little about neighborhoods per se. What we get amounts to lip-service. Okay, there are a few exceptions. I wish they were more notable and frequent.

I’ve been speaking out for "township" autonomy more frequently. It would at first be limited, experimental autonomy, to see how it goes. If it goes well, complete autonomy. We have a Hillsdale Town Center; what we lack is a town.

The potential demise of the #55 reminded me of thoughts I’ve had of a local township shuttle. It would consist of a small 24-seat bus that would transport folks whose homes are perched on hills and tucked away in dales. The shuttle's destination would be to the nearest TriMet bus lines, like the #55. Without TriMet feeders, the destination would be the Hillsdale Town Center (a Hillsdale Transit Center?).

It so happens we have people in Hillsdale who know a whole lot about buses. Buzz and Carolyn Raz ran the largest private bus company in the state until they retired a couple of years ago.

By chance, not an hour after I read The Oregonian story, I ran into Carolyn at Food Front.

We talked. And we will talk some more.

Believe me, there’s a lot to talk about, starting with liability and licensing. I'm inclined to avoid such topics.

I see a volunteer-voluntary shuttle, which might even have a Red Electric Line.

It’s 8 a.m. and the bright red Hillsdale shuttle pulls up to a doomed #55 stop. The volunteer driver greets the waiting passengers with “I just happen to be driving this way with a 20-person bus. Would you like a lift? Money? Naw, but if you'd like to make a modest donation for gas that's fine. Oh and if you would just sign this statement relieving me of liability etc. Sure, I’ll drop you off in Hillsdale where you can catch a TriMet bus.

"By the way, I’ll park up by the Library at 5:20 p.m. and 6 p.m. this evening. Just in case you and your old #55 friends need a lift.”

Wink, wink.

“Oh you like the name on the bus? I do too. It has a nice ring, ‘The Hillsdale Hop-Along.’”

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