Thursday, 19 November 2015

From street cars to uber

Portland in all the pre-tour reading was regarded as a utopian city, but in my short 3 days so far, I must say that this is not my experience. They say that you should not judge a book by its cover, and I intend to keep an open mind until all the options have been explored.

The Public Transport system was touted as a world class piece of infrastructure, which I was rather looking forward to utilising. Upon my arrival I was to find that this was not the case. To be fair, Portland had experienced the single largest daily rainfall event in over 4 years,

Which caused localised flooding in the downtown region and as a result the network was plunged into chaos on the day of my arrival.  After hearing this information, I forgave the operator Tri-Met, as this was the actions of mother nature. While I write this in a small Portland cafĂ© while the streetcar system sits idle due to a broken down unit, I am still to be satisfied by the performance of this so called ‘world class network’.

The streetcar network has an achilles heal, if there is a delay on the network or a broken down unit, the entire network grinds to a halt, leaving commuters stranded, this is not the best case scenario that these users of public transport. This is also hampered by real time updates not being updated to reflect the delays.

There are many other alternatives to the Tri-Met system, ride sharing system ‘Uber’ at the time of writing this piece has 9 vehicles within 8 blocks of my location, and are offering competitive fares of between 5-8 USD to get the locations of my choosing. Taxis are plentiful, with one on almost every street corner, but it is clear to me that the community has confidence in the Tri-Met system and its frequent glitches, this is shown through the large number of passengers who gather on each platform ready to ride the rails of the Portland public transport system.

The transport network in Portland needs to learn from Japanese examples where there is 0 tolerance for delays and where trains will leave on schedule even if the prospective passengers are not on board.

When talking to local residents, they all have the same points, the Max is a fast service, when reliable. The Street car network is prone o failures but provides an agile option that facilitates movement into tightly developed areas and the bus network is the most commonly used mode.

Portland has a wide range public open spaces which are frequently utilised. Sunday is a prime example of where public open space is activated to its full potential, areas of the waterfront are taken over by walkers, runners, cyclists and animals. This is of a stark contrast to night time hours where the areas in question house large numbers of homeless Portlandians.

The parkland abutting the waterfront allows for activities to take place such as the Saturday/Sunday Markets which take place weekly on the foreshore. To think that this area was once a freeway, where cars were dominant, the result of the removal of this freeway has been a return of the space to the human scale.

Portland itself is a wonderful place, the local residents are helpful and happy, although this may be credited to the legalisation of recreational cannabis. There is order to the city with the conventional grid formation present across the city. This has enabled easy movements across the central business district and its surrounding neighbourhoods.


The pop culture slogan for Portland is: ‘Keep Portland Weird’, and weird is exactly how it is.

Tim Norden