Trimet plans to discontinue bus lines 38, 39 due to low ridership

Map of the proposed TriMet system.
Courtesy of “Forward Together” through

ACCORDING TO A draft proposal by TriMet, the company is considering cutting Lines 38 and 39, the two that directly service Lewis & Clark.

TriMet cites low ridership and the fact that LC is situated in a high income area for these cuts. Parking & Transportation Service Manager Gabriel Montez knows first hand the amount of users who buy passes and can attest to the claims of low ridership. According to Montez, of the 62 community members who buy passes, most of the traffic is not through these lines.

“The folks from our campus simply do not ride the 39,” Montez said. “Unfortunately, of those folks that buy the TriMet passes and the people that I speak to, and I, myself, am a regular user of TriMet – I ride in the city center, I don’t write the 39. The 39 is not a good line.”

However, many community members have been rallying support to keep the lines. In an email sent on Sept. 29, Associated Student Body President Madeleine MacWilliamson urged undergraduate students to provide feedback in a TriMet survey that is open until Oct. 31.

“This decision impacts students, staff, and faculty—everybody will feel the consequences in this decision,” the email stated. “Please, consider taking two minutes to fill out the TriMet feedback survey so you can prevent a decision that will impact us for many years ahead.”

According to MacWilliamson, she was initially made aware of the issue due to staff and faculty.

“I received word from Campus Living Director, Ben Meoz, that faculty were rallying about the elimination of the 38/39,” MacWilliamson said via email. 

Several faculty members were concerned about the route as removing their way to commute. I worried about my friends, who I know rely on TriMet to get to campus. I thought that the next logical step would be to publicize this news, so students can provide feedback and their personal experiences. Without more voices, TriMet will not hear the Lewis & Clark community.”

Fabian Guerrero ’22, who does not use the lines, felt similarly to MacWilliamson.

“If I only took the bus and had no other way to get to school, the closure of the 38 and 39 lines would be catastrophic,” Guerrero said via email.” I am not in that position, but I really empathize with those who are. The people affected are our peers, our faculty, and our staff. Show some respect for them, please.”

While Montez understands these sentiments, he agrees with the proposed changes, especially considering that there are greater needs in lower income areas with higher demographics of people of color.

“I believe the knee jerk reaction was to get upset by this,” Montez said. “But frankly, just looking at the data … it makes sense. In my mind, I understand why they’re doing it.”

According to MacWilliamson, LC offers the highest subsidized pass in the Portland area in comparison to other colleges. She is optimistic that this relationship and bargaining power will be beneficial in negotiations, especially with Vice President of Student Life Evette Castillo Clark prioritizing the issue of TriMet coverage.

“While I have not heard an official statement from administration, so I do not want to speak on their behalf, I met briefly with Sustainability Director, Amy Dvorak, who gave me encouraging news about alternatives to the 38/39,” MacWilliamson said. “We may see an expanded TriMet line, the 35, to Macadam Avenue. I am confident that L&C administrators will continue to advocate for TriMet access to campus.”

If Lines 38 and 39 were terminated, Montez said the Pioneer Express could support the needs of most who use the TriMet in addition to regular Pio riders.

“We have more than enough room in the morning to accommodate those folks,” Montez said. “There’s plenty – it’s a 40 foot bus, and even if it is full, there is a standing room option as well. I want to view this as okay, ‘How do we actually take this as a challenge? How do we use this as a way to create equity for our community?’” 

Due to TriMet’s reasoning, MacWilliamson said there is one clear path to guarantee these lines remain.

“If people feel passionate about preserving these lines: use them,” MacWilliamson said. “I know that this initial step can be difficult. I held a lot of fear around public transit after routinely being harassed on my local buses and light rail lines in San Jose, CA. But, conquering this anxiety is essential to upkeep public transit. Unless you try the TriMet, you cannot overcome these hurdles.”

Guerrero wishes that these lines were accessible, but living in Sellwood makes the commute impractical.

“I live in Sellwood, and what is a 15-20 minute drive from my house is an hour and a half long transit commute,” Guerrero said. “I’ve been hoping that the establishment of a solid ridership base to campus would trigger a proliferation of more bus routes so that I and others could choose to take transit to school. Until reliable public transit service is established to Lewis and Clark campus, there will never be good ridership and we will never become integrated into Portland’s transit network.”

MacWilliamson also lives in Sellwood and does not ride the lines for the same reasons. While she recognizes this may seem hypocritical, she challenges herself to do better.

“I recognize that I need to do more; I want to better familiarize myself with the local routes,” MacWilliamson said. “I hope that my message spurs more on-campus and off-campus students to acknowledge their individual impact on public transit.”

Regardless of the results of the draft plan, Montez said LC has a lot to tackle moving forward since the campus has a “car culture” and summer transportation has always been a challenge.

“It’s going to take a lot of brainstorming, it’s going to take a lot of courage and creativity,” Montez said. “But I do think that we have a lot of smart people who work and go to school here. I’m confident that we can find a solution to these problems.”

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