With the one-year anniversary of TriMet FX™ – Frequent Express – fast approaching, an important aspect of the service has come into focus: FX buses are more efficient, thanks in large part to next-generation transit-signal priority. The cloud-based system, which uses artificial intelligence to give buses more green lights and fewer reds, is among the latest advancements TriMet has made to improve travel time, reliability and the overall customer experience.
Experts nationwide are taking notice of the benefits of this first-of-its-kind system as well.
A new study commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration affirms that TriMet’s next-generation transit signal priority system speeds up buses by making changes to signal timing. The system’s algorithm adapts signals to give buses an edge as they approach intersections.
TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) conducted the study with the oversight of Kittelson & Associates, a Portland-based transportation engineering, planning and research firm. The study was performed in late May by running through different scenarios after the system had been turned off, then comparing those to when the system was turned back on.
Part of the Division Transit Project, which laid the groundwork for our FX—Frequent Express–service, the next-generation transit signal priority system was implemented specifically for FX2-Division buses, which run between Downtown Portland and Gresham. While the new system is not part of the FX2-Division’s downtown segment, which also serves other bus lines, it does operate at 57 signals along Division Street, covering roughly 11 miles, the majority of the 15-mile route. When added up across a one-way trip, the new system reduces the time buses would spend waiting at those 57 intersections, between Southeast 11th Avenue and Cleveland Avenue in Gresham, by around four minutes.
With the system proving itself to be more flexible and reliable than previous versions of transit-signal priority, which rely on line-of-sight emitters and receivers, it’s gained attention and major recognition from transportation engineers from across the country. Four agencies and one consulting company involved in the Division Transit Project received the 2023 Transportation Achievement Award in the Transportation Systems Management & Operations category at this year’s Institute of Transportation Engineers Annual Meeting, which was held this August in Portland.
Presented in five categories, the Transportation Achievement Awards recognize excellence in the advancement of transportation to meet human needs. In its recognition, the Institute of Transportation Engineers said the Division Transit Project leveraged “the most advanced signal technology available to deliver better buses to residents living along one of the region’s most diverse—and historically, most dangerous—arterial corridors.” Also involved in the Division Transit Project were PBOT, the City of Gresham, the Oregon Department of Transportation and engineering consultants DKS Associates.
The project was designed to increase bus reliability and performance. It does so by improving transit capacity and efficiency, with next-generation transit-signal priority aided further by longer buses with room for 60% more riders. There are now bus-only lanes at some intersections, which give buses green lights first ahead of all other vehicles. The project also brought elevated bus stations to the route, with level boarding at multiple doors for briefer stops, along with onboard bike storage and stations located where rider demand is greatest.
Based on the early success of FX2-Division, our first FX line that celebrates its one-year anniversary on Sept. 18, we look forward to pursuing ways to further improve it in the future.
A smarter, better-connected transit system
The new transit-signal priority system benefits from all the information TriMet collects as part of daily operations. On a given day, we can collect as many as 500,000 stop and event data records through our automatic vehicle location and passenger counter systems, which help the new transit-signal priority system to become smarter.
Increasingly, information informs decisions that TriMet and our partners make to speed up service. Data used to better understand overall traffic patterns helps in deciding the locations of Rose Lanes, for example. TriMet also works to make more information available to our riders. In early 2022, TriMet introduced our retooled website, with several new features, including real-time vehicle tracking, that improve our riders’ trip-planning capabilities. Also, at our Transit Centers and bus stops, we have installed ePaper digital displays, which provide transit information to more locations than ever before.
For more information about FX2-Division and all the ways it’s working to speed up service, go to trimet.org/fx.