The bus to nowhere: Line 47

Most buses are easy enough to tell where they go. They get people downtown. They connect two towns. They go down a busy road. They connect up a transit grid system. They go to the hospital.

Then there are lines where I’m not sure where they go, bus lines that when I drive them, I can’t figure out who is riding and where they are going. Line 47 is probably the most egregious example of this. I drove a straight of it for a week and did some trippers on it, and after all that time in the seat, I’m still not sure where it goes.

The 47 starts its meandering journey through the burbs at the Hillboro Transit Center in downtown Hillsboro. The first part of the route makes enough sense. It travels out of the transit center and down TV Highway for a few blocks, until it gets to 10th. It takes a left, and then a right onto Main Street. Straight forward enough, busy street, to busy street. This part of the route also makes the most sense. You pass houses and apartments so at this point in the route I can at least imagine where these people are coming and going to.

From here the 47 makes a left onto Century and heads north to Orenco Station. Orenco Station, a late 1990s housing development, is an urban planners dream come true. It features all then things that make New Urbanists salivate. Transit Oriented Development. Light Rail. Apartment buildings. Public spaces. Walkable streets. Bike lanes. There is nothing wrong with any of those things but the development’s whimsical post-modern design features makes the place ooze with faux heritage. However all of the brick facades in the world can’t force a place to feel organic, and not like some urban planning Disneyland.

That being said, the Orenco neighborhood feels more lived in and vibrant than say Portland’s South Waterfront, which more than a decade on still feels cold, empty, and forced. Even on a cold January evening, the tables outside Pizza Schmizza in Orenco Station were full of folks eating pizza and boozing, and folks lingered in the plaza by the MAX platform to hear live music.

However, even in all its “transit oriented development” glory, Orenco Station gets the Blue Line, the 48 (which trucks along down Cornell between Sunset TC and Hillsboro TC), and the 47. Of course the Blue Line goes places, but the 47, where does it go? It’s oriented toward transit, but what if that transit goes nowhere? So yes, the 47 goes to Orenco Station, but I had maybe one person get on there, one person get off there per trip if I was lucky. I’m not sure how it was before the pandemic, but I can’t imagine a full bus of people getting on and off there. There were still plenty of cars lurking for parking and entering and exiting the parking garage, which leads me to wonder, just how transit oriented can a neighborhood be in the suburbs in the 21st Century in the United States when folks aren’t motivated to give up their cars? Statistics say people are more likely in this neighborhood to use transit or bike than other neighborhoods in the region, but it still doesn’t feel like enough and a bus that doesn’t go anywhere doesn’t encourage more people to ride.

North of Orenco Station, the 47 winds past the Intel campus, and swings through industrial park after industrial park. North of Orenco the 47 bores me. The industrial parks are nondescript, one looking exactly like the last one. That might not seem like too much of a problem if you are a company that just needs a place to set up your light manufacturing business in a town with good schools and nice homes, but the bus driver thrives on landmarks. Landmarks are important to keep your brain focused, to think about where you are in relation to the rest of your route or the rest of the city. How close your next turn is or if the hospital is coming up. But if everything looks the same, it’s harder to differentiate inside my head what is what and where is where. The apartment complexes look similar too. And then north of Tanasbourne, the 47 snakes through some single family housing developments near Bethany, many surrounded by tall fences and high walls that leave you guessing what is happening there.

The route ends at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus. It’s a nice place for a layover, probably would have been even nicer before the pandemic closed the campus, leaving us drivers with only a portapotty. However, the Tualatin Mountains (aka the West Hills) loom in the distance, there are some trees and fields, and for a split second you can almost imagine yourself in the country with the birdsong.

The big problem though, and it isn’t an exclusive problem to the 47, is that this bus doesn’t really go anywhere. OK, maybe some folks transfer from the MAX station at Orenco to get to their job at Intel or the industrial park, but not that many. Sure, some folks who live in Bethany might use it connect with downtown Hillsboro, but how often does that happen? They might also use it to connect to the MAX, but the 67 and 52 both get to a MAX station much faster.

The 47 feels like one of those routes that transit haters love to complain about. I would take the bus but it goes nowhere. Why are my tax dollars being wasted on a bus with no one on it that goes to nowhere? And when I drive the 47, I have a hard time arguing those points. Barely anyone rides it, and I’m not sure where it goes or who it serves. It is a perfect example of something that all transit agencies that serve broad regions suffer from — do we just run buses where people are likely to take them and where they are the most cost effective or profitable? Or do we run some kind of service everywhere in the region, providing coverage in areas even if there are few riders.

It does serve some people though, and like any service, once it gets started, and people begin to depend on it, and they plan their lives around it, it is hard to take away. So for the four people a trip I picked up, I hope they enjoyed the ride and got something out of it. The bus is there for them too.

Would I sign it? I would actually. Even though it is a little dull for my tastes, it isn’t the worst scenery wise or route wise. There are plenty of turns and curves, and it is usually paired up with the 67 or 48 so you don’t get too bored driving the same route over and over again. The schedule isn’t padded either so you can just drive flat out without having to waste time at time points. It would be nice if there were people on board to see and talk to, but after a week of driving the 73, it felt like a vacation and barely work at all.

Fast Facts:

Does it go to Walmart? No it goes by Target though.

Does it go to the Bottle Drop? No.

Does it go downtown? No.

Does it go to the MAX? Yes, at Orenco Station and Hillsboro Transit Center.

Landmarks: Kaiser Westside Medical Center, PCC Rock Creek, Noble Woods Park, the Main Street MAX Bridge.

Favorite Memory: Drinking coffee and watching the sunrise at PCC Rock Creek and seeing a deer walk by. Driving a round trip from PCC Rock Creek to Orenco Station and back and not picking up a single person.

Need to go somewhere else?

Line 8

Line 20

Line 57

Line 92

Line 73

This is a personal blog, the views expressed in this blog are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of TriMet.

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Don Iler

Don Iler

I’m a public transit enthusiast in Portland, Oregon. I love public transportation, history and writing.