Picketers outside TriMet meeting

Public transportation advocates gather in front of the North Portland Library to persuade TriMet board members to not cut bus service. Photo by Richard Jones, El Hispanic News


Richard Jones
El Hispanic News

Portland, OR — While TriMet management and the TriMet union dispute the best way to compensate for expected budget shortfalls, a third group opposes planned cuts in bus services.

On the last Tuesday in March, a group of minority and low-income workers — under the name “We All Ride the Bus” — held a press conference in Northeast Portland.

An hour later — and just two blocks down North Killingsworth St. — TriMet Manager Neil McFarlane and TriMet board members Consuelo Saragoza and Dr. T. Allen Bethel held a public hearing at the North Portland Branch of the Multnomah County Library. This was the fifth — and last — such hearing scheduled. According to TriMet employees on site, this was also the largest and most vocal of the hearings.

The format of the public hearing allowed public speakers three minutes each to express their opinions. On the other hand, TriMet officials did not to respond to questions or reply to public comments.

One man found this format unworkable. He preferred some give and take.

Most of the testimony from about 30 people centered on the hardships that proposed changes would impose.

One mother pleaded for TriMet not to raise fares. “Taking our children [on public transit] is very expensive,” she said.

TriMet currently allows children six or younger to ride free when accompanied by a paying passenger. This mother asked TriMet to expand free fares to include children 12 or younger.

Another woman noted that “The weight of fares [is] falling on the shoulders of the poorest.” She suggested extending transfer tickets to three hours.

Another speaker suggested creating a family pass. He said that low fares were important to people going to job interviews.

Jim Howell, a former TriMet service planner, suggested creating discounts for off-peak hours by 10 percent. Howell reasoned that this would benefit current riders and presumably attract new riders for TriMet.

One woman said that her unemployment compensation had run out. She had depended on TriMet for transportation, but now could not go anywhere.

Another woman wondered, “Why should we be talking about cuts, when we need more service?”

One man, who lives in the Lloyd Center area and currently gets free rides for his downtown shopping, church activitie,s and entertainment, objected to eliminating the free fare zone. He felt that paying a full fare for a short run was unfair.

Another man said that he currently spends $400 per month to go to work and return. If TriMet fares increased, he said, he could probably find it cheaper to transport himself and his family in a car.

Yet another man predicted that higher fares would affect minority youth. They might stop going to school and start a life of crime, he said.

In the early meeting at the Center for Intercultural Organizing, Kayse Jama stated, “Busses are a matter of life or death — access to jobs [is essential for survival].”

Jama, CIO executive director, also noted, “Poor people are being squeezed out of the inner city, so they [now] have to commute, so they’re dependent on the bus. We have to take public transportation very seriously. As a community, we have to come together.”

TriMet’s new plan

TriMet finds itself under several constraints. One difficult area is the requirement to present a balanced budget for the next fiscal year — in this case from July 1, 2012. to June 30, 2013. With the unsettled labor contract with ATU Local 757, preparing a pin-point budget is close to impossible.

At first, TriMet based its provisional budget on a $17 million shortfall. In March, they drew up a new budget, this one calling for $12 million cuts in service.

Under a proposal released in March, the cuts in service have been reduced. In a revised proposal (online at www.trimet.org/choices/bus-reductions-refined.htm) TriMet said, “We initially proposed cutting low-ridership trips on 26 bus lines and eliminating some weekend service on three lines. We are now proposing cutting low-ridership trips on only 10 bus lines and we will not be eliminating weekend service on any lines.”

The 10 lines that would see a reduction in service are 15, 18, 36, 37, 43, 50, 55, 59, 89 and 92.

In addition, TriMet will cut duplication of 15 lines that overlap at some points. Details of these plans and several others are available online.

The current proposal includes an increase in adult fares beginning Sept. 1 to a flat $2.50 fare. Tickets would be good for two hours in any direction, on either buses or MAX rail lines.

The TriMet website notes, “The one-way only idea we initially proposed is off the table — at least for now.”

Current MAX free zones, such as the run from Lloyd Center to downtown, will be eliminated.

All proposed changes still await the approval of the TriMet board. Names and e-mails of all board members and their districts are available on trimet.org.

We All Ride the Bus responds

Opponents of cuts printed a position paper saying, “We All Ride the Bus has developed alternative solutions for TriMet that will raise new revenue and save money to balance the budget without the need for drastic fare hikes and service cuts in the current [TriMet] proposal.”

Sample suggestions include:

  • charging parking fees at Park&Ride lots to raise $1.5 million,
  • a premium fare for Westside Commuter Service to raise $500,000,
  • shifting part of the $6 million for streetcar subsidies to the City of Portland, and
  • several performance efficiency measures.

We All Ride the Bus is a coalition of a dozen organizations. More information is available at www.weallridethebus.org.