OPAL: TriMet fare plan unfair to poorer bus riders

By Jonathan Ostar, Contributing Writer

Transit equity means identifying and prioritizing the needs of those who rely on transit the most. Fare increases and service cuts should always be a last resort, yet TriMet is proposing to increase fares, cut services and eliminate round-trip transfers to save money. These changes will hurt regular transit riders who depend on transit the most.

If you’re a transit-dependent rider and live in outer Southeast Portland or out in Forest Grove, you rely on the bus as a lifeline: to get to the grocery store, the pharmacy, jobs and job interviews. Right now, if you can’t afford a monthly or annual bus pass, you are using cash or single tickets, and you try to get as much use out of that single ticket as possible. This means $2.10 for a two-zone round-trip to the nearest grocery store. Under TriMet’s recent proposal, this simple errand will cost you $5.00.

TriMet is justifying these fare increases and service cuts with poor data, faulty analysis and a lack of transparency and accountability that leaves transit riders confused and in the dark.

First, TriMet is blaming its bus drivers for wanting the best health care. TriMet claims that the current contract will cost the agency $5 million to $10 million more than projected. We all should stand with the union in these negotiations, and they have every incentive to ensure service and ridership are maintained, as this protects their jobs. What’s important here is that this cost was foreseeable, and TriMet should not be driving a wedge between drivers and its riders due to its poor management.

Second, TriMet is blaming partisanship in Washington DC, projecting $4 million less in federal grant revenue in the next fiscal year. Regardless of what Congress eventually does with the federal transportation bill, the vast majority of federal dollars that come to TriMet are for capital construction projects, so should have little to no bearing on its service.

Third, TriMet is using too conservative of a forecast in projecting $3.2 million less in payroll tax revenue. In fiscal year 2011, TriMet used a 4 percent growth rate for payroll tax revenue, but actually received $7 million more than projected. In fiscal year 2012, TriMet again used a 4 percent growth rate and is on track to again underestimate by $7 million. For fiscal year 2013, TriMet used a more conservative growth rate of 3.5 percent, meaning it thinks the economy will get worse, not better, and is estimating a shortfall of $3.2 million. Recent trends show that we will end up with more payroll tax revenue than estimated. Conservative estimates and surpluses are generally good things, but should not be used to justify making such major fare increases, service cuts and policy changes.

And what of TriMet’s engagement with those who will be impacted the most by these fare increases? In 2011, OPAL enlisted more than 6,000 transit riders — primarily from East Portland — who supported extending transfer times to three hours as a way to inject value back into the system for riders who could not afford a transit pass. More than 30 community-based organizations endorsed this campaign goal. What we learned is that TriMet lacks the information and data needed to accurately estimate how this policy change might impact the bottomline or improve people’s access to positive, healthy outcomes. This same faulty analysis is now being used to justify the current proposal to eliminate round-trip transfers, all to save, at most, $3 million dollars, which is less than 1 percent of TriMet’s overall $400 million budget. What we hear from our members, echoed by many transit-dependent riders who attended a TriMet forum at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization on Feb. 9 was that many people use transit for these short but necessary errands, and won’t be able to afford paying $5 every day they need to leave their homes.

It is time for people who depend on TriMet as a lifeline — low-income people, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, the elderly and youth — to get organized and make our voices heard to maintain our basic rights, demand transit equity, and preserve round-trip transfers.

OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon is a 501c3 grassroots nonprofit empowering low-income communities and people of color to for environmental and social justice. To connect with OPAL to support and  join our Bus Riders Unite membership, visit us on the web, or call 503-928-4354.

About the author; Jonathan Ostar is the director, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, a grassroots nonprofit advocating for environmental and social justice.


5 responses to “OPAL: TriMet fare plan unfair to poorer bus riders

  1. Pingback: SR editorial: TriMet cuts short-sighted compared to the impact | For those who can’t afford free speech

  2. Agree. TriMet must be more accountable to their ridership that is transit dependent. We need to retain the Free Rail Zone and if possible the entire Free Buss Zone. Some form of lower fare for short distance travel is needed. And another tax or fee from auto usage needs to help to pay for operations.

  3. Pingback: OPAL, preparing to meet with union, declares a victory on keeping round trips cheap | Portland Afoot

  4. Pingback: TriMet: First priority is service, regardless of budget crisis | For those who can’t afford free speech

  5. William L. Ostar

    Jon Ostar seems to know the material well and this is an important issue that all Portlanders need to be aware of.

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