We had another great day of 1stSaturday Organizing last weekend, with blue skies and more than 15 volunteer organizers! We even had three youth representatives out with us for their first day of organizing. It was great to see them engaging the public about Youth Pass and Campaign for a Fair Transfer, issues that are crucial to their ability to access the services they will need as they become more independent. These future leaders all said they enjoyed their first experience as community organizers. Way to step up!
1st Saturday Organizing
With our volunteers and staff, we had a big enough group to cover two separate areas; Lloyd Center and Interstate/Rosa Parks Max stops. With TriMet committed to reviewing the dollars and cents (and sense!) behind CFT, we need to be connecting with as many transit users as possible. Will enough of you join us next month to form THREE groups?
In the meantime, there is no shortage of ways to get involved with BRU! or OPAL. There is an EPAP Transit Riders subcommittee meeting next week, when next steps for the East Portland Bus Stop Project will be discussed. OPAL’s benefit to support our OIT program is just two weeks away and there are still tickets available. See the previous blog post for details.
EPAP Transit Riders subcommittee: Wed, June 12, 6:30-8:00; Arbor Glen Apartments – 2609 SE 145th (TriMet Lines 4, 9)
On June 29th, OPAL will be part of a multi-organizational rally focused on Healthy Cities. Portland Rising and Jobs With Justice are organizing a carnival-style rally that will be family-friendly and informative. Come learn more about how the campaigns of Portland Association of Teachers or local food workers are directly tied to ours, while playing giant Monopoly or watching street theater. Click here for event details. In addition to attending the event, we could use some fun and creative people to help plan our games.
Work session: Friday June 14, 5:30 at OPAL. For more info, contact Mike(at)opalpdx.org
On Thursday, June 27th, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon will host Voices from a People’s History of the United States, a benefit for the summer Organizer in Training Program at an inaugural fundraising event at Curious Comedy Theatre, located in the heart of Vanport Square in Northeast Portland. The evening will feature community leaders, elected officials, and other notable Portlanders reading excerpts from Howard Zinn’s book “Voices of a People’s History of the United States”, highlighting the people who paved the way for social justice.
OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon builds power for civil rights and environmental justice in our communities. We organize low-
income communities and people of color to achieve a safe and healthy environment where we live, work and play. We strive to create opportunities for meaningful participation in the decision-making that sets policy in our region.
For the past three years, summer has been the season to look forward to at OPAL. Not only because it’s a great time for organizers to connect with community members in the warm sunshine, but because every morning, a group of inspired young people walk through the doors ready to take on the challenges of the day as a part of OPAL’s summer Organizer in Training (OiT) program. The OiT program
develops leadership and organizing skills in young people (mostly high-school and college age youth) through a 9 week long summer curriculum; this successful program has developed 12 leaders of its’ 3 year history, many of which have continued to work in social justice and grassroots organizing.
Please join us and the following confirmed readers from our social justice community:
Robert Liberty, former Metro Councilor | Jeri Sundvall-Williams, City of Portland | Steve Novick, Portland City Council | Sharon Gary-Smith, MRG Foundation | Jo Ann Hardesty, Civil Rights leader | Dante James, Office of Equity and Human Rights | Mara Gross, Coalition for a Livable Future | Alissa Keny-Guyer, Oregon House District 46 | Cameron Whitten, Social Justice Activist | Lisa Bates, Portland State University | Lynne Barrett, Bus Riders Unite Leader | Terrence Coleman, Bus Riders Unite Leader | Rex Burkholder, former Metro councilor | Jean Yamamoto, SEIU | Cameron Johnson, Bus Riders Unite Leader | Teresa Keishi Soto, Bus Riders Unite Leader
On Thursday, TriMet and the agency’s Board of Directors acknowledged the hard work that OPAL and Bus Riders Unite! has put into our analysis of extended transfers and the effects this might have on transit riders who depend on single ticket fares. They repeatedly referenced and commended BRU members on the amount of civic engagement we have shown in trying to improve our transit system. We haven’t exactly been making it easy for them to ignore us though: in addition to showing up at board meetings to testify, as we did on Thursday morning with 15 testimonies given by BRU and OPAL, we have been sitting down with individual TriMet board members to discuss CFT, we have been writing op-ed pieces and press releases for local newspapers and we have been strengthening our transit justice coalition with other community organizations. You might even have seen OPAL’s Executive Director Jon Ostar on a recent KOIN 6 report. TriMet stated again that they will provide detailed analysis to the board at the end of June as to the financial impact of extending transfer times.
BRU and OPAL give testimony at the TriMet board meeting today
The testimony given at this week’s TriMet board meeting really portrayed just how transit justice affects us all and is directly tied to the health of a city. Comments today ranged from that of personal stories by transit dependent community members, to those who sometimes have the option to drive but are trying to make the environmentally-conscious decision not to. We heard how the best part of their public transit experience to some people is the bus drivers themselves and how a fair system will also respect its employees. We heard from bus operators who want to provide the best service possible but are stuck operating over-crowded buses and making late arrivals due to service cuts. The CFT is about finding new ways to approach old problems. Instead of making riders shoulder the burden of increased fairs and decreased service, let’s find solutions that encourage the use of our transit system. When you restore service and value, you restore faith in the system and grow ridership. When you help people meet their basic needs, you help create healthy cities.
OPAL and BRU members look forward to working with TriMet to analyze the issue in June and recommending a full implementation of three hour transfers and unlimited after 7pm.
First Saturday Organizing: 11am – 3pm at the OPAL office, 2407 SE 49th
This week’s guest blog post is from long time Bus Riders Unite member and self-identified ‘transit geek’ Cameron Johnson.
Hello fellow transit riders and activists.
You may have noticed how the mainstream media has picked up the pace in investigating TriMet’s decision to allocate almost $1 million in non-union wage increases as part of the FY 2013 budget, at a time when they were raising our fares to historic levels and further cutting back our service. After KOIN Channel 6’s hard-hitting piece last night, TriMet has their PR machine out in full force, implying that we over here at OPAL were told about the intended wage increases and failed to bring it to our members and the public at-large.
Here’s the truth: in analyzing the proposed FY 2013 budget, we noticed they were doubling their Contingency Fund from $10M to $20M, seemingly without justification. This was critical because in doubling the Contingency – a source of backup money intended for emergency situations – leaves us with $10M less in operating money, and along with a manufactured budget shortfall, allowed for the impression that TriMet needed to raise fares and cut service to break even (more on this later).
In May of 2012, TriMet provided us with a memo to explain why the Contingency Fund could not be reduced as we were asking them to do, and we’re sharing that piece with you here:
From page 2 of “Memo to OPAL Regarding Contingency”, received May 2012. via e-mail
We want to be clear – we didn’t consider questioning each line item that was presented as a possible unexpected expense to be a priority then, nor is it a top priority now; not when fares continue to rise, service continues to be cut, Free Rail is eliminated, billion dollar light-rails continue to be built, money continues to be thrown at a streetcar to nowhere, and riders – especially those of us most dependent on transit – continue to suffer. The non-union wage increases represented less than 5% of the proposed Contingency, and less than 0.2% of the overall operating budget, and there was no indication they were even going to happen. There are bigger fish to fry.
Does this mean we agree with the raises? Absolutely not. TriMet has made some terrible decisions over the past several years that have jeopardized the integrity of our system, and we don’t support throwing money at poor performance. But we were focused on one thing: fighting for a more equitable budget, meaning lower fares, more service frequency and coverage, and generating revenue from those who are getting subsidies – park and ride users, WES and streetcar riders, even drivers. Furthermore, we weren’t even aware that those raises would actually happen; after all, the whole point of the Contingency is that it is to be used for unanticipated overages. What TriMet did was an incorrect and potentially illicit use of the contingency, and had we understood TriMet’s intentions, we would have included this in our argument that the “rich” were getting richer while the “poor” were getting poorer. All we were concerned with, and all we remain concerned with, is preventing further fare hikes and restoring service and value for the riders.
Let’s not get distracted here. There was NO budget shortfall last year. TriMet maintained its federal funding, has a substantial surplus in payroll tax revenue, and won its arbitration with the union. Not only does TriMet have that $12M in pocket, but they also got a short-term surplus to boot. Yet, here we are at the bus stop, paying much more for much less. We want to see this money come back to the riders, in the form of increased transfer times, stronger and safer infrastructure, and increased service frequency.
Rest assured that we at OPAL and Bus Riders Unite will always be honest with you. I started out as a Bus Riders Unite member helping to analyze and develop our Budget Alternative to minimize the impact of fare hikes and service cuts. We saved our ability to make round-trip transfers (imagine that!); we won a million dollar mitigation fund (from the Contingency) to help offset the impact to low-income riders; and we mobilized hundreds of new voices to the decision-making table. As a current BRU Leadership Committee member, my job is to not only fight for transit justice, but to also demand more transparency and clarity from TriMet, which I have always been happy to do. Knowledge and awareness are the highest forms of power for us. We won’t stop until we get there, and we welcome you to join us on this ride. Because this is how we roll.
Wishing you the best in your transit travels,
We are really excited about two significant milestones for both BRU and OPAL that occurred this week! The first one you may have read about in OPAL’s Facebook post about 1st Saturday Organizing. We had a record number of participants on May 4th with 12 organizers! Many of them were brand new faces and all were just as eager to help build support behind the transit justice movement. As our number of organizers grows, so do our ranks in BRU membership, giving transit riders a stronger voice than ever. Can you imagine how many potential allies we could reach if we consistently turn out in these numbers? Mark your calendar for June 1st, our next organizing day, to find out!
The other first-time-ever occurrence from this week was the initial meeting of TriMet’s new Transit Equity Committee, which took place on Tuesday, May 7th. You may remember that OPAL has been advocating for the necessity of such a committee since 2011. We have all seen how easy it is for our transit agency to overlook the needs of bus riders, especially those in the outer boundaries of TriMet’s service area. Even when well-intended, TriMet’s management and board simply don’t know what daily life is like for the transit-dependent. That is why it is especially significant that BRU member Terrence is a member of this standing committee. To put that into perspective, this means a direct voice for transit riders at an ongoing official TriMet committee. We commend TriMet on taking this important step towards transit justice, in addition to continuing a dialogue with BRU through meetings with TriMet board members.
As we continue to build capacity, OPAL and BRU campaigns are moving forward. We encourage you to attend the East Portland Bus Stop Prioritization meeting on May 14th, where we will be selecting the bus stops to present to TriMet as needing immediate improvement. The sites have been narrowed down to four cluster areas and if you want to have a say in the final cut, we need to hear from you. Food, childcare, and Spanish translation will be provided but please RSVP so we know what to plan for.
East Portland Bus Stop Prioritization meeting: Tuesday, May 14 – Rosewood Initiative, 16126 SE Stark St (Line #20 and MAX Blue) RSVP to hector(at)opalpdx.org or 503-342-8910.
If you are a youth interested in advocacy and fairness, or know somebody who is, please make a note of the upcoming Youth Environmental Justice Workshop, hosted by OPAL’s Youth Organizer, Nicole Johnson.
Youth Environmental Justice Workshop – Saturday, May 18 – CIO, 700 N. Killingsworth St (Lines 72, 4 and MAX Yellow)
Sunday is Mother’s Day! Give her a hug. Maybe take her on a tour of the public art along TriMet’s bus and MAX lines: http://trimet.org/publicart/ or take Line 15 to within walking distance of the Washington Park Rose Garden.
This week’s blog post comes from OPAL Youth Organizer, Nicole Johnson, who has been working with youth city-wide to advocate for stable funding of the YouthPass benefit, and to expand it to all students in the Portland metropolitan area. Herself and Multnomah Youth Commissioner Jose Lopez Delgado penned an opinion piece published this week in the Oregonian about the importance of YouthPass. This blog post is about her own personal experience.
As the OPAL Youth Organizer, I’m so excited that we are going to have the YouthPass for another school year. I have heard from many students that without YouthPass, they wouldn’t be able to go to school or do daily errands or even work.
The year I graduated high school was the year YouthPass was implemented. Even though I walked to school, YouthPass would have benefited me tremendously. When I worked at Chuck E Cheese as a senior in high school, I would take the bus. But with having a job comes responsibilities (helping out with my household bills, phone bills, etc.), and I soon couldn’t afford bus fare. This meant that my trips were limited and often I would walk home. You might say “hey, walking is great exercise!” but my neighborhood in southeast Portland has a lot of bars, video poker establishments, and convenience stores with people coming and out of them at all times of the night.
One time I was walking home from work at 9pm at night. I was about two blocks away from my house and while trying to fix my headphones, I dropped them on the ground, right in front of a door entrance to a bar. As I picked them up, 2 guys walked out and looked at me with sort of a crooked look. One of them said, “What are you doing around here?”. At that moment, I was so afraid that I ran all the rest of the way home. If I would have had access to a bus pass, I would have been dropped off right near the street where I lived, and not had to worryingly speed past 3 bars to get home.
Even though I am not eligible for YouthPass now, it’s an important issue to me because I don’t want someone else to have the terrifying experience I had that night. I see YouthPass as helping students get to and from school, extracurricular activities, and other opportunities which keep them engaged with their community. But it’s mostly important to me because it means having a stable form of transportation and getting to and from destinations safely.
This has been a big week in the world of Bus Riders Unite and OPAL. An active BRU member and outer Southeast Portland resident Eavan Moore is our guest posting for this week, offering her take on the future of Campaign for a Fair Transfer.
Think back to October 2010. Who were you two and a half years ago? What’s changed since then?
If you’re a bus rider, here’s one answer: Now, we are united. And now we shape our own transit system.
Last Tuesday, TriMet met riders where we’re at — which is to say, the Bus Riders Unite! HQ at 49th and Division. General Manager Neil McFarlane, Chief Financial Office Dave Auxier, and board member Travis Stovall spent an evening speaking with seven of the many bus riders who have worked on Campaign for a Fair Transfer. Cameron, Teresa, Keith, Lynne, Vivian, Jared and I described the long wait times and steep fare increases that make the length of a transfer such an urgent issue for the transit-dependent. We stressed that TriMet can easily afford, and must use, this opportunity to regain public trust and grow its ridership. And we finished by asking for two commitments: First, that TriMet allow for our proposed transfer extensions in its FY2014 budget; and second, that its May board meeting — which could see the budget approved — be held in the evening, to make it truly accessible to the public.
Neil McFarlane made no promises on that score, but he did offer a set of unprecedented commitments that evening and at TriMet’s board meeting the next day. TriMet will use new data to complete a financial and ridership impact analysis of BRU’s proposals by July 1. BRU will participate in a work session in July, and will work with TriMet staff to prepare recommendations to the TriMet board. If TriMet decides to implement the fair transfer, new bus fareboxes under installation would make it possible to switch over in just one or two months.
Let’s take a moment to let this sink in. Back in 2010, bus riders brainstormed ideas from their own experience. Two separate proposals solidified into a campaign. Volunteers organized new riders, gathered 6,000 signatures, and won community support. We went out on the buses, in the streets, at TriMet board meetings. We spoke out for the riders. And because we spoke for the riders, three of the top decision makers at TriMet came to us and listened.
BRU has cred. And this summer, we’ll put its full force behind the Campaign for a Fair Transfer. It’s time to dig into the data, find the funds, and hold TriMet accountable to those who live their lives on public transit. At Wednesday’s board meeting, we proposed new budget language. We’ll be looking for it when we come out en masse to the next meeting on May 22 — this time, to celebrate.
Bus Riders Unite! has had a busy week as they continue to work toward being guided entirely by members. The Leadership Committee helped to shape the agenda for next week’s BRU meeting, during which members will have more of a role in facilitation as well. Topics for discussion will include the Campaign for a Fair Transfer, the East Portland Bus Stop Improvement Project, and YouthPass. The bus stop project has been steadily moving forward, with cluster groups meeting regularly to share their findings. A community prioritization meeting has been set for May 14th (see the meeting announcements at the bottom of this post for details).
With TriMet currently in a budget approval process we need to keep pressure on them to make decisions that are in the best interest of riders. We need them to hear resoundingly that the Campaign for a Fair Transfer (is their chance to restore value and our faith in the agency. We need to raise awareness about the injustice of standing in the mud at a bus stop in East Portland with no shelter or lighting. Attending the monthly meetings is the best way to stay informed about the many events and ongoing campaigns of BRU. It is also the best way to make sure your opinions are heard by the rest of the membership. Join us on Tuesday and be an activated member of BRU!
Bus Riders Unite meeting: Tuesday, April 23. 6:30-8PM at OPAL office. Lines 4, 14, 71
Food, childcare, and Spanish translation provided. Please RSVP so we can plan accordingly.
East Portland Bus Stop Project Community Prioritization Meeting: Tuesday, May 14. 6-8PM at Rosewood Initiative (16126 SE Stark St.) Line 20, MAX Blue Line
Did someone say “momentum”? Oh, that’s right, WE did. OPAL and BRU are still picking up speed after the successes of the First Annual Membership Gathering at the end of March. We’re continuing to build power within multiple campaigns and efforts.
BRU members were out for 1st Saturday Organizing, messaging the Campaign for a Fair Transfer and engaging bus riders in discussions about the Bus Stop Improvement Project. Among the group of seasoned BRU organizers and volunteers, we also had two first-time BRU organizers come out and talk with over 30 people about their transit experiences. Connecting with transit users on these organizing days not only grows Bus Riders Unite! but also provides us with the stories and exeperiences that shape our campaigns. Thank you Taryn, Brittany, Sunshine, Teresa, Emily, Kevin and Nicole for your important work on Saturday!
While BRU has been engaging the community, OPAL has been persistent in our efforts to make sure TriMet is paying attention. The Research and Advisory Committee highlighted discrepancies found in TriMet’s proposed 2014 budget, which we testified on during the last board meeting. A subtle but substantive victory was won as TriMet will be updating phrasing and accounting in the budget proposal in an effort to meet OPAL’s demands for transparency from the agency.
Many of you know that the City of Portland is in a budget process as well. Mayor Hales has called for all departments and bureaus to present budgets at 90% of previous operating costs. Many services that are aimed at bringing equity to our communities are threatened with being underfunded or cut all together. YouthPass has been funded for next year, but its future remains uncertain. Our partners at Multnomah Youth Commission and East Portland Action Plan are in jeopardy as well. Groups and representatives from dozens of organizations and communities packed the City Budget Meeting Thursday night at Montgomery Park to speak about the importance of funding for social services. Powerful testimony was given by Nicole and East Portland youth describing how investing in programs that support youth leadership and education are vital to healthy communities.
Keep checking back for updates and information on how to get involved. If you find yourself wanting to be a part of OPAL or BRU and are unsure where to start, please contact us!
Reminder: April Bus Riders Unite Meeting Tuesday, April 23rd starting at 6:30pm at the OPAL Office (2407 SE 49th). RSVP today: (503) 342-8910 or e-mail us info[at]opalpdx.org
If you have found yourself thinking lately that you would like to get more involved with OPAL and Bus Riders Unite!, this Saturday is the perfect opportunity. We will be out for 1st Saturday Organizing and also conducting more bus stop assessments as part of the East Portland Bus Stop Improvement Project. Both of these efforts are essential to OPAL’s mission. Help us activate more transit riders by talking with them about the Campaign for a Fair Transfer. Participating in 1st Saturday Organizing is a great way to reconnect with OPAL if you have not been active lately, or to learn more about the “groundwork” if you are just getting familiar with us.
1st Saturday Organizing: Meet at OPAL at 11:00 THIS Saturday, April 6th. TriMet Lines 4, 14
You can also show your support for OPAL and Portland’s youth leaders by attending the City’s budget hearings on Thursday April 11th. We all received some good news this week that an agreement was made between TriMet, Portland Public Schools, and the City that will fund the PPS YouthPass through the 2013-2014 school year. We want to see this important service continued beyond next year and expanded throughout all Portland school districts, including Reynolds, David Douglas and Parkrose. OPAL’s Youth Organizer, Nicole, has been working with youth who attend PPS Schools (and therefore receive the YouthPass benefit) and youth in other Portland school districts (who don’t receive the benefit), helping them prepare testimony so that our young people can have a voice in this budget process as well. The City Council will hear directly from these young activists how YouthPass is important to their health and education, that we must find a sustainable means to fund the service, and why expanding YouthPass to all city of Portland students who need it is a matter of transit justice. Stand with our youth!
City of Portland Community Budget Forum, Thursday, April 11th 6:00-9:00.
Montgomery Park 2701 NW Vaugh. TriMet Lines 15, 77
Meanwhile: the BRU Leadership Committee is working on how the next membership meeting will be structured, having begun to adopt the framework that came out of the Membership Gathering. The policy team is deep in the weeds of budget reviews, ahead of a meeting with TriMet to discuss the concerns raised by OPAL. Partnerships and coalitions continue to be nurtured with Aloha Unite!, a growing environmental justice group on the west end of TriMet’s service area.
Everyone is energized and working hard to keep up the momentum – how will you add your voice and skills?