The Campaign for a Fair Transfer
As cohabitants of this city, we all share a basic human right to safe, affordable and accessible transportation. And yet here in the Portland metro region, champion of “livability”, those who depend on public transportation are disproportionately bearing the burden of TriMet’s decisions to cut service and increase fares. The value of a TriMet fare has never been lower, wait times between buses have never been longer, and riders are getting squeezed with missed connections and overcrowded buses and pass-bys. OPAL’s Bus Riders Unite! leadership has launched a Campaign for a Fair Transfer to restore value to the system by increasing transfer times to 3 hours and extending rides through the end of service for evening boardings.
TriMet has cut 170,000 hours of bus service the past two years, resulting in longer wait times between buses and more critical transfers. And even though TriMet continues to raise the cost of the fare, the time given to transfer has stayed the same: 2 hours from purchase on the MAX or streetcar, but only 1 hour past the time it will take to reach the “destination point” – such as the downtown transit mall when headings into the city – on the bus. When service was good, transit riders could actually use the system to take care of basic needs and reasonable round-trips on one fare: go to the grocery store and back, take their kids to school or daycare or go to the doctor and back – a reasonable trip at a reasonable cost, one fare.
But with the service cuts, especially in evenings and on weekends, the limited transfer time has made this impossible. And as fares continue to rise – 70% over the past ten years and counting – low-income transit riders are hurt most. With unemployment and rising costs (an all-zone monthly pass will be $92 come September 1st), many of those who need to use public transit every day cannot afford a monthly pass, relying more and more on precious single-fare tickets. And if you are a bus rider traveling across town, your transfer might not even last through the end of your trip. We are all paying more for less, but low-income riders are impacted the most.
Yes, you’ll hear all the usual arguments. TriMet points to rising diesel and health care costs, indicating fare increases and service cuts well into the future. ‘You can have low fares but less service, or more service but higher fares,’ they say. Or, ‘capital improvement projects like light rail or streetcar attract large sums of federal money and create jobs, which we will lose if we pass up these projects.’ But these are false choices, and we see it differently. Instead of driving a wedge between transit riders and transit workers, and between those that depend on transit and “choice” riders or the public at large, TriMet should make transit equity its number one priority. Everyone will benefit from having safe, accessible and affordable public transportation with extensive service. We can take care our transit workers and have enough money to maintain frequent service hours. Numerous reports studying the recent stimulus money show that investing in transit service actually creates three times as many jobs as investing in capital projects – jobs that are permanent, offer a living wage, and are “green”. And we know that the federal money for capital projects is not truly free money: both the Portland-to-Milwaukie Light Rail project and the Lake Oswego Streetcar project will cost TriMet and the City hundreds of millions of dollars in local money, money that we won’t have in the future to meet current levels of service operations, even as we continue to add service obligations with these new projects. For a region that has long prided itself on smart growth and sustainable development, this is most unsustainable.
So what’s the solution? Long-term, we need stronger criteria around transit equity for our region. But short-term, we must give back some value to those who depend most on transit and yet are the least able to afford escalating costs. Intentionally or not, TriMet is currently taking advantage of our most vulnerable riders: those who ride transit everyday and have to use multiple single tickets for basic needs, yet cannot afford a monthly pass. By extending the transfer time to three hours for both the bus and the MAX, and extending rides through the end of service for evening boardings, TriMet can provide a no-cost benefit to offset the heavy burden of recent service cuts and fare increases, while also generating revenue from new “choice” riders. It gives TriMet a golden opportunity to meet its commitments to transit equity and to restoring service.
And why Bus Riders Unite!? Bus riders make up two-thirds of all daily boardings, and the bus is the backbone of our wonderful transit system. Our members often use a mix of modes: we ride the bus and MAX, we bike, we walk, and we carpool. But the bus is what we use most often to get around, to make critical connections, and is often the first and last trip of the day. Our region’s transportation system will only be as good as our bus service, and that means frequency, accessibility and affordability. Support OPAL’s Campaign for a Fair Transfer to extend the current transfer time and support transit justice.
OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon is a 501c3 intercultural grassroots nonprofit empowering working class communities and people of color to promote environmental and social justice. Environmental justice is the equal protection and opportunity for meaningful involvement for all people, without regard to race, ethnicity or income, in communities where we live, work, play and pray.
To connect with OPAL to see how you can support the Campaign for a Fair Transfer, call 971-340-4866.