By Orlando Lopez, Bus Riders Unite Organizer
Tuesday January 31st was the 4th Low-income fare Taskforce meeting at the Metro building. As we seek out ways to transition our economy so it works for everyone, it’s vital for low-income people and people of color to have direct control over the policies that impact us. Such is the case with the Bus Riders Unite Low-Income Fare Equity (LIFE) campaign. Low income riders and people of color who depend on transit set a demand for a low-income fare on Trimet, and we’re getting closer every day to this important win. Local stakeholders have been meeting for the last few months to make the campaign a reality. The focus of Tuesday’s meeting was to choose the eligibility thresholds and discounts but also the funding mechanisms to maintain a Low-income fare.
The beginning of the meeting began with a presentation from TriMet staff, who gave a clearer picture of the most impacted folks that would benefit from a Low-income fare. One of the most powerful images of this presentation was the graph showing how much a bigger burden housing and transportation cost is for folks living on Low-incomes. Bus Riders Unite members have known this for a long time: these are the stories that people in our communities have continued to express to us every day. It is because of this that we decided to lead a campaign to implement a Low-income fare for TriMet riders below a certain income. The information presented before the task force further validated the research that our Research and Advisory committee had gathered and what we continue to hear in our organizing efforts.
TriMet brought back the cost estimates that task force members requested at the previous meeting. We have narrowed down our options to 185% and 200% of the Federal Poverty Levels as the thresholds for eligibility, while looking at 50% and 70% discount rates as well as the Honored Citizen pass. In a rare moment, Neil McFarlane stated that a threshold at 200% would be the easiest and most impactful threshold to carry out. It isn’t often that OPAL and Bus Riders Unite agrees with the TriMet General Manager. Noting that the cost of covering riders that are eligible at 185% and 200% is relatively small, the task force also opted to push the eligibility line to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. This will allow will allow a family of four who is earning up to $48,600 would qualify for a Low-Income fare. The cost to cover riders under these parameters would cost, per TriMet, an estimated $11.3 million which is almost the exact amount that our Research and Advisory committee had estimated. To cover these cost, there were several options that were presented which included some of our proposals in our reports. These proposals were:
- Partnerships; In-kind services
- Dedicated Tax
- Fare Increases
- Funding from State Legislature
- Charge drivers for using Park & Ride
- Increases in advertisement rates and updated approach
We oppose any Fare Increase, as it would have a negative impact on folks who do not qualify for the Low-income fare. We were pleased to hear Mark Gamba and others push for a tax on businesses that pay minimum wage jobs. Such a tax would challenge large businesses for not paying their workers a living wage, especially considering the high cost of living that residents in the area are facing. The task force will now study the best fund this program by the next Taskforce meeting on February 16th from 9:30-11:30 at Metro. We are much closer to seeing a Low-Income fare realized in our region, one that will have a tremendous impact in our transit-dependent community. Join us and help us make Low-Income fare become a reality! We’re building community power to transition how the economy works, and the LIFE campaign is an important step on the road to transit justice.