When we first started organizing transit riders and elevating rider concerns around safety, affordability and accessibility of the system, Twitter hadn’t launched yet, Snapchat hadn’t created its first filter, and Facebook was still a platform for connecting college students. We’ve embraced online platforms for sharing our message and organizing our constituencies and allies while staying true to our roots in grassroots organizing and the demonstrated success of direct action.
Recently, we’ve started noticing plenty of people talking about TriMet on social media – and it isn’t good. With the abysmal lack of meaningful community engagement by our regional transit authority, it’s no wonder. Today we are issuing an unequivocal call for new leadership at TriMet. It’s time for leaders who understand the lived experiences of riders.
So many harmful decisions have sailed through the TriMet Board of Directors in recent years that it is hard to keep track of them all. The agency eliminated Fareless Square, fumbled the transition to electronic fares, invested millions in a transit police facility featuring holding cells and interrogation rooms, and rushed the hire of Doug Kelsey as the status quo General Manager.
Given this time of both great uncertainty and opportunity for the agency, we recognize the need real change at TriMet, and it starts at the Board of Directors. Three seats on the Board are due for new appointments this year. We understand some of the sitting Directors may wish to continue to serve. We think they’ve done enough harm. Any Director who served on the TriMet Board as they’ve unanimously rubber-stamped the recent, disastrous proposals of this agency needs to be replaced. Sitting Directors have approved fare hikes, service cuts, e-fare headaches, and Transit Jail outrages. They oversaw the calamitous hire of the new GM. And they have done very little to articulate a forward-thinking vision for TriMet, a lifeline system that we rely upon to connect us to our community.
OPAL and our partners will identify new leadership representative of bus riders and encourage them to apply. We seek people of color, low-income people, people with disabilities, Elders, youth, and anyone else who relies on public transportation. We will elevate these candidates to course-correct an agency that’s gone off the rails. It’s time for transit system change. It starts with new leadership.
We want TriMet to learn from their mistakes. The rushed hire of Doug Kelsey creates a vacancy in the Chief Operations Officer position. This is an opportunity to improve. We want TriMet to open the process of hiring to community input, and meaningfully engage stakeholders in identifying the new COO.
We carry no issue with specific individuals employed by or associated with TriMet. We have a problem with the engrained institutional processes by which TriMet continues to make critical decisions without meaningfully involving ridership. Accountability for this process falls on the Board, and on staff within the agency. At this critical time for our transportation system, we can’t wait for the old guard to come around. It’s time to take our transit system back.