Update to Community Stakeholders on the TriMet General Manager Hiring,
It’s been two weeks since TriMet paused their rushed hiring process thanks to the advocacy of Bus Riders Unite and OPAL. On Wednesday, we finally had our meeting with leaders from TriMet. We had anticipated this meeting for weeks, but did not expect that it would take this long for TriMet to reach out. We agreed to this meeting, not just because of TriMet’s rushed GM hiring process, but to discuss TriMet’s lack of vision, and what our expectations are, and the road ahead working with TriMet.
OPAL suggested to host the meeting during a scheduled gathering of the Transportation Justice Alliance (TJA) Leadership Team. This showed that these are not just OPAL’s concerns, but concerns from most-impacted communities. The leadership committee of TJA consists of OPAL, Community Cycling Center, APANO, Amalgamated Transit Union 757, and NAYA (who could not be present). Other members of TJA include The Street Trust (who was able to attend this meeting), Oregon Walks, Oregon Food Bank, Latino Network, Coalition of Communities of Color, 1000 Friends of Oregon.
We met with TriMet Board Member Linda Simmons, Executive Director of Public Affairs Bernie Bottomly, Director of Diversity and Transit Equity John Gardner, and Chief Operations Officer (and soon to be General Manager) Doug Kelsey. Community partners in the room agreed: TriMet leadership still has a long way to go in understanding how the community defines accountability, meaningful engagement, and safety.
We began our meeting by sharing the mission of TJA, to set up our conversation about the values and vision that we would like for TriMet to embrace and hold themselves accountable. TJA’s mission statement:
We build power with low-income communities and communities of color to ensure an affordable, equitable, and environmentally sustainable transportation system. We believe transportation is a human right and a transportation system guided by environmental justice principles is essential to regional prosperity.
The conversation drew attention to a longstanding lack of accountability at TriMet. “When we first started engaging with the Board, the Board would make public decisions and then take public comment,” said OPAL’s Deputy Director Vivian Satterfield. OPAL’s advocacy changed this obvious injustice, so that public comment would be more meaningful.
BRU Member David Bouchard added, “Riders need to be in these conversations from the very beginning. We don’t want to be surprised. We want to be more proactive than reactive about the direction that our transit system is going.”
“Look at the budgeting process,” Bus Riders Unite Organizer Orlando Lopez said. “We know it begins in the fall, but we only see something by February when it’s too late to make any kind of change.”
Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA) Organizer Adrian Cato told TriMet, “A large group that TriMet serves is our youth. But we’re seeking to understand TriMet’s accountability to youth.” YEJA has been organizing since 2015 to expand and sustain student transit access in East Portland through the YouthPass to the Future Campaign. Currently it’s a fight every year to maintain the YouthPass program through the city budget, whereas TriMet has the ability to fully-fund the program and cultivate future transit riders.
To many of us in the room, TriMet representatives were condescending, transactional, and disregarded the input of our communities. Despite this, we see an opportunity to advance our vision and values and impact the future direction of the agency.
We closed the meeting by reaffirming the longstanding demands of impacted people. To achieve a just transportation system our communities must be meaningfully engaged in the decision-making process. Accessibility and safety are concerns of both riders and operators, but TriMet has a different definition of safety than our communities. More guns and police do not make us feel safer. On the whole, TJA’s members believe TriMet must reprioritize, center the experiences of riders and workers, and be accountable to the values of community stakeholders.
We expect for TriMet to create pathways for greater public participation in budgeting, work towards long-term funding for YouthPass, commit to supporting frontline workers’ and riders’ definition of safety, and to move beyond just “diversity” and “equity” and center transportation justice in a long-term strategy for our transit system.
If Kelsey is hired as the next General Manager, we will expect an improved process for the hire of the Chief Operations Officer reflective of the input we delivered in this meeting. Whether Doug Kelsey is hired, or a new General Manager is identified through an improved process, we now know that senior leadership at TriMet has heard directly from us. Now we will wait to see if they listened.
The OPAL Team