Oregonian Cites OPAL, But Misses Environmental Justice

Join us for a rally Thursday at City Hall to get Youth Pass into the Portland Budget! RSVP Here!

This past week, OPAL was featured in an Oregonian article about the changes to TriMet Youth Pass funding. The proposed budget for the city of Portland omits funding for more than 12,000 metro school students to take public transit during the school year for free. The costs had been split three ways between the city, TriMet, and Portland Public Schools. However, Portland Public Schools (PPS) will keep the program funded and be reimbursed by the state for up to 70 percent of the program cost. The city’s stated reason for the change was that the city “needs to work on issues like homelessness, housing, and police” and “cannot continue to fund some programs that are popular, but not central to the City’s mission.”

Near the end, the article pivots to talk about the inequalities between west and east side students. An OPAL spokesperson quoted in the article calls the budget cuts “a clear environmental justice issue.” Unfortunately, the article title and structure obscures this message. The title, “Portland cuts funding for TriMet Youth Pass, but school district steps in,” makes it sound like the problem has been solved. In reality, students from the David Douglas and Parkrose school districts will be unable to access the YouthPass. PPS can afford to keep the passes because of the district’s comparative wealth; East Portland school districts are less wealthy, ineligible for state reimbursement (because of lacking bus infrastructure in East Portland), and are unable to contribute the funds. The irony is that the YouthPass is even more useful for lower-income families, who will be hit hardest by this cut. While the Oregonian does address the disparity, the majority of the audience will feel like they understand the point of the article after reading the title and first several paragraphs. Only the most devoted readers will get through the history and commentary to understand the environmental justice issues, whereas the inequalities should have been emphasized at the beginning of the article.

We also note the lack of perspectives from youth affected by the YouthPass. Say Wah Paw, a sophomore at David Douglas High School, has organized for two years to secure YouthPass in East Portland. So far YEJA organizers have collected more than 1000 signatures to #DefendYouthPass in the next budget cycle. “When we were getting petitions from all ages of people, Parkrose and PPS and David Douglas, people were supportive and of course they wanted to sign it,” she says. Say Wah remains determined to get the East Portland YouthPass back into the city budget. “We worked way too hard for this. I’m not giving up.”

Youth are holding a rally at City Hall on Thursday at 4:30pm to demand the City of Portland restore this vital program to David Douglas and Parkrose High Schools. A clear path to permanent funding of YouthPass requires that the City support this transitional year. Join us!

Posted in Against Enclosure of Wealth and Power, Bus Riders Unite, East Portland, Opal in the News, Policy Advocacy, Transit Justice, YEJA.