Transit Funding: A Partial Victory

Picture of someone getting on the bus, about to pay for the bus, holding a dollar bill.Since the 2017 state legislative session, which brought new investments in mass transit, OPAL has served on the Public Transportation Investment Plan to represent the concerns of youth and bus riders in how funds are spent. Last Friday, the exhaustive process came to a head as a final vote was taken on the use of these funds.

We got some of what we wanted. Ultimately, however, the desires of youth and people with disabilities were not heeded. Despite this disappointment, the package includes victories in the long-term project of transitioning our transportation system to equitably low-income people and people of color as a fareless, demilitarized, accessible and efficient mode of transportation.

Wins:

  • $28 million for service enhancement. These are operations dollars to run new bus lines in underserved areas, offer more frequent service, and add late-night bus lines. We will always fight for increases in the operations budget at TriMet, which we believe can and should be funded using existing dollars as well as new, progressive funding mechanisms. This increase comes from a regressive payroll tax, but it begins to improve service for the people this tax hits hardest.
  • $13 million for the Low Income Fare Equity victory. We can’t state enough how huge this victory is for our communities. We designed this program from the ground up, and fought for funding at the state level, and we won. TriMet’s Board has in the past acknowledged this wouldn’t have happened without OPAL and Bus Riders Unite. This program began offering low-income riders a fare reduction in July.
  • $490,000 from PTIP for YouthPass – 1% of total funds from the state investment were mandated to go to youth transit. We won this bare minimum last year, so this isn’t a new victory, and we know it is not enough. However, we should celebrate that at least for the next 10 years, this is the floor for YouthPass funding in our region.
  • 25 organizations activated to support our transit dependent proposal. Allies to the environmental justice movement came together to show their respect for frontline leadership. Youth and people with disabilities were largely excluded from decision-making at PTIP, but these brave allies showed up and threw down with us. Thank you to Coalition of Communities of Color, Oregon Walks, APANO, Sierra Club Oregon Chapter, Greenpeace, Urban League of Portland, Community Alliance of Tenants, The Portland African American Leadership Forum, Portland Jobs with Justice, Amalgamated Transit Union, Enlace International, Oregon Student Association, Safe Routes to School National Partnership – Pacific Northwest, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Green Lents, The Rosewood Initiative, Climate Action Coalition, and Parkrose School District.
  • $200,000 from the general fund for YouthPass – at the 11th hour of the PTIP process, TriMet suddenly offered this additional pot of funding from their general fund, which tracked with our transit-dependent proposal. While this is far less than we’d hoped to achieve – we proposed $1.4M in addition to the $490,000 minimum to support YouthPass – TriMet responded to outside criticism and is utilizing the funds we know they have to support this vital transit program. We will continue to push TriMet to find money for necessary programs.
  • $690,000 in total dedicated resources for YouthPass is enough to cover most of the existing program at David Douglas and Parkrose High Schools, though expanding to other schools in the region is unlikely at this level of resource.
  • A partial victory: We won an outside facilitator to the final PTIP process. After the frustrating, confusing and unfair process that had preceded the last meeting, we demanded and won an outside facilitator to the final decision to at least ensure all proposals were given consideration. We hope TriMet will never again host a public process which enables anyone present to unilaterally reject proposals of participants, as occurred at the August meeting.

One last victory is still on the horizon: we are convening a meeting soon with youth transportation stakeholders including TriMet and others who support YouthPass, transit justice, and related issues. We then hope to propose to the PTIP committee that they recommend future guidance with the current proposal.

Our first priority in student transit is make sure that all students currently receiving YouthPass in East Portland continue to have access to this program. In three years, transit agencies must re-apply for the use of these funds. It is a medium term goal to ensure electric buses can’t keep coming back to the PTIP operations funding stream for capital projects. In that time we hope to find and secure another source of revenue for these costly buses rather than come back to operations funding for more. We stated a demand for such a resolution in the last PTIP meeting, and will work to secure a resolution in the next meeting offering guidance – a preference toward operations and away from capital – for future funding decisions.

We fought hard for our victories, and we didn’t get everything our communities deserve. We’ll continue to show up to hold decision-makers accountable. We’ll keep seeking resources to support student transportation access, service enhancement, and fare reduction. And we’ll push to ensure that operations dollars are not committed to costly capital projects, when they could be serving the low-income people and people of color who organize at OPAL. Thank you to our community for your continued support!

Posted in Against Enclosure of Wealth and Power, Against Extraction, Against White Supremacy, Bus Riders Unite, Celebrations, Coalition Building, East Portland, Invest in the Good, Policy Advocacy, Transit Justice, YEJA.