By Eireann Young, BRU Member
At 6PM on July 25th, Bus Riders Unite members and participants showed up to July’s General Membership Meeting to discuss ideas for #UpWithRiders, our bold new campaign to stop fare hikes, and win public transit services free of fares, congestion, and racial profiling.
The location for this meeting was the vibrant Orchards of 82nd Avenue event space, on the ground floor of the new apartment complex located just a few blocks from OPAL’s new office. Attendees hung posters detailing the agenda, then settled in for the next two hours. We started with a unity clap, our ceremonial way to segue from early-morning chatter to attention. BRU organizer Orlando Lopez gave a warm welcome. He translated all discussion into Spanish during the course of the meeting.
First, we recapped board meetings that BRU members attended: Metro Task Force and Trimet. Riders celebrated the successful tranist justice street theater action. Check out the video below:
Members reported that Trimet is closing three MAX stations downtown in hopes of speeding up transit through downtown. Trimet decided to keep one station – Skidmore Fountain – open for another year. Some discussion arose on issues of accessibility due to these closures, as well as a shaky transition in how Trimet is handling LIFT (paratransit) passes.
Then we shifted to recap of a meeting the previous Saturday, when several BRU members met at OPAL Executive Director Huy Ong’s home, to brainstorm and devise strategies for the #UpWithRiders campaign. Members outlined four main policy priorities: a fareless transit system, increased influence over decision makers, improved transit service operations, and safety without policing. Members then identified priorities and targets in these different areas.
Ideas our members surfaced included: bringing back Fareless Square, making the system fareless for everyone who qualifies for the low-income fare program or youthpass, instituting fees on Uber/Lyft or tapping into the highway transportation fund run by the state of Oregon, improving service frequency, instituting more service outside the urban core, more consistent services between weeks and weekends, increasing the amount of time that passengers get from a fare, improving working conditions for drivers, and establishing a direct democratic process for governing Trimet. Safety enhancements riders spoke of included more crosswalks and better signals, better lighting for bus stops, and “signal prioritization,” which means programming street lights to let the bus through ahead of cars when the light changes. Riders favor eliminating fare checks and transit police entirely, and instead bringing back the Rider Advocate program. Members also spoke of the desire to eliminate high-floor MAX cars that are not accessible to people with disabilities.
We invited everyone at to add to these ideas and bring forth their own strategies. Participants enthusiastically dove in, offering a myriad of suggestions for how we could reduce barriers to transit use: making one day or week per month fareless, dropping the fare price incrementally lower, or various taxes that could fund fareless transportation. Changing what counts as frequent service to be more frequent than 15 minutes, installing signal lights at bus stops so drivers can see a waiting passenger in the dark, a rotating oversight committee for Trimet operations as a way to introduce a direct democratic approach. Doing away with the bans on talking loud, eating food, and loud headphone noise on transit, as these are enforced on racial lines. Doing away with tactics that Trimet uses to prevent houseless folks from using their shelters, as well as changing the “See Something, Say Something” posters to reflect rider values of mutual support and caring, instead of hypervigilance amid a threatening environment.
We also addressed some issues that could arise, for example making fareless transit workable and equitable for paratransit customers. TriMet contracts their LIFT service to a private company, and that privatization could be an obstacle to making Trimet LIFT fare-free. We also want to ensure that tax levies don’t negatively affect working class people. One member wondered aloud if there are already cities and towns in this country that offer free transportation. The answer is yes: it is being done, even in this state, so we know it can be done with current financial resources. In fact, there are dozens of cities in the United States that have established a fareless transit system of some type.
We discussed bus rider involvement with Metro Council’s T2020 Task Force, a joint force made up of representatives from entities and communities with a goal to identify project funding in key corridors of the Portland metro area. We want to be sure the task force is going to listen and take into account our priorities, and that the programs they decide on are going to be ones that our communities want.
Should we hold a BRU General Membership Meeting more than once a month while involved with T2020? Attendees discussed pros-and-cons of meeting every two weeks, or twice per month, and decided to go with twice per month for the time being. This is important for keeping all our members in the loop about fast-changing developments, and proceeding on policy initiatives. We also briefly discussed a ballot measure that OPAL has been asked to endorse – a bond to improve regional parks.
BRU Organizer Orlando Lopez then announced something that a few members already knew: he will be transitioning out of his role as Bus Riders Unite Organizer in August. A new organizer has already begun to transition into the role. Orlando will be with OPAL until the end of August. After that, he hopes to continue to stay active in BRU as a member. We wish him good fortune wherever he ends up next, and thank him for all the amazing work he has done during his time as the BRU Organizer. To read his full Exit Interview, click here.
We closed with another Unity Clap, to end our time together. Our next Bus Riders Unite meeting is on August 29th. Interested in attending? Check the OPAL calendar for up-to date information.