OPAL Testifies

Below are testimonies from four Bus Riders Unite members at TriMet’s April board meeting opposing fare hikes and service cuts. If you would like to share your personal experience in the form of a testimony at a TriMet monthly board meeting, OPAL and BRU members can help you prepare. We hope you are as inspired as we are by the following testimonies:

Good morning.  My name is Teresa Keishi Soto.  I am transit-dependent and have been an OPAL member since 2010. For the last ten years living in Portland, the bus has been my only form of transportation.

Like thousands of other TriMet riders, I rely on the bus to find work, to access services, to attend my Buddhist Temple, to spend time with friends, and to participate in many volunteer civic activities.

On behalf of my fellow Bus Riders Unite leaders, I am honored to present our Budget Alternative and respectfully ask that you, the TriMet Board, fully consider our alternative proposal before making any decision on the budget.

We have spent many hours researching, debating and working to reach consensus on this budget proposal, including feedback from many transit riders, community organizations and agencies.

We have found that it is possible to balance the budget without raising fares or cutting service. All it takes is creativity, political will and, most importantly, compassion for those of us that need transit service the most.

Our proposal strikes this balance — We have taken some of TriMet’s best ideas and some great ideas from transit riders, always striving to adhere to principles of transit justice by avoiding fare increases and service cuts wherever possible.

Also important, our budget proposal both increases revenue and attracts increased ridership.

TriMet’s budget proposal will lose 800,000 boardings per year due to the fare increases and service cuts, many of whom will be low-income riders that are already struggling to get by. By contrast, our Bus Riders Unite budget proposal adds 200,000 boardings per year, because we have worked to find ways to maintain and add value to service. Our long-term community health and equity requires us to always work to increase ridership.

As bus riders, we all have the same goal – to maintain the best transit system possible, while taking care of those of us who need transit the most.  We hope that the TriMet board and staff are equally committed to this goal.

Personally, I am very concerned about the families of limited means and depend on the bus system. They are barely surviving at the moment, and TriMet’s budget proposal squeezes them even further.

We must keep fares affordable so people can take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.

We must keep our buses moving frequently so that people can get to work and school and be healthy.

We must keep our buses rolling so that people leave their cars behind and ride transit, so that we all have cleaner air to breathe and safer streets.

Please take the time you need to fully consider our budget alternative. We believe that our proposal gives us the best shot at reinvigorating our local economy and protecting the health of all communities.

Gracias.

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Greetings, TriMet Board Members. My name is Khanh Pham. I work at OPAL and I am a lifelong transit rider.

Outside of generating almost $3million in new revenue, our proposal saves almost $10million in existing operating costs, without resorting to continued fare hikes or service cuts.

To begin with, we propose maintaining the existing level of operating subsidy for Portland Streetcar. In the interests of full disclosure, TriMet should stop pretending that its proposal involves cutting $300k for the Streetcar – page 19, line 53 of the budget proposal – clearly shows that the agency intends to increase the annual operating subsidy to streetcar by an additional $3million.

Bus riders can no longer continue to subsidize Streetcar operations and bear the burden for downtown’s economic development strategy. We call on TriMet to have the courage to hold the line for bus riders and resist the request for increased subsidy, saving $3million for next year’s budget.

Secondly, we propose trimming the Contingency Fund, which has ballooned to $20million in the agency’s proposal, a fully doubling of the standard $10million from the past several years. We are aware that contingency funds are a necessary budget practice. However, this 100% increase of the Contingency Fund represents a case of double-insurance, with bus riders picking up the tab.

TriMet is already being very conservative with its underlying budget assumptions, namely the payroll tax growth rate and the 10% reduction in federal funding. By doubling the contingency fund from $10 to $20million, TriMet is making the budget projections appear much worse than they are, and squeezing bus riders twice in the process. The justification for being ultra-conservative in the budget projection is the same justification for doubling the contingency fund, and TriMet cannot have it both ways.

Bus riders understand the need to prepare for an potential loss at arbitration with the union, which will cost an additional $5million to cover health care costs. Therefore, we propose augmenting the standard $10million Contingency Fund with an additional $5million – a full 50% increase – saving $5million in the process.

Lastly, we propose a more modest reconfiguration in bus service, limited only to merge lines for greater efficiency. After cutting 200,000 hours of bus service the past three years, bus riders cannot stand for further reductions. We also applaud TriMet’s efforts to find more opportunities to save money through internal efficiency measures, and urge the agency to be fully transparent about all discretionary expenses and to look under every rock for more dollars.

The cost-saving measures proposed by Bus Riders Unite amount to almost $10million dollars, showing that we can balance the budget without resorting to fare hikes and service cuts, helping TriMet attract more riders to sustain a transit system that works for everyone.”

Good morning. My name is Hector Osuna Jr. Mondragon, and I am the lead bus organizer for OPAL.
For the past three months, OPAL has focused exclusively on working with people in the community who rely on transit the most to better understand what people need from our system. We have also spent many hours reviewing TriMet’s data and analysis to better understand your options in raising revenue and saving money.

We recognize the need to generate new revenue, and our members have worked to find ways to generate revenue that do not negatively impact those of us who depend on TriMet’s service the most. We ask you to keep two things at the forefront of your minds as you move forward with this budget decision: those of us who use the system are real people, with real struggles; we are not just numbers or data; and public transit is more than just a service, it is a basic civil and human right.

Consider some facts about the impacts to people of color:
- 32% of POC do not have access to a personal automobile (versus only 19% of Whites)
- 30% of all riders are POC, more than the relative amount of POC in the region
- 76% of the POC transit riders primarily ride the bus (versus just 24% on the MAX)
- 55% of POC transit riders pay with cash or single tickets (versus monthly passes)
- 55% of all cash/ticket riders are 2-Zone riders (versus all-zone)
- POC are more likely to use transfers than White riders (36% versus 28%)

What this means that POC are disproportionately transit-dependent, and disproportionately bus riders. It also means that POC are more likely to be two-zone single-fare riders, which is the group that will experience the largest fare increase under TriMet’s proposal. It also means that as bus service continues to be cut, POC are impacted the most because they will experience more missed connections due to a greater transfer rate.

It is also crucial to consider the needs of our honored citizens and youth. Many people with disabilities and the elderly live on fixed income and cannot afford to pay more money. And with the YouthPass being cut, and employment opportunities scarce, our youth who completely depend on transit should not have to pay more either. We want to provide a system that attracts our young people to be lifelong transit riders, not looking to get a car the first chance they get.

Considering all this, Bus Rider Unite members sought to balance the flat fare for adult riders – at $2.25 per fare and $90 per monthly pass, it is a slight increase for current two-zone and a slight decrease for all-zone riders – while maintaining fares for youth and honored citizens.

Our flat fare proposal is both straightforward and easy to understand, but most importantly, it distributes the benefits and burdens of our system in a more just manner. The largest fare increase would be only 11%, and with increased value of an extended transfer time, our proposal actually increases ridership, whereas TriMet’s proposal will lose almost one million boardings per year. Because two-zone riders represent the majority of all riders, our fare proposal is revenue positive and ridership positive.

Our proposal also allows you to keep the Free-Rail Zone downtown for all riders who have proof of valid fare for that day, while charging flat fares for all other riders. And our proposal includes a reasonable fee for Park-and-Ride users. Even though we recognize that administrative and start-up costs will consume much of the 2013 revenue, it is past time that we start implementing a more equitable user fee system, especially on those choice riders who can clearly afford the cost.

In total, our Revenue-Generating measures add close to $3 million in new revenue, setting us up for further revenue gains in the future, while avoiding the worst impacts to those of us who need the service the most.
Thank you.

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Good morning. My name is Johanna Brenner, and I have been an OPAL member and supporter for over two years, helping to establish the Bus Riders Unite membership.

You have heard from Teresa Keishi Soto, a respected community leader, about the need to use compassion in making your budget decisions with the needs of those who depend on transit the most in mind. You have heard from Hector Osuna, OPAL’s lead bus organizer, about the serious impacts TriMet’s proposal will have on people of color and low-income riders, and how we can generate almost $3million in new revenue and increasing ridership – as opposed to scaring off riders – by striking a balanced approach on fares and Free-Rail Zone and extending transfer times to three hours. And you have heard from Khanh Pham, a longtime transit rider and EJ advocate, about how we can save almost $10million by getting real on Streetcar and being honest about the Contingency Fund.

Most importantly, you have heard from thousands of bus riders through our work and this Budget Alternative proposal. OPAL has been organizing bus riders for over two years, winning support from over 6,000 riders and 30 community-based organizations to extend transfer times to three hours, and the unanimous need to maintain an affordable, frequent and accessible transit system.

Our Bus Riders Unite Budget Alternative generates $12.5 million dollars, a full half-million more than TriMet’s proposal, and does it without resorting to fare hikes and service cuts. Our proposal is good for riders, the environment, the local economy and for the long-term sustainability of our system.  Our proposal increases ridership as riders see value coming back into the system, as opposed to TriMet’s proposal, which loses over 800,000 trips per year. Our proposal accomplishes everything that TriMet wants, without squeezing riders who can least afford to pay more.

Bus riders say, “Enough is enough”. We need and deserve a TriMet board that works hard for its riders, especially those of us who depend on transit service for all our basic daily needs. You have a very tough decision to make, but you can rest easier knowing that OPAL has been working day and night to bring the voices of bus riders to the forefront and present you with real alternatives so that you have the option of doing the right thing.

Please don’t take risks with our lifeline to opportunity. We urge you to use all your time over the next two months to deliberate. Please consider meeting with OPAL board, staff and members over the next two months to further discuss our proposal. We are happy to share with you how we came up with these figures, and we urge you to be critical, to ask tough questions of both us and TriMet staff, and to strike the right balance that will meet the needs of the entire region and not unfairly burden those of us who can least afford it.

It is clear that making any budget decision in May would be unjust, and we trust you will ask staff to take a hard look at its numbers, at our numbers, and come back to you in May with a revised proposal.

All our hard work has shown that we can balance the budget and meet the needs of those who depend on transit the most without resorting to fare hikes and service cuts. And if we can do it, TriMet should be able to do it too. The Board has a golden opportunity to show the public that it will consider the needs of its riders, will be responsive to riders’ input, and will be accountable. And if you can do that, you will win back the trust of your riders and the public at-large and set this agency on the right path going forward.

Thank you.

Johanna Brenner

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