Members and Organizers with Bus Riders Unite were at the TriMet Board Meeting on the morning of September 18th to testify in support of the #UpWithRiders campaign. Together, we will stop fare hikes and win safe and accessible public transit that is free of fares, congestion, and racial profiling!
Two major revelations came from the public comment portion of the meeting, revealing a lack of vision and oversight at TriMet.
- The once-secret Bottomly Memo was discussed. TriMet’s Bernie Bottomly privately sent a memo to the Metro T2020 Task Force, and the memo was leaked to BRU. The Bottomly Memo states that TriMet’s objects to service enhancement dollars coming from the 2020 Metro funding package. This, despite ongoing community outcry for enhanced transit service to fill gaps, reach all schools and underserved neighborhoods in the region, and the clear need to reverse declining ridership.
- Board Chair Bruce Warner revealed a lack of Board oversight on the future plans of the agency. BRU Organizer Gabriela Saldana Lopez spoke in her testimony about TriMet’s planned fare hike. Warner replied incredulously, “is anybody talking about a fare increase?” Given the direct question from the Board which supervises him, Doug Kelsey, TriMet’s General Manager was forced to respond truthfully, “A fare increase has been outlined in our financial projections.” (see the second video below to watch the exchange, at 2:33)
BRU testimony began with Jose Mikolauskas, a new OPAL Organizing Fellow whose life experience on transit informs his advocacy. “When I was a small child, I remember walking countless hours with my mom to reach our destinations,” Jose said. He related a story of being stranded after a festival to which his mother brought her children. “The bus never came. That night, we walked home for hours and hours, over the span of miles. Young me started complaining about the blisters developing on my feet a few miles in our walk.”
Jose offered the solution that BRU’s Up With Riders campaign demands. “Improved service such as extended hours, could’ve helped prevent us from being in this situation.”
BRU Member Doug Allen, a retiree who once worked at TriMet to collect and analyze ridership data, spoke of the need for TriMet to support additional bus service hours, and “dismay over the [Bottomly] memo that TriMet sent to the task force last month.” The Bottomly Memo outlines plans to increase service 2% per year, which Allen called “shockingly inadequate,” and goes on to say investing further in operations is not a priority. “This approach will not reverse declining ridership, nor will it address our communities, or our planet’s, needs.” As the regional population continues to grow, flat or declining public transit ridership means our system is falling behind.
Gaby Sandana Lopez spoke against the fare hikes bus riders discovered while analyzing the TriMet budget. “Some at TriMet foresee a future where ridership declines and fares go up. Bus Riders Unite sees just the opposite. We want fares to go down. When buses are prioritized, and our communities are no longer targeted, we will choose to ride the bus with more frequency.”
Final testimony from BRU came from TEAC Representative and OPAL Board Member Tristan Issac. Tristan spoke about the Bottomly Memo, and asked the Board, “what about the priorities of the Transit Equity Advisory Committee (TEAC), the Committee on Accessible Transit (CAT), and others? Why were they not consulted?” TEAC and CAT are each responsible for engaging and soliciting feedback from diverse stakeholders in our community, many of whom would support public transit service expansion if only TriMet would ask. “This is not what accountability from a public agency looks like,” Tristan concluded.
#UpWithRiders is a broad vision that encompasses fareless transit within the Portland metro area, ending racial profiling and transit policing, and improving services and access. However, winning our campaign demands requires getting to the smaller foundations that support the wider arc. We intend to push hard to stop fare increases within the next four months, since TriMet releases their new budget in January. When talking to people directly on the buses during First Saturday Bus Organizing, people seemed to expect fare increases, which means we have more work to do in explaining to the public why this is unnecessary and a step in the wrong direction. When riders understand that fare increases cause decreased ridership, leading to a “downward spiral,” fare increases no longer make sense.
Time is of the essence to expand transit services, and most importantly to stop the fare hikes TriMet now admits they’re forecasting! Get involved.