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TriMet budget adopted: Will cuts and fare hikes lead to more bike use?

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 14th, 2012 at 10:40 am

Bus and bikes
Biking becomes even more attractive
as TriMet gets more expensive and less
convenient.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As you might have already heard, TriMet made their 2013 budget final yesterday. In front of a crowd that observers said was historic and raucous, the TriMet Board finalized a slate of significant changes to fares and service aimed at filling a $12 million budget shortfall.

Effective in September of this year, TriMet fares will get more expensive ($2.50 for two-hour pass, $5 for all-day), there will no longer be a Free Rail Zone, and many bus lines will be rerouted or cut back.

In a nutshell, using TriMet will get more expensive and less convenient, thus making it less competitive with both driving and bicycling. Since many Portlanders are already into riding bikes and leading a low-car life, it seems this could lead to a bump in bike use.

Michael Andersen with Portland Afoot was at the board meeting yesterday. He Tweeted about one woman made her plans clear to the board during testimony:

Another TriMet rider who also rides his bike around town, Tommy Brooks, shared a more humorous take on the situation yesterday:

As we shared back in February, this decision by TriMet is not good news for Portland's low-car future; but what exactly do you think the impact will be?

As TriMet loses its luster, will more people drive cars? Ride bikes? Both?

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  • Indy June 14, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I'll be biking and walking much more. There are a few reasons for this:

    1. I don't like the idea of paying more and getting less. I understand inflation and cost increases, but hopefully service and efficiency comes along with that. I don't see any service improvements in these cost increases. Tri-met's model is broken if we have multiple years of cost increases and serious infrastructure changes.

    2. Tri-met completely ignores the unsustainable future of WES. It costs too much to run and maintain, for too few users (roughly 1400/weekday ride it at a cost of 11 million or more a year.) 11 million is just about their budget hole. So consider me unsympathetic to their plight when they ignore the elephant in the room.

    I guess I sympathize with their issues regarding high wages aand benefits for their drivers, but the little rebel in me also says good for the union to sticking with their gut. But I'm not paying for it unless I see some ultimate benefit out of it.

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    • Dave June 14, 2012 at 11:11 am

      I stop being a good little NW liberal when it comes to the TriMet union - as far as I'm concerned, they're single-handedly dragging the whole region down by refusing the join the rest of us in reality. I can get mad at them for the concrete budget problem they're causing at TriMet, and and I can get mad at them for the political problem they're causing by playing to the right-wing stereotype of entitled government workers sucking the public teat. And I can get extra mad at them for not even being particular good at keeping the buses & trains they do have running on time.

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  • J-R June 14, 2012 at 10:56 am

    When I worked downtown I would often take the bus or streetcar to the Central Library, Powell's or a restaurant for lunch leaving my bike at the office. There's no way I'd pay $2.50 for one of those errands. So, I'd take my bike unless it was a day when I drove; in that case, I'd put off that trip until another day. So, for me, the change will be more cycling, a reduction in transit use and no change of my driving.

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    • Andrew K June 14, 2012 at 11:45 am

      I am in the same boat. I work right off of Naito Parkway and I often jump on the MAX to go to the library or grab lunch on the other side of downtown.

      I guess I won't be doing that anymore.

      Naturally this isn't going to make me use my car more often though.

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      • grumpcyclist June 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm

        So in other words you didn't pay a fare before and you won't pay one now. It doesn't sound like that'll hurt Trimet much.

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        • Andrew K June 14, 2012 at 3:44 pm

          Did I say it would?

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  • Nick June 14, 2012 at 10:56 am

    I saw somewhere (I think Michael of PortlandAfoot might have mentioned it) that 95% of people who stop using transit are expected to switch to driving.

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    • Nick June 14, 2012 at 10:57 am
      • Michael, Portland Afoot June 14, 2012 at 6:33 pm

        Nice catch, Nick. To be clear, that's just an assumption from one academic study that Upstream Public Health was able to dig up, from the Boston area; I don't know how long ago it was made, and honestly I don't think it's realistic, especially in Portland.

        Kudos to Upstream for finding a peer-reviewed estimate for this, though, and making the point that public services can have actual financial benefits as well as costs. TriMet doesn't bother.

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  • Allan June 14, 2012 at 10:57 am

    I hope that bike mode share goes up as a result of this. Ultimately, We need to restore Tri-Met to 15-minutes service and expand the frequent network, but in the short term, more people looking for low-cost options will have slightly upgraded bike facilities, and this may cause a push for even more

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  • Spiffy June 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

    until society government does something to remove people from the teat of their cars we can generally expect capitalism to win...

    I'm generally a strong bike rider but the last couple years of near death experiences has had me wondering about car ownership again... the safety and security (and the entitlement) are hard to pass up...

    I keep telling myself that I want to live to see the next civil war... luckily there has been a lot of unrest with the occupy thing so I'm staying hopeful...

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  • 9watts June 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I have a hard time imagining that the forty cents is as big a deal as the service cutbacks.
    I like cheap bus far as much as the next person, but when I think about the fact that I can get to Wilsonville or anywhere else in the entire system for $2.40 - now, and have ~two hours left on my transfer, I just don't see the fare hike as the axe that service cutbacks are.
    $0.50 trimet basic fare from 1970 would be $2.96 today.

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    • Psyfalcon June 14, 2012 at 11:35 am

      2.50 seems fine if you're taking a bus for some distance, but now if you want to go from downtown to the Lloyd Center... it costs the same as taking the MAX from downtown to the end of the line in Hillsboro.

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      • 9watts June 14, 2012 at 11:38 am

        You're right. A flat fee is not impressive. But I still think service cuts are much more of an impediment to actually getting where you need to go.

        I tend to take the bus when I'm going further than 'just downtown,' for which I already rely on my bike.

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  • Brent Shultz June 14, 2012 at 11:24 am

    It's hard for me to drop the multi out of modal since I live in St Johns and work in Beaverton (poor planning, I know, but I'm NOT moving to the 'burbs). Getting up and over that hill is just not something I can do everyday or both ways.

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    • jram June 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      I say give it a shot. I used to work in Beaverton, and rode from NoPo daily (though i am further east, so less of a climb). The first week is tough, the 2nd week less tough, and by the 3rd or 4th, you are a beast.

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    • Paul Souders June 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

      I’m actually jealous of your commute. Just sayin’

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  • Joe June 14, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Ok this is a little bit of a tangent, but I ride MAX and WES. if I don't catch the last WES train at Beaverton TC 7:30 its a crazy ride home. * budget they told me unable to extend times * hmmm its only a commuter rail with select times. I know more ppl would be out of there cars if it worked for all ppl. BTW this City was fighting WES when it was being built. IT WORKS! I would just bike it but so many dis-connects from here to PDX

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  • SilkySlim June 14, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Car2Go better start deploying some more cars. Better shared, small, electric vehicles than individual gas-guzzlers.

    And no, I don't work for them!

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    • grumpcyclist June 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      They're not electric, they run on gas. And they're not particularly efficient considering their size.

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      • Greg June 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm

        The smart cars get 36 mpg combined, which is 1 mpg off the best non-hybrids. Comparing that to cars most people would use otherwise, it's pretty good.
        I've put together some heatmaps of car2go location and movement data. It suggests that people use car2go for commuting.
        http://moulliet.com/car2go/

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  • Champs June 14, 2012 at 11:39 am

    It wouldn't be the first time that happened.

    Ages ago, fare hikes nudged me toward making a point to skip transit and ride more often. The next year I quit smoking, and it started snowballing until I started biking by default.

    I was not blessed with any health or financial miracles because I started riding. Any tangible health or financial benefits were easily drowned out by quitting smoking. My healthy BMI stayed the same, it was just a lot easier to ride without getting winded.

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    • Chris I June 14, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      I'm sure a cardiologist would have something to say about it.

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  • Robert L June 14, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I've been switching more and more to a bike only commute anyway. This will only reinforce my resolve to ride to work. I have only taken MAX about 6 times this year. In fact on the way home tonight I will hit 1900 miles for the year. Thank you Tri-met!

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  • Kiel Johnson June 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    When is there going to start being good news?

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    • 9watts June 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      Bikes are (always) good news.

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  • Rol June 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    24 minutes of the Iraq war would cover it.

    2.6% of Lloyd Blankfein's net worth would cover it.

    Or 4% of Jon Corzine's, and we could totally seize that before throwing him in jail. Use the rest to rescue the transit agencies of 24 other cities.

    Raising the gas tax 10 cents would cover it, and it would be fair compensation to those who do their part, by those who have benefited from numerous hidden subsidies. But it'll never happen because it would be a state tax for a local problem, gas tax revenues are on the decline, it's throwing the same old solution at a new problem, we just had a 6 cent increase, and, the majority of voters drive and don't take transit.

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  • Mindful Cyclist June 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    I think you will see a rise in more car use in the winter time and maybe a slight increase in the non-rainy months.

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  • Pat June 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    This will be a plus for bike-share (typically 1st 30 minutes are free), which, unfortunately, is now delayed until Spring 2013 (and no I don't work for PBOT).

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  • Joe June 14, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    cool with me build more bike INFRA and bet you see more on the road.
    over transit modes. really if you ask me transit transport is car ppl saving gas money. :) tax park and rides

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  • Ian C. June 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    All this talk about teats is making me want to go on a long, sweaty bike ride!

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  • CaptainKarma June 14, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    This is the beginning of the death spiral. First plus I used to always mention aboutportland was there public transit. Sigh, I will have to drive more. Sucks.

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  • Chris June 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I stopped biking and taking transit shortly after TriMet last cut services in 2010 and bought a car in early 2011. I think this will be what most will resort to (if they are able).

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  • HAL9000 June 14, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I stopped riding Trimet back when they had their last round of cuts. Except for February - I usually don't bike in February.

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  • jeremy June 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I ride everyday and many days use trimet to get my kid to school (the hill is a beast on the xtra with the kid--but great on the way down!). I am lucky in that my company pays my bus pass, but even if it didn't, it is still a bargain in my opinion to use transit for actual commuting. If I were to get a parking spot downtown it would cost me $200 or more a month, plus gas, plus wear/tear--I contributed to some sort of trimet survey and I thought then, as I do now that increased prices are BETTER than reduced services, because as soon as the trip doesn't work with someone's schedule transit is out, irrespective of cost. I'll keep on riding downtown, riding the MAX for 2 stops (my daughter likes the train) and then catching our bus.

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  • Ben Guernsey June 14, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Even with these cuts Trimet is still far more effective than anywhere else in the country, especially as it's one integrated system (unlike NYC of SF). I'm not surprised their cheap yet expansive system did catch up to them. I think maybe we expect too much.

    I stopped riding because I can get to work in the same amount of time on two wheels. Plus I save a few bucks that I can put into a sandwich or something I really want.

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  • dwainedibbly June 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Some people will move to whatever other modes they have available to them. If they have a car, they might start driving more, but is $0.40 more for a transit fare going to matter when gas is $4? maybe, maybe not. If they have a bike, hopefully they'll ride. If they don't own a car, i can't see anyone buying one just because of this. It's more likely some people may buy bikes.

    I wonder if any employers will stop providing passes? Anybody know if employers get discounts? They can't be paying $1000 each, can they?

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    • calla June 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      But a lot of the people who are low-income, and will find this increase even more of a stretch on their resources, aren't going to be able to afford a bike to get them places. Bikes are expensive. What will happen, is now the strain for these people to get to "services" will be put on the nonprofits who will have to figure out how to increase their transportation services, while already juggling reduced budgets and less staffing. It's a clusterf**K all the way around.

      I've worked in government jobs for 10 years, and have always had a reduced price transportation pass as a benefit. Every year Trimet increases fares, the cost for the pass at my employer has gone up.

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  • SteveG June 14, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    This is bad for Trimet and, IMO, bad for the transit union, which will continue to lose public support. But it's good for bikes, good for bikesharing, and also good for Car2go.

    I find it hard to imagine that a lot of people will, due a roughly 50 cents per workday ($125/year) increase in bus fare, switch to driving their own car to work. Some will undoubtedly ride bikes more -- especially BikeShare bikes for short-hop errands in the central city.

    And Trimet will continue It's rlentless evolution from a transit agency to long-term health care provider for retired (and ofen strikingly unhealthy) bus drivers.

    Sadly, one plausible reaction from Trimet may be to make the amalgamated transit union even less relevant by deploying ever more (driverless?) light rail trains and ever fewer busses. More capital assets and technology; fewer employees. I can imagine increased MAX service (with relatively few, or eventually even no, operators per passenger) and lots of large capacity "bike & ride" bike storage facilities at MAX stations. After all, many feight trains and SF's AirBART are already driverless, and Google has demonstrated that computer-guided cars are less accident-prone than those driven by humans.

    The transit union is becoming its own worst enemy. If labor is no longer competitive, capital investments will replace labor. Bummer.

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  • S June 15, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I'm so glad I sucked it up this past year and rode in the rain when hopping on the bus was so tempting. The more I push myself to ride farther and in worse weather, the less dependent I am on TriMet. Fares were as low as $1.45 when I first moved here seven years ago. Have been watching them rise for years but this latest hike really jumped the shark.

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  • ED June 15, 2012 at 11:50 am

    We're a one-car family, and I've been trying my hardest to keep it that way, despite the fact that we have to commute to Vancouver and Hillsboro from SE Portland (poor planning I know but jobs are scarce). Between Trimet, C-Tran, Zipcar, Car2go, rides from friends & family, biking, and walking, we just make it work. But I spent almost $200 last month on those various methods of transit, and I'm sad to say that I could operate a cheap used car for not too much more, plus have much greater flexibility and save a bunch of time. I want non-car transportation to be the clear winner economically as well as morally, since I know that current prices don't capture the true impacts of cars. But I'm almost ready to say, screw it, and just enjoy a binge of fossil-fueled car-driving mania until the situation changes. A 40 cent fare increase for Trimet isn't a huge deal in the larger picture, but it's just another reminder that alternative transportation is a distant second to cars. Perhaps if gas taxes went up as rapidly and predictably as Trimet fares, the fares might not be such a big deal. Plus we could pay for more fancy infrastructure for all modes.

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  • Michael, Portland Afoot June 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks for calling attention to this, Jonathan.

    I feel like I should say something here that I always say on these posts: in the long run, good transit systems lead to more biking, and vice versa. This is because the combination of good biking and good transit makes it easier for many more families to change their transportation situation by choosing a home and/or workplace that lets their household live a low-car life.

    That's a more powerful effect than the relatively short-term decisions of each of us as we deal with our current situation.

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  • David June 15, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Does any of this translate in to less urine on the buses and trains? As someone who rides an average of 2hrs a day on tri-met, that would be most appreciated.

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  • Nathanael June 15, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    "But I spent almost $200 last month on those various methods of transit, and I'm sad to say that I could operate a cheap used car for not too much more, "

    You're underestimating the future cost of gas, not to mention repairs. You're going 40 miles a day to Hillsboro, maybe 20 a day to Vancouver. That's about 420 miles a month to Vancouver, 840 a month to Hillsboro. A *cheap* used car will get no better than 30 mpg, so that's a minimum of 14 gallons a month to Vancouver, 28 gallons a month to Hillsboro. Make your own gas price predictions, but if it hits $5 a gallon, you're starting to fall behind fast.

    If you use Tri-Met to get to Hillsboro, the numbers look a lot better for driving for other trips. But you already have one car...

    This raises an interesting point. If one can't afford to go completely carless, one saves the most money by converting the LONG, frequent trips to mass transit -- not the short trips. And doing so sacrifices the least convenience, as longer trips already require more planning. This is actually an argument for why the suburban MAX extensions will be more popular than local buses...

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    • ED June 15, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      I disagree about it making more sense to convert the longest trips to transit trips. Yes, the economic savings are more, since transit is a flat fare now of $2.50 and gas costs increase proportionate to distance traveled, but the time differential becomes a serious factor on longer trips. For us it would take a bus/Max/bus combo to get from home to Hillsboro, with a total transit time of two hours, compared to about 40 minutes in a car. Round trip, that's an extra two hours and forty minutes to use transit, or almost 1/8th of the day. (of course the car travel times can get all messed up by traffic, but then again, so can the bus travel times.)
      I realize my original comment framed this as more of a money issue than time issue, but both make a big difference. As far as money goes, I am ready for $5/gal gas, or even $10/gal since then the prices will better reflect the actual impacts of fossil fuels and provide more of an incentive for alternative modes. But right now there's a bargain basement sale going on gasoline, and it's tempting to take advantage of it, especially when transit is throwing mud in your face with fare hikes.
      And I don't understand your point: "And doing so sacrifices the least convenience, as longer trips already require more planning." Long transit trips take a LOT of planning compared to jumping in your car, whereas a short transit trip with no transfers seems to involve the least sacrifice of convenience to me.

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  • Andyc June 15, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    While I love Tri-met, and think compared to lots of transport options across the nation they are mighty good, I have still consistently been let down by my options over the years. "Oh look, the bike racks are full", or, "Oh look, it's past ten p.m.!", etc. that has made me bike more often than I would have if these situations didn't arise. I still think the fare hike is not as bad as service cuts, since I think the Bus/train, walk, and bicycle combination is one of the best and most economical way to get around a city, but it will definitely affect riders aversely anyway.

    Making it harder for people to utilize one of these modes is a bad thing all around, I feel.

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  • al m June 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Of course it will increase bike useage, especially the people that were using the fare less square.

    If you live in Portland proper you really can't complain too much about Trimet service. $2.50 really isn't that bad for a round trip fare (if possible) when you compare it to the cost of gas. Of course there is the time factor when riding transit, at least double the driving time and it can be really bad depending on how many transfer you make.

    Out side Portland transit users suffer the most from these cuts however.

    They have been suffering for years, this is not new news, its old news.

    Trimet's mission changed when Fred Hansen arrived, who by the way made over $2 million dollars while here and now makes a tidy $15,700 a month pension. (yet they complain about drivers benefits)

    He turned this agency into a light rail/property development agency , the bus service is now just second fiddle to all that.

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    • Psyfalcon June 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm

      Compared to the cost of gas, the bus comes out the loser.

      Beaverton to Portland round trip. 20 miles. Using a SUV that is a gallon per day, or <$4.00. There are a number of cars that will do it for $2. Parking might eat up the difference, and so will maintenance, insurance, and so on, but on a daily basis of asking, should I go by bus or car, the bus loses. As long as I do have a car in the driveway, the bus isn't viable.

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  • paul June 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Michael has it right, I think. Those who do the simple cost comparison between and car and mass transit are not factoring in opportunity costs, which are becoming tremendous with TriMet. I live just under a 30 minute bike ride to the airport (I've ridden it a bunch of times). I can get a family member to drive me there in 20 minutes, a great comparison to biking if I could just figure out a good way to strap on my luggage (AND have a quick short usage shower at PDX). But TriMet? 70 minutes at least and I live in near-in SE, just not near to a Max.

    This might help Car2Go and shared bikes in downtown, but overall, this is really going to hurt multimodal usage. And the unions deserve only part of the blame--as a recent story in the O showed, it was had decisions by past TriMet executives that are as much to blame.

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  • Shannon June 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I had to go to court twice because I couldn't buy a ticket one day because Trimet's machine was broken...so I was going to boycott Trimet and bike commute only anyway. This seals the deal. Fare increase and LESS service? Ha ha ....

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