TriMet just launched the public feedback process for their plans to raise transit fares. The agency’s board voted in support of the increase last month and the changes, which would go into effect January 2024, would bump up the standard adult fare 30 cents from $2.50 to $2.80.
In a statement today, TriMet said, “As your fuel and utility prices are increasing, so too are our costs to operate the transit system… We understand that a fare increase may be challenging for people struggling financially.” Many of those people who are struggling stand to benefit from TriMet’s plan to increase service in areas with lower wage earners, but what good will the expanded access do if folks can’t afford to hop on?
In their messaging and in the survey they launched today, it’s clear TriMet wants us to remember their existing programs that make fares more affordable for some riders. In what feels like a strategic ploy to soften opposition to the increase, the first two questions on TriMet’s survey highlight their reduced fare efforts. One of the questions points out that, “Since 2015, TriMet has provided over $12 million in free fares to community-based organizations throughout the metro area.”
While TriMet seeks more money from riders at a time when ridership is already precariously low and we are in a fight for our lives to reduce emissions from transportation, Washington D.C. is poised to make their system free* for riders.
(*Note: When we talk about this issue, it’s important to realize that “free transit” is never truly free. It just means riders don’t pay a fare to board. The cost of operating the system must still come from somewhere.)
Local transit expert and writer (who also happens to be a TriMet operator) Don Iler makes a very strong case that Portland should follow D.C.’s lead (unfortunately, unlike D.C.’s system that’s controlled by its city council, TriMet is run by a Governor-appointed board and is totally unaccountable to voters, but I digress).
In an article published Monday via Medium, Iler lays out his argument for why transit should be free for everyone in Portland. Iler says the elimination of fares would boost ridership, make the system more equitable, increase foot traffic downtown, reduce car trips, speed up bus service, make buses safer (“In bus training they told me that 4 out of 5 assaults on operators on TriMet were because of arguments over the fare”), and so on.
“Portland was magical because city leaders were innovative and willing to try novel ideas, and attracted folks who liked a place trying to make a better world,” Iler writes. “Instead of doubling down on bad ideas, why not invest in new, good ideas? Now is the perfect time, with gas prices high, inflation eating into pockets, and a city looking for new ideas to cut down congestion. Make the bus free now!”
We hope Iler takes time to share this feedback with TriMet. You can too by visiting TriMet.org/fareproposal.
Will buses get rerouted as they were mentioning this year?
This is a separate proposal to the changes in the “Forward Together” plan, which is being updated due to community input (allegedly), with the changes being presented to the TriMet board in a week or so I think
Such a bad idea, especially when they are trying to attract more ridership.
I also want to say – the Honored Citizen program is nice, but the income requirement is really low. Double the federal poverty level for an individual is $27,180 per year – which works out to a little over $13/hour if you work full time. Considering the minimum wage in the Portland metro is $14.50, it’s hard to justify a fare increase like this – it will add a serious cost burden to lots of poorer Portlanders who do not qualify for the fare reduction program.
TriMet is trying to “serve equity” with the new Forward Together plan, but seem to not understand that they are pricing the same people out at the same time. Ridiculous.
Only if the riders they are trying to attract would be put off by a 30c fare increase.
My overriding goal for transit (which may be different than yours) is that it reduces CO2 emissions (which I believe it currently fails to do compared to all its passengers driving*), and that means attracting people who currently drive. A better experience might be more important than lower fares to get those folks into (or back into) the system.
I mean to me, reducing CO2 emissions is a nice side effect of transit. I want it to be a fast, reliable, and inexpensive way to get around the city. Fares are part of the experience, and I think lower/no fares generally are more attractive (in a vacuum – if the lost farebox revenue leads to service cuts, that’s very bad too, just like how lost ridership from a fare hike can also lead to service cuts)
It’s not the only thing of course! But I more wanted to touch on how it’s antithetical to TriMet’s stated goals
TriMet has low fares compared to other agencies, as well as fare capping – which is uncommon. They survey their riders every year, and the cost of fares isn’t a top priority:
Improved Security: 48%
Service to more areas: 34%
Greater Frequency: 34%
Improved Cleanliness: 27%
More early/late/weekend service: 25%
Faster Trips: 24%
Fares Cost Less: 16%
When folks studied LAs temporary free transit in what they found is that it increased the number of rides, but not the number of riders. That is, folks who already used LA Metro used it more, but it didn’t attract meaningful new ridership. Drilling down, a lot of the people who used it more used it to replace trips they were otherwise taking on foot. LA Metro doesn’t have fare capping, so under the paid system, the additional trips would have cost those people extra. That’s not the case on TriMet. I appreciate the general idea with regards to free transit, but any funds we put towards making it free could be put towards improving things riders care more about.
Totally agree. But we’re not in a vacuum. It is highly likely that eliminating fares will create a worse experience for transit riders, which means there will be fewer of them.
Lower, no fares are generally attractive period. No need for caveats. The fact that we charge a fare at all is just ludicrous considering it is literally better for everyone if more people ride. There is no argument to be made for charging people to ride if your goal is anything you say your goals are.
Lower fares do not always make service more attractive. If they draw more riders for short hops who would otherwise be walking, for example, they may make buses slower and more crowded, leading people who have options to drive instead.
More people driving and fewer people walking is not literally better for everyone.
Trimet pays lip service to equity. The real goal seems to be to put groups against each other. Individual employees are cool, but…
TriMet’s services are inarguably imperfect, but poor land use near stations remains the primary impediment to increasing ridership. It doesn’t even matter that much how much fares are; taking the subway in Tokyo, Seoul, New York, London, Paris; none are that cheap. However, density around stations is such that driving is both unnecessary and inefficient, so somewhat higher ticket prices seem worth it.
Portland needs to be denser to be better served by its transit. If buses and MAX trains were fuller, they’d not need to worry about fares as much because the necessity of high-capacity transportation–which buses and trains obviously are, and roads and private cars obviously are not–would be so evident that more state funding would be forthcoming. Instead, because most of Portland is sprawling, autocentric, and low density, transit cannot effect real mode share shift, and it therefore seems like a social service, rather than as it ought to be: the core of the region’s transportation systems.
And if you’re a suburbanite who never uses it, raising fares just seems “fair”, all while billions and billions of dollars are spent on a road network that cannot ever generate sufficient economic activity to be a good investment.
I think about station placement often. On the east side, so many stations are divided by the places people actually want to go by giant parking lots. From the stations, it is an inconvenient, long walk across parking lots and roads to get to the actual things. Cascade station, mall 205, Johnson creek area, clackamas town centre… all should have closer stations. It’s like they are tucked away to not bother cars.
Agreed. MAX stations are so out of the way in a lot of places. Either that or surrounded by transit-oriented surface parking.
And despite this PDX urbanists have spent the past two decades fighting tooth and nail to legalize duplex condos (low-density housing).
Maybe if the increases came with clean and safe trains and busses. As it stands now, no thanks I’d still rather drive.
But you have that option. A lot of transit riders don’t.
I’ve seen things on Tri-Met busses I really wish I hadn’t. : (
Yes, make transit “fare free” until there is congestion pricing / tolling for drivers using Portland roadways etc.
Again, assuming free fares will attract drivers absent other reforms, which I think is unlikely.
Some corrections are needed here: The MetroBus is not operated by the District of Columbia but rather by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which also operates the rail network. This is a regional, not municipal, system, with its own governance structure. From the original WP article: “The D.C. government will subsidize bus rides within the city limit starting July 1, allowing passengers to board free.” So the DC government is not subsidizing the entire bus network, only boardings inside the city limits. So presumably, people coming into DC from other surrounding areas would still pay to board.
The City of Portland could do this exact same thing: pay TriMet to make all boardings inside the city free.
Also, I don’t think a conversation about fare-free systems would be complete without this well-researched Slate article from last year that talks about the trade-offs involved in making such a move.
I’ve commented on the ‘free transit’ proposal but I can add this: Last night we landed at PDX a little after 6:00. We walked down, paid our fare and boarded the Red Line into downtown Portland. The first thing we see is someone fast asleep lying on the floor, partially blocking one of the exits. As PDX is the terminus for the Red line, Tri-met security walks the cars making sure that all have exited. They obviously saw this guy asleep/passed out on the floor and walked right by. The car we were in was TRASHED; half-eaten food lying on seats and the floor. On our trip in there was an individual behind us; we smelled something burning, turned around and this guy was trying to ignite his clothing with a lighter!!!!! We immediately left the train, next stop and walked. We tried to signal the driver of the train from outside; no luck. She clearly did not want to know. There were, over the course of the journey, perhaps 30 people on that car. We paid, we saw another couple pay and, you know what? I think that was it!! Before contemplating a fare increase, which I consider to be minimal, make sure that everyone who boards is a paid fare! Make sure that TriMet transit is not a DeFacto homeless shelter. We had just arrived from Las Vegas. We rode public transit there and the first thing you see when you board a bus is a large sign that says ‘Fares Must be Paid’ and ‘No Free Rides’.
Finally, we were riding early evening on a Friday. I’m guessing here but very few of the people on board were going home from work or tourists coming into town for the weekend. Is there anyone here, after reading this, that wonders why?