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.