Guest Opinion: Transit fare hikes are a dead-end

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

— This guest opinion is by Bus Riders Unite! member and OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon Board Member Tristan Isaac.

We are in the midst of multiple economic crises and many working people struggle to recover in an economy ravaged by a global pandemic. Rent hikes and price gouging by greedy landlords and corporations are driving thousands into poverty, debt and homelessness. You could scarcely pick a worse time to raise prices on an essential service like public transportation. Yet that is exactly what TriMet aims to do, all while doing everything they can to avoid public scrutiny and accelerate the process with minimal outreach. 

“The issues at TriMet stem largely from a lack of visionary leadership rather than a lack of resources. With a few exceptions, the Board of Directors is assembled of retirees, paper pushers and functionaries with dubious qualifications and problematic opinions.”

At a series of recent meetings, TriMet’s unelected Board of Directors, led by President Linda Simmons, pushed forward implementation of a 30-cent fare hike starting in 2024.They claim that without raising fares, the agency would be pushed into a budget deficit, leading to layoffs and service reductions. While such cost-cutting measures would be a disaster, it’s hard to ignore that, despite being flush with cash, TriMet has already been forced to implement unprecedented service reductions due to an operator shortage driven by decades of mismanagement and hostile labor relations.

TriMet claims to be concerned about a budget deficit but the real issue is a deficit of leadership. During the same meeting where they proposed a fare hike, the Board of Directors also attempted to torpedo the notion of a fareless system with a heavily-biased presentation. Several Board members also shared bizarre anecdotes to justify their skepticism of free public services like subsidized community college and engaged in alarmist rhetoric around unhoused people “taking over” a fareless transit system. 

The truth is: Raising fares has nothing to do with finances or budgets and everything to do with who TriMet’s leadership thinks should and shouldn’t be allowed to ride transit. According to TriMet’s most recent budget, passenger revenue accounts for roughly seven percent of their total funding. Between administration, collection, maintenance and enforcement, the cost of collecting fares is barely covered by the fares themselves. Fares function less as a critical source of revenue and more as a convenient justification to control who is allowed to ride the transit system by criminalizing homelessness and poverty.

If TriMet’s administrators are truly concerned about the financial health of the agency, why limit the discussion only to that of fare hikes? TriMet, or rather the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon, is a public agency charged with operating a public transit service established by legislative action more than fifty years ago. It is in effect a municipality unto itself with a ruling Board of Directors appointed by the governor. Within the district, these Directors have broad authority to pass laws and raise revenue from a variety of taxes, levies and bonds, many of which have yet to be tapped. Ad valorem property taxes, business license fees and a graduated net income tax where the highest earners pay more are all on the table.

Additionally, TriMet could enter into intergovernmental agreements with any of the numerous cities and counties that overlap with their district for additional funding. So far, they have yet to explore any such options, except in existing contracts where TriMet pays tens of millions of dollars to a dozen different law enforcement agencies to staff the Transit Police Division. TriMet’s government affairs division could also lobby the state legislature for an expanded mandate or additional funding. The last time TriMet turned out a major lobbying effort was–you guessed it–to protect the power of police to check fares, before reversing course years later in the face of public backlash against police officers following the murder of George Floyd.

From all of this, we can surmise that the issues at TriMet stem largely from a lack of visionary leadership rather than a lack of resources. With a few exceptions, the Board of Directors is assembled of retirees, paper pushers and functionaries with dubious qualifications and problematic opinions. Are they regular transit users? Hard to tell for sure, but not particularly likely. Agency bureaucrats are more interested in operating the district like a private corporation rather than a public agency. When riders are “customers,” forcing people to pay for service is only logical. However, TriMet is not a private corporation, it is a public agency almost entirely funded by tax dollars. We all pay for TriMet long before we ever step up to a ticket machine. 

Rather than hiking fares on already cost-burdened families who rely on TriMet and continuing to use fare enforcement as a method of exclusion that criminalizes poverty and harms the most vulnerable, TriMet should take the bold step of making transit free for all users. Fareless transit would be a huge boon to our region’s climate goals, coaxing more people out of their cars and in the process easing traffic congestion, improving air quality and making streets safer for pedestrians. No fares also means faster boarding and better on-time performance, making the system more efficient and reliable. TriMet could also save tens of millions of dollars per year and alleviate the operator shortage by eliminating their fare administration divisions and putting dozens of reprobate fare inspectors to work doing something good, like driving buses.

It should be obvious that TriMet’s leadership lacks the radical ambition to implement such a bold initiative, which means it falls on us, the public, to hold them to account. TriMet will soon begin public outreach about their proposed fare hike and they need to hear from us loud and clear that we do not accept it. We need people to turn up to their board meetings and testify against fare hikes and for fareless transit. Be willing to take direct action against fare enforcement. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need new leadership at TriMet. Two out of seven board members are currently approaching the end of their term and our new governor will need to replace them. Look to your community, we need transit advocates and riders who know and rely on the system to govern it. That could be your neighbor, your friend, your coworker or even yourself. Together, we can elevate bold new leaders, stop a fare hike and make fareless transit a reality.

— Tristan Isaac

Guest Opinion

Guest Opinion

Guest opinions do not necessarily reflect the position of BikePortland. Our goal is to amplify community voices. If you have something to share and want us to share it on our platform, contact Publisher & Editor Jonathan Maus at maus.jonathan@gmail.com.

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ES
ES
1 year ago

I would be fine with a fare increase if it resulted in better service.

Going fareless and the resulting cuts in service will just continue the death spiral.

https://slate.com/business/2021/06/free-transit-is-not-a-great-idea.html

Bjorn
Bjorn
1 year ago
Reply to  ES

The fare revenue could be more than replaced with a simple 10 dollar per household per month utility fee. Corvallis is doing this and it has enabled fareless transit there which resulted in a 50% increase in ridership when implemented. Boarding fares are detrimental to the system and should be eliminated.

Chris
Chris
1 year ago
Reply to  Bjorn

That would need to be a city decision, not a Trimet decision. Portland could add a utility fee and reimburse Trimet for all the fares within the city limits.

I think that is the route Washington DC has taken. They are covering the cost of bus fares within the city limits.

Will
Will
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris

DC is covering the cost out of its sales tax General Fund. It isn’t using a utility fee, nor is it raising additional revenue for the measure.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  ES

Ok, not going to say anything about the article that directly contradicts your assertion?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

“Fareless transit would be a huge boon to our region’s climate goals, coaxing more people out of their cars”

Only if the people who currently drive are primarily deterred by transit fares, which is, to be kind, and unproven assertion, and if no one would stop riding due to the reduced service and more crowded vehicles that would result.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Reduced service is also an unproven assertion – TriMet’s assertion that they need fares to survive is self-inflicted (albeit not entirely by TriMet). Our assorted local, regional, and state governments have plenty of money to properly fund our transit agency fares or not.

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Do governments really have “plenty of money” (i.e., unused cash?) or would you prefer that they fund free transit instead of something else? If so, what sacrifice would you suggest?

Personally I’d like to see less money paid out to settle claims for police brutality… but that’s a much larger issue! We’re two and a half years after the murder of George Floyd and both police funding *and* violent crime have risen. Partly, the police aren’t doing a good job, and partly, it’s hard to recruit officers to work in a community that complained loudly that the police aren’t doing a good job!

I just don’t think any of this is simple. We are beset on all sides by trade offs.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Less money = less service. Do you actually disagree with that?

What you want is something else that is not currently on the table. Sure, with more money, we could have free fares, but that would still result in less service than would otherwise be possible if we had that money. Which we don’t.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I disagree with that. As has been argued by me and this article and others, fare is not a significant revenue source.
If you are genuine about your high minded wish about dealing with climate change, know that you absolutely cannot do it on the backs of poor and working class.

Raising fare will reduce ridership. It certainly won’t increase it. I don’t care what kind of motivated doctored survey you trot out that says actually people don’t care about money. It’s nonsense and doesn’t reach the right people or ask the right questions.

Fare, for a regular user, amounts to a higher cost than many other bills a person might forego. It is a very significant expense for someone to use transit regularly. So significant that it starts to get strong competition from you guessed it, driving a car. If you care about that, lower fare is the obvious choice.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

If you’re concerned with climate change, overall ridership is much less important than converting drivers to riders. If free fare converts walkers to riders, that’s not a climate benefit (and it may even be marginally negative).

Studies have shown lowering fares does increase riders, but primarily by drawing in walkers.

If you want more drivers to rejoin the system, we need to address people’s safety concerns. That would benefit poor and working class riders as well. No one likes to feel unsafe.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
1 year ago
Reply to  John

The survey seems to show what is common sense. People who are transit dependent don’t stop using transit because you raise the fare. And for people who aren’t transit dependent the fare is a minor issue in determining whether they use transit. The key to getting more people to use transit is to increase the quality of the service, not cut the price of the fare. That means spending more money, not less. That said, raising fares unfairly targets transit dependent folks for financing a public good that provides public benefits.

This is a general problem for public services. As income and wealth disparities increase, the quality demanded by those who can afford it is greater than the price those who are dependent on the service can afford to pay. The danger is that you end up with crappy service that ONLY the transit dependent will use – until they can afford a car. Having lived in places where transit is a welfare service, it would be a terrible mistake if Trimet moved in that direction in the mistaken belief it will benefit low income people.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

I don’t believe that is common sense, or true. If people have the money to keep riding after a fare increase, some will also have money to drive instead and a fare increase reduces the increase in cost for doing so.

And most of us transit proponents are not advocating to cut spending, actually the opposite. We should be spending more money on transit. We should also be reducing fare. Do both despite what the people who would try to myopically limit the possibilities say. It is both a social justice action and practical. No matter how clean and safe you make the bus, if it costs nearly as much as a cheap used car payment, people will be taking the car.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago

All I know is though I could afford a price increase, I don’t think they “deserve it”.
Just this morning my stupid bus driver went to drive right by my bus stop even though every morning there are 2 people that get off there (just like today). I had to yell as loud as I could before the inattentive driver braked and pulled over. Stuff like that, and the wild wild west shows on Max, makes me wish that TriMet would pull their proverbial head out of their rear and actually improve the safety and reliability of their service.

What they are doing right now ain’t working. Many of my co-workers who used to take TriMet pre-COVID drive now because they value their safety more than the price of parking downtown.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

Maybe higher fares would allow Trimet to hire more security for MAX trains, thereby improving security for everyone. “Punishing” Trimet by degrading their service isn’t going to help anyone.

PS
PS
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

Is that what the activists will allow? Will the transit activists allow for security on each trimet train, or do they want folks with backpacks with socks and water?

Dupre
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

They did increase security and people are still getting stabbed day and night tri met is for the birds greedy company poor decisions replace them all

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

They will not increase security with a fare increase.

Bus driver
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

“My stupid bus driver”
Now I’m going to skip your stop tomorrow, and next Tuesday.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago
Reply to  Bus driver

No surprise there. Most of us passengers on your route are used to your erratic behavior and inattention to your job.

Racer X
Racer X
1 year ago

On this topic C-TRAN (Vancouver Clark + Portland Bus Mall) has taken the lead in maintaining its COVID era fare cuts through 2023 vs TRIMET.

Though at C-TRANs recent directors board meeting (Dec 13) discussing the general topic of the 2023 fare plan the sub topic of a fare free system was raised by board member Ty Stober (Vancouver mayor pro tem), he asked if this option had been considered and studied as part of the fare study. CTRAN CEO (Shawn Donaghy) responded with a vague personal comment not supporting the fare free service concept and thus affirming indirectly that it had not been considered in depth at all.

Go to Dec 13 meeting at the 1 hour and 10 minute time mark through 1:15

https://www.cvtv.org/search?q=C-TRAN+

Shanika Gomez
Shanika Gomez
1 year ago

If the increased fares go to actually improving safety and security on public transit I will consider using it once again. I changed my past practices and now eschew public transit in PDX due to negative experiences. I now either drive or ride my bike.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

Hey Tristan – You call out Trimet’s leaders for not using public transit, but you yourself don’t seem to use it, either. If you spent any time riding Trimet buses, as I do regularly, you would know that fareless transit is already here. There are so many semi-coherent people stepping onto buses, muttering at the driver, who inevitably says, “Just take a seat.” There are no conductors or fare enforcers on buses, and the driver is not going to argue with a potentially violent person about a fare – and who can blame them? They are needing to keep the bus on some semblance of a schedule and they are completely unprotected against physical violence.

I’m afraid you really damaged your case with this rather inflammatory essay – calling the volunteer board members at Trimet ugly names, for example. Of course they are not perfect and of course they could do some things better, but your essay is full of hot-headed rhetoric and very weak on actual facts. If you rode Trimet buses regularly as I do, you’d know that Trimet is doing a pretty darned good job in the face of huge challenges. Those of us who can pay 30 cents more for a ride should do so, and I am happy to. I will not be contacting Trimet to oppose the fare rise – your essay will ensure that I lobby them to raise fares. Thank you for providing extra motivation.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

calling the volunteer board members at Trimet ugly names

Seriously… I found that quite off-putting and unnecessary as well. One can make the case for free fares without attacking people.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

I ride the bus most days, and the MAX a few time a week as well. On the bus, I’d say >95% of people pay fares, and although there certainly is the occasional semi-coherent person stepping onto the bus and muttering at the driver I wouldn’t say that it’s typical.

Fares on TriMet are already fairly high for the level of service we get in Portland. A 30 cent fare hike isn’t onerous for me personally, but it’s worth comparing fares in Portland to other transit agencies nationally.

  • NYC – a single ride on the subway or bus is $2.75, monthly is $127
  • Chicago – a single ride on the L is $2.50 ($2.25 for a bus), monthly is $75
  • Seattle – a bus ride is $2.75, Link is distance based but around $3. Monthly is $99
  • St. Louis – a bus ride is $1(!), rail is $2.50, monthly is $78
  • Portland now – bus or rail ride is $2.50, monthly is $100
  • Portland proposed – bus or rail ride is $2.80, monthly is $100

Portland runs about 1/2 the bus vehicle revenue hours of King County Metro but will have a more expensive fare. And while it’s good that the monthly pass isn’t going to increase in price, it’s already just not a very good deal relative to other places. The “Honored Citizen” program is nice, but too few people qualify for it and there is too steep of a welfare cliff for it as well.

And I don’t think TriMet is doing a good job – especially since the pandemic. We are still down ~45% from pre-pandemic ridership. Other cities have seen full recovery (NYC Subway is up 8% from October 2019 to October 2022, BART is up about 14% in the same time as well), or at least better recovery than we have in Portland (Chicago is at about a 10% loss for both the L and bus system). And anyone with a brain probably can figure out that TriMet’s extreme ridership loss and lack of recovery is very “downtown commute” related, yet we still have had no meaningful service pattern changes (and won’t until at least fall 2023!). This is shockingly poor leadership, and TriMet’s response has been far too slow to invoke any confidence in the board.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

And anyone with a brain probably can figure out that TriMet’s extreme ridership loss and lack of recovery is very “downtown commute” related, yet we still have had no meaningful service pattern changes

You strike me as someone with a brain, so tell me, where should TriMet be running buses to restore the ridership lost when lots of people stopped commuting? Where is all this pent up demand?

I’m reading over and over in these comments and elsewhere that people who are very open to the idea of riding transit (myself included), many of whom have been regular transit riders, simply will not ride anymore, or will do so only when they have to, and it’s not because the fares are too high or because service is inadequate.

People have stopped riding because transit feels unsafe.

That is the primary issue that needs to be addressed, and making fares free will probably make that problem worse.

TriMet, under pressure from activists, made a policy choice to stop enforcing its rules, and now we are reaping the benefits.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

where should TriMet be running buses to restore the ridership lost when lots of people stopped commuting?

Better crosstown service for starters, better frequency later into the evenings, increasing frequency on well-used routes throughout the day. I mean I’ll say the plans they have in the “Forward Together” project are pretty good, especially with better service east of 82nd – but why on earth is September 2023 the earliest we can get any of these changes? Last I checked, that’s 3 and a half years after the start of the pandemic.

And I think it’s worth say that the transit ridership decline is almost certainly more about utility than safety – but they are linked. People feel safer on transit when more people are using it, the pandemic related ridership loss has (likely) been a major contributor to the safety perception decline. So any changes that drive increased ridership should have some positive change towards increasing safety as well.

I’m not here to dismiss safety concerns out of hand – they are a huge issue for the system at large! But I question how much it has driven ridership decline (especially compared to work from home for downtown office jobs), and I’m not very convinced by your anecdotes here.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

You claim the ridership fall is primarily due to insufficient utility, but what I keep hearing from former riders is that safety is the issue. That’s consistent with TriMet’s survey data (which also says fares are not a big concern). And utility hasn’t fallen nearly enough to account for the loss of riders. Yes, we agree that ridership has taken a big hit because fewer people are going to work downtown, but it’s also true that driving is back full force. Many of those folks are former TriMet customers who are paying more to drive/park than bus fare.

You also seem to think something happened with the pandemic that made a substantial number of people want to ride the bus across town along routes that are currently poorly served, something so obvious that TriMet should be condemned for having waited 3 years since the start of the pandemic to respond. What caused that change?

I’m just not seeing it. TriMet lost a bunch of riders that will not be returning any time soon. That leaves the service with lower political support than it previously had, which probably means fewer resources long-term. Making fares free will not draw people back, nor will tinkering with routes and schedules.

TriMet has become largely irrelevant to my life, and that’s going to remain true until the bus once again becomes a good way for me to get around. The longer I’m away, the harder it will be for me to go back. I doubt I’m alone.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Driving is back, but not downtown parking revenue – which is something that would probably track more closely with (historic) transit use. The bus is much more appealing if parking is a nightmare – which it was because of so many people going downtown for work.

I would contend TriMet’s singular focus on downtown spoke and hub service has always been a big weakness in terms of general utility for riders. In the past, that has been justified (presumably) by focusing on high ridership commuter routes (most of which end downtown), but now with that being relatively less important it should be freeing up more resources for better overall “grid-like” bus service.

And you’re saying “people are telling me it’s safety” but also that you don’t personally use it because it doesn’t offer you the service that you need. I think for most people, it’s probably both: it no longer serves their needs (of getting downtown for a relatively lower cost than driving), and because they aren’t riding every day they perceive it as more dangerous based on anecdotes from the media, friends, or BikePortland serial commenters. People aren’t going on Twitter to announce how normal and pleasant their transit experience was even when it is.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

And you’re saying “people are telling me it’s safety” but also that you don’t personally use it because it doesn’t offer you the service that you need. 

The last two or three times I’ve ridden, I’ve had very “colorful” experiences, and even had to change Max cars because of a perceived threat. I’ve written about these rides in the comments on other stories.

TriMet goes where I want it to, and what I need is a service that is safe and clean. Riding a bike, even at night, just feels so much safer than rolling the dice with who or what I’ll find on the bus or Max car. I hope your experience is different.

I believe that raising the fare is right decision, but I really don’t care enough to testify.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I don’t think the readership, much less commenters, on bikeportland are a representative sample of potential riders, so I don’t think it’s very relevant what a handful of them say about their bus riding habits.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I don’t think the readership, much less commenters, on bikeportland are a representative sample of potential riders

I certainly agree with you on this point, so we probably also agree it’s a good thing that TriMet has polled their riders, who rated safety concerns much more highly than concerns about fares.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I’ve seen a poll on this topic, you or someone posted, not sure. What I remember about this poll is that the questions were horribly written and I wouldn’t consider the results useful for anything. It was designed to give a certain outcome.

Also it’s worth keeping in mind that both things can be done, increasing ridership by lowering fare and increasing ridership by improving perceived safety. The problem I have with your view repeated everywhere here is you are making a false dichotomy. This is not a one or the other, and constantly driving the idea that it is only serves to lower expectations and limit the scope of possibilities. As has been pointed out many times, fare is a meaninglessly small part of the budget of TriMet, so if you want improved safety you can fund it some other way.

A less charitable interpretation of your talking points is you want to keep poor people off the bus without saying you want to keep poor people off the bus. You know full well that a bus fare represents a very significant cost to people making low wages, and cars are so (unfortunately) cheap that people will drive even if it’s a bit more expensive especially if the marginal savings is reduced with a fare increase.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Yeah, I posted a snapshot of the unscientific non-profit poll and polling question. It never addressed free transit and the question focused on “service improvements” which enormously biased the responses to…drum roll…service improvements. The fact that so many urbanists refer to this poll as proof that “people” don’t want free transit, is another example of how disinformation and outright dishonesty are common in urbanist discourse.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

TriMet operates on a classic central hub model, which means DT is the hub and focal point of the system. Anyone with a brain would know that DT is no longer the commuter draw it was pre-pandemic and, if they had a flexible business model, adjust accordingly. TriMet is simply not flexible enough to adjust accordingly.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

I agree with most of what you wrote, but am not sure how TriMet should “adjust”. It’s not that the riders have changed destinations, it’s that they’ve changed modes or are just not traveling at all.

My suggestion would be that TriMet focus on making the system as safe and clean as possible, and while I don’t kid myself into thinking that will bring all the old riders back, I do think it’s a prerequisite for getting philosophically inclined discretionary riders like me and others on this forum back on the bus.

I’m sure you are not arguing that they should reduce service to match a downsized ridership, so what would you like to see a more nimble TriMet do?

Nathan
Nathan
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Seemingly you aren’t riding the Max, where weekly on my visits to NE 60th or Hollywood stations involves encountering an active drug user and even at 830 AM i’d estimate 1/3 folks on the train are “unhoused”

Christopher King
Christopher King
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

If Kansas City can provide transit services to their citizens sans fares, So Can Portland!!

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
1 year ago

“The benefits to riders of Kansas City’s zero-fare program are perhaps overshadowed by the limited reach of its transit system. Less than 13 percent of Kansas City’s low-income households live near a bus route, according to one report. And only 3 percent of Kansas City residents use public transit at all, according to another.”

source

I don’t think you have to choose, but if you force a choice its the low income most transit dependent people in the community that will feel the most intense negative impacts from a declining transit system.

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

As a fit, young male, Tristan doesn’t really have to worry about the threatening passengers on Trimet. Those of us with small children have basically lost it as a transportation option. I’m only going to shield my children from violence one time before I swear off MAX for good.

Bjorn
Bjorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

It is interesting that the Trimet Board grants themselves fareless transit as they get free passes but that model can’t work for others. If the board truly believed in fares they would pay them too.

Christopher King
Christopher King
1 year ago
Reply to  Bjorn

Yep!! If Kansas City can provide transit services for their citizens sans fares…… So Can Portland!!

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

And then there is this:

https://www.portlandcopwatch.org/PPR24/mejia24.html
https://www.portlandmercury.com/news/2005/09/22/34753/policing-the-police

TriMet passenger short $0.20 on fare wrongly sent to psychiatric facility after epileptic seizure ends up being shot to death by Portland’s finest.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

Over 20 years ago, a passenger short on fare became confrontational with the bus driver; driver called police who took passenger to the hospital. Two days later, police were summoned to the hospital where the fatal confrontation occurred.

This is probably a story about the police in 2000 being ill equipped to deal with situations like this; it is not a particularly strong argument against bus fares or even much of a commentary on TriMet. Drivers have to have control over their bus, and need to be able to have aggressive passengers removed. I would not want to be a driver trapped behind the wheel when a potentially violent passenger starts getting in my face.

If the driver tells you to get off the bus, get off the bus.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

You are overthinking it, my point is simply that if fares didn’t exist, there never would have been a death resulting from a $0.20 dispute, nor any conflict between the operator and the user.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

You are assuming that there would not have been some other trigger. Counter factuals are always speculative, but if you are in the frame of mind where you would argue with a bus driver to the point where he felt he had to call the police, that’s likely to express itself one way or the other.

The death did not result from a 20c dispute with a bus driver, the death resulted from lunging at police at the hospital.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Don’t be so disingenuous, he was only in the hospital b/c he was arrested over the $0.20 fare dispute; and I don’t blame him, he was remanded to the hospital w/o due process. In a similar situation I would probably also have been trying to get out and lunged at the cops if I had been detained in a hospital against my will based on a false diagnosis, w/o due process, or an appropriate interpreter, or any regard for my civil rights. But that’s just me, maybe you would have just gone along with it all if you were in that situation?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

If someone is so disruptive on a bus that the driver has to call police, that’s bad on him. If the hospital misdiagnosed someone, and held him on that basis, that’s bad on them. Spanish is not such an unusual language that it would be hard to find an interpreter, so if the hospital didn’t do that, it’s more bad on them. If the cops used lethal force where it wasn’t needed, that’s bad on them.

I don’t know what I would have done in that situation (and since I’m not the sort to escalate minor disputes to the level someone needs to call the police, I may never know), but I am pretty sure I would not have tried to lunge at the cops. That’s never the right move.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

He was in the midst of a medical crisis at the time he was boarding the bus, if he was not fully in control of his own faculties b/c of a true medical situation it is not ‘bad on him’; the bus driver should have recognized that and acted accordingly. And sorry, but calling police is not acting accordingly nor the best course of action in that situation.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

If he was in medical crisis, then he should have been taken to the hospital.

Bus drivers are not first responders and do not receive medical training. Expecting them to understand what was happening and “act accordingly” is a lot to ask. What should the driver have done if not call 911? Dispatchers make the decision about who to send, not callers.

Are you really asserting that the bus driver was at fault in this situation?

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

So you think without fares that there will be no confrontations between disruptive passengers and operators. Portland had a fareless square and that was not how it seemed to work. Some passengers are disruptive with or without fares

What ought to be clear here is that Trimet is raising fares to raise money. You can make all sorts of arguments against a fareless system, but the solution to this problem of a funding shortfall is more public funding.

It is obvious here part of why public funding is not an easy option. Portland used to have a transit system that was attractive to a lot of middle class folks who had other options.To recreate that is going to take a lot of resources and there is not the political will to provide them.

Christopher King
Christopher King
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

If Kansas City can provide transit services for their citizens sans fares, So Can Portland!!

Charley
Charley
1 year ago

Maybe Trimet’s customers aren’t really the fare-paying transit riders, but rather the taxpayers who support it. As the author points out:

“The truth is: Raising fares has nothing to do with finances or budgets and everything to do with who TriMet’s leadership thinks should and shouldn’t be allowed to ride transit. According to TriMet’s most recent budget, passenger revenue accounts for roughly seven percent of their total funding.”

If tickets only account for 7% of revenue, government subsidy must provide over 90%! Given that disparity, it seems to me that Trimet is more beholden to the desires of voters (taxpayers) than transit riders. In that case, the incentives will likely tend to support more democratic goals than social goals, and most voters seem to care more about frequent, reliable service, and clean, safe public spaces than they care about free transit for people without the means to purchase a bus ticket.

I think voters are *less* likely to support Trimet if they perceive it as unreliable, infrequent, and unsafe. So we’re at real risk for loss of public support if Trimet’s reputation eroded further.

I mean, if one judges by recent elections (Gonzalez), polling, and forums such as Reddit and even this very comment thread, safe and orderly public spaces are very important to people! Whether or not empirical evidence agrees, I think most citizens could be forgiven for judging that fare-free buses and trains would draw an even greater number of homeless people, or ill people.

Even if you believe that fear is exaggerated, it certainly must be acknowledged. Most BikePortland readers would acknowledge that making prospective cyclists *feel* safe on our streets is an important goal alongside increasing cyclists’ objective, material safety. Increasing subjective safety seems like a necessary condition to encourage ridership, of both cycling and transit.

Why, then, all the pushback when the subject comes up? Is the point to convince people that their feelings are incorrect? It’s such a weird talking point: “your observed feelings of anxiety are unwarranted”.

I’m a six foot tall white guy and I’m not particularly scared on transit, but I don’t use it all that often because it’s unreliable. I can’t afford to be late to work! I’d be perfectly happy with free transit, but not at the cost of a 7% reduction in Trimet’s operating budget. They’re having trouble recruiting drivers already.

So I disagree. I think free transit is a worthy ultimate goal, but, given current ridership, social conditions, and budget, free transit would have a negative overall effect on Trimet’s reputation, thus risking the majority of its funding: the good graces of local voters. I’d rather pay the fare to board than risk losing the service entirely.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Charley

It’s not that your feelings are unwarrented, it’s that your solutions are.
Nobody against increasing fare thinks the only thing we need to do is leave fare the same (or decrease and remove it).

The problem is these debates encourage people to come in and pretend there is only one knob to turn, only one variable we can control. And so the only thing being suggested is increase fare. Which is a categorically bad idea on all fronts. It will not address any of the concerns people like you have. They don’t even claim it will! Instead, it will just decrease ridership, increase driving, and make our transportation generally worse.

People will SAY fare isn’t a major concern (if you ask the right people). But that’s obviously not true. The closer a bus fare gets to a monthly used car payment, the more people will drive. That will also make traffic worse which will make busses even less appealing.

We need to be removing fare completely and make up the funding with one of the many options suggested in this article nobody seemed to read. Then if your primary concern is safety, they can use the funding for that if they must.

But the absolute worst option is to use the sledgehammer approach of raising fare to try and keep our the undesirables who paradoxically are also the ones not paying fare anyway. It makes no sense.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

People will SAY fare isn’t a major concern (if you ask the right people). But that’s obviously not true.

If the survey results don’t align with your views, it probably means those polled were lying.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Polls aren’t a good way to answer every question.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I agree with you there, but I think they are a reasonable way to gauge what people want in this situation.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
1 year ago
Reply to  John

“People will SAY fare isn’t a major concern (if you ask the right people). But that’s obviously not true. The closer a bus fare gets to a monthly used car payment, the more people will drive.”

Actually I think all the poll showed that there aren’t very many people for who a fare increase will have that effect. I see nothing obvious about the idea that there is a huge population out there whose transportation costs are on that narrow financial ledge and will get pushed off by a fare increase.

People do lie to pollsters or answer what they want to believe rather than what they really think. But in this case, the responses correspond to most studies of transit. For most people fares just are not that important.

I support a fareless system from a convenience perspective. And eliminating fare collection will speed loading and reduce costs. But not if the bus is stopping every other block to pick up someone at one stop and drop them off at the next one.

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Hi John,
I’m making a more limited point- that removing ticketing entirely might not have the overall positive desired effect of increasing ridership and political support. I didn’t actually address the proposed price increase, and I’d never claim that raising the price is a silver bullet for transit ridership and support.

As the original author pointed out in the article and in the comments, there are other ways to increase ridership; I agree with many of those suggestions!

So, to mirror your comment: I don’t believe free transit would be a silver bullet, either. Like I said, it’s a worthy goal. But I think it’s be kind of like taking the ultimately good step of prison abolition, *before* taking crime-prevention steps like preventing childhood trauma and lead poisoning, or eliminating poverty. I’d like to see a world with no crime; until then, I think it’s wise to prevent dangerous people from committing more crimes.

JLB
JLB
1 year ago

The Bike Portland editorial team should not have allowed this guest column to include ad hominem attacks on the TriMet board of directors and fare inspectors. It’s unnecessary and diminishes both the column and Bike Portland.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  JLB

In the bigger context of social and political debate I am sorry to declare JLB wrong.

The editorial was very direct in making its case and it’s no wonder it ended up offending some traditional conflict avoidance passive-aggressive Portlanders. Welcome to the real world, Oregon!

FWIW, the TriMet board strikes me as questionable and based on personal experience the fare inspectors are downright nasty wanna be cops.

(Of course there is also Mr. Orange who succeeded in debasing civil discussion of important issues at all levels and continues to try and do so…)

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  FDUP

traditional conflict avoidance passive-aggressive Portlanders

Elsewhere this could be summed up in one word: conservatives.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  JLB

The article was good and contained zero ad hominem. Unless ad hominem is when you don’t agree with someone’s opinion.

Articles and opinions like this, including useful points that are time consuming to gather yourself, are what keep me reading bikeportland.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I’m glad this opinion piece was published here. But “zero ad hominem”? It says the fare inspectors are “reprobate” and “With a few exceptions, the Board of Directors is assembled of retirees, paper pushers and functionaries with dubious qualifications and problematic opinions.”

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

It’s not really ad hominem if it’s not part of the argument. Apparently the writer didn’t think them reprobate enough not to employ the fare inspectors as drivers. It’s the job that is reprobate.
And the stuff about the directors couldn’t be ad hominem, as it’s relevant to their qualifications. Whether it’s true is something one could argue, but if it’s true then it matters.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

if it’s true then it matters.

How do we determine if it’s true whether or not the TriMet board has “problematic opinions”?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I’m saying if the opinion rider’s description of the TriMet board is true it matters. It matters if they’re retirees, paper pushers, and functionaries with dubious qualifications. Problematic opinions is not a matter of fact but of political persuasion. If they’re neoliberal or conservative, that to me means they’ll have problematic opinions. I haven’t researched the particular people involved so I can’t say if this article is accurately describing them.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

“If they’re neoliberal or conservative, that to me means they’ll have problematic opinions.”

Why do you get to say who’s politics are correct? Or that someone who you’ve assigned a particular political label to can’t have reasonable opinions? Or that someone who is retired is automatically unfit for service on a board like TriMet’s (a statement which is dripping with ageism)?

No reasonable reader could interpret that section as anything other than a flat-out bigoted attack, and the more you try to defend it, the less reasonable it seems.

Maybe you or the article’s author could make an actual argument about why a particular member of the TriMet board is unqualified to serve in that position, rather than make general blanket statements that are not disprovable.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Are you suggesting you go around having political opinions that you don’t believe are right? People with a whole different political philosophy disagree, that’s like definitional. It’s incoherent to see someone who’s entire political outlook you disagree with and think “they’ve got reasonable opinions” especially in the areas you disagree on. It’s nonsense.

There is nothing bigoted about that part, you’re reaching. For something like public transit, it is entirely relevant if the people on the board use transit or ever did for work any time recently. It’s an indication of how out of touch they might be. It’s not disqualifying but just one consideration. It has to do with economic status more than age.

This is an opinion, not a math proof. It is the writers opinion that these facts about the board are indications that they won’t be making particular kinds of decisions about transit that the writer thinks we need (spelled out in the piece). You’re free to say why you don’t think it’s relevant.
It’s also an extremely tiny part of the article so focusing on it is nitpicking.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

“Are you suggesting you go around having political opinions that you don’t believe are right?”

No, I am suggesting that you listen to people who you have stereotyped as having different political leanings than you rather than rejecting their ideas as “problematic” out of hand.

I do realize how crazy that sounds in this day and age, but I learn a lot from people with whom I have disagreements.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

I’ve got enough strong cocktails in me finally to wish you two a very Merry Christmas, now go hit the eggnog!

John
John
1 year ago

Doing so now. Merry Christmas to you too. And also Watts.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  John

If it’s not part of the argument, then it wasn’t necessary, which is exactly what the commenter you disagreed with said.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

A lot of words used when writing an opinion are unnecessary. That’s just how writing works. They could have written a listicle but that would be less interesting.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Yes. Again, that’s what the original commenter you disagreed with also said. You both even used the same word–“unnecessary”–to describe it.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Why would being a “retiree” be relevant to their qualifications? There’s no reason someone who’s retired wouldn’t be as qualified as anyone.

I’m guessing the author may have been using “retiree” as a demeaning form of “retired person”, to conjure up images of befuddled, out-of-touch people, the way he used “paper pushers” and “functionaries” as demeaning terms for government workers and officials.

I agree with the other commenter that those diminish the article. I actually didn’t notice the flaws of article as much when I first read it as I did after you started defending them.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

Laughable. None of those things, on their own, disqualify the board members, even all three together. But each one is a point of reference that they are out of touch with the needs of regular working people who have jobs and commute daily. It means their personal interests are not inline with the rest of their riders (at least in these respects). Disagree if you want that that matters but it has little to do with age and I think you know that.

But I hope nobody’s here to approve this for a while. Merry Christmas.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  John

That doesn’t make sense. In the case of “retirees”–once a person retires, it doesn’t mean they instantly become “out of touch with the needs of regular working people who have jobs and commute daily” (which in fact accurately describes what many retired people were for decades prior to their perhap-recent-retirement).

And of course a significant number of transit riders–and potential riders–are NOT working people who commute daily. They’re shoppers, students, and…retired people.

So if the idea is that the board should reflect ridership, there SHOULD be some retired people on the board. In fact, since transit can be critical for retired people, because many of them don’t drive, adequate representation of their interests is especially critical.

The author’s other two groups–“paper pushers” and “functionaries” ARE most typically people who have jobs and commute daily, so being in those groups hardly proves they’re out of touch with transit riders. A significant number of office workers who take transit–and even more who are potential riders–could be described as “paper pushers”.

I’m not disagreeing that board members should have interests inline with transit riders. I’m disagreeing with your view that people in the author’s three groups can’t share those interests with riders.

And of course this is all assuming that the author’s “retirees, paper pushers and functionaries” is an accurate description. I read the board’s profiles and don’t think it is.

I’m not a fan of the board, and think a case might be made that most members may be too wealthy to have a personal appreciation of the needs of typical transit riders, and their wealth may also make it unlikely that they use transit much. But that’s not what you or the author are arguing.

I also don’t appreciate your saying my arguments are “laughable”.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

…and their wealth may also make it unlikely that they use transit much. But that’s not what you or the author are arguing.

I don’t know the author but having seen some of their social media communication I’m fairly certain that that’s exactly what the author intended to argue. I do agree that the language they used is imprecise and slightly demeaning.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

That sums up my opinion well also.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

LOL, it’s not ad hominem if it’s accurate.

Nathan
Nathan
1 year ago

Just what we need! Turning the Max into a rolling homeless camp and to further turn the Max into a lawless dump and drug den from the “fareless” riders. My green liberal wife doesn’t ride the Max by herself due to a lack of perceived safety. Indeed I regularly see folks using the NE 60th and Hollywood stops as their preferred meth smoking den. With fareless, LEO will be neutered from removal of these folx, unless actively caught in the act.

Christopher King
Christopher King
1 year ago
Reply to  Nathan

Seems someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Oh, and your rose colored lenses appear more fecal in color.
Snap Out Of It!!

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago

Many of us riders would love to “snap out of it” as if it was a dream, but unfortunately, we live the reality of riding every day and encounter these issues over and over.
I to, like Nathan, know many people who refuse to ride transit anymore. My partner would wish I would drive instead.
Until Trimet steps up and starts making a safer service with more reliable service people are going to drive instead. And that’s a goal none of us should want.

Christopher King
Christopher King
1 year ago

If Kansas City can provide service to their citizens with no fares, So Can Portland!!!

Kyle Banerjee
1 year ago

Regardless of fares and safety, transit needs to be a viable way to travel — which it isn’t for most people who don’t live near the core. Even then, it’s hopelessly slow and you’re often better off on foot.

Transit needs to be the most reliable way to get around, but instead it’s the least. And it matters if people who work at or bring food to nursing homes or many other jobs don’t show up.

Btw, transit isn’t good for the environment. Even fully utilized, it’s not nearly as much better than vehicles as people here like to pretend.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

“Even fully utilized, it’s not nearly as much better than vehicles as people here like to pretend.”

At current rates of utilization it is almost certainly a net carbon emitter compared to having everybody drive.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

At current rates of utilization it is almost certainly a net carbon emitter compared to having everybody drive.”

That’s an intentional choice. Efficient, inexpensive, and mature technologies that would have allowed for electrification of a large fraction of trimet’s fleet have existed for generations:

comment image

Will
Will
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

It’s frustrating that they seem intent on moving to BEB when they electrify instead of overhead wire, especially when IMC could be used for farther out routes.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Will

Nice to agree, Will.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

TriMet’s resistance to electrification is very frustrating.

By the time TriMet electrifies, most private autos will be electric as well, so depending on what ridership does, transit in Portland may still be an energy loser compared to driving.