TriMet plans service cuts and higher fares
By Mindy Cooper/The Portland Observer
A plan to tackle TriMet’s projected $17 million shortfall was announced Wednesday, along with the unveiling of proposed cuts to services and higher fares in an effort to maintain quality and equity throughout the transit agency’s service area.
TriMet attributes the deficit to lower revenue from payroll taxes, anticipated cuts in federal funding and unsustainable health care costs for union employees, which make up the majority of workers.
The proposal includes a variety of internal changes at TriMet, including the streamlining of services and layoffs, as well as a switch to a flat fare system, which raises the fare price and eliminates certain routes and the free-rail zone for downtown and the Lloyd Center.
According to TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane, the agency will be focusing more on transit equity and making sure changes don’t have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged and minority populations.
Any changes to fares and service would take effect in September.
“We heard very clearly from the public that there is a willingness to pay more if we were able to limit the cuts to needed service,” McFarlane said. “We also want to restructure the fare system to make it easier to understand and more equitable.”
Currently, TriMet is already down $60 million in their annual budget, which accountants said is due in large part to high benefits and union healthcare costs, which are projected to be 42 percent of the underlying payroll tax revenues in five years.
“If we continue without making changes, we will have a wider imbalance each year,” said McFarlane in a visit to the offices of the Portland Observer last week. “We’ve got these structural imbalances that have to be adjusted.”
In an effort to attain feedback from the public and prepare for the future financial changes, TriMet created a new Budget Task Force, which initiated a survey in which 4,800 individuals participated since last October to begin to face the changes that lie ahead.
“It gave us a chance to have a much better conversations with the public,” he said. “What we heard is a huge preference for preserving service, and there is a tolerance to increasing fares, if the services remain whole.”
Necessary steps, he said, will include the change from single ride tickets that currently allow return trips with a two hour transfer, to a one-way only flat fare ticket, in which the transfer only works for travel in the same direction. The new flat fare rate would be $2.50, a 10 cent increase from the current all-zone fare and 40 cents more than the current 2-zone fare. The creation of a round trip all day pass will cost a rider the same as the current day pass, which is $5.
Other changes include the reconfiguration of 14 bus trips with low ridership, shortened MAX Airport services and an increase in the Youth one way ticket by 15 cents.
Honored Citizen fares, however, will not change, and there will be additional LIFT services will be provided.
But even with the short-term pain, McFarlane said there are still a number of positive changes happening as the transit service moves forward.
“I’m more optimistic today than I was then,” he said, referring the initial budget forecast last year.
“We have to be alive to changes within our city all the time,” he said. “We have to look at today, but we also have a responsibility to look into the future.”
The public will be asked to comment on the proposals at a series of public hearings, which began this week.
The open houses will take place Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Portland Building, Room C, located at 1120 S.W. Fifth Ave., from 4:30-6:30 p.m.; and Thursday, Feb. 16. at the Clackamas Town Center in the Community Room, lower level, located at 12000 S.E. 82nd Ave., from 4:30-6:30 pm.
For more information about the future route and service changes, visit trimet.org/choices online or call 503-238-RIDE, option #5.