Wednesday is D-Day -- D as in “downsize” -- for TriMet riders.
That’s when Oregon’s largest transit agency is expected to announce a long list of proposed service cuts, route changes and fare increases to deal with a budget shortfall of up to $17 million.
General Manager Neil McFarlane has promised to avoid slashing service if at all possible, since the past three years have essentially cut into the bone of daily bus and train schedules. But you can bet there will be more bad news for low-ridership bus routes and MAX runs in 48 hours.
Well, technically, until there’s a round of public meetings and the board votes, it will be proposed bad news.
As The Oregonian has reported in recent weeks, you should also expect to see plans for the elimination of Free Rail Zone, a significant increase in adult fares and the end of two-way transfers. According to leaked documents from McFarlane’s in-house budget task force, the agency is also expected to start pushing riders to purchase $5 day passes and to end fare zones.
Actually, ending fare zones, started on the TriMet system in 1982, may be an idea that’s long overdue. At least that's what TriMet's arguing.
The zones were ostensibly created to make the transit system more affordable and fair for low-income riders. Thirty years ago, the region’s poverty was concentrated in Portland’s central city.
But gentrification -- aided, ironically, by light rail -- has shifted the socioeconomic balance, with more lower-income residents migrating toward the suburbs and higher-income residents settling in the Pearl District, the Southwest Waterfront and other re-developed districts of the central city.
The Portland region isn’t the only one experiencing such a shift.
A new study from the Mineta Transportation Institute uses the Atlanta metropolitan area to demonstrate how the decades-old general wisdom about transit needs to change if agencyies want to give people a true alternative to their cars.
The Sustainable Cities Collective Blog observes:
“The first thing the researchers noticed, in line with previous research, is that dependent transit riders tend to take the bus and choice riders tend to take rail. Bus/dependent riders tend to come from lower-income zones and has less access to a car, compared with rail/choice riders. Unlike their bus-riding counterparts, rail riders place a premium on out-of-vehicle travel time — in other words, they don't like when it takes a long time to get to a transit station. The central business district is a major destination for rail riders, and they also seem to prefer going through transit-oriented developments. Neither of these factors plays a major role in bus/dependent travel, according to the report; on the contrary, bus riders are trying to reach lower-density employment centers.Of course, if TriMet actually wants to push passengers to the $5 day-pass system, it's chancing the possibility that many commuters will just decide it’s cheaper and more convenient to drive.
At the same time, the two types of riders have much in common. Both are sensitive to in-vehicle travel time, as well as the time it takes to transfer. A quarter of all rail riders transfer to bus to complete their trip, according to the study, which suggests that intermodal transfers are critical as well. And even though rail riders head to the downtown core more often than bus riders, areas with a large number of jobs — though not necessarily high-density employment centers — remain a key destination for both groups.”
Should be an interesting week on the public transit front.