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Thursday, January 23, 2014

TRIMET FUMBLES ON TRANSFER TIMES, CIVIL RIGHTS

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TriMet management ignores community’s concerns about Title VI violations;
Board puts brakes on restoring fare equity in response to Civil Rights challenge

PORTLAND, Ore. – Just one month ago, the TriMet Board formally considered Ordinance No. 332, which will extend transfer times for cash and single-ticket fares to 2.5 hours. OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and Bus Riders Unite lauded this development as a step toward restoring fare equity for low-income riders who have been squeezed by years of fare hikes and service cuts, and attended yesterday’s Board meeting in anticipation of a second reading and vote on the ordinance, culminating their three-year Campaign for a Fair Transfer.

In a shocking turn, the Board backed away from their support for extending transfers and tabled the ordinance indefinitely, citing “uncertainty” over the compliance and review process under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Board also refused to allow testimony from Civil Rights experts and community advocates in the room before making this decision. These actions were disrespectful to transit riders and advocates who have devoted years of organizing and engagement with TriMet’s Board and staff on the issue.

The agency is holding hostage the ordinance to extend transfers on flimsy logic, claiming that they cannot move forward until they hear from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) about whether a change to transfer times requires an equity analysis. This is dead wrong, and reflects the agency’s shallow appreciation for Title VI
and environmental justice compliance. In proposing Ordinance No. 332, TriMet relied on an exhaustive and comprehensive multi-year analysis of the costs and benefits of extending transfer times. TriMet’s own analysis shows that low-income riders and people of color were negatively impacted by past fare hikes and service cuts, and that extending transfer times will provide a benefit to those riders, who disproportionat
ely use cash or single-tickets.

The Board could have safely passed Ordinance No. 332 yesterday, and would have met FTA guidelines by simply notifying them that the decision was based on a robust equity analysis. Civil Rights experts and transit advocates in the room could have alerted the Board of this option had they been given an opportunity to testify. But TriMet refuses to acknowledge that an equity analysis is required when changing transfer times, and the agency is either unaware of the consequences of such admission, or would rather continue to violate the rights of weekend cash/ticket bus riders than admit error. Either way, it is unacceptable.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related environmental justice regulations prohibit recipients of federal funds from taking actions that disproportionately impact people of color and low-income people. FTA developed guidelines that require transit agencies to conduct an equity analysis whenever they change their fares to ensure people of color and low-income people are not harmed by these changes. TriMet’s fare system is time-based for cash or single-ticket riders, meaning that a “fare” equals a specified price for a specified amount of time (“transfer”). If TriMet changes either the price or the amount of time, it must analyze whether the change might disproportionately impact people of color and low-income riders, and if so, whether there are alternatives to avoid the impact or mitigate its effects.

In July 2013, TriMet installed new ticket printing machines on buses, replacing its decades-old manually issued fare receipt system. But in doing so, TriMet cut back the transfer time for weekend bus riders, who have received three or more hours to get around since 1994. See TriMet Code 19.25(G). The change to automatic ticketing cut this back to two hours, a de facto fare increase. In response, OPAL and BRU leaders sought to informally resolve this concern by asking TriMet repeatedly over the course of five months to conduct the required equity analysis.

· July-August, 2013, with TriMet’s Director of Transit Equity, Johnell Bell

· September 11, 2013, Board meeting presentation on transfer time analysis

· November 21, 2013, Transit Equity Advisory Committee meeting on transfers


TriMet repeatedly dismissed this concern, refusing to conduct an equity analysis. The Board explicitly addressed and rejected this issue at its November 13 meeting, which included an overview on Title VI. OPAL and its partners sought to meet with GM McFarlane in December in a final attempt to resolve this matter, but never received a response from him, instead hearing from Mr. Bell, who claimed to be unaware of any Title VI concern. TriMet’s decision not to treat this issue seriously forced OPAL to file an administrative complaint with FTA, along with its partner, Center for Intercultural Organizing, which represents low-income immigrant and refugee communities. Filing the complaint was the only option left for OPAL and CIO, lest they lose the ability to protect the rights of their members.

OPAL and CIO seek only to have TriMet conduct this analysis; there is no risk that the agency will lose federal funding as long as it complies with the FTA guidelines, which encourage transit agencies to act proactively to address any concerns. Given OPAL’s attempts to address and resolve this issue over the past six months, the complaint should have come as no surprise to the Board.

“We have been at this since 2011,” said BRU leader Teresa Keishi Soto, a transit-dependent rider and low-income renter off Outer Powell Blvd.

“We made every effort to work with the Board and staff on this issue, and communicate to them that their decisions have real impacts on our lives. TriMet is failing to serve its most vulnerable riders, and we had no choice but to take formal action. At least now they’re paying attention.”

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