Trimet officials have been stringing out OPAL members for three years now. The treatment of OPAL is almost as bad as the treatment of ATU757 and its members.
Trimet executives are liars and manipulators. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.
I can see those executives now talking in private:
"those OPAL kids are so cute, we can string them out forever and they will be so impressed that we are talking to them it will be no problem for us"It's disgraceful the way OPAL members have been treated, truly disgraceful.
Bus Riders Unite: TriMet Board of Directors Must be Accountable to Riders
Board brazenly defies public engagement standards, ignores own equity analysis
PORTLAND - After more than four years of organizing transit riders to help TriMet make the system more equitable, Bus Riders Unite (BRU) members are fed up. Riders are tired of paying too much in fares, waiting for buses that never arrive, and wearied by ‘equity’ and ‘transparency’ initiatives that look good on paper but are simply more of the same business-as-usual approach in practice. Yesterday was a new low, with BRU members realizing that the TriMet board has no intention of representing riders’ interests.
The TriMet board’s refusal to act on a formal vote of Ordinance No. 332 to extend transfer times, despite a comprehensive equity analysis showing the merits of the ordinance to provide fare relief and restore value to the system, was only the latest example of the board’s lack of understanding of what riders need and want. Even more disrespectful was how the board stacked the public testimony portion of yesterday’s board meeting in Clackamas with manufactured testimony meant to make the agency look good despite the palpable frustration in the room.
TriMet has consistently struggled to appreciate the meaning of public participation. Just five years ago, public testimony was relegated to the conclusion of the board meeting, without an opportunity for interested parties to weigh in before a board vote. OPAL and a nascent BRU swiftly forced a change in that policy so that the public can now testify on any agenda item before a vote it taken, ensuring at least the opportunity to influence the decision. Unfortunately, not much appears to have changed, as decisions seem predetermined, with public testimony allowed simply to make the board look good.
“I have been wearing a clear plastic raincoat for over three years as a part of my testimony to show the board’s lack of transparency. I thought we were making progress, but their new ‘Accountability Center’ is a sham. They say they are listening to us, but they do whatever they want anyways. I call on them to spend a week in my shoes and take transit to meet all their daily needs,” says BRU Leadership Committee Chair and Gresham resident Keith Scholz.
Unfortunately for the region, the public’s trust in the agency will continue to plummet along with ridership. We are the only major region in the country experiencing a decline in ridership, a result of the board’s short-sighted budget decisions. While OPAL and BRU support TriMet’s recent effort to begin restoring frequent service on the most overcrowded bus lines, this is only a fraction of what riders deserve after putting up with year after year of unjustified fare hikes and service cuts.
“Frequent service restoration is being celebrated as a story of triumph in the face of the ‘Great Recession,’ but let’s not forget that TriMet’s FY13 budget resulted in the largest fare hike in the agency’s history, with more service cuts and the loss of Free Rail Zone, all without justification. TriMet manufactured a budget ‘crisis’ based on patently false budget projections, and even though we were there sounding the alarm, there was no public process to hold them accountable,” says OPAL Organizer and Policy Associate Jared Franz. “They had a closed-door Budget Task Force of sycophants hand-picked by the General Manager to give the green light on an irresponsible budget with secret management raises and a made-up shortfall.”
Years of organizing, public education and public testimony before the agency’s top decision-makers have resulted in only superficial changes to the agency’s culture. Instead of making equity a part of its daily practices, TriMet created a new equity advisory committee with handpicked members that has yet to deliver benefits to transit-dependent riders or show they can hold the agency accountable. The agency has resisted making equity a driving consideration in decision-making, and instead uses its multi-million dollar PR machine to divert the public’s attention from the real issue: TriMet doesn’t represent the interests or lived experiences of the riders that rely on transit the most.
“I’m the only transit-dependent or even regular rider on the Transit Equity Advisory Committee. I’m only one person; how can I hold the line by myself? We need more members who rely on transit, let alone actually use the service, so we can give meaningful feedback about how decisions from on high really affect transit-dependent communities,” says Terrence Coleman Sr., BRU member, TEAC member and Outer SE Portland Rockwood resident.
TriMet has been dragging their feet on the top issue prioritized by low-income riders for the past three years: an extension of transfer times to three hours. In fact, OPAL and BRU had to fight off TriMet’s attempt to eliminate round-trip transfers during the sham budget shortfall in 2012, their attempt to raise more money off the backs of its poorest riders. TriMet refuses to move forward with an extension of transfer time, despite a robust equity analysis that took over two years to complete, because OPAL and Center for Intercultural Organizing filed a Civil Rights complaint with the Federal Transit Administration in order to hold the agency accountable to federal minimum standards.
TriMet see Civil Rights as a box to check off, failing to even consult its transit equity committee before filing its latest trumped up Title VI compliance report. Board President Warner’s statement that they will move forward with the transfer time proposal if OPAL withdraws their complaint is tacit admission that the tabling of the ordinance was retribution. When TriMet finally complies with Civil Rights regulations, it will not be for equity’s sake, or because it’s best for their riders; it will be under orders from the FTA. OPAL and BRU have a clear message for TriMet:
Civil Rights compliance is not for sale, and cannot be negotiated away!
There are great people who work at TriMet. We know, because we interact with them every day, from the dedicated drivers and mechanics to the lower-level agency employees who care about the system and the service it provides to those in the communications department who are conflicted about who the agency should be serving. And we know the people at the top are decent folks as well; they just don’t get how hard it is for most of us out waiting at the bus stop; they don’t get how critical TriMet service is to our lives. And accountability for this disconnect starts and ends with the TriMet board.
Not much has changed since the Oregonian reported in June 2012 about the infrequency with which the board members used transit. Only Board President Warner rides the MAX regularly, mainly for convenience of going downtown for business. No one rides the bus regularly, and while all six current board members should use transit more, that wouldn’t ensure that transit-dependent riders’ needs will be met.
“I am asking for TriMet board members to put themselves in our shoes for a day. Experience for themselves how much people are suffering because of their decisions, to see what people like me have to go through every day in our lives. I know they don’t depend on the bus,” says Halima Abdullahi, David Douglas High School student and BRU youth leader
At yesterday’s TriMet board meeting, BRU persevered, making the trek out to the fringes of the service district, patiently waiting for TriMet’s planted supporters to talk about how great the agency is, before giving the board their day-to-day reality as transit-dependent riders. But the board has chosen to turn their backs on BRU members, squeezing its poorest riders even more, and lacks the political courage, vision and values to prioritize the needs of its most dependent customers. BRU members have elected to respond in kind, turning our backs on the TriMet board, walking out in protest. We will not be pawns in their political games any longer, and will demand change at each and every opportunity from here on out. Unless we reform the board and ensure it is representative of the needs of real, everyday riders, nothing will ever improve. It’s time to bring change to the TriMet board