Re: Proposed FY16 Honored Citizen Fare Increase
Chair Warner and Members of the TriMet Board,
The individuals and organizations represented by this letter urge TriMet to table final approval of the proposed increase of the Honored Citizen Fare pending a more complete understanding of the agency’s potential mitigation efforts and the impacts of the agency’s transition to an Electronic Fare (eFare) system on low-income riders.
The current proposal to increase the Honored Citizen fare to the maximum amount allowable by federal guidelines requires more justification than a mere desire to “simplify” the fare system, or a desire to raise a relatively small amount of new revenue at a time when the agency is experiencing the greatest degree of financial security in many years.
TriMet’s own analysis shows that over 63% of all Honored Citizen riders are considered low-income by the agency, and concludes that the proposal “does represent a Disproportionate Burden” to these riders. Federal civil rights guidelines and the finding of disproportionate burden require TriMet to mitigate or avoid these impacts to the greatest degree possible. The suggested mitigation efforts are insufficient however, and the agency should take additional time to consider its options.
To mitigate the known disproportionate burden that this proposed fare increase represents, TriMet has explored increasing the availability of discounted fares through its Access Transit program, as well as increasing service levels with the small amount of new revenue that this fare increase may generate. Expanding the Access Transit program and regional service levels are both necessary and should remain on the table for further consideration. However, the agency has been unable to demonstrate that an expanded Access Transit program will reach those most impacted by the proposed fare increase, because it does not collect sufficient data on the riders who are able (now or in the near future) to take advantage of this program. Additionally, the agency has offered no evidence that the relatively small amount of additional revenue generated by the fare increase can or will meaningfully improve transit services on which Honored Citizens throughout the region depend.
TriMet estimates that this increase in Honored Citizen fares will net approximately $650,000 in additional revenue in FY16. Taking this amount of money out of the pockets of low-income riders adds significant stress to the household budgets of people struggling from the uneven recovery of the recent economic recession, yet it represents only 0.1% of TriMet’s operating budget. Such a relatively small amount of new revenue is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on TriMet’s ability to provide service or achieve its other goals. Indeed, delaying or forgoing this relatively small amount of revenue while making no other adjustments to the agency’s budget will still leave TriMet with an anticipated Unrestricted Ending Fund Balance of over $132 million in FY16, well above agency need and board policy regarding fund balances.
We understand that the Honored Citizen fare has been “frozen” for several years as the LIFT fare was incrementally increased, and the agency desires to simplify its fare system by making the Honored Citizen and Youth fares the same price. However, there is not substantial economic or operational need to “unfreeze” this fare at this time. And the anticipated impacts on both people of color and low-income riders as a result of TriMet’s transition to an eFare system means many low-income riders are about to be hit with a second round of mobility challenges. TriMet’s preliminary analysis of eFare has already alerted the agency to serious concerns about the more limited access of people of color and low-income riders to bank accounts and credit/debit cards, as well as the burden faced by these riders as a result of the proposed “minimum load” policy, the elimination of cash transfers, and a number of other policies associated with this transition.
Tabling this maximum increase in the Honored Citizen fare is the most responsible action that the agency can take as it more fully considers both the significant known impacts of an Honored Citizen fare increase on low-income riders, as well as the anticipated impacts of the eFare transition. The agency should not consider these impacts in isolation of each other, and should commit to studying the creation of a low-income fare similar to the one recently introduced in Seattle as mitigation for these anticipated impacts.