An internal TriMet document indicates that the elimination of zones pricing and fareless square, as well as last year’s fare increases, were undertaken in order to fund and accommodate a $16 million high-tech fare collection system, says transit workers’ union president, Bruce Hansen. He cites evidence found within the pages of a 64-page document obtained by the Union from an anonymous source.
“TriMet has been telling the media and the public that financial problems and worker health insurance were the reasons riders have seen fares rise and services drop,” Hansen noted. “Now we find that, in 2011, management decided to invest in a new, multi-million dollar electronic fare system. That proposed system required them to raise fares overall, drop reduced fares tied to distance traveled (the “zone” system) and eliminate fareless square. They laid out the plan in 2011 and they followed it . . .in fact, they implemented it early.”
According to the Union, the document and the proposed purchase raise a number of serious public policy issues. These are:
• If the system is in such financial straits, why does management continue to invest in “bells and whistles” electronic gadgetry that it admits will cost them more to run? Is $16 million a sound public investment during a time when the agency is claiming financial crisis? Especially when history has shown that electronic ticket machines have high failure rates–even when they are brand new?
• TriMet has been experiencing a flat ridership rate for years. Should the cost of a ride keep going up just so TriMet can buy more things and build more rail? Research has shown that, as the fares go up, ridership rates typically drop–particularly during times of economic distress.
• During the interest arbitration hearing with the Union, TriMet’s general manager testified under oath that, among other things, the cost of operator health care and pensions had required a fare increase and service reductions. Now it turns out that these changes were planned in 2011 and were all about acquiring enough money to purchase and accommodate new electronic gadgets. Is it acceptable for a public agency to mislead the public, the workers and the courts in this way?
“TriMet’s recent fare changes, coupled with reduction of service, have created a crisis situation for many of our passengers–especially the low income, disabled and elderly,” says Hansen. “Operators are reporting that the two-hour window for transfers no longer works. More and more of our riders are missing their connections. A three-hour window needs to be instituted immediately. People need to understand that, when our riders are stressed, it creates equal stress on the workers who interact with them. That’s because the operators want to help people solve these serious problems but their hands are tied. And, as is human nature, rider frustration targets the operators for decisions over which the operators have no control.”
Hansen made the following observation. “It seems that the primary goal of a transit agency has been lost amid all this capital expansion and technology purchases. We are supposed to be providing good, dependable and affordable service to the community–so good, that they want to use the system. Instead, the cost of having to pay for all these expenditures is making our riders’ lives harder and driving them away. Who decided that our transit system had to be the most new-fangled one in the country? Shouldn’t our primary focus be the passengers and the good of the community?”
(make sure you read the comments)
(make sure you read the comments)
Attached: Excerpt of Fare System Migration report; Excerpt of testimony under oath
Full report available from the link below. You will need to cut and paste into your browser: