Washington County board chairman Andy Duyck has asked TriMet to restrict any service cuts to Multnomah County if the transit agency restores the YouthPass program, WW has learned.
Duyck called TriMet general manager Neil MacFarlane on June 27—the day after Portland Mayor Sam Adams threatened a $2 million hike on bus-shelter fees if TriMet didn't put the YouthPass back in its budget.
The city has postponed a decision for a month, and Adams and TriMet are in discussions over how to fund YouthPass, which offers free bus and train rides to all high-school students in Portland Public Schools.
But Duyck wants to make sure that if Adams gets his way, Washington County won't bear the brunt of any resulting cuts to bus and train service.
"It's a fairness issue," Duyck tells WW. "Any service cuts to offset [YouthPass] need to come from Multnomah County. [MacFarlane] agreed with that."
TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch confirms that Duyck and MacFarlane spoke last week, but says TriMet has made no promises to Washington County.
"Chair Duyck suggested a policy that if TriMet put the Youth Pass back into the budget and had to make cuts that TriMet should focus cuts in Multnomah County," Fetsch says. "It was not an agreement about holding Washington County harmless."
TriMet estimates the YouthPass program annually costs the transit agency about $2 million in lost fares, and it ended the program while filling a $12 million budget shortfall this spring. TriMet also raised fares, cut bus service and killed the downtown Free Rail Zone.
But Adams says TriMet broke a handshake deal to keep the YouthPass funded, and he surprised the agency last week by inserting a $2 million hike in bus-shelter rental fees into the budget—a threat that forced TriMet to resume negotiations with the city.
Washington County has opposed the YouthPass since the start of budget talks. A letter obtained by WW shows that Duyck asked TriMet in March to eliminate the program.
"It is unfair to collect payroll taxes from all over the region then use it to subsidize economic activity in central Portland," Duyck wrote on March 6, "especially when basic transit services are being reduced or eliminated elsewhere. This equity principle should also apply to the region's tax payers subsidizing free youth pass for all students in Portland's public school system."
Washington County and TriMet have maintained an unusually close working relationship over the years: The county's lobbyist is married to TriMet's lobbyist.
Duyck says he emphasized that history in his call to MacFarlane.
"I explained to him that this is why Washington County is different, because we respect the decisions he's facing," Duyck says. "We don't have to blackmail each other to make things happen."