With TriMet readying for another round of laborious contract bargaining with its drivers' union, the transit agency is opening up negotiations on a second front—and this one could save riders money by making bus tickets last longer.
But this concession isn't a done deal, either.
OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, a neighborhood organizing group that's become Portland's de facto bus riders’ union, has been pressuring TriMet for nearly two years to make bus transfers valid for three hours after purchase, or all night after 7 pm. The transfers are currently good for two hours.
In the meantime, OPAL has been unable to stop TriMet from hiking fares and ending the Free Rail Zone, and wasn't able to force TriMet to consider an alternate budget last summer that would have reduced its contingency fund—which secretly held raises for agency executives.
On Tuesday night, OPAL proclaimed it finally had a win: TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane had agreed to support the transfer extensions, even if they cost $1 million to $2 million in projected ticket revenues each year.
"TriMet committed to finishing its study of the proposal by June," OPAL executive director Jonathan Ostar said in a statement late on April 23, "participating in a work session with OPAL and BRU leadership in July, and, assuming OPAL’s cost and ridership growth projections are justified, will implement the policy change by September 1, 2013, when fare and service changes traditionally take effect."
By the next morning, TriMet leadership said they had struck no such bargain.
"Unfortunately this news release is premature and overstates where we are in the process," TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch told WW. "TriMet is studying the cost and benefits of extending transfers to 3 hours, including have an independent review of the data by ECO NW. This work will be done by the end of June. While we are open to the concept and continuing discussions with OPAL, we have made no commitment to implementation."
So maybe your ticket will last three hours by November. And maybe it won't. Keep $2.50 handy.
Transit magazine Portland Afoot has been covering the back-and-forth closely.