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TriMet Promises Free Bus Rides to Cooling Centers in Portland Heat

What happens if somebody asks for a free trip to a cooling center when the temperature is 99 degrees?

Regional transit agency TriMet offered free bus and train rides to cooling centers during the upcoming heat wave—but only if the temperature reached 100 degrees.

Update, 9:30 pm: After WW published this story, TriMet changed its policy and said anyone traveling to a cooling center could ride for free.

The announcement of the original policy Thursday was intended to provide greater clarity to the public than during June’s fatal, 117-degree heat dome, when few people realized they could get a free bus ride to a cooling center. But the seemingly arbitrary threshold of 100 degrees was greeted with some scorn on social media.

Agency officials clarified Thursday afternoon that the free rides kick in once the mercury hits 100 degrees anywhere in the Portland metro area.

“After internal discussion, we decided on the 100 degree threshold at this time,” said TriMet director of communications Roberta Altstadt. “It will go into effect when it reaches 100 degrees anywhere in our service district.”

WW asked TriMet: What happens if somebody asks for a free trip to a cooling shelter when the temperature is 99 degrees?

“If it’s not quite 100 degrees and someone is in need of a cooling center but they are unable to pay the fare to get there, we would let them ride,” Altstadt said. “However, as municipal agencies across the region are learning from the late June historic heat event, communication is very important, specifically clear and consistent information. That is why we released information about the 100-degree threshold today.”

Five hours after WW published this response, at 9:25 pm, TriMet announced that anyone seeking a cooling center would receive a free fare.

Altstadt said the change was prompted by Gov. Kate Brown declaring a state of emergency. “The governor’s emergency declaration prompted us to move up our implementation,” she said. (The declaration was issued at 2:30 pm.)

TriMet’s response to 110-degree temperatures in June has been criticized as insufficient. Among those critics is Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who told WW in this week’s cover interview that she believes people suffering from excessive heat should be allowed to ride air-conditioned buses and trains for free for any reason—not merely to reach cooling centers.

“TriMet should have had a real clear message: We will have free fares,” Kafoury said. “I don’t know what the threshold is—whether it’s 105 or 100 or 110 or whatever, but there should be no person who’s scared to get on or nervous about getting on a bus and not understanding that they can get on a bus and ride as long as they want.”

TriMet did not respond to WW’s questions about Kafoury’s suggestion.

Find a list of cooling centers here.