TriMet Board Kills Free Rail Zone, Approves Fare Hike

The TriMet board of directors passed a budget this afternoon that fills a $12 million shortfall by ending the Free Rail Zone, cutting bus service and raising two-hour fares to a flat fee of $2.50. That's a 40-cent hike from a current two-hour ticket.

The changes will go into effect Sept. 1.

The proposed budget has been under discussion for months, and the only suspense today was whether TriMet would bow to pressure from OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, the de facto bus riders union, which had proposed an alternative budget with lower fare hikes and a smaller contingency fund.

More than 40 transit riders testified—at times heatedly—at an agency hearing this morning. OPAL president Jonathan Ostar presented the board with a resolution to place the alternative budget on the agenda and consider both proposals before a June 27 budget deadline. 

"If it hasn't been read into the record, it hasn't been meaningfully considered," Ostar said. "You can't hide behind your process." 

But general counsel Jana Toran told the board the OPAL budget could not be read into the agenda without public notice.

TriMet board president Bruce Warner indicated early in the day that the crowd—well over a hundred people, often cheering each speaker—would be disappointed.

"It hasn't been easy," Warner said of the budgeting process, "and the cuts are going to be felt by a number of folks."

Along with filling the $12 million shortfall, the TriMet budget sets aside a $20 million contingency to protect the transit agency if it loses its arbitration over benefits with its employee union. OPAL and riders argued this morning that this "rainy-day fund" penalized the people who most depend on transit.

"This board has been engaged in an active act of war against people who depend most on transit," said a bus rider named Terrence Coleman. "The poor, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless. You say you're more comfortable with the extra financial security. Well, no shit." 

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