Public transit advocates rallied outside City Hall Wednesday afternoon against the 5-cent increase in TriMet fares, and called for the agency to bring back bus services trimmed this year due to budget cuts.
Joseph Santos Lyons, of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, says the issue is not about knocking public transit, but rather encouraging transit-dependent taxpayers to take a greater role in how decisions are made.
"TriMet's board is an appointed board, they're appointed by the governor, it's a public agency, so our ability to put influence both on the board members as well as the governor of Oregon is our right," he said.
"As citizens and bus riders we really need to have a more active organized voice with TriMet, TriMet needs to make a space and place to have more bus rider input -- currently of their board members there is no one on their board that we're aware of who's a transit-dependent person, for example.
"Folks who are most reliant and most dependent on TriMet are not the ones who are making decisions."
OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon is a five year old community group working on an array of issues impacting East Multnomah County residents, from air quality problems to urban development, brownfields and local environmental toxins.
The group's number one campaign right now is around public transportation rider equity, and Santos-Lyons says people need to stand up and question increased spending on a streetcar line to Lake Oswego when poor people are finding their bread-and-butter bus lines downsized.
As a regular attendee of TriMet board meetings, Santos-Lyons says the agency is preparing to request $6 million from the region's flexible funds to pay for the next stage in planning for the Lake Oswego streetcar project.
The 5-cent across-the-board increase will pose a big headache for regular East County riders who will now have to make sure to have exactly $2.35 in their pocket for each trip towards the downtown core ($2.05 for two-zone riders) – this despite the fact that service is shrinking. Check out changes to your bus service here.
In fact Santos-Lyons says East County residents are finding that simple bus schedules are becoming rarer at bus stops, and renegade riders are marking schedules on bus poles with Sharpie pens.
"Six million dollars is roughly five times what the current fare increase will raise -- which is the 11th fare increase in 10 years, and it will generate approximately $1.2 million for TriMet," he said.
The agency also reportedly plans to float a $125 million bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot to pay for updated buses.
Many people don't realize public transit is a civil rights issue, Santos-Lyons says.
"It is covered by Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act because it's a public investment," he said. "TriMet may not discriminate on the basis of race and other identities and there are a growing number of transit agencies that have been under the watchful eye of civil rights organizations because of their efforts to in some ways disinvest in lower income communities, providing either commuter or transit options for choice riders."
Santos-Lyons said OPAL hasn't finished its final analysis in how the Civil Rights Act considerations have played out in the our region, "however we know the efforts to extend the streetcar to Lake Oswego for example are not things we see as the highest priority for TriMet," he said.
For more information on TriMet, go to www.trimet.org. Read more about OPAL at www.opalpdx.org.