OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon plans a transportation equity demonstration Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 8 a.m. and then participation in the TriMet Board Meeting an hour later, both at The Portland Building, 1120 SW 5th Ave. The big issue on the agenda is increasing validation for a bus transfer from two hours to three.
We hear it so often these days that we don't even bother to stop and think about it anymore: Portland is the most sustainable city in America, and the hallmark of our green city is its world class transportation system, replete with modern MAX trains, shiny streetcars and lots and lots of eco-friendly bicycles. But a closer look at the numbers reveals a starkly different reality.
The regional agency in charge of our public transit system -- TriMet -- has reduced service to the lowest levels per capita since 1975, when it was just getting off the ground. A quick look around at our transit infrastructure will tell you that a lot has changed since the mid-70s, but what is less obvious is that our population growth has far outpaced our investments in public transportation. And what is worse, TriMet's strategy so far seems to be to balance its budget on the backs of those who can least afford it and, in an ironic twist, those who use the system the most: transit-dependent bus riders who are disproportionately low-income folks and people of color, single transfer users (monthly passes are too expensive in one lump payment) and the backbone of the system.
But it doesn't have to be this way. For more than six months now, OPAL has been working on a common sense, community-generated response aimed at restoring value to our transit system in the face of service cuts and continued fare increases -- the Campaign for a Fair Transfer. The campaign has two goals: to extend transfer times to 3 hours on the bus and MAX for all daily boardings and to extend transfers through the end of evening service for all boardings after 7:00 PM. This policy change is as simple as ABC. A) It will allow people to meet their basic needs on the bus including a reasonable roundtrip like going to the grocery store and back. B) It is a win-win for TriMet and the community. If the new transfer policy is adopted, it will actually make TriMet money in the short-term and the long-term. C) There are untold cost-savings that will result from the public health benefits of the increased transit ridership this new transfer policy will create. From the decreased carbon emissions to the reduced levels of physical and mental stress that riders experience when they miss connections and can't meet their everyday needs as a result, this new transfer policy will be good for Portland's people and its environment.
If we're going to continue to call ourselves a sustainable city, we need to get our priorities in order. In a recent Portland Mercury article ('Sizing up the Streetcar' by Alex Zielinksi), Portland State University professor and economist Eric Fruits had this to say about our transportation priorities: "Looking at the bigger picture, streetcars are expensive art. The streetcar cannibalized the bus system." Where is the sustainability in that? Transit-dependent communities, who contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, bear the greatest burdens of our collective policies and choices, even as continued disinvestment in public transit moves opportunities for positive health outcomes farther out of reach. Where is the sustainability in that? If we're going to continue to call ourselves a sustainable city, we need to focus on common sense, community-generated, win-win solutions. If TriMet wants to truly earn its moniker as a "world class transportation system", it should adopt the Campaign for a Fair Transfer.
For more information, contact OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon at 503-928-4354 www.opalpdx.org