TriMet Fare Proposal Forces Families on the Road
When I first clicked on a link to TriMet's fare increase survey, I looked over the options with growing fear. Where was the choice that would give TriMet more revenue -- but not make my daily riding vastly more expensive? I'd be happy to pay, say, 40 cents more per ticket for my own ride, especially if I could get more (a longer transfer, maybe), or even buy day tickets if I had a great option for my family -- wouldn't it be great if an $8 ticket would allow one adult and all her children to ride for a whole day? This weekend, for instance, I had made plans to pick up one of Everett's friends, who lives more than six miles from us -- neither family has a car. We were going to meet at the intersection of our bus line and theirs, and I was going to return with four kids. This sort of time-consuming trip would be ok, I thought, if I didn't have to pay so much to bring her back home ($1.50 for each kid under today's rates = a lot for one four-mile bus ride. Each way).
The survey options didn't include anything like what I'd imagined. I entered my thoughts in the comments. "I'd like to see a *cheaper* ticket for kids!" I'd written with the kind of crazy optimism I have sometimes. "It would encourage more families to choose the bus instead of the car for short errands." Hahaha!
I saw the proposal today (most of the details were leaked a few days ago) and the commentary from TriMet is this: the agency does not believe in errands. Five percent of its ridership, it says, uses the bus for roundtrip errands of the sort that are the vast majority of my own bus use. (And, as far as I've observed, many other families in my neighborhood use the bus similarly -- to go to the library, to go to the play park, to go to Fred Meyer, to go to the doctor, home again, home again, jiggety jig.) Under the proposal, it would cost $11.60 for one parent and two children ages 7 to 17 to run an errand, no matter how short in duration or distance the trip was. My default trip is from my house near Holgate, on the 75 straight to Hawthorne -- about 1.6 miles -- to go to Powell's, or to Fred Meyer, or out for pizza. Now it's a gentle indulgence to take my three boys there, as it only costs $3.60 (my middle child is about to turn 7, in April, but he's free now). With these fare changes, it would be more like crazy financial misplanning -- $11.60. Sure, we could ride for the rest of the day, but we don't want nor need to.
Buying monthly passes for my family, excepting my husband (who's in Kuwait -- most families would have to factor two parents into these decisions), would cost somewhere around $160 a month. That's more than it would cost to insure and put gas in a beater car. I am firm and unyielding on my desire not to have a car -- we can usually choose the bike instead. But I am a very rare and stubborn bird.
Most families, given the choice between $11.60 errands or $160 monthly passes, would make the obvious choice: the car. Even if the car was uninsured or its tags had expired or was in imminent danger of breaking down (I know lots of low-income families who drive uninsured because they just can't scrape together the money -- it's a calculated risk that they're too stressed to really calculate). This proposal forces families on the road. I think it's bad for families; in my opinion, it's a call to families to stay off buses entirely; and ultimately it's bad for Portland, creating more congestion, forcing many low-income families into devil's bargains (the uninsured car or the $11.60 we don't have?), and probably decreasing revenue. I know my choice is pretty easy: we'll take the bike instead of the bus on short errands. Most families don't have that option and TriMet, for now, doesn't seem to care. (See the guest post I wrote for Taking the Lane before the options were revealed here.)