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TriMet Fare Proposal Forces Families on the Road

Urbanmamas_bus_threeboys
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.)

Comments

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I understand the fare increase would make it harder for some families to use the bus, but I believe it would still be less expensive than buying a car when you factor in the monthly payments (most of us don't pay cash for a car), maintenance, gas, insurance etc. Even if you park and ride, the monthly pass is much cheaper that a parking spot downtown.
I actually would much rather pay higher price for my monthly pass and not see the service cuts. With price increases, there still is an option of taking the bus. With service cuts, there may not be a bus option for some neighborhoods.

Regarding children tickets - children ride free until they are 7. In high school they get a bus pass from the school, so over the 18 years that they are considered minors, you are only paying for about 7-8 years. That is less than half of the time.

I am a huge suporter of Trimet and I do not want to see any more service reductions.

*most* families who want a car can get a car. for those who don't want a car, the fare increase is still less than the cost of owning a car.

What happened to the other UM posters from a while back, like Hau? I miss the posts from people I could really relate to.

AJ--high schoolers currently get a bus pass under the great YouthPass program, but that's currently only funded through the current school year. TriMet, PPS, and the city are pursuing future funding options, but it's not a sure thing yet.

Sorry for the awkward overuse of "current"! Coffee hasn't kicked in yet :)

I agree that Tri-met is still cheaper than a car. We do own ONE fully paid for car (I don't even know how to drive, BTW), but it still is more expensive than a monthly pass. $160 per month is very limited gas and assumes they either work near one another or one parent stays home and chauffers the other to work. It also ignores the costs of parking, oil changes, registration and repairs (which the more beater your car is, the more you're going to have).

Many tri-met commuters also receive subsidies from their employers (since I didn't use parking, mine was free when I worked downtown), so their monthly passes are around $30 per month. For younger riders, a youth pass is currently $27----assuming that remains the same, it might be cheaper to just buy THAT for your 7-14 aged children.

Tri-met's proprosal seems to want to move people towards committing to monthly passes. Currently, they're only a good deal if you have a 5 day a week type job (I personally work from home). It appears the passes may create their own loophole if the proposal goes through.

Amy, even if the program is discontinued, as Zumpie said, passes for youth are only $27 right now.
I am very glad we have trimet. In my neighborhood, most houses have a one car garage or no garage. It just doesn't make sense for me to own two cars, park them on the street overnight and worry about them being stolen of broken into. Trimet doesn't only save me money, it makes life less stressful.

it's definitely cheaper overall to make the car vs. bus decision -- if you do it holistically and rationally, cost-benefit analysis. I think it's very sensible and even wonderful to do so. zumpie, you're right, the more beater the car the harder it will be to match the costs of busing -- even for a big family full of young children. my biggest concern with these new rates is that real families who are in the lowest income groups don't make financial decisions this way (I speak from both personal experience with me & in-laws/relatives and my experience as a personal finance writer).

even those in the middle income groups are more likely to make decisions on a day-by-day basis; and owning a car is such a socially-acceptable default, that people seek to do so whether or not it makes any sense whatsoever. all of my friends/family members/acquaintances who don't own a car because of financial considerations wish they did with everything in them. I have a relative who mentions the car in every single conversation I've had with her in the past year. I spoke to a young Portlander yesterday who said that she was deciding... should she fix her car or pay back her roommate with her tax refund? she was leaning heavily toward fixing her car, even though she only uses it once a week. by all this I mean to say that we are not making these decisions in a vacuum in which sensible financial decisions are a matter of addition and subtraction.

and even though $27 for a month is indeed cheap (they haven't detailed whether there will be an increase in the cost of youth monthly passes, though I'd be surprised if they didn't by about 10% or more), even I -- an expert on personal finance! -- would not typically find the cash at the beginning of the month to buy it for my son, and would muddle through until halfway and see, whoops, it looks like it would have made sense. either I believe that I will not use the bus that much, or I don't have the money, or there are so many other things (cafeteria meals and power bills and membership fees and new books and chocolate) to spend my money on, that I think, 'oh, I'll do that next month...' and don't.

but the real on-the-street decisions that I see people making are the ones where you wake up in the morning and you are going to go to the doctor or the library with your kids. and it's raining, so you don't really feel like taking your bike or walking. and you think to yourself, "the bus wouldn't be that bad. it drops me off right in front of the doctor/library/grocery store!" and you look in your wallet. even if all your kids are below the age-7 cutoff, $5 for a trip whose gas would cost $1 or so, and you don't have to wait? you don't have to shhh your kids or navigate around wheelchairs or avoid sitting next to the inevitable stinky person? I think the decision is pretty much "car" for both the middle-income parent (who doesn't want to deal with the hassle for the price) and the very-low-income parent (who maybe don't even have the $5 in their wallet, or would rather spend it elsewhere).

Sarah, I think you're probably right along those lines==there have been times that my husband has even said (and he HATES having to drive me anywhere), "let me drive you--it'll be free, instead of $2".

And I do think there's an element of Tri-met cutting off their noses to spite their faces, here. While Portland has a VERY good public transportation system for a city its size (from a native New Yorker, BTW)--there's still an "eeww" perrception towards it.

I nearly didn't get my job because I don't drive, even though all three of our facilities are on the east side and on MAX or bus lines (which we use as a selling point)---because they simply couldn't fathom that I could do my job without a car. I had similar conflicts when I was a sales manager---even though most of my clients were out of town and my numbers beat everyone else's.

My family is shocked that I spend $27 every month for my daughter's youth pass to attend a magnet middle school---but would think nothing of the cost of daily driving her back and forth.

And I do hear you about ponying up the monthly pass costs---but it's also a bill, like one's insurance, cable, electric or cell that eventually you just get in the habit of paying. Until recently we were pretty broke as well..I got in the habit of buying my daughter's pass early, because that was when I had the $27 rolling around. And I didn't want to fritter it on something else.

@aj--agree about the less stressful part. Not to mention, our car is 12 years old. Granted, it's low miles, etc for that...but it does have issues here and there. Which creates stress for my husband. If we had two cars, either our repair worry would be doubled OR we'd have the financial worry of payments/additional insurance/gas/etc.

I'll also add---insurance for a car is not going to be cheaper than $50 per month. So if you can pony up the $50 (before gas, etc), you can pony up the $80

Sarah, sorry to see the negativity from "?". I always appreciate your posts!

Sarah, your oldest child could also qualify for an honored citizen bus pass. My child in theory qualifies too but I just buy him a regular monthly pass. If the youth pass goes up dramatically I'll be getting him the honored citizen pass though. Doesn't solve the problem for everyone but it might help some families.

Funny that someone would mention me. Still here, but usually in the background but I've been meaning to weigh in on this discussion!

Sarah, as always, you make great points. I especially like the family pass option. If I were solely dependent on transit, I think the changes would be tough, really tough on our family.

Though I see it from many angles. I do find discussions about transit, biking, driving, walking, etc. ends up being an either or option rather than seeing it as multiple options for getting around.

I am a two car family yet oftentimes one or both sit idle. I am an occasional transit user. At one point in the last 5 years, I had an annual transit pass that got automatically deducted from pay check. It was affordable, and I loved being able to hope on a bus or train without worrying about the fare. But then I had another baby, and my kids need to be at three different places and the commute wasn't as straightforward any longer. I still use transit especially in the downtown core; but less frequently to travel to/from home.

These days, the mode I take to work depends on the day and demands of everyone's schedule. Today, my husband drove to work and we all commuted together as a family. But, I also rode the Max, took the Streetcar and walked to get to the various places I needed to go. I will definitely miss the free rail zone downtown! I also biked twice this week and plan to do so tomorrow.

My husband drives because he needs the car during the day and he has free parking downtown. Otherwise the cost of parking is about $9/day or $100/month + gas + insurance + maintenance is still more than transit. The fare hikes are tough, especially on those that cannot afford the extra cost but I think that there are many commuters that could afford to pay the extra cost.

I use my experience traveling in other cities as context, most recently the Metro in DC. It cost me $2 to go one stop one way . I should have walked instead. For my family of 5, it cost us $13 one way to get from Alexandria, VA into DC - ouch, we still needed to get back. Kids over the age of 5 had to pay. When we were visiting friends in the Bay Area, it cost the family $30 to take the ferry round trip to and from San Francisco. It sure was a novelty, but I couldn't imagine doing that frequently. Because you pay as you go with transit, I think you are more aware of where your money is going versus the hidden costs associated with driving. In the grand scheme of things, TriMet is much more affordable than in other cities. Depending on how you look at it, it could be better, but it could be much worse!

Oh, and because two of our kids go to school/daycare downtown, it costs 40 cents per 15 minutes to park outside their schools. This can be as much as $1.60 per day!

As an avid transit rider and transportation professional, I am having hard time with this as well. We are a two car family (both cars paid off), but also live within walking distance of my son's school and a bus line (one reason we choose the house). But my bus line has been cut again (25 min headways non peak) and takes 35+ minutes to get downtown. I do not have a shelter or a bench. I do not work full time and at least once a week I drive because of meetings or other after work obligations. Therefore, the transit pass subsidy my work provides does not pencil out. So for me on a rainy day that will cost me $5 and 70 minutes verse $10 to park two blocks from my office and approx. 40 minutes of my day? Might be more driving. I know I am lucky that I have the financial and time choice and many people do not.

Somewhat relevant to the topic at hand, interesting documentary on transit inequlity airing this weekend. Back of the Bus: http://bit.ly/ACfSTU

Refreshing & real to hear families talking about true financial day to day matters.... I have lived in Portland since 1997 we had our first child in 2006 and although we make good incomes we struggle... although sometimes it seems like we are surrounded by families of "trustafarians". Families piling into their new range rovers or Volvo SUVs shopping in the independent children stores that sell $30 t shirts for 5 yr olds and this is in the SE. On the rare occasion we do go out for dinner for example for our anniversary we ( my hub & I ) went to Laurelhurst market there are numerous families with young children, eating out like it is a common occurrence for them... I often ask myself " how are they doing it"? I am not saying all this as a "hater" but just as an observation many families are choosing to live here and have the ways and means to live very "comfortably" for those of us that truly need to worry about trimet fare increases I think we have a valid voice that the city needs to listen to...
Sarah's suggestions are valid ones....

@Elle---honestly I always wonder about some of this, too. In my family's case it's fairly easy to track, I really like to shop and have a nicely decorated home, etc. Even my daughter seems to understand that if she has more (and more expensive) clothes than her friends, it means she doesn't get to have an I-phone (yes, quite a few of her middle school friends have them).

In other cases it might be leased cars, maxed out credit cards, only camping for vacationing or some other area that the pennies are pinched. You'd be surprised.

Honestly we tend to only eat at chepaer restaurants because most $$$ ones here in Portland simply aren't all that great (I'm a hospitality veteran, from NYC...so I know good eats). We always leave feeling rather cheated.

A good example of "how they do it" is reflected in my brother-in-law. He and his family are large (5 kids) and live in a NJ suburb of NYC (significantly more $$$ than here in prices and taxes). Yet their house is bigger than ours (kinda has to be), they drove a newer, higher end car, went out drinking quite a bit and vacationed more.

While we did know that because of this they really could afford much in the way of clothes or furniture AND that her mom helped them a LOT, we only recently learned how deep their financial issues actually were.

During a rift, my MIL revealed that their car has been repossessed in the past and she had to pay off their entire note ($14K) to get it back for them. I've also received calls from creditors trying to track them down and apparently, they've refinanced many times and were recently close to foreclosure.

As much as I hate to admit it, much of the American way continues to be living beyond your means. Which might well be how all those other people are able to afford such a life.

I live in one of the shmanciest neighborhoods in the city and most people here have family money. There are a lot of hippycrits who act poor and then go to Maui for a week for spring break.

isn't acting poor and then going to maui for a week comparable to "saving up for a vacation in hawaii"?

I didn't grow up here and I'm amazed at the fact that wealthy people here pretend to be poor and hipster when in fact they live on family money . They gripe about struggling with finances and then their kids talk about heli -skiing and trips to Maui. I grew up poor and no one jetted off to Maui for spring break

"wealthy people here pretend to be poor and hipster."
Is this Portland code? That someone who isn't struggling financially can't be hip? That being poor is required for hipness? That someone who saves in some areas but splurges on winter vacations is somehow dishonest/hypocritical? That having enough money for vacation means the money must be inherited?
We don't take expensive vacations. For us, it seems like a waste. On vacation we see our relatives, who unhipfully live in areas that no one brags about visiting. And while I may be a little jealous of people who do take nice vacations, I think it is often a question of priorities. I know plenty of folks who scrimp to get to the sun on the cheap. Strangely, it doesn't make me question their integrity.

Oh moving back to the cost of driving versus trimet (even with passes). According to this http://finances.msn.com/saving-money-ideas/a923d124-e9e4-4ad3-a7be-5272c68d81bc the average family spends over 8% of thier income on gas. So for a family with a median income of $41K (which honestly, my family's income more than double that and we still couldn't manage such a high gas bill) they spend $350 per month on gas.

While Portland's smaller, so the gas bill might be lower---owning a beater car (even ignoring the many repair costs a beater car typically carries), even if payment free and carrying only liability for a family is still gonna be much, much more expensive than two monthly passes.

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