There Is No Such Thing as a Free Ride

By Steve LaFleur

Why should taxpayers be disappointed with TriMet right now? Between 2004 and 2008 TriMet’s revenue increased 60%, but they actually reduced their level of service. As taxpayers, and consumers, we want to get our money’s worth.

The one proposal from TriMet taxpayers should be happy with is the proposal to eliminate Fareless Square for bus services. While Fareless Square seems like a “green” initiative, it is far from it. Fareless Square doesn’t discourage people from driving. It discourages them from walking. Many people who otherwise would walk bog down the transit system instead. This slows down buses and causes overcrowding.

Fareless Square also makes it easy for people to evade fares by boarding for free and continuing on to further destinations without paying. But public transportation isn’t free. If TriMet isn’t collecting fares, then it has to rely on other funding, like the payroll tax (which provides over 50% of TriMet’s budget).

Businesses paid over $215 million in payroll taxes to fund TriMet last year alone. We should not tax employers to ensure that people don’t have to walk a few blocks in Fareless Square downtown. If people really don’t want to walk a quarter of a mile, they don’t have to, but taxpayers should not foot the bill. There’s no such thing as a free ride.

Steve LaFleur is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. (TriMet photo by John M. Vincent of The Oregonian.)