How is TriMet spending its new transportation package money?

While it’s not clear yet where exactly all of the expected $40 million Trimet will get each year from the new .1% statewide transit payroll tax will be spent, TriMet has already promised 30% of it won’t be going to improving the quality of its service. Up to $12 million has been promised to a new program that will subsidize low-income riders’ fares.

Given the parameters of the program, I wonder if $12 million will be enough money. TriMet is promising a 50% discount in fares for riders that earn up to twice the federal poverty rate. That’s a deep discount for a broad amount of people.

If you listen carefully to what TriMet is saying, they seem to know a new entitlement program is being born. “We have seen the need for a low-income fare program and have worked for more than a year with regional representatives on a low-income fare task force to identify the basic parameters and a sustainable approach to building a regional program,” said Angela Murphy, public information officer for TriMet. “With the recent state transportation package, we are now in a position to successfully build and implement a program that will be responsive and feasible for long-term operation.”

TriMet already had a $1.5 million grant program where they essentially gave tickets to charities for distribution to a narrow and targeted group of needy people. This new program and its 800% increase in cost represents a significant change in policy. If this is what was politically necessary to pass needed freeway improvements, perhaps it was worth it, but I suspect this might be a foot-in-the-door movement in the wrong direction for Oregon, a movement to further lower TriMet’s already low rate of cost-recovery from its riders.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of A Brief History of Political Cultural Change.