Tri-Met fare hike attributed to rising fuel prices

Many have felt the pinch of rising gas prices recently, whether in heating our homes, driving our cars, or simply paying more for shipped goods. The 38 percent of PSU students who commute by public transportation to school will now also be paying slightly more to ride the bus in the new year.

As of Jan. 1, Tri-Met’s rates have increased 15 cents for adult all-zone tickets and $6 for adult monthly passes to $1.95 and $72 respectively.

Rates also increased 10 cents for youth, student and honored citizen tickets, and $2 on monthly passes. The rate hike comes just four months after the last rate increase in September, which raised cash fares 10 cents, and monthly passes by $2. The increase is in response to an estimated $4.6 million budget shortfall last year due to rising diesel prices.

However, those who use the FlexPass program, a discount bus pass program available to Portland State students taking at least 13 credits, did not see an increase in the $125 rate. The FlexPass is available until Jan. 13 at both the Urban Plaza Transportation Information Center and in Neuberger Hall.

Some are concerned that it is counterproductive for Tri-Met to simply raise fares, potentially discouraging riders who would otherwise be clogging our roads further. To combat the rising gas prices that have resulted in higher fares, Tri-Met is employing a “3-pronged approach” to combat rising gas prices, according to their web site.

The plan includes increasing fuel efficiency, service efficiency and fares.

“Tri-Met has the most fuel-efficient buses in the country,” said Lurae Stuart, senior program manager for bus programs at the American Public Transportation Association. She said that Tri-Met’s fuel efficiency is over five miles per gallon, while most other transit agencies struggle to make two miles per gallon.

Not only is Tri-Met seeking to improve efficiency through improved servicing of vehicles and driver training, they are also among the leaders nationally in alternative fuel technology. The local transit agency is among the first in the country to use biodiesel in its fleet. As of early December, 75 LIFT buses – used for door-to-door service for elderly and disabled riders – are using biodiesel, a mix of 95 percent diesel fuel and 5 percent vegetable oil and used cooking oil.

If the trial goes well, all 210 LIFT buses will be changed over by year’s end. In addition, two of Tri-Met’s 611 fixed-route buses are experimental diesel-electric hybrids that are up to 50 percent more fuel efficient than regular buses. Only a handful of transit agencies in the country are testing these cleaner, more efficient hybrid vehicles.

While Tri-Met is among the industry leaders in fuel-efficiency and alternative fuel technology in the U.S., Europe is leading the way globally. Nine cities in Europe, including London, Madrid, Barcelona, Stockholm and Hamburg, are currently testing zero-emission fuel-cell technology in their city buses, an innovation thought to be 10 to 15 years off here in the states.

The project, funded by Daimler-Chrysler, is aimed at reducing air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and inner-city noise levels.

“A lot European systems are privately funded,” Stuart said, adding that in the United States, “transit agencies seem to be addressing the problem quickly.”

She said that while alternative fuel technology is a key to addressing our dependence on oil and reducing air pollution, “Getting people on transit, or getting them out of their SUVs is a tougher nut to crack.”