TriMet has budget shortfall

If you are a TriMet commuter, your day could become a bit less convenient. TriMet is facing a $27 million budget shortfall for 2011 and is going to cut services while raising fares beginning in September.

If you are a TriMet commuter, your day could become a bit less convenient. TriMet is facing a $27 million budget shortfall for 2011 and is going to cut services while raising fares beginning in September.

Officials for the transportation company say the lack of money is due to the recession’s impact. According to a 2009 TriMet report published online, they received 52.7 percent of their budget from payroll taxes, which are down because less people are working.

According to, in order to cut the millions of dollars, TriMet will also implement a 5 percent administrative cut and a hiring and salary freeze. They are going to hold several public hearings to get input from riders to help decide where the services will be cut.

Obviously, this is a negative development for people who rely on public transportation. The initial reaction for many is to get angry at TriMet and blame their business practices.

Car-loving people tend to get angry and say “raise the fares!” These kind of knee-jerk reactions are a waste of time. It is not that simple.

TriMet has a lot of responsibility. They operate one of the most successful public transit companies in the country. They carry more passengers than any other transit system in America of comparable size. Of course they don’t want to cut service, raise fares or freeze salaries. It is a recession and everyone has been tightening their belts.

 Everyone hasn’t agreed with specific projects that TriMet has spent their money on, but they are operating to provide what they perceive as the best overall service for the entire metro area and have a lot to consider. They are not afraid to try new things—which is something to be admired, even if all the projects don’t turn out perfectly.

The Westside Express Service commuter line from Wilsonville to Beaverton, which began rush-hour weekday service last year, has not had the high ridership numbers TriMet expected. But it is not so simple as to just cut the service on such a new project. Their goal would be to try and increase ridership, and cutting service makes it less convenient to ride.

Suburbanites are generally more likely to think of driving a car as faster and easier than rail commuting. If service is cut, it may reinforce their opinion causing ridership to go down even more. This causes environmental and congestion concerns, as well as limits options for people who can’t or don’t own a car.

According to TriMet’s 2009 report, 22.6 percent of their revenue comes from passengers. Raising fares is not the most lucrative way to help their budget, though they have eliminated Fareless Square for buses, in order to tighten things up. There does, however, seem to be a problem with riders creating their own fareless zones.

Frequent TriMet riders will attest to the fact that many people just don’t pay. People steal rides on the MAX, and on buses, but especially on the Portland Streetcar. It’s almost a joke that everyone is in on—only tourists pay for the Streetcar. It would undoubtedly help TriMet’s bottom line if all passengers were riding legally and paying. The revenue increases might surprise us if passengers began being held accountable.

Public transit in Portland is among the best in the country. We are ahead of our time in this area. This is something to be proud of and something that we will not have to adapt to in the future since we are already there. TriMet is not perfect, but compared to other cities, our transit here is phenomenal.

The service cuts they are talking about are only minutes. Light rail trains would come every 17 minutes instead of 15. Buses during peak hours would also be pushed back less than five minutes according to The Oregonian.

TriMet is also very gracious in having these public meetings to hear suggestions from citizens. They don’t have to do that. Perhaps we have become a little spoiled with our public transit. We feel we just deserve the best no matter what and TriMet takes a lot of heat from the public. In reality, they operate a truly fine system.