Downtown Neighborhood Association Makes Case for Retaining Free Streetcar

Daniel Friedman, writing on behalf of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, has an op-ed piece in today’s Tribune, arguing to keep the Streetcar in Free Rail Zone.

The core of the argument is that downtown has unique characteristics that support a unique fare structure. Here are the four main bullets:

  • Most of the people who live downtown are not wealthy.
  • Most of the people who travel without charge in the FRZ do not live downtown.
  • Rather than being a special amenity for poor people or downtown residents, the FRZ is a valued public service available to everyone who travels downtown for work, shopping, school, recreation, or business.
  • A prosperous downtown is essential to the well-being of the entire region.

It’s a pretty good argument. But my concern is that the boundaries are wrong. I would suggest you could take the four points above and in each case substitute ‘Central City’ for downtown, and they would remain equally true.

The City’s comprehensive plan does not have a ‘Downtown Plan’, it has a ‘Central City Plan’. The Streetcar Loop is a transit service responsive to the entire Central City, on both sides of the river, and needs to have a consistent fare throughout the Central City.

9 Comments

9 Responses to Downtown Neighborhood Association Makes Case for Retaining Free Streetcar

  1. Douglas K.
    December 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm Link

    I posted a response there, generally to the effect that since downtown businesses and residents benefit from the Free Rail Zone, they should pay for it. Given the population and business density down there, I can see a City of Portland “Free Rail Zone” assessment on residents and businesses that wouldn’t be very much per person (or per business) at all. Augment that by putting parking meters EVERYWHERE in the Free Rail Zone, raising parking costs a bit for the meters and lots already there, and adding a special parking tax to private lots … I bet it wouldn’t be that hard to pay for a Free Rail Zone that extended to Goose Hollow, Trendy-third, Lloyd District, Central East Side and South Waterfront.

  2. Lenny Anderson
    December 29, 2011 at 8:27 pm Link

    That’s it, if you have paid parking, you get free streetcar. That applies to SoWa, NWDA, Central Eastside, all of Central City. But you have to take those parking meters…a tough sell in NW and CEID so far, so there its a buck to ride until the meters go in. Seems fair enough and maybe fare enough.

  3. Bob R.
    December 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm Link

    Before my comment, a note: When various models of fare structures were being proposed, I suggested that a “fareless central city” be included in the modeling. However, that did not occur as modeling costs money and the powers that be concluded that funds could not be found for a fareless central city in the current economic environment. Fair enough.

    The comment: When TriMet eliminated fareless bus service downtown, there was genuine concern with the fate of low-income residents, especially seniors and those with disabilities. A $10 downtown-only Honored Citizen pass was created by TriMet. It has been the consistent position of streetcar CAC members that, should the streetcar exit the fareless system, that these TriMet passes be honored.

    http://trimet.org/buspass/index.htm

    But that does leave out low-income, non-senior, non-disabled individuals who live in the boundaries.

  4. al m
    December 29, 2011 at 11:35 pm Link

    Fare less square was an idea that was born in the 70’s.

    Like everything else from the 70’s let it die and fade into history.

    We don’t have the luxury of handing out ‘free’ service anymore, especially when other transit users are paying more for less.

    Give it up and allow the word ‘equity’ to have some meaning.

    The problem of how we finance the welfare state should not obscure a separate issue: if each person thinks he has an inalienable right to welfare, no matter what happens to the world, that’s not equity, it’s just creating a society where you can’t ask anything of people.
    (Jacques Delors)

  5. billb
    December 30, 2011 at 9:45 am Link

    I would argue that the Streetcar ought to be free because it achieves the most important function of all , getting people out of the heavily-polluting space-stealing 3,000lbs metal boxes.
    Some of us have evolved to be CAR-FREE , and we don’t care to subsidize roads and freeways , and all that toxic pollution coming from motor vehicles.
    I have spent the last twenty years living in PDX using Max , Bike , Streetcar , and my own two feet. Please don’t spout off about how it can’t be done. I get groceries just like you. It is possible , and even pleasant to walk and bike home from the store. Don’t tell me you can’t move things without a car , I saw a guy with his xmas tree on the Streetcar this year.
    Happy Holidays one and all !

  6. Lenny Anderson
    December 30, 2011 at 11:28 am Link

    What % of current parking meter dollars goes for Streetcar operations now? Why can’t that be the income stream in lieu of fares. Add meters in NW and CEID and take a higher % throughout the Central City, and we could keep the original “Central City Circulator” concept alive.

  7. AL M
    December 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm Link

    What they need to do is implement a smart card system like some other cities have where you buy a card that can be used for parking, streetcar, or stores.

    You know, like a real ‘advanced’ society instead of a pretend one.

  8. Chris Smith
    December 30, 2011 at 1:00 pm Link

    “What % of current parking meter dollars goes for Streetcar operations now? Why can’t that be the income stream in lieu of fares.”

    It’s not like PBOT doesn’t have other ways to spend that money. It turns out that parking meter revenue is much more stable as a revenue source than gas tax is. As PBOT tries to dig out of a ~ $12-16M shortfall in projected gas tax revenue, a lot of people are going to be clamoring to use the meter revenue.

    “What they need to do is implement a smart card system like some other cities have where you buy a card that can be used for parking, streetcar, or stores.”

    Amen, brother!

  9. Flaneur (Daniel Friedman)
    December 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm Link

    Chris Smith wrote:
    “I would suggest you could take the four points above and in each case substitute ‘Central City’ for downtown, and they would remain equally true.”

    I couldn’t agree more… The most visionary and forward-looking position that the city could take is that Portland’s central city would be radically re-shaped, unified, and transformed if the Free Rail Zone were extended to the Central Eastside! Not to mention NW 23rd, Goose Hollow, and South Waterfront, as Douglas K proposed in his comment.

    al m wrote:
    “I would argue that the Streetcar ought to be free because it achieves the most important function of all, getting people out of the heavily-polluting space-stealing 3,000lbs metal boxes.”

    See the DNA’s Statement on Fareless Transit for a discussion of the potential effect of eliminating the FRZ on downtown auto congestion and air quality. Currently, two-thirds of non-work-related visitors and a near-majority of work commuters arrive downtown by auto. The DNA’s concern is that elimination of the FRZ will lead to an increase in short-hop trips downtown, as people shift errands and appointments—before, during, and after the workday—from transit to automobiles. The PBA’s 2010 Survey, shows an 11% increase from 2009 to 2010 in downtown employees who drive to work alone, confirming that seemingly subtle changes in cost and convenience can produce detectable shifts in transit use. [One reason that it’s difficult to estimate the size of this potential offset-effect is that—aside from simple counts of the number of riders—PBoT and Portland Streetcar, Inc., have not gathered even the most rudimentary information about who rides the Streetcar or the purposes of their trips. The DNA sent a letter in October, requesting that PBoT and Portland Streetcar, Inc., gather simple data on attributes of fareless riders and on the origins and destinations of their trips before making any decision about the future of fareless transit. PBoT staff informed the DNA in November that that they did not believe such data was needed.]

    Bob R. wrote:
    “When TriMet eliminated fareless bus service downtown, there was genuine concern with the fate of low-income residents, especially seniors and those with disabilities. A $10 downtown-only Honored Citizen pass was created. It has been the consistent position of streetcar CAC members that, should the streetcar exit the fareless system, that these TriMet passes be honored… But that does leave out low-income, non-senior, non-disabled individuals who live in the boundaries.

    It’s to TriMet’s credit that it sought to mitigate the loss of fareless bus service on seniors and people with disabilities who live downtown. But, as Bob R, points out, this approach has limited impact. (1) Only downtown residents are eligible for these special passes. (2) It’s inherent in the nature of special passes that—absent a very aggressive social marketing effort—many of those eligible will never even become aware of the benefit. (3) Depending on how the Streetcar ends up articulating with the MAX, its possible that it will cost $896 a year for the functional equivalent of the mobility currently available at no cost to riders in the FRZ. Many non-disabled, non-seniors will find that to be an insurmountable hardship. (4) As the DNA has repeatedly emphasized, the importance of the FRZ extends far beyond its value to those who live downtown. The chief justification for fareless transit has never been that it benefits downtown residents or elderly, disabled, or poor people. Mitigating the harm to elderly and disabled downtown residents only deals with one small subset of the negative effects that eliminating the FRZ will bring about.

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