Making the Case for Transit Equity

Via Portland Afoot and our friend Al…

A very nice presentation deck put together by OPAL with a view on the equity impacts of the current TriMet budget proposals. A key point is the involvement of transit-dependent riders in the actual decision power structure. Only one of TriMet’s board members is a regular transit rider. Sigh…

24 Comments

24 Responses to Making the Case for Transit Equity

  1. Aaron G
    February 22, 2012 at 7:51 am Link

    Day Pass already exists and is underused

    Yeah, but that’s likely to change with a new fare structure.

    Are they explicitly for round-trip use of transfers now? When they were advocating for longer transfers they claimed it was because of people taking very long trips.

  2. Cora Potter
    February 22, 2012 at 8:11 am Link

    Day Pass already exists and is underused

    And when the use of it increases it will likely result in a net benefit for lower income people who often make decisions on type of fare to purchase, not based on planning ahead or creating flexibility for themselves that they will in all probability need, but on spending as little money as possible at the moment, even if it means that they end up spending more money in the long run.

    I’ve spent a lot of time teaching people about the benefits of purchasing a day pass, but old, bad habits are hard to break. It’s part of the culture of poverty…and we need something like this to help break the habitual cycle.

  3. Cora Potter
    February 22, 2012 at 8:27 am Link

    Are they explicitly for round-trip use of transfers now? When they were advocating for longer transfers they claimed it was because of people taking very long trips.

    I noticed that too- they suddenly changed their position on that issue it seems. Now that TriMet is proposing a transfer structure that actually supports the trips they were holding up as examples when they were arguing for a 3 hour transfer, it’s suddenly unfair to allow people to travel one way for over two hours.

    I also get very frustrated with their interpretation of statistics. For example – “MAX only” riders. People of color are represented among “MAX only” riders at about the same percentage that they appear in the general population of the tri-county area. To me this says that MAX is serving the whole population of the area in a manner that genuinely reflects the actual mix of the population. People are coming together on the train in a way that shows the real make-up of Portland – whether they got to the train by car/park and ride or transferred from a bus.

    To me this indicates that we need to support maintaining MAX service – not cut it in favor of buses. For equity on buses, we need to be strategic and ensure that service changes maintain or increase service on bus lines that serve areas with higher populations (total population not as a percentage) of transit dependent riders, and provide better, more frequent connections to MAX in the process.

    I’m totally in favor of supporting transit dependent riders in advocating for themselves, but I also think OPAL shouldn’t be teaching them to be intellectually dishonest in the process – or to constantly be looking for a new reason to oppose TriMet just on principle.

    TriMet has done a good job avoiding some of the equity pitfalls that other cities suffer, currently and in the past (the south alignment of the green line, the east alignment of the blue line and the orange line are all highly beneficial to some of the most transit dependent, low income and minority areas in the region and do much to address past wrongs of the FHWA and ODOT). That doesn’t meant we shouldn’t point out when they’re going astray (WES, LO streetcar for example) but we also shouldn’t act like they have issues that even compare to places like Atlanta, SanFrancisco or LA.

  4. John Powell
    February 22, 2012 at 8:29 am Link

    Evening/Night shift workers will be impacted

    That’s a good point, and makes me wonder whether TriMet could implement a 24-hr pass, rather than a calendar day pass.

  5. EngineerScotty
    February 22, 2012 at 8:47 am Link

    I have one question about the definition of a “MAX only” rider: Is it a rider that has expressed a refusal to ride the bus, or one whose commute doesn’t include a bus ride (but might use the bus were better service available in their area).

    OPAL also makes a good point about the ridiculous price ($5) for all-day youth and senior tickets, although that won’t change. Right now, some TVMs don’t even have an option to purchase a youth or honored all-day ticket (just an adult ticket); not that it matters, as the fare is presently the same.

  6. EngineerScotty
    February 22, 2012 at 8:47 am Link

    Argh…. although that WILL change.

  7. Cora Potter
    February 22, 2012 at 9:01 am Link

    Scotty – I am a MAX only rider as of January 27th (sort of) for my commute. I used to ride the 17 because it provided more direct service. Now that my workplace has moved, I ride the Green Line because it provides more direct service. The choice really has nothing to do with the mode, it has to do with the number of transfers.

    Sure- I could transfer to the 19 at Gateway and be dropped off 4 blocks closer to work, and I would if I had physical barriers to walking an extra 4 blocks, but I’d rather walk than wait around to transfer – I get some exercise which then cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend on a machine in a building doing “fake” exercise activities.

    Likewise, I could “choose” to be bus only – but that would also involve a transfer.

    I think in most cases, “MAX” only riders choose that mode based on time/effort cost savings from elimination of transfers, whether they’re park and ride users or car free.

  8. Aaron G
    February 22, 2012 at 9:40 am Link

    I’m totally in favor of supporting transit dependent riders in advocating for themselves, but I also think OPAL shouldn’t be teaching them to be intellectually dishonest in the process – or to constantly be looking for a new reason to oppose TriMet just on principle.

    I agree, I initially thought OPAL was great, but over time I’m growing more and more unhappy with their methodology and many of their proposals. I think their intentions are great and I do feel a little icky every time I take any kind of stab at OPAL. I think perhaps what I really wish is that there was a group like OPAL that advocated for great transit, period.

  9. Aaron G
    February 22, 2012 at 9:43 am Link

    I guess that would probably be a transit users’ union? Not sure how you’d really get regular people with lives riding to work fired up about such a thing. But maybe with cuts, cuts, and more cuts, TriMet will push people that direction.

  10. EngineerScotty
    February 22, 2012 at 9:45 am Link

    I was referring to OPAL’s definition–they seem to be making an argument that bus service is more important than rail service for equity concerns.

    There is an interesting debate there–the transit-dependent are generally better served, to a first approximation, by comprehensive geographical coverage; a common complaint about MAX is that it represents a diversion of operating resources (ignoring capital costs) into specific corridors, and is designed to appeal to suburban office workers (who could otherwise drive), some percentage of which wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bus. Now, in reality–I don’t know how true that stereotype is; as you note, MAX goes through many low-income areas, and is much more well-integrated with the bus system than rail transit systems in other cities I can think of. And of course, everyone–not just stereotypical yuppies–benefits from a faster, more reliable ride.

  11. EngineerScotty
    February 22, 2012 at 9:52 am Link

    An interesting question I would have for the folks at OPAL (and if any are reading, they are encouraged to respond!):

    Jarrett Walker, in his works, makes a distinction between “ridership” service and “coverage” service. Ridership service, which (to a first approximation) includes MAX and frequent bus lines, are intended to attract large numbers of riders and have a higher farebox return (and greater environmental impact through things like displaced cars and such). Coverage services are those intended to provide lifeline service to transit-dependent populations, and are often nearly empty. Coverage services require more subsidy than do ridership services, may not have a positive environmental impact (with the bus using more energy than the cars its ridership replaces), and may be viewed as wasteful or welfare (“the @#$! bus is always empty!”) by the general public. Coverage routes generally only attract the transit-dependent, as service parameters such as frequency tend to be poor.

    What percentage of TriMet’s service hours (or operating budget, if you prefer) ought to be spent on coverage service, and what percentage on ridership services?

  12. Allan
    February 22, 2012 at 10:59 am Link

    Maybe “coverage” service should be free since the goal is very different. This might help solve the ‘the bus is always empty’ problem, and “ridership” service should cost money

  13. Aaron G
    February 22, 2012 at 11:26 am Link

    Interesting idea Allan. Not sure everyone would accept it but I like it. Do any electronic fare systems implement some kind of demand-based fares?

  14. John Powell
    February 22, 2012 at 11:53 am Link

    Maybe “coverage” service should be free since the goal is very different. This might help solve the ‘the bus is always empty’ problem, and “ridership” service should cost money

    I don’t think it would solve the empty bus problem. Presumably either not many people live along low-ridership lines, or if they do most of them prefer and are able to drive. Having lower fares along such lines wouldn’t do much to increase ridership.

  15. Andrew
    February 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm Link

    I would be willing to swallow the $5 investment in an all-day pass, though many with low incomes will still find it a bit high. Every dollar counts, and I would only use it if I could do a lot of errands in that day to more justify the expenditure.

    On the other hand, the idea of eliminating a two-way ride on a single ticket strikes me as a very bad idea. If you go somewhere, you’ll have to return. Five dollars is a lot of money to spend on transportation for a simple trip. I find it especially galling that if the wind does blow that way, it will be five dollars to travel from my apartment on SE 15th to the grocery store on 36th and back, or if I go from Hillsboro to Gresham on the Blue line and back. In other words, it costs five bucks to go two miles or sixty-six miles! Where’s the equity in that??

  16. zefwagner
    February 22, 2012 at 9:44 pm Link

    I agree with their main point, that charging $5 for a short round trip is clearly inequitable, putting most of the impact on the most transit-dependent. I also don’t like it because I think transit needs to support all aspects of life, such as shopping trips, rather than just catering to commute trips.

    I do wish OPAL had been honest from the outset of the Campaign for a Fair Transfer that that was the whole point. There were never many people who couldn’t make a one-way trip on a single transfer–it was clearly about making it easier to make round trips on a single fare, and they should have just said that. At this point we should forget about that, though, and try to convince TriMet to drop the one-way thing if they possibly can. I’m fine with dropping the zones and raising the fares–we have a very expensive system to run, and there are few options short-term to raise taxes.

    I also do like their other ideas. They absolutely should charge a premium price for premium services like express, peak-only, and WES. I wouldn’t call streetcar “premium” though. It may be fancy-looking but it’s slower than most buses and doesn’t have as many seats. I’m also sure there are internal efficiencies, although sometimes those can just cause new problems (lack of marketing dollars, poor-quality managers, etc.).

    However, I do think the union has to give something as well. Who cares if the costs were “foreseeable”? The deals were made when the economy was looking way better! The union should have the public interest in mind enough to know they need to be flexible with changing circumstances. This idea of “the union is always right” is just as bad as saying “management is always right.” Both groups need to balance the public interest with their own interests, and I don’t see either side doing that right now.

  17. Lenny Anderson
    February 23, 2012 at 10:10 am Link

    Here, here on OPAL’s failure to even question the costs of union employee health insurance. Most low income riders have no or minimal health insurance; should they take it in the chin to save the Ops a few bucks? Time they re-read Lenin’s thoughts on the “Aristocracy of Labor.”

  18. Allan
    February 23, 2012 at 11:23 am Link

    “I don’t think it would solve the empty bus problem. Presumably either not many people live along low-ridership lines, or if they do most of them prefer and are able to drive. Having lower fares along such lines wouldn’t do much to increase ridership.”

    I think it would encourage some folks to try using the bus, since they have nothing but time to lose.

  19. AL M
    February 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm Link

    Speaking of OPAL, here is a little clip for you guys:

    Director of OPAL says TRIMET lacks credibility and transparency – YouTube

  20. AL M
    February 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm Link

    “””Here, here on OPAL’s failure to even question the costs of union employee health insurance. Most low income riders have no or minimal health insurance; should they take it in the chin to save the Ops a few bucks? Time they re-read Lenin’s thoughts on the “Aristocracy of Labor.”””

    ~~~>Lenny, you’re such a hysteric!

  21. AL M
    February 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm Link

    And once again, lets get this clear.

    All of us are willing to talk, in a reasonable manner.

    When Trimet (macafarlane) stops breaking the law and decides that Jon Hunt (I’m still working on getting him to talk with P-transport) is worthy of his time maybe there can be some deal.

    The hysterics among us are not helping because they only see the “big bad union” point of view, they don’t see that TRIMET IS BREAKING THE LAW!

  22. Lenny Anderson
    February 23, 2012 at 3:13 pm Link

    Al, thanks for the thoughtful comment.
    Its time the union sat down with management to work a deal to expand service and create jobs by carrying some more of the water. Is that too much to ask?

  23. AL M
    February 23, 2012 at 11:32 pm Link

    Lenny, “carrying more of the water”?

    Uh, I believe that without ‘us’ there is NOTHING, as in nobody goes anywhere.

    You got connections with Trimess (uh I mean Trimet) management, tell then to stop treating our union president like he doesn’t exist, stop breaking the law, and generally stop behaving like the high school bully.

    This mess is created 100% by the management, not the union.

    (and its looking like we are going to get that interview for Portland Transport)

  24. Lenny Anderson
    February 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm Link

    I’ve got no connections that you don’t have. I just want to have four full time Operators on the 85 Swan Island running all day, not four part timers with only peak hour service. Daimler’s adding jobs, Vigor’s adding jobs, UPS’s adding jobs, so it time for TriMet to add jobs which means that Ops need to start pitching in a bit on health care. Again, too much to ask?

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