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Downtown neighborhood group says whoa to eliminating free rail zone

Association asks city to delay discussion on the issue until December
by: Tribune file photo Members of the Downtown Neighborhood Association say they want the Portland Streetcar citizens advisory committee to delay a discussion of eliminating the city’s fareless rail zone until December. The group says it wants more time to respond to the plan.

Portland's Downtown Neighborhood Association is asking Portland Streetcar officials to postpone a decision on eliminating the fareless streetcar travel in parts of downtown.

In a letter sent to city officials Monday, neighborhood association members say they and others have not had enough time to respond to the possible fareless square change, which would be discussed at the streetcar board's Wednesday meeting. The association's letter asked the city's Bureau of Transportation, which operates the streetcar system, to push the discussion back to the board's December meeting, providing enough time for 'meaningful information-gathering, citizen input, and public deliberation.'

'Fareless transit in downtown Portland is one of the city's greatest accomplishments,' said Felicia Williams, chairwoman of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. 'Just a few weeks ago, Travel and Leisure magazine named Portland No. 1 in the country on Public Transportation and Pedestrian Friendliness. This is the sort of hard-won achievement no amount of PR could ever buy and, sadly, it looks like we're preparing to walk away from it.'

The Portland Streetcar's Citizen Advisory Committee meets from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, in City Hall's Pettygrove Room, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave. The committee will discuss, among other things, a fare study and public outreach program. Past discussions on the issue have included talk of eliminating the fareless streetcar zone downtown.

The committee's next meeting is Dec. 7 in City Hall.

Valued public service

In addition to concerns about the decision's timing, the neighborhood association board cited the streetcar's inability to supply even the most basic information about 'how many fareless streetcar riders there are, who they are, what transportation mode brought them downtown initially, and what the purpose is for their trips.'

Association board members pointed out that fareless transit is a public service that has been available in downtown Portland for 37 years. TriMet recently changed its fareless square policy downtown to include only MAX trains in a smaller area. The Streetcar also allows riders to avoid a fare mainly in the downtown loop.

'We find it hard to comprehend how a thoughtful and informed decision could be made about the future of fareless transit in the absence of the most rudimentary information about who exactly will be affected and in what way,' according to the association's letter.

Daniel Friedman, a longtime association board member, said transportation officials have trivialized the effects of eliminating fareless streetcar travel.

'Portland's Bureau of Transportation keeps saying this is a change that will mainly affect the 13,000 people who live downtown,' Friedman said. 'In fact, most of the streetcar's fareless riders live somewhere else. The free rail zone isn't some sort of special amenity for people who live downtown, it's a valued public service that's available to everyone.

'Downtown Portland is the heart and soul of a metropolitan area of 2 million people and one of the most successful central city districts in the country. The whole region will be affected if fareless transit is abolished.'

Friedman called the fareless streetcar zone 'a point of civic pride.' He said the city should not try to make its decision 'under the radar.'