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Fare hike, new buses part of proposed TriMet budget

Board expected to adopt the $434 million proposal in June

For the first time in three years, TriMet is proposing a budget that restores some previous service reductions and provides money to buy new buses.

'Our overall budget is good news compared to the last two fiscal years,' said TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane after the $434 million budget was unveiled Wednesday. 'While we remain in a very constrained financial environment, we are able to make important investments in some service restoration, key safety initiatives and purchase new buses.'

The proposed budget is not all good news for riders, however. It includes a 5-cent fare increase, a $4 increase for monthly adult passes and a $1 increase for monthly youth passes. There also is a 40-cent increase for LIFT trips that serve disabled riders, and TriMet has decided to discontinue monthly LIFT passes.

The fare increases are needed in part to offset the rising cost of diesel fuel. Although TriMet does not pay taxes on its fuel, the regional transit agency is the largest user of diesel fuel in the state, buying about 6.5 million gallons each year.

Every 15-cent increase in diesel prices adds $1 million in additional expenses, according to TriMet. The proposed budget anticipates a price increase in the fuel from $2.42 to $3.31 a gallon.

In September 2008, TriMet increased its fares by 25 cents to cover the then-rapidly rising cost of diesel fuel. At the time, diesel prices in Oregon were hovering at about $2.80 a gallon.

Other budget highlights:

• It restores some bus and MAX service to reduce overcrowding and maintain schedule reliability. Ten bus lines will have some additional trips added to relieve overcrowding: Lines 4, 9, 12, 14, 35, 44, 52, 75, 78 and 94; during evening rush hour, there will be additional Blue Line MAX trips.

• It restarts the annual bus procurement program, purchasing 55 buses this year primarily with grant funds, and 40 each in subsequent years, funded through debt service.

• It funds safety initiatives, including annual operator recertification programs.

• It pushes the 7.3-mile Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail project through the final design stage. No TriMet funds are going toward the project until next fiscal year. Final design is funded by Oregon Lottery-backed bonds, an Oregon Department of Transportation Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant and Metro's Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program bond proceeds.

TriMet has not yet reached a new collective bargaining agreement with its employees. The agency has stopped making automatic cost-of-living increases and is requiring union employees to pay a portion of their health care premiums. The changes prompted the union representing most employees to file an unfair labor practice complaint.

Although the issue has not been resolved, the proposed budget anticipates that some of the changes will continue through the fiscal year.

TriMet's board must approve the budget. The first reading of ordinances adopting the 5-cent fare increase will be at the April 27 board meeting, 5:30 p.m. at the Portland Building, 1120 S.W. Fifth Ave.

The board is expected to vote on the proposal at its May 25 meeting.

The first reading of the LIFT fare proposal will be at the May 25 board meeting, with a vote scheduled for June 22.


Editor's note:

Steve Clark, Portland Tribune president and publisher of Community Newspapers, is a member of the TriMet board.