Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

High fuel prices are about to hit TriMet riders squarely in the fare.

TriMet's board of directors took the first steps Wednesday morning toward adopting a proposal that could raise overall ticket prices between 20 and 25 cents beginning in September to cover the rising cost of diesel for the agency's vehicles.

The proposal is part of a 2008-09 budget plan that will include an increase because of the fuel costs.

Wednesday's hearing was the first step in the process. A second hearing and a vote on the proposed fare increase is scheduled June 25.

Under the plans submitted to the board, the price of an all-zone ticket on any TriMet vehicle - bus or train - could go up to $2.25 or $2.30. An annual all-zone pass would jump from $836 today to $924 in September.

The agency is proposing an increase of 10 cents per ticket for services used by young people, senior citizens and the disabled.

Board members could propose a third option to raise fares even more to stay ahead of the diesel prices increases, but few seemed interested in taking that step this year.

The across-the-board increases are needed because the regional transit agency is paying almost double what it paid in July 2007 for the millions of gallons of diesel it buys annually.

'It's a huge budget hole for us,' said Carolyn Young, a TriMet spokeswoman.

Wednesday's proposal includes a usual 5-cent increase to cover inflation and between 15 and 20 cents more to cover the cost of fuel. One proposal would cover the cost of diesel at $3.74 a gallon. The second, higher proposal would cover the cost at $4 a gallon.

Because TriMet buys so much diesel fuel, it gets a discount. The public agency also doesn't pay taxes, which keeps the per-gallon cost lower than what is seen at most service station pumps.

'I think all of you know, as we have been watching the high price of diesel, those cost issues are real and they are significant,' TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen told the board Wednesday morning.

'The choices before us now are very stark. But at this stage there is no choice but to be able to address this through these fare increases.'

Corrective action plan

Board members laid the groundwork in January for the possible fare increase when they approved a 'corrective action plan' that called for spending about $1.5 million of the agency's contingency fund on fuel costs, getting more miles per gallon from vehicles and fare hikes to cover rising diesel prices. TriMet has spent about $2.5 million of its contingency fund this year to pay for fuel, Young said.

Besides a fare increase, the budget to be discussed today includes cutting 18 agency positions through attrition and not layoffs, she said.

TriMet's budget decisions come at a tough time for the agency. In mid-May, TriMet said its ridership increased 11.6 percent in April from a year ago, breaking light-rail and bus ridership records. More than 2 million trips were taken on MAX and buses each week in April, the first time TriMet has topped that number for weekly ridership, the agency reported.

'We've done just everything else,' she said. 'The two things we can do are increase fares or cut service. We're now in this difficult situation where our ridership is up because of the gas prices, so we certainly don't want to cut service.'

During their Wednesday meeting, board members took some heat from several members of its Committee on Accessible Transportation for the possible fare increase.

'I think your price hikes are outrageous,' said Zoe Presson of Portland, a member of the committee.

The chairwoman of the committee, Jan Campbell, urged the board to approve the fare increase and hold it to 10 cents for 'honored citizens,' which includes the disabled and senior citizens.

Double the cost for fuel

TriMet buys 6.6 million gallons of diesel fuel each year to operate its fleet of 606 buses on 92 routes. It is the largest user of diesel in the state.

In July 2007, when the current budget began, TriMet was paying about $2.12 a gallon for diesel. Today, the agency pays $4.05 a gallon, Young said. Just 27 days ago, the price was $3.62 a gallon, she said.

This is the second time in two years that TriMet has taken steps to deal with rising fuel prices. In October 2005, the agency adopted its first 'corrective action plan' to cover a $4.5 million budget shortfall caused by increased diesel costs. As part of that plan, TriMet raised fares by 15 cents.

Since then, TriMet fares have gone up a total of 35 cents to $2.05 for an all-zone ticket on both buses and light-rail trains.

About 20 percent of TriMet's $400 million annual budget comes from fares. The biggest share, around 54 percent, comes from the region's payroll taxes. Only a fare increase is being discussed at this time.

TriMet staff recommended that about 38 percent of the cost increases could be covered by internal efficiencies and 62 percent would have to be covered by fare increases.