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TriMet task force recommends new fare structure, increases

A TriMet task force is recommending the transit agency adopt a new fare system

A TriMet task force is recommending the transit agency adopt a new fare system in order to raise $9 million in revenue in the next fiscal year.

That proposal will be in a report to TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane this week as part of a plan that could close the $17 million budget gap the agency is facing, including the scrapping of the agency's multi-zone fare system and changing the way transfer tickets work.

TriMet is facing a shortfall of up to $17 million in its overall $400 million operating budget thanks to uncertainty in three areas. First, payroll tax revenue continues to be sluggish, thanks to slow job growth in the state. That's $3 million of the shortage. Second, federal funding for transit is likely to be cut, accounting for about $4 million of the shortage. TriMet will also need to come up with either $5 million or $10 million in raising labor costs depending on the outcome of labor arbitration, a result is expected this year.

With those financial pressures in play, TriMet needs to decide whether to cut service, or raise rates in order to make up the difference.

In December, TriMet launched a web page (trimet.org/choices) that features a sort of survey that allows users to cut where they'd like in order to develop a proposal.

What cost-saving options, ranging from the elimination of the free rail zone and the reduction of service on the MAX red line to the fare restructure, the agency chooses will be up to the Board of Directors, which will have to sign off on a budget plan in June.

Task force focuses on fare

Cynthia Chilton, who's spent three years advising the board on budget matters was tapped by McFarlane to head up the 12-member task force, which started meeting in November to develop the report filed this week.

Chilton said her group's top priority was to retain the frequency of trains and buses in the transit system.

"We felt strongly that we should avoid cutting service," Chilton said. "Then of course, the alternative is your fares, because there's no other short-term revenue source."

Accounting for $9 million in savings, the biggest proposal in the package is a reconfiguration of how fares work.

One-way trips, zones out

Currently, a rider who buys a fare from a TriMet bus gets a paper slip that's marked for expiration later that day. The slip is used as proof of payment when transferring to another bus or for riding the MAX or WES. Transfers are supposed to be limited to two hours, but sometimes transfers are issued that are good for longer.

The new plan would make every transfer last two hours. It would also make each ticket good for only one direction of travel.

Currently, a rider can buy a bus ticket in Forest Grove, ride to the Cornelius Fred Meyer, and after their shopping is complete, reboard the bus with the same transfer (so long as it hasn't expired) and head home.

Many short trips can fit inside the two-hour transfer window, allowing riders to pay half the fare for a two way trip.

Under the new proposal, that wouldn't be possible. Riders who want to go two ways would have to buy two fares.

Additionally, the adult fare would increase to a flat $2.50, half the cost of a $5 day pass (which would remain the same price).

The hope is that riders would be encouraged to buy a day pass instead of buying multiple tickets throughout the day.

"It gives them the same flexibility that a pass rider gets," Chilton said. "It expedites boarding because people are buying half as many passes."

The plan would also eliminate TriMet's zoned fare structure. Right now, the entire transit system is broken into three circular zones. Most of Washington County is in Zone 3, meaning that a rider heading from Forest Grove to Cornelius only needs the cheapest of TriMet's fares, $2.10, in order to complete their trip.

For most riders who don't leave Washington County, the new fare structure would be a net increase, with a two-way ride going from $4.20 to $5.

But a rider traveling from Forest Grove to Downtown Portland already has to buy two tickets costing $2.40 each, so the total ride would only increase from $4.80 to $5.

Chilton's group found many transit-dependent riders were travelling long distances to get to work, meaning the zone system no longer benefited the low-income riders it was created for.

'Most other transit agencies have done away with zones because its hard to administer and it makes it almost impossible, maybe impossible to move toward electronic fares,' Chilton said.

new fares

A budget task force is proposing that TriMet adopt

a new fare system, which includes the elimination of the current two-way transfer policy.

One-way fare:

Adult: $2.50, youth: $1.65, honored citizen: $1.

Two-way fare (day pass):

Adult: $5, youth: $3.30, honored citizen: $2.

Monthly pass:

Adult: $100, youth: $30, honored citizen: $26.