Transit agency is committed to service that treats cause, not symptoms, of inequality

Transit plays a vital role in a just and equitable society. For many citizens, transit is a lifeline, which is why the history of civil rights and transit are so deeply intertwined.

At TriMet, we have a long history of not only meeting the letter of the law but the spirit of the law. We are steadfast in our commitment to these equity principles, counter to the recent opinions expressed in the Portland Tribune by Organizing People Activating Leaders (OPAL’s) Jonathan Ostar (Wrong Way!, guest column, March 4).

At the heart of OPAL’s proposal for extended transfer time is the very real impact service cuts have taken on our riders. We are cognizant of how these cuts affect real families and real people, which is why TriMet is prioritizing restoring service on the most traversed and critical lines — we are treating the cause of the problem, rather than the symptom.

• More service. In 2013, nearly a third of our bus routes saw improvements, and we created a new bus line between Sherwood and Tigard. On March 2, the agency restored midday service on 10 frequent service bus lines, which means 15-minute or better service from the morning through early evening for all 12 frequent service lines. Our frequent service bus network carries 58 percent of all bus rides.

In September we hope to restore even more service.

• Affordability is vital. TriMet has not raised bus or rail fares since 2012 and there are no plans to do so this year. Throughout the recession, we maintained highly discounted fares for seniors, young people and people with disabilities, all of whom are disproportionately low-income. TriMet also established Access Transit fare programs to help low-income people offset the 2012 fare increase. These programs provide fares to non-profits and community-based organizations at a lower cost or at no cost, which they then distribute to their low-income clients.

• Any discussion on equity must also include economic empowerment. TriMet’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program has become a national model for encouraging and supporting businesses owned by people of color and women when competing for contracts on transit construction projects. Twenty-five percent of the firms working on the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail transit project are owned by DBEs, handling more than $147 million in contracts on the project.

TriMet has empanelled a Transit Equity Advisory Committee, which has been a strong and independent voice — guiding us to excel in areas of equity. Indeed, the Federal Transit Administration points to TriMet’s Title VI analysis as a national model.

Finally, the TriMet board tabled OPAL’s request until it hears further from the federal government on a complaint the group filed. Seeking clarity before the board acts is simply good business.

TriMet, like all of us in our region, has certainly faced its share of financial challenges during the recent deep recession; our dedication to justice, equity and inclusion, however, hasn’t wavered.

Johnell Bell is TriMet’s director of diversity and transit equity.

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