On one of her marathon bus commutes, DiJonnette Montgomery-Thompson watched a mother with three small children in tow get kicked off a bus and left on the side of the road because their transfers expired before they reached their destination. They had no more money to pay another fare.
It’s a problem that Montgomery-Thompson, a 39-year-old student getting a degree in social work, can run into when she and her daughter string together errands on the bus to buy school shoes, fill a prescription, or hit the library.
The two-hour window they’re now allowed to transfer to other buses or rail lines after paying their collective $4.15 fare seems like it should be long enough to get a lot done. But because her main bus line in suburban Beaverton, Oregon, only runs once an hour on weekends, a one-way trip to the grocery store and one other stop can easily eat up that time. If that transfer window runs out, she ends up paying again to finish her errands and get home.
The Portland metro area’s transit agency has dealt with recent revenue shortfalls by cutting service five times over four years, which has been particularly hard on the region’s low-income, minority, and transit-dependent population. As Montgomery-Thompson explains:
I use the bus to do everything I need to do, but the reliability and service isn’t what it used to be. Because we don’t have frequent lines in the suburbs, cutting back service has been extremely hard. You see a lot of people at the transit stations just waiting for an hour during any given day. There’s nowhere to get children a drink of water, there’s nowhere to use the restroom.
This mother had an infant and two small children on a bus that runs once an hour, and her transfer expired on her and everyone got pulled off. To me, that doesn’t seem fair. You’re waiting and waiting and your transfer expires before the bus takes off and they say too bad. The least they could do is extend the time.
Riders like Montgomery-Thompson, who’ve been asked to pay more for less service, want something in return. They’re asking TriMet for a relatively small change that they argue would make a big difference in their lives: extending the transfer window that permits travel on a single fare to 3 hours during the day and until the end of service after 7 p.m.
That would arguably make Portland’s transit transfer policy the most liberal in the country. TriMet has agreed to consider the idea, and is currently crunching updated data to estimate how much it would cost. Depending on the assumptions used, previous figures have run in the neighborhood of $1 to $4 million, some of which would be offset by increased ridership from people who would be more inclined to take the bus.
(Update 7/22/13: TriMet has released this updated financial analysis of the 3 hour transfer proposal, estimating that losses from extending that window could range from $2.1 million to $4.1 million. Advocates have “have begun a facilitated dialogue with TriMet brass about the details and methods behind their numbers,” according to OPAL.)
For an agency that has spent the last five years backfilling budget holes, one could argue that this is a luxury it can’t afford. But recent revelations that the agency last year gave its executives undisclosed pay raises at the very time it claimed to be broke tend to undermine that case. And transit users with Bus Riders Unite argue it’s a relatively low cost way for the agency to begin restoring some of the value that customers who buy cash tickets have lost and acknowledge that recent service cuts and fare hikes have caused real hardship.
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This chart from Portland Afoot shows TriMet has raised fares by nearly 70 percent (when adjusted for inflation) over the last 15 years. Last year, the agency eliminated its fare zones that allowed riders to pay less for shorter trips. That change represented a larger fare hike (40 cents vs. 10 cents) for single-ticket riders who take shorter trips (who are more likely to be low-income or people of color) than for suburban commuters who travel longer distances.
According to TriMet’s analysis of who would be most affected by the changes that went into effect last year, the group of riders with the highest proportion of low-income and minority riders had the second steepest fare increase (behind 2-zone monthly and annual pass purchasers).
In other words, here’s how Jared Franz, policy associate for OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon—the group that has organized riders and championed the transfer changes—describes the current situation:
A 3-mile trip to the grocery store for someone living in a food desert now costs the same as a 30-mile trip taken by a suburban commuter. There is the very definition of an inequitable fare structure.
Even in Portland, a region widely praised by outsiders for their transit system—because people are hypnotized by sexy, shiny trains—and a region often characterized as one of the whitest major cities in America, transit decisions have had a major disproportionate impact on people of color and low-income individuals.
When OPAL first started talking to people in Portland’s working class neighborhoods and communities of color and asking what issues they most wanted a voice in, transit quickly rose to the top. And extending the transfer window was one of the highest priorities.
It’s a plea that Teresa Keishi-Soto hears all the time. Because she turned 65 recently and now uses a discounted senior pass to get to her job as a Head Start center assistant, she wouldn’t directly benefit from a longer transfer window. But she hears a lot of anxiety among people in her Southeast Portland neighborhood who clean offices in Hillsboro or landscape in Lake Oswego or work other faraway jobs. If there are accidents or traffic, certain bus routes fall apart and it can take them more than two hours just to travel one way, she said:
You’re cutting service and connections are missed constantly. People are already under such stress—you need to do something so they can take a breather and make it to work. I constantly do run into people who are going in one direction who tell me that they can barely get there.
It appears that this message from riders has gotten through. While previous discussions about extending the transfer window petered out, TriMet now appears to be seriously considering the idea. Here’s what General Manager Neil McFarlane said publicly when the agency earlier this year agreed to take a second look at granting 3-hour transfers and a free return trip after 7 p.m.:
No question, riders throughout the region are experiencing longer wait times, more crowded buses and missed connections. Wherever I go in region, riders ask for more service, particularly to get access to jobs. Rightly so, transit plays a critical role in our local economy. We are committed to increasing service.
TriMet’s recent switch to automated ticket printers on buses would make the change easier. Already, the agency has implemented a two-hour transfer window that eliminates much of the uncertainty and inequity in the transit agency’s old transfer system. (Previously, bus riders officially got 1.5 hours while rail riders got two hours. But, in practice, it was really up to the discretion of bus drivers as they pulled off paper tickets. The new policy may, in fact, hurt riders who previously benefited from generous drivers who gave out three- or four-hour transfers just to be nice.)
So the math that TriMet has to do in deciding whether to extend the transfer window is threefold:
- How much money will it lose from people who previously paid twice or bought day passes and who would now be able to complete their trips within three hours?
- How many new riders might be encouraged to hop on the bus, instead of drive or walk, if they had a longer window to complete their travel?
- How much good will would it generate and how much fairness would it restore in communities hard hit by previous cuts, and how much does the agency care?
To help answer some of those questions in our next post, we’ll look at two other communities—Minneapolis and Dallas—with transit policies that allow longer windows for people to get around on single, affordable fares.
Great post! In contrast to this approach in Oregon, Metro service in the Puget Sound area sets the transfer time to when you board the bus, not when you get off. So if a transfer expires at 2 p.m. and you get on the bus at 1:55 and disembark at 2:30, you’re all good. It’s a much fairer way to go. After all, who knows how long you might be stuck in traffic somewhere or meet other delays. Besides, what driver wants to police who’s getting off when and what their transfer allows.
I’m pretty sure TriMet uses boarding time, so one shouldn’t get kicked off if their transfer was valid when boarding: http://trimet.org/fares/transfers.htm
As Jason said, TriMet does use boarding time. I assume the problem for the family described in this piece was that they boarded the bus while it was stopped at a layover and the driver chose not to count them as having ‘boarded’ until the bus started up and the trip began.
You might want to compare this policy to that of the Lane Transit District in Eugene, Oregon. It does not sell transfers. Instead, you can buy a single ride for $1.75 or an all-day pass for $3.50. It may or may not be a better deal than TriMet’s fares, but it sure is simple to understand and implement.
TriMet has an all-day fare available for $5, twice the cost of the two-hour pass described above.
AL M (@AlYourPalster)
Really excellent editorial!
Interestingly, the all day pass is pretty much a deal but A trip to the store has become expensive.
My bet is on the 3 hr pass to become approved. Especially in light of the ‘secret raises’
Transfer in the dictionary: to transfer from one bus to another.
Transfers are NOT, and NEVER WE’RE designed for you to run all your errands and then get back on the bus/train to go home. That’s what a DAY PASS IS designed for.
Should the mother with her kids been thrown off the bus? Absolutely not.
Should transfers be three hours? Yes, I believe so. If you are traveling to Clackamas from Forest Grove or dealing with Bus and/or train delays (which seem to be more often lately) then you should have time to account for that.
Was she thrown of by a Fare Inspector, Police Officer or the driver? Most drivers normally call for assistance before the “removal” of a passenger, especially fate issues. Its not their job to get tangled up in it. “Typical” Fare Inspector policy is that if your transfer expires AFTER you are onboard you are ok. I say typical because if your fare get checked at goose hollow on the Max and you got on at Pioneer square but your transfer expired an hour ago…it takes about 10 minutes to get to goose hollow from pioneer. Your fare is invalid.
If you are going to be out running errands past the time on your transfer OR you are getting back on the train/bus with mere minutes left on it, you ride AT YOUR OWN RISK, subject to a citation. Avoid the issue entirely and the potential $175 fine–buy the $5.00 day pass.
…and yes I am and I do know the subject…
1. The point is trip chaining. If you want to support not owning a car, for transit dependent as well as people with choices, the point is to facilitate mobility efficiency, not to charge necessarily for each leg.
2. But regardless of that general point, what you say a transfer isn’t for was understood to be part of getting a transfer back in the streetcar era, although then many people had weekly transit passes, and so they weren’t concerned about the cost of an individual trip so much. (Also the stories are that parents would then give their kids the weekly pass to use on the weekend, which helped introduce them to transit use as well.)
The “secret raises” story is a strawman that Joseph Rose the Oregonian’s hatchet man has been promoting in his war on TriMet.
For several years the agency balanced its budget with the help of TriMet managers living with frozen pay and benefit cuts while working extra long hours.
I admit I don’t know the details, but it seems there ought to be something she can do to avoid depending on hourly buses just to get to and from the grocery store. For instance, does the grocery store do delivery? Can non-perishables be ordered off the internet, reducing the number of trips? Or, is it possible to simply move to another apartment within walking distance of a grocery store? Or, perhaps it’s possible to carpool with a friend or neighbor every so often and stock up. A bike with racks, panniers, and/or a trailer, is yet another option.
Again, I cannot claim to know the details of her life to discern what is and is not possible, but there are so many possibilities if you think outside the box, it sure seems that something ought to work.