TriMet passes could be eliminated


Abani Neferkara

Passengers board the MAX light rail at Sunset Transit Center on Jan. 10. Many Lincoln students rely on TriMet to get to school, though funding for free pases could soon be cut off.

Every morning, many students roll out of bed rushing to catch TriMet, sometimes packed shoulder to shoulder with their classmates on their way to school.

Students across Portland Public Schools rely on public transportation to get to and from school. TriMet passes have been provided for free to all PPS students since 2009 by the YouthPass program – the cost is split by the city, TriMet and PPS. However, every year the provision of these passes goes under review by the city, and this year Mayor Ted Wheeler has proposed the termination of this fund.

Wheeler agreed to fund money for the passes in his proposed budget for the 2017-18 school  year, but hasn’t yet committed to funding in future years, according to The Oregonian on May 12, 2017.

The Oregonian reported that Wheeler justified his stance through his statement at a Portland City Council meeting on May 17, 2017 that “As good as this program is, and as popular as this program is, and as needed as this program is, I continue to wonder why the city of Portland is funding it at all. It is not a core service…”

The Oregon Department of Education published laws regarding transportation for students in 2012 in the “Oregon Pupil Transportation Manual” which states that “A school district is required to provide transportation… for secondary school students who reside more than 1.5 miles from the school.”

PPS elementary and middle schools are equipped with the yellow school bus system, with routes to pick up and drop off students at their homes. PPS high schools mainly rely on the TriMet system as its main transport provider.

Jon Coney, who works for the PPS Transportation office, explained that “It’s early and our budget process hasn’t gotten under way. I couldn’t speculate what may happen here other than that [at] the district, we will do whatever we can to maintain our high school students’ access to the TriMet system.”

Principal Peyton Chapman, who has experienced the YouthPass program since its inception, explains that “Every year, [the fund] gets reviewed and may be going away. It gets reviewed as a city expense vs. a PPS and family expense.”

While the city currently funds passes for PPS schools, it fails to fund other Portland school districts with higher percentages of low-income students, according to The Oregonian on May 22, 2017.

As long for the YouthPass program is still active, the Portland City Council wishes to expanded the passes to the Parkrose and David Douglas School Districts, said The Oregonian.

Adding Parkrose and David Douglas School Districts would increase the YouthPass program by 4,000 students, which already has 13,000 students from PPS.

PPS used to provide these passes for free or at reduced prices to qualifying students based on their income. The program has since expanded to providing free passes to all PPS high schoolers. This avoids the conflict of who is and isn’t eligible for a free or reduced price on their passes.

Chapman believes that the expansion of these passes from low income students to all students was a good thing, explaining that it “destigmatized it” because “it becomes a stigma for who receives the free pass” and “outs them” because of their income.

Coney agrees with Chapman, saying that “[YouthPasses are] a great program. If we recognize how valuable and how much sense this program has, I think the greater our chances are in keeping it alive.”

When Chapman was a vice-principal at Madison, the school “had to charge students for the bus passes. All students got the passes at a reduced rate, but long lines would be out the bookkeeper’s door to buy their monthly bus passes,” she said.

However, “there were kids that didn’t have money every month and it was really a hardship on them and their families,” she continued. Even at Lincoln, she explains that, “We have kids here where it would be a hardship for them and their families.”

Chapman said that “It used to be very painful to see who could pay for the bus passes and who couldn’t. [When everyone automatically gets a pass] it becomes a democratic practice that students use public transportation.”

Coney stated that if the YouthPass fund is terminated and families again have to pay for the passes, “It would be devastating for many PPS students, no one questions that.”

If the fund is terminated, it is likely that bus passes would again be sold in schools, according to Chapman.

If the fund gets terminated, junior Bridget Price stresses that “I’d have to pay to get to school, from school, and on the weekends. For cross country, I sometimes have to use my bus pass [to get] to school or to practice.”

Another likely alternative to the YouthPass program is yellow bus services, said Coney. He explained that, other than a few routes, PPS doesn’t provide yellow buses for high school students.

For example, Lincoln has routes to Forest Heights, where the TriMet system doesn’t run.

“The function [of the yellow bus system] has essentially shifted over to TriMet because they have this wonderful, efficient, built out system of light rails and buses that work very well,” Coney said.

Coney continued by saying that “To add yellow bus service on top of TriMet system would be a huge redundancy and incredibly more expensive than what it costs now. It would increase traffic congestion, decrease air quality, cause huge bus congestion issues at these high schools in the mornings and in the afternoon.”

Chapman sees the YouthPass fund from an economic point of view, albeit it differently than the mayor. She believes the city should look at this fund as “an increased investment in future ridership” and not “lost revenue that teenagers could be paying now. It’s a short term loss of revenue for a long term gain.”

“I’m 100 percent for the youth passes being free to all high school students because it builds ridership and a commitment to the environment. There’s already too many cars on the road, it’s safer and we want to support future ridership,” she said.

Chapman worries about the location of Lincoln: in the heart of downtown Portland with no parking garage. If student TriMet passes are terminated, it is expected that more cars will be on the road in a place where there’s no parking.

Chapman hopes “we don’t go backwards. We need to invest more in our young people because you all are the future, not invest less in them.”