By Shawn Fleek

Bus Riders Unite (BRU), Portland’s transit-riders’ union, launched a campaign for a low-income fare on March 18. As rents skyrocket, many people who depend on transit are priced out of neighborhoods with quality transit access. We think it’s time to give low-income bus riders some relief.

TriMet’s new electronic fare card launching in 2017 is the perfect opportunity to build a low-income fare into our transit system, but many E-Fare policies are harmful to riders.

To use E-fare, “I must walk eleven blocks to the nearest store from where I live,” said BRU member Lucia Llanos during the campaign launch. Riders who only use cash must load E-fare cards at retail stores – but not every store. Many bus stops are inconveniently far from stores in TriMet’s network. Families, seniors, and people with disabilities must walk many blocks just to get bus fare.

Another issue is initial expense, minimum charges, and a “one card per person” policy. Another BRU member explained, “We would need to buy a card that cost $3 and load it with a minimum of $5 per card. My first trip will be $8. Then I will need 3 cards for me my daughters and then load them with fare. This will cost me a minimum of $24.”

Thanks to pushback from BRU, TriMet has acknowledged this issue and promised to distribute free cards when Hop is introduced, but BRU’s Nicole Phillips points out, “In distributing these free cards, TriMet is acknowledging that the system won’t be accessible for everyone who uses public transit. So that’s why we demand a low-income fare!”

BRU organizes low-income people and people of color to plan and win campaigns. We demanded extended transfer times for four years, and won in 2015. We intervened to ensure TriMet continues accepting cash, which they intended to eliminate early in E-fare planning. Now, we demand a low-income fare, expanded retail network, and multi-rider E-fare cards.

We can win, but we need our communities to get involved. Bus Riders Unite meets weekly to organize, plan actions, and advance campaigns. Low-income people and people of color are highly encouraged to join us. If you are a bus rider, if you know a bus rider, if you support bus riders – join our winning team in the struggle for transportation justice. Join Bus Riders Unite.

Upcoming organizing meetings are on the calendar at opalpdx.org

Allison Giffin is the former elected chair of the Bus Riders Unite Action Planning Team