Mayor Adams to TriMet: No, really, you're not giving up on youth passes.

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

In a brilliant stroke, Mayor Sam Adams is forcing TriMet to keep its commitment to free youth passes for Portland high school students.

After TriMet bailed out of the commitment, he proposed raising the fees the city charges TriMet to place bus benches and shelters on city property (from $0-25 each to $1650 each). The new fee would total $2 million -- which he'd spend by giving it all right back to TriMet for youth passes.

In other words, if they won't negotiate in good faith on youth passes - he'll force the issue. Sure, it's a power play, but it's the right one. (Brad Schmidt at the O has more on the story.)

For years, I've believed that TriMet should just allow any young person under age 18 free access to buses and light rail. After all, what better way is there to produce the next generation of transit riders? Riding the bus can be confusing for newbie riders - so adolescence is exactly the right time to get folks accustomed to it.

I've never understood why TriMet doesn't just do it. Since the buses and trains will run anyway, the marginal cost approaches zero (and would be even lower if they dropped the idea of "passes" and just let the kids on the bus.) One could argue that when buses are full, those additional youth riders force TriMet to add capacity. Maybe. But that's a minor effect, and one that's clearly trumped by creating new riders for the future.

Bravo, Mayor Adams. Bravo.

Update, 1:23 p.m. In an emailed statement, Mayor Sam Adams also noted that the marginal cost of these youth riders is effectively zero:

In fact, TriMet’s own analysis shows that YouthPass does not actually add to the transit agency’s costs. No new busses, MAX trips, additional routes or drivers are needed to accommodate YouthPass riders.

Here's another way to look at it: By eliminating all of these young people from the Youth Pass program, TriMet won't save any money. All those same buses and trains still have to run. (In fact, it might even reduce income - since the cost of a family riding together suddenly goes up, shifting the equation in favor of the car in some cases.)

Comments

  • (Show?)

    If I were Crime-Met I would tell The Mayor Watch This "power"play... I would remove all shelters and benches...

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      We agree! There is a proposal on the table for all Portland school districts to have a YouthPass program that utilizes TriMet's existing level of service. The proposal is the same as PPS' arrangement: In short, obtain a waiver for the Department of Education to not have a Yellow Bus system; Redirect to TriMet all of the funds from the yellow bus program.

      To date, Superintendents in districts like David Douglas have noted that continuing their yellow bus program is preferable.

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        Wouldn't continuing yellow bus programs in every district be preferable? It seems that because PPS decided not to provide that service for their students, they are rewarded with a youth pass. Let's hope we can make sure this program is equitable and fair.

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        Note for readers: Amy is the Mayor's deputy chief of staff.

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        Trimet opted into serving the area west of 82nd much better than the area East of 82nd.

        To get a waiver from the Board of Education you have to make the case that you can. ORS 327-043 clearly says "A district must present to the board a plan providing or identifying suitable and sufficient alternate modes of transporting secondary school students"

        Look at the routes. How is a David Douglas high school student going to get to campus? The routes are East-West and David Douglas is a North-South district. The case can not be made with existing Trimet routes.

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          And let's not forget kids without the youth pass only have yellow bus service to and from school, while PPS kids have free trimet service all hours of the day. Yellow bus doesn't take you to an after school job or volunteer activity.

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        A good reason for the Mayor to fight for more buses and less light-rail/streetcars. As PPS will continue to close more high schools (and they will) more students are going to have to travel farther from their homes. MAX is just not a realistic way to get more students around the city.

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      Nobody is fighting over $2 million.

      TriMet would pay $2 million and then get it right back.

      I can appreciate that from a bureaucratic view, the way TriMet calculates cost-per-rider is to total up the entire cost of the system, and then divide by the total number of riders.

      But if all these riders go away, they don't save any money. The marginal cost of these kids approaches zero.

      Just let the kids ride the bus.

      • (Show?)

        Kari,

        You must be kidding. A substantial number of those student riders would buy student passes, as they did prior to the YouthPass, so there is most certainly a fiscal impact of providing the program. The cost is the money lost by them not purchasing the passes. As a kid, I rode the #8 to school from 6th-12th grade, and the bus was packed with students who bought student passes. TriMet's proposal reverts to this previous revenue model rather than lose the money it was previously getting for the YouthPass. Pretty straightforward.

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          OK, fair point.

          So, the loss is the revenue from a small number of students who can afford passes, while abandoning all the other students - those whose families can't or won't afford them, and all those for whom the cost of a pass or a single bus fare is an economic or emotional barrier.

          TriMet itself says that there's no cost to the program.

          Just let the kids on the bus.

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            Is YouthPass eligibility tied to income? If not, consider that only about 46% of PPS high school students qualify for free or reduced lunch. If a kid's household income is such that we don't help them get food, why do we need to help them get transit?

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        I am sure TriMet is counting on many students paying for bus passes, therefore increasing their revenue. So, while I agree that comping the kids is a good idea, it is not without cost to TriMet.

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    It strikes me as a dumb move. Tri-Met could easily counter by canceling its entire $6 million annual subsidy to the Portland Streetcar, and no long honor Streetcar tickets as transfers.

    Tri-Met has a LOT more leverage here than the City does. Portland could easily come out on the bad end of this fight.

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      I am not sure I agree. Doesn't the City have to agree on bus stop locations, and wouldn't the ill will incurred by TriMet if they didn't work with the City regarding the Streetcar be significant? Besides, the underlying idea is for all the jurisdictions to coordinate and step forward to provide the best combinations of public services they can with our taxpayer resources.
      Helping our youth get to and from school and activities as well as become transit users seems like an admirable mutual effort. The City very much wants it for all Portland youth, but the issue is complex, expensive and TriMet really is nervous about that possibility!

  • (Show?)

    Three cheers for the mayor for his symbolic move:

    HIP HIP HOORAY!

    HIP HIP HOORAY!

    HIP HIP HOORAY!

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    TriMet's idea that it "costs" it to let high-schoolers ride for free is silly. First, the buses are running regardless. And second, how many students would be buying passes? It's the same idea as ending fareless square downtown. I haven't set foot on a bus downtown since they did it, and so at least for this one periodic rider, ending fareless square ended up netting no additional revenue for TriMet.

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    And on the same day that we learn of $1M on new furniture for TriMet.

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      Rather than trying to further squeeze TriMet...

      There is no squeezing going on. TriMet would pay $2 million and then receive $2 million. Zero net.

      And there is zero cost to letting the kids ride the bus.

      This is a policy decision. Not a funding decision.

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        If it is true that permitting PPS kids to ride the bus won't require extra service, I would say that TriMet should go ahead and do it.

        The morning rush, though, could be problematic--as kids are trying to get to school at the same time as commuters are trying to get to work, and busses are frequently overcrowded at that time. The afternoon rush is less of a problem, as children leave school a couple hours before the peak commute hours.

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        FWIW, this is not what I've been told by TriMet officials, though it's been a verbal claim that TriMet puts extra buses on the road during school commute hours. I haven't read the report Adams cites in his email to you, though I'd like to.

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        Just to clarify the math a bit: If Tri-Met pays the City $2 million in fees and gives away $2 million worth of bus passes, it is out $4 million. If it gets $2 million back it's still out $2 million. You might argue that the passes don't cost Tri-Met anything, but Tri-Met doesn't see it that way. Otherwise they wouldn't be cutting the program to save money. And yes, I know many people think Tri-Met is poorly run and makes poor decisions. I won't argue that point. I don't see the Mayor's move as brilliant. It doesn't create long-term solutions. It simply makes the point that he supports education. We get it. We all support education. But how is this progressive politics? How does it create ongoing solutions? It isn't progressive, it's just scrappy,and it doesn't create solutions. That simply makes it an entertaining wrestling match between two dysfunctional agencies that won't have any meaningful long-term results.

        • (Show?)

          Your math is off.

          Under the mayor's proposal, TriMet pays $2m in fees, and then gets the same $2m back to pay for youth passes. Net zero.

          Under the old system, TriMet gave away the passes, which cost them $2m on the books, even though canceling the program saves them nothing.

          It's all about marginal cost. One more passenger doesn't cost TriMet anything. But the first passenger costs tens of millions.

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    I don't think the Mayor should be commended for this, and it makes a bad situation worse. TriMet is not the enemy.

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    I don't agree with the move.

    The Mayor has a habit of creating roundabout, indirect funding schemes. Bike infrastructure paid for with sewer dollars, David Douglas school needs paid for with urban renewal funds, and coming in November, Portland Public School arts and music teachers paid for with a citywide tax.

    I don't think any of these moves have enhanced public trust in city government. It feels like a constant shell game, trying to see how our tax dollars are being used. I'm encouraged that both candidate for Mayor have rejected this funding model.

    I agree with Scott: if students need transportation, then fund it though school resources. Don't channel it through the CoP.

    BTW, though my two high-schoolers have both graduated, the youth pass program is cheaper than the yellow bus because it's essentially useless for many students. Because of the lack of N-S bus routes except for the #75, it would take 30-45 minutes for my kids to take the bus to school, while driving them takes 7 minutes.

    The YouthPass program is a nice benefit, but I'd want to see some numbers about actual usage before I believe the claims that this is vital to education in the city. I've searched in vain for the past 10 minutes for ridership numbers.

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        Evan, the meme wouldn't be a meme if it were not so widely believed. The infrastructure I am specifically referring to is the 'green streets' which, as your link demonstrates, was first "misleadingly" (your word) linked to bikes.

        I think indirect funding schemes are in general a bad idea. You are right, we need to be creative. But let's try to be honest and direct first, something that I've found lacking over the past few years.

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      BTW, though my two high-schoolers have both graduated, the youth pass program is cheaper than the yellow bus because it's essentially useless for many students. Because of the lack of N-S bus routes except for the #75, it would take 30-45 minutes for my kids to take the bus to school, while driving them takes 7 minutes.

      Granted this is getting a bit tangential, but so? My bus ride in middle and high school was longer than that, and it was a yellow bus. I don't see how a 30-45 min trip is "useless" when the students get transportation to school every day.

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        Nick, we could start a back and forth about how far we each trudged to school in the snow? And I assume that was a door to door (or block to block) service, right?

        We are physically located 2.3 miles from Cleveland. Would any of us here opt for a 30 minute travel (of which 20 minutes is walking) or 55 minute travel with two transfers, when driving in a car takes 7 minutes. Would we really subject our children to this? Be honest, now.

        Anyone who has driven by 26th and Powell every morning knows the answer. There may be great reasons to have free rides for high schoolers, but my own experience in one high school over eight years, as narrow and non-generalizable as it may be, is that very few take the bus to school. It's too slow, too infrequent, with stops too far from most of their homes.

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          Kids are lazy and spoiled, then. A 2.3 mile commute is a half-hour walk or 10 minute bike ride, which most kids could really use, given the propensity toward obesity mmon these days.

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    I think there's a fact being overlooked by TriMet's defenders.

    TriMet agreed to a quid pro quo: Portland would give up the free rail zone, and TriMet would continue the youth pass program.

    TriMet took the quid by killing the zone, but then, by eliminating the passes, refused to pony up the quo. They didn't hold up their end of the bargain.

    That's just dishonest. Mayor Adams is doing the right thing by trying to bring TriMet back to its agreement. He would rightly be branded a fool if he stood aside and let TriMet take advantage.

  • (Show?)

    Sam's move is symbolic! Am I the only one that understands that?

    He's calling them out, they lied to him, and they have lied to others!

    Obviously this isn't going anywhere!

    Sheesh....

  • (Show?)

    Looks like he's lost Portland Afoot (http://portlandafoot.org/2012/06/mayor-adams-goes-to-the-line-for-youthpass/) and Portland Transport (http://portlandtransport.com/archives/2012/06/city_of_portlan_1.html).

    This one is going down in flames.

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