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.)