Last week Amy said she felt crammed on the bus to work and today yes! TriMet reveals it’s true – the busses and Max have been packed with record-breaking ridership this past month.

Portlanders took 8.9 million bus and light rail rides in May, which is a 4.4% increase over last may. This is good because it means Trimet’s bringing in money to offset high fuel costs and it’s a pattern that’s being seen around the country as hitting the $4/gallon mark tips more people away from cars.

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The question is: what’s next?

Faced with $4 a gallon gas prices, a lot of public transit providers are either upping fares (as Trimet is considering) or inanely cutting back service (21 percent of rail operators and 19 percent of bus operators nationwide are decreasing service). Chris Smith, head of Portland Transport wants to see TriMet go the opposite direction – while the gas price is high, expand service. “You’d love to capture those riders while they’re in the mood to switch,” he explains. The increased revenue could defray the diesel dollars.

On June 25th the Trimet Board of Directors decides whether it’ll increase fares by 25 cents or so – if ridership remains high, could the fare increase be unnecessary?

The first thing to know: TriMet uses a lot of fuel – half a million gallons of diesel a month - so the $70/tank price tag individual drivers gripe about translates to Trimet being $4.5 million over budget this year. Ack. “Gosh it would be great if record ridership would offset the fare increase,” says Trimet communications director Mary Fetsch BUT, “half of the riders have a monthly pass, we’re seeing more people for the same money riding more often.” PLUS “the fare box only covers 20% of the cost of the ride” AND “5 cents of the increase is just the cost of inflation.”

So the fare increase: still looming. Expanding service given a budget deficit: not likely.

posted by: Sarah Mirk