Greg Bigoni

TRIMET'S SELF-DESCRIBED "antiquated" transfer ticket system—allowing riders up to an hour to take another bus or turn around for home without paying—has never faced criticism. Until now.

Over the past year, members of Organizing People Activating Leaders (OPAL), an advocacy group for the low-income and people of color, have managed to assemble a 6,000-signature petition in hopes of pushing the transfer time to three hours and allowing any ticket purchased after 7 pm to be valid for the rest of the day.

They presented that petition to TriMet's board last month. And now, because of that effort, TriMet's board says it will at least consider the idea.

"It's not only about transfer times," says Joseph Santos-Lyons, OPAL co-director. "It's about equality. People's simple needs are not being met with the current bus system."

Santos-Lyons says changing the transfer rules may not cost TriMet a nickel because of increased ridership. But TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says that's not true: OPAL's dual request could cost as much as $1.8 million to $3.2 million.

TriMet's system is already inconsistent. The torn-off transfer pass a rider receives when boarding a bus provides just one hour of transfer time—two on the weekend. But purchase that ticket at a ticket machine, no matter when, and the transfer time is a constant two hours. For a one-way trip home or to the airport, that's probably plenty of time. But many low-income riders who rely solely on transit to run errands say they are left rushed and ultimately frustrated by the small transfer window.

That's where OPAL comes in. On September 28, the group and its supporters packed TriMet's monthly board meeting. Not only did the speakers target transfer times, but they also emphasized the idea of TriMet becoming more transparent.

"It's about accountability," said Marisa Espinoza, an OPAL volunteer. "Having an open dialogue with TriMet is so important."

Espinoza, who has a long-term illness, testified that the truncated transfer times threaten her access to medical services. "But you don't need to know each of our stories. It's beyond that," Espinoza said. "The transfer policy just doesn't work, plain and simple."

Her testimony was followed by a homeless Portlander who couldn't afford a return pass to a shelter and a night-shift janitor who felt her ability to get to work was threatened by the transfer costs.

TriMet Board President Rick Van Beveren was torn by the cry for help. "If we were in a different environment financially, we would be all over this," said Van Beveren. "If we knew that this could be economically neutral, it would help."

Despite the concerns, TriMet agreed to work with OPAL and transportation experts over the next few months to study whether an extension is financially feasible. The decision, however, left board member Steve Clark questioning whether TriMet should look even more deeply at how it promotes equity. Said Clark: "This conversation extends beyond the idea of 'transfer."