The public comment period opens today on TriMet's plan to end free bus rides in Fareless Square. To close a $3.5 million budget gap (caused by a combination of high gas prices and plunging payroll tax income) TriMet's plan is to keep only MAX and streetcar fareless downtown and also reduce the frequency of some bus lines by two-four minutes. A study last year revealed that Fareless Square cost TriMet between $2.72 and $3.26 million.

"Since 4 MAX lines will serve Fareless Square when the MAX Green Line opens in September, most trips within fareless could easily be taken on rail," writes TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch.

The reduced bus frequency and cut lines should raise eyebrows, though, because demand for public transportation is at record highs thanks to the recession. While Portland cuts bus lines along other towns all over the country, some cities like Chicago are recognizing the strong need for public transit and are working to increase both use and funding. But despite huge public transit ridership recently, the Oregon legislature has not made public transit funding a big priority. The major state transportation package that sets the budget for the next two years includes about $900 million for road-building projects but only asks for the allocation of $24 million to split between bikes, ped and transit projects. Also, the legislature is allowing TriMet to increase the local payroll tax to bring in revenue... but only after the economy improves. In the depths of the recession, TriMet is left in the lurch.

Also! The state has given public transit only a sliver of federal stimulus dollars marked for transportation projects. According to a draft of a report that Smart Growth America plans to release next week, Oregon funneled 67 percent of its federal stimulus money into road maintenance and new road projects and put only nine percent toward transit.

Submit public comment here on the plan.