A handful of activists from a nascent public transit riders' union turned out to protest TriMet's plans to nix free buses from Fareless Square and to reduce the frequency of "frequent service" bus lines at a public forum on the cuts last Monday.
"It's going to make it harder for working class people to get to their jobs," said protester Jordan McIntyre, outside the meeting held Monday evening at the Portland Building. "They should look into what the leadership of TriMet makes every year." TriMet Executive Director Fred Hansen is paid $250,365 a year and TriMet is currently cutting its budget to bridge a $31 million shortfall.
The loose riders' union formed back in February when TriMet held public forums on its plan to cut five bus lines. "The public forum was a bunch of TriMet suits telling people that cuts were inevitable. We decided what we need is a grassroots group that will defend riders' interests," explained another union member, Tim Koch. One of the big changes recommended by the union is that TriMet board members should be elected, not appointed by the governor. Only one board member, Richard Van Beveren, showed up to Monday's open forum. Koch says that shows a lack of accountability to the public.
Staff wages have already taken a hit to cover the budget cuts, says TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch. TriMet froze staff salaries for this year and forced all top executives to take a two-week unpaid furlough. Those cuts, combined with federal stimulus funds TriMet snagged to cover infrastructure repairs, mean that service cuts will only have to plug $13.5 million of the budget hole. But still, since TriMet had the highest number of trips ever in its history this past fiscal year (101.9 million trips, according to Fetsch), this would be the ideal time for the state and city to invest in expanding public transit service rather than reducing it.