Organizing People Activating Leaders (OPAL), an advocacy group for local low-income groups and community members of color, walked away from today's TriMet board meeting accomplished. Sort of.

Following the regularly slated items on the meeting schedule, over 40 OPAL staff, affiliates and supportive transportation users presented and testified to the board, requesting one substantial change: a fair extension of transit transfer times. OPAL supporters also supplemented this request with a rally prior to the meeting outside of the Portland building.

OPALs Crystal Wabnum and Joseph Santos-Lyons lead pre-meeting rally
  • OPAL's Crystal Wabnum and Joseph Santos-Lyons lead pre-meeting rally

Currently, TriMet passes allow holders to transfer to another bus or ride a return route one hour past the bus' "destination point" (around 1.5 to 2.5 hours). OPAL aims to extend that period to a cemented 3 hours, allowing passengers sufficient time to meet their transportation-dependent needs. Additionally, OPAL requested to extend transfer passes purchases past 7 p.m. through the end of the bus' evening service. For the past six months, OPAL has gathered a total of 6,000 petitions and spoke with a handful of transportation experts, TriMet staff members and community members to solidify their campaign.

OPAL's prepared resolution aimed to create a group that would "study and investigate the range of costs and benefits" associated with their proposal and report back to the board next month. Today's extended meeting was the result of a special request made by OPAL to the board.

"I'm really glad to see TriMet make space for us today," said Joseph Santos-Lyons, OPAL Co-Director. "This is definitely a step not only in our transfer issue, but in the board opening up to public communication."

OPAL supporter Teresa Soto de Roman testifies to the board
  • OPAL supporter Teresa Soto de Roman testifies to the board

Marisa Espinoza, an OPAL volunteer, also saw the hearing a step in the right direction. "It's about accountability. TriMet can affect different groups differently, and they need to know," she said. "Having an open dialog with TriMet is so important."

Espinoza went on to testify to the board that the truncated transfer times threaten her access to medical services, as she has a long-term illness. But, she said, Trimet didn't need to hear about it. "You don't need to know each of our stories, it's beyond that," Espinoza said. "The transfer policy just doesn't work, it's plain and simple."

Espinoza was followed by a homeless community member who couldn't afford a pass to the shelter, a Kaiser Permanente doctor backing the medical threat paired with the transfer times, and a night-shift janitor who feels her work is threatened by the transfer costs. Halfway through, a man stood up to leave, announcing "My transfer's about to expire, I better get out of here." The point was clear.

"People in your community are suffering and you can change that," OPAL's Crystal Wabnum concluded tearfully.

The board had a harder time presenting a response. Of course, money was a key issue. "If we were in a different environment financially, we would be all over this," said board president Rick Van Beveren. "If we knew that this could be economically neutral, it would help."

However, Santos-Lyons said OPAL thinks it's likely that the transfer extension will cost TriMet nothing, as it requires no new development. Also, in tandem with Trimet's recent fare increase, Santos-Lyons said that this transfer extension could boost ridership, a financial plus.

Board member Steve Clark added that this issue was more than what OPAL presented. "This conversation extends beyond the idea of 'transfer,'" he said. "This may not be enough to change our equality policy."

After a short board discussion, a measure was passed — but was not exactly what OPAL had intended for. For now, the board is prepared to meet with OPAL staff members and transportation experts to discuss the next step, but with no quick turnaround, as OPAL had hoped. We'll see how fast these "next steps" will take.