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Two TriMet board members said that the transit agency is beginning to study the possibility of eliminating transit fares at a Wednesday board meeting. Though no concrete plans were discussed, the comments mark a turning point for TriMet leadership, whose public position until now has been staunchly in opposition to a fareless system.

The possibility of a fareless TriMet is part of a new campaign launched this summer by OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, a local transportation activist organization. OPAL's research and advocacy has influenced other TriMet policies in the past, including the agency's adoption of a low-income fare option in 2018. OPAL held a rally before TriMet's board meeting Wednesday calling for a moratorium on fare hikes, and many OPAL members urged TriMet to consider a fareless system during the meeting's public comment period—which proceeded the board's discussion.

The issue was initially brought up by Travis Stovall, a board member who also sits on TriMet's finance and audit committee. While giving an update on the committee's work, Stovall said that a recent committee meeting had "included a brief review of a fareless system.”

"The finance and audit committee did get a review of what a fareless system would look like and feel like, and the numbers associated with it," Stovall said. "As an agency, we are looking at these things.”

After Stovall finished his presentation, fellow board member Kathy Wai thanked him for mentioning fareless transit.

"I think the public needs to understand that as an agency, we are exploring what [a fareless system] could look like," Wai said. "These conversations are happening at a high level. … I think we are further along in 2019 on the conversation about the funding, what that could look like, and what those mechanisms could be."

Wai's and Stovall's comments clash with other statements made by TriMet leadership this year. In February, General Manager Doug Kelsey told Willamette Week that "I don't share [the belief] that the transit should be free." In June, TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt told the Mercury that the agency wasn't considering fareless transit as an option. She said that for such a system to work, “you’d have to cut way back on service.”

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Yet the issue has gained support from some local politicians. Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone included fareless transit for Portland residents as part of her campaign platform, and Rep. Diego Hernandez has been advocating publicly for fareless transit since 2018.

It isn't clear what the TriMet board's next move will be on fareless transit. But for OPAL organizers, the remarks at Wednesday's meeting were a step in the right direction.

"Let's keep up the pressure," the organization tweeted. "It's working!"