• Wikimedia

Excellent news on the transit front: Beginning in March all that change you dump into your friendly TriMet bus goes a half-hour—and untold miles—farther.

TriMet's board of directors today approved a transfer increase from 2 hours to 2.5 hours system-wide. That means a 2.5-hour window from the time you buy your ticket to the time you board the last valid bus or train.

The change is a response to a years-long fight by local advocacy group OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. The group has argued it's a necessary step, in light of TriMet increasing fares, cutting routes and, in some cases, decreasing transfer times for riders.

"When first proposed," TriMet said in a statement this morning, "it was during the great recession and at a time when the agency was cutting service and raising fares to fill budget gaps, and it was unable to pursue it."

But OPAL kept on, arguing the change was vital.

"After raising fares and eliminating the zone-system in September 2012, TriMet now has an exclusively time-based fare structure that is inherently inequitable," the organization wrote in a report last year. "A person who travels only two miles on transit must pay the same as a person who travels twenty. People living in or traveling to areas where service frequency and density are poor also get less value from a flat fare"

OPAL Executive Director Jonathan Ostar uses the example of a low-income Portlander—those same folks increasingly being pushed out to the city's farthest reaches. Bus lines in said reaches often don't come with the frequencies of more central routes, meaning that low-income Portlander, who is possibly most reliant on transit, potentially gets less service for their fare than someone living closer in.

"The longer transfer time really does help people who are transferring from a low-frequency line to a high frequency line," Ostar says. "The board recognized that we have to do something extra on the time side."

In fact, this change was expected nearly a year ago. The TriMet board took up a transfer-extension proposal last December, and passage was expected in January of this year. But the proposal diedwhen OPAL filed a civil rights complaint against TriMet with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), alleging the agency had essentially raised fares on vulnerable Portlanders by cutting some transfer times for weekend routes.

The FTA largely agreed with OPAL in June, and since then the organization has worked with TriMet to bring the transfer extensions back to the table. They'll take effect March 1.

TriMet says the change may slash revenues by $1.2 million. But the agency also acknowledges longer transfers could bring new riders to the system.

"We think that in a matter of a few years it will pay for itself," Ostar says. "For once we actually saw the board take a risk to the benefit of riders."