AT NE SANDY and 162nd, the bus stop for the #12 line is just a pole stuck in the mud, sandwiched between the busy road and a ditch.

TriMet announced last week that it will place a $125 million tax measure on the November ballot to fix this bus stop, along with 300 others. It also wants new buses to improve the system for the elderly and disabled.

But for critics, the notion that TriMet is begging for basic bus improvements is ironic: the public transit agency has poured hundreds of millions into its light-rail projects over the past decade, all while cutting bus service.

John Ostar, co-director of local environmental justice group Organizing People Activating Leaders (OPAL), squints in the hot sun as he points out the problems with a bus stop on SE 92nd and Foster. Just yards away is the spinning, solar-powered public art at the new Green Line Lents Town Center stop. But at the stop for the #14, #10, and #71 bus lines, there's no bench, shelter, trashcan, or schedule.

"We feel that bus riders are under attack," says Ostar. OPAL supports the tax measure, but hopes TriMet will keep an eye on equity. "Buses are the backbone of the system, particularly for low-income communities."

Since 1998, TriMet has cut bus service by 3,940 hours and 16 lines. Light-rail service has doubled, with three new lines now open.

"What we're doing is building the system. You need buses, you need trains," responds TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch, who says that TriMet has planned to buy new buses since 1997, but economic conditions were never right. Though light rail is expensive to build, the feds have covered 60 percent of the recent projects.

The proposed TriMet measure is a property tax, which would collect about $25 a year on a $300,000 home and would re-approve a $125 million, 20-year regional tax approved in 1990.

TriMet would use most of the cash to replace aging buses, spending about $87.5 million to scrap at least 150 19-year-old buses. That would save TriMet a bundle—buses more than 15 years old cost $30,000 a year more to maintain than new ones.

But because of the nature of the bond, TriMet could not use the money to restore lost service, only to fix stops and purchase new buses.

Meanwhile, two more bus lines will be cut and a new five-cent fare hike takes effect September 1. OPAL will celebrate with a 5 pm protest at Portland City Hall.