TriMet board members directed the agency Wednesday to proceed with a proposal for a 30 cent fare increase starting in January 2024. The agency will officially present a complete proposal to the board in April for a final vote in May following several months of public input. If passed, it would be the first time the public transit service increased standard adult fare in a decade.
“I thank the board members and the time that the staff has taken to get us to this point—it’s not what any of us like, and yet I think it is absolutely essential,” said TriMet board president Linda Simmons after the vote.
The planned fare hike comes after the agency detailed its uncertain financial future in an October meeting between board members and TriMet staff. According to TriMet’s executive director of finance Nancy Young-Oliver, fare revenue has not kept pace with the agency’s rising operating costs since 2015. TriMet has not increased its standard adult fare—$2.50 for two-and-a-half hours, or $5 for an all-day pass—since 2012. During that same time period, the annual cost of operating the TriMet system on a day-to-day basis has increased from just under $300 million to around $400 million.
During the October meeting, TriMet staff warned that the agency could experience layoffs and further cuts in service if its revenue isn’t increased.
“We’re at the point right now as an agency where we are up really almost against the wall,” Simmons said at the time.
During a board retreat Wednesday, board members were presented four scenarios: a 20 cent fare hike biannually (or, every other year) starting in September 2023, a biannual 30 cent fare increase starting in January 2024, a biannual 40 cent fare increase starting in September 2024, or no fare increase at all.
After debating the merits of applying smaller fare increases sooner or larger fare increases down the road, five of the seven board members agreed to direct TriMet to develop a plan to raise fare by 30 cents fare in January 2024. Two board members, Thomas Kim and Kathy Wai, preferred to have a 40 cent increase in September 2024, with the hope of finding other funding streams in the meantime and giving riders more time to prepare for the price increase.
If approved by the board next year, a planned 30 cent fare increase would hike fares for adult riders to $2.80 for a two-and-a-half hour bus pass and $5.60 for an all-day pass Edit: According to TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt, the 30 cent increase only applies to the two-and-a-half hour fare and it's unclear what the price of an all-day pass would be under this plan. Youth and Honored Citizen riders would pay $1.40 for two-and-a-half hours, because TriMet policy mandates that those riders pay half price of the standard adult fare.
TriMet staff estimate that a 30 cent fare increase every other year—$2.80 in January 2024, $3.10 in January 2026, $3.40 in January 2028, and so on—would delay a budget deficit until the end of 2032. The board only directed the agency to consider a 30 cent increase in January 2024, and it's unclear the impact that limited increase will have on delaying TriMet's deficit.
At the board members’ direction, TriMet staff will now start the public engagement processes required before any official changes to fare are made. Multiple board members expressed interest in the official proposal including efforts to mitigate the impact of fare increases on low-income riders. For example, the agency could decide to dedicate some of its yearly state funding towards subsidizing Honored Citizen fare to offset the planned increases.
The TriMet board will hear the full fare proposal on April 26, 2023, and vote on May 24, 2023. Opportunities to provide feedback on the fare increase plan will be announced in December.