Sometimes, you just have to write an epistle... regular Portland Transport readers can probably tell which part I added to the "form" letter. (They might not read it, but it won't stop me from saying it!)
I am writing you with an urgent request to include strong support for public transportation options in our community, and similar communities across the country, in the forthcoming jobs bill. I was concerned to learn than the Senate jobs bill includes no such funding right now.
As you know, this horrible recession has taken a brutal toll on funding for essential services of all kinds, and people like me, who rely on public transportation, have been hit especially hard. We need more service - not less - to get to jobs in an affordable, dependable way. Yet transit agencies are being forced to cut service, eliminate jobs and put people like at risk of losing jobs we may no longer be able to get to.
In Oregon, TriMet has eliminated most of its famed "Frequent Service," reducing frequencies on many bus routes which are the only transportation option for thousands of those who live far from light rail lines, forcing low-income citizens into clunker autos that are not fuel efficient and fuel costs cut into their food budget. Some who cannot or do not drive lose all transportation altogether. TriMet has reduced service to business districts, community colleges, and social services. TriMet also made travel through Downtown Portland more difficult by eliminating internationally-known Fareless Square.
Earlier this month, TriMet announced even more severe service cuts, including reductions in light rail service, whose construction was funded through federal transportation dollars. Not only would these service cuts make transit less usable, TriMet wants to raise fares, charging riders more for less service, thereby giving the region little incentive to continue to use transit.
TriMet used its previous stimulus dollars for everything except transit revenue service–that is, putting service on the road; instead using it for non-service-related things like bus yard improvements and bike path lighting–projects which should be funded through other sources. What bus service it does provide is often provided by 20-year-old diesel-only buses from a defunct manufacturer, scarred with graffiti, and littered with garbage. TriMet should be ordered to use any dollars it receives in operating assistance for direct delivery of transit revenue service, and any capital improvement dollars for the purchase of new hybrid bus vehicles.
TriMet's unelected Board of Directors has done very little to reflect the voice or the will of the regions' citizens. Some of its members flat-out ignore the public.
Portland Community College runs its own service for its students, staff and faculty, partially due to long waits and long travel times between its campuses on service provided by TriMet. It, too, is over capacity and struggles to expand as it faces federal and state rules prohibiting it from applying for public transportation funding.
LTD in Lane County, the system serving Eugene/Springfield, is also planning a second year of massive service cuts. Cherriots of Salem/Keizer has been reduced to a joke.
You can help by insisting that the jobs bill include, first, emergency support for public transportation options. Congress helped a little in the last stimulus by allowing transit agencies to use a small share of their federal capital funds for operating expenses, but today they need access to all the resources they can get. This will save jobs - transit workers’ and those of people like me - and help keep this lifeblood of local economies healthy. But we also need to expand rail and bus service. Any jobs measure that funds infrastructure should be strongly focused on this goal. Recent studies of the previous stimulus have shown that transit projects created more jobs, faster than other infrastructure investments. A projection by the Economic Policy Institute showed that an investment of $35 billion in expanding transit and repairing roads, bridges and rail could create nearly a half million jobs in a hurry.
Please share this evidence and the voices of people in our communities with your Senate colleagues, and support public transportation with emergency assistance to keep our lifelines to work operating, and with investments to build the service we so desperately need.
If anyone else agrees with any of the things I added, please add it to what they send as well!