This fall, students, faculty and staff at Portland State who commute to campus using TriMet will be feeling the pinch of higher prices.
Thanks to a $12 million deficit to be carried over into the 2012–13 fiscal year, a slew of cuts have been made to help balance next year’s budget. These include employee layoffs and service cuts, elimination of fare zones, a new flat rate system, reconfiguration and contraction of certain lines, reduced funding to the Portland Streetcar and elimination of free rail zones—all set to take place Sept. 1, 2012.
Because roughly 45 percent of student and employee trips to campus are on public transportation, the changes will surely have an impact on many PSU students and employees, according to Ian Stude, transportation options manager at PSU.
“The elimination of the zone system, including the free rail zone, is expected to have the largest impact on PSU students and employees, since it will increase rates significantly for those who currently live in zones one and two. The route changes may also impact individuals who rely on those particular bus lines,” Stude said.
“For some, these changes could make taking the bus or light rail to PSU too inconvenient and/or expensive, leading to a change in their commute choice. Our hope is that we won’t see too many students and employees shift to commuting by car to campus, as our supply of parking is limited and our aim is to reduce those types of trips whenever possible,” Stude said.
TriMet’s current adult rate for a temporary ride stands at either $2.10 for a two-zone fare or $2.40 for an all-zone fare. This rate will increase to a flat $2.50 beginning in September and will require customers to purchase an additional ticket if they change lines, which is not currently an increase in the TriMet system. For students and faculty who require a line change on their way to and from school, this will force their transportation budget to increase.
“We are obviously concerned with the upcoming changes with TriMet and the Portland Streetcar, especially considering that over 75 percent of our faculty, staff, and students use alternative transportation to get to campus. We encourage everyone to use public transportation and we’re committed to keeping the cost to students as low as possible and in some cases free,” said Scott Gallagher, director of university communications for PSU.
Students are likely to be affected most, as their budgets are usually not as significant as those of faculty members. However, a portion of them do understand the motivation and meaning behind these changes and are dedicating themselves to learning to live with them. Still, many are frustrated.
“Unfortunately, in order to expand TriMet to all the areas that we want and need it, prices do need to be increased. As for the free rail zone, while it may be a hassle to go from PSU to Pioneer Square and have to pay, it will put an end to people who avoid paying,” said Becca Anderson, a senior and environmental science major at PSU.
“I personally think that it is a selling point for living downtown and going to PSU. The rail zone is so small to begin with, and there are enough areas around town that cost money. It is a service that I and many other people take advantage of,” said Kristina White, a junior and art history studio major at PSU.
Stude hopes that the increased TriMet fees might encourage students to seek alternate modes of transportation, including walking and bicycling to campus.
“Nearly half of PSU students live within five miles of campus, which may be close enough for more students to feel comfortable switching their commute mode to bicycling, especially if they feel that the changes in TriMet will make taking the bus or MAX too expensive or inconvenient,” Stude said.
However, despite these overall increases in price, TriMet has put measures in place to ensure that students will receive less of a financial burden during these increases. The PSU administration has been able to negotiate a better deal for their students than they were anticipating, given estimations.
“TriMet was sensitive to the fact that a large price increase to the student transit pass would be difficult for students to handle and as a result we were able to negotiate for a more gradual rate increase for the student FlexPass. We estimate that next year’s FlexPass will be $205 per term, which is a $15 increase over last year, but significantly less than our original estimate of $225,” Stude said.
“Additionally, PSU has agreed to expand its sponsorship of the Portland Streetcar, which will allow all PSU students and employees to ride the streetcar at no cost beginning Sept. 1. With the elimination of the free rail zone and the opening of the Eastside streetcar route, we hope this will ease the transition for students during this time of significant change to Portland’s public transportation systems,” Stude said.