Free Rail Zone gets the ax, fare changes under new TriMet budget

Free Rail Zone gets the ax, fare changes under new TriMet budget »Play Video
Protesters gather during a TriMet board vote that eliminated services and established a flat-fare system. According to TriMet the cuts were necessary to balance its budget.

PORTLAND, Ore. – In order to help close a $12 million budget gap, the TriMet board adopted a budget Wednesday that eliminates the Free Rail Zone.

In addition to eliminating that zone on Sept. 1, the board also decided to get rid of its 30-year zone system and put into place a flat-fare one; it also cut bus service and approved layoffs.

According to TriMet, the slowness of the economic recovery, loss of some federal funding and an unresolved dispute with the union led to the cuts.

Union representatives of ATU Local 757 couldn’t be reached for comment on the budget Wednesday afternoon.

While the cuts are expected to fill the budget hole, TriMet officials say an additional $5 million may need to be cut during its 2013 fiscal year, depending on what happens with contract negotiations.

The flat-fare system will also go into effect Sept. 1 and according to TriMet, it decided on such a system because of shifting traveling patterns, citing that low-income and minority riders now live farther from the city’s core.

Under the new flat-fare system, an adult ticket will be $2.50, youths will pay $1.65 and for honored citizens a ticket will cost $1. For a day pass, adults will pay $5, youths $3.30 and honored citizens will pay $2.

Nine bus routes will be eliminated and 24 other routes will see changes to either help overcrowding or fill buses that are rarely used.

The service aspects of the budget will go into effect Sept. 2.

Protesters who showed up for the vote called the plan "economic warfare" on TriMet riders.

They said they looked through the 300-page budget themselves and saw other ways to save that would have less of an impact on riders.

“We have to keep fares as low as possible and add more value back into the system so that we can encourage people to ride more, and we all need people to ride. We all benefit when people take the bus,” said Jonathan Ostar, who opposed the cuts.

To the criticism, TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said, "We have to have a balanced budget and we've had internal cuts, we've done a lot of different things to help limit the impact to our riders. But we have some tough choices."