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Preserve the Free Rail Zone

This petition had 44 supporters

TriMet's top management has suggested that an elimination of the Free Rail Zone would result in additional revenue of $2.7 millions per annum, and that this change would somehow bring equity to the immigrant and low-income populations now reside mostly in the East County. These fallacies are not supportable due to what TriMet conveniently omits from this argument: It does not account for the decrease of ridership within the Free Rail Zone as more people would opt for driving or bicycling instead of paying more in public transit than for parking. Furthermore, the equity argument is outright misleading and offensive, as TriMet is apparently hell-bent on squeezing more money from those who can least afford this fare increase, therefore while paying lip-service to equity and fairness TriMet is further making public transportation unaffordable and inaccessible to the low-income people.

The pattern of transit usage in the central urban core of Portland is significantly different from that of the outlying areas. In the suburbs, an average distance of a trip is much longer and TriMet is used to bring a person from point A to point B and back. In the central city of Portland, however, people generally make shorter rides with multiple destinations. Many who rely on downtown-based social services, downtown workers who shuttle themselves between their offices and other offices, workers and PSU students who ride the MAX for lunch break, all benefit from the Free Rail Zone. Lacking the Free Rail Zone, the City of Portland would be forced to provide more parking spaces, and those who rely on the free rail to meet their daily needs would either have to walk miles (the Downtown Portland is a big area) or risk $250 fines every day. Benefits of the Free Rail Zone is more than just a compliance to the Clean Air Act; it reduces needs for parking spaces and encourages cross-pollination of businesses through increased pedestrian traffic between retailers, office buildings, and public facilities. Without the existence of the Free Rail Zone, the central Portland suffers and in turn threatens the economy and employment for the whole metropolitan region.

The proposed elimination of the Free Rail Zone will not achieve the projected boost in revenue in the short-run, and will result in the loss of ridership for TriMet. Furthermore, imposing and enforcing a $2.50 fare in the central urban core of Portland is both unworkable (especially when the intervals between stops are only two to four blocks) and betraying the spirit of equity by the very nature of being regressive. One must ask TriMet how much additional funds would be allocated to enforcing the new downtown fares. Ultimately, the increased costs -- not only to TriMet but also to the Portland Police Bureau, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, and to the Oregon Judicial Department -- associated with administration of fares would make all this pursuit not worth.

Instituted in the 1970s, Portland's Free Rail Zone has been one of key features of our urban planning and public policies that made Portland uniquely sustainable and urban- and pedestrian-oriented. The Free Rail Zone brings benefits to all, not just those who live inside the zone. Downtown and Lloyd District retailers can compete well against suburban big-box chain stores thanks to free rail, without having the advantage of providing parking lots larger than their retail floor spaces. Likewise, the Free Rail Zone encourages tourists and shoppers to explore our central urban core and stop by at multiple businesses, essentially making the whole area one big shopping mall. More than simply a way to implement the Clean Air Act, the Free Rail Zone is at the core of what Portland's urban developers have always envisioned: a compact, high-density development friendly to pedestrians. The more people walk on our central city sidewalks to work, shop, and explore, the safer our city becomes and more vibrant our economy becomes. High pedestrian traffic in our urban core discourages crimes that thrive on anonymity and invisibility, which are often problems of car-oriented American downtowns.

The TriMet's plan to simultaneously increase fares to the All-Zone level ($2.50) and to eliminate the Free Rail Zone is a direct affront to Portland's values and urban development philosophy.

We therefore urge TriMet board of directors and executive management to preserve the Free Rail Zone and explore other options for funding its operation.

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