Proposal to extend transfer time by 30 minutes on hold following complaint filed by OPAL

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The TriMet board of directors tabled a scheduled vote set for today that if approved, would have extended the transfer time from two hours to 2.5 hours for all bus and train trips. The board took this action following a federal Title VI complaint filed by the community advocacy group OPAL and the Center for Intercultural Organizing. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities which receive federal financial assistance.

The Title VI administrative complaint filed with the Federal Transit Administration claims that TriMet failed to conduct a transit equity analysis before the agency standardized all transfer times with the installation of ticket printers on buses. The printer gives riders a two-hour ticket, just like for the MAX and WES system. Under the old transfer system,  bus operators manually adjusted the cutter bar to accommodate the progression of time during the day, resulting in inconsistent transfer times.

The complaint claims that the two hour transfer was in effect a fare increase and that TriMet should have conducted a transit equity analysis on the impact to riders before launching the bus printer program. The FTA requires a transit equity analysis when there is a fare change, but that may not apply to a transfer time change. If the board had approved the 2.5 hour transfer today, it might still require a transit equity analysis if the FTA decides that a change in transfer time is in effect a fare change.

The complaint process
TriMet has not received the formal complaint from the FTA. The FTA could dismiss the complaint outright or the process could take anywhere from two to six months to conclusion. The TriMet board tabled the second reading of the ordinance to extend transfer times while this complaint is pending and will await further guidance from the FTA.

Background
TriMet conducted extensive public outreach and a transit equity analysis related to the service cuts and fare increases implemented in September 2012 that also included the elimination of the zoned system. The change equalized the fare increase, as more low-income and transit dependent riders live further out in the community, while more affluent, non-minority riders live in the inner city and benefitted from lower fares. The change also matched transfer times for MAX and WES. With the July 2013 installation of ticket printers on all buses, all tickets became valid for two-hours or all-day. For the first time in the agency’s history, bus tickets showed the exact time the ticket is valid, rather than under the old transfer system that was inaccurate as operators manually adjusted the cutter bar, resulting in inconsistent transfer times.

In September 2012 TriMet implemented a fare mitigation program to help low-income and transit dependent riders offset the fare changes. TriMet set aside $1.3 million for the program, which is in addition to existing reduced fares for seniors, youth and people with disabilities. In May 2013 TriMet also created a Transit Equity Advisory Committee that reports to the agency’s general manager and the board of directors