On board TriMet in the year ahead: Keeping customers and employees safe, movement toward new and better transit service and greener operations

by

TriMet’s FY 2022 proposed budget includes $607.1 million for operations, $301.2 million for capital improvements, with no adult fare increase for ninth straight year

TriMet’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, starting July 1, 2021, focuses on recovering from the unprecedented global pandemic, while keeping customers and employees safe. With a proposed day-to-day operating budget of $607.1 million, among our efforts, we plan to:

  • Restore fixed-route service gradually as riders return
  • Continue supplying riders and staff with masks and hand sanitizer
  • Maintain high-level cleaning and sanitizing of buses and trains
  • Sustain our fare equity efforts through the Low-Income Fare Program and fare assistance for high school students, as well as other programs funded through Keep Oregon Moving (HB2017)

In addition to the more than $607.1 million budgeted for TriMet operations, we plan to dedicate another $301.2 million for capital improvements, some of which will upgrade and replace MAX track equipment and others to improve our transit service in the future. Taking into account debt service, pass through funds that TriMet provides other governmental agencies, fund balances and contingency, TriMet’s overall proposed budget, which runs July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, totals just over $1.64 billion.

What TriMet’s proposed budget does not include is an increase in the single adult fare for the ninth year in a row.

Overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic

As the region recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, TriMet knows that riders will return to transit, just as they will to other parts of society. While our ridership dropped by about 60% due to the pandemic, TriMet buses and trains kept rolling. With safety precautions in place, including a mask requirement, providing masks and hand sanitizer on board, and limiting capacity so people could spread out we continued providing critical transit service to the essential workers who kept our region going and to those needing essential services to survive. Our FY 2022 budget provides nearly $58 million more than we estimate spending in our current year budget and sets TriMet, the region and our riders up for a return to pre-pandemic outlooks.

“As vaccines rollout, people return to daily activities they enjoyed before the pandemic and jobs return, TriMet will be ready and able to restore service and get people moving as our region recovers,” said TriMet interim General Manager Sam Desue. “TriMet’s staff – especially our operators, frontline staff and mission critical workers – have shown tremendous heart and dedication during the pandemic and that has put the agency in a strong position for the future.”

Despite a drop in fare revenue and payroll tax revenue – TriMet’s two biggest sources for operating revenue – TriMet has been able to avoid layoffs due to the pandemic. That’s in large part due to budget-cutting efforts and federal stimulus funds. TriMet received just under $185 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding during the past year. We expect to receive approximately $195 million in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) funding. The funding has, and will be, used to respond to and recover from the pandemic. That includes providing free masks and hand sanitizer on board as well as our high-level of consistent cleaning and sanitizing, which will continue through at least the coming year. While the federal stimulus packages have been critical for TriMet and transit agencies across the nation, those are one-time funds. With Oregon’s economic recovery expected to take several years, TriMet anticipates revenue impacts from the pandemic for years to come.  

Restoring service

TriMet plans to restore more service in the coming year, however, it may take several years for ridership to fully recovery and service levels to reach pre-pandemic levels. Currently, our service is about 90% of what it was before COVID-19, after temporarily reducing service across the board about 20% in April 2020, to preserve safety and service throughout the region.

Building for the future

TriMet is full speed ahead on some projects that will improve transit and move people when and where they need to go. Among the projects funded in the proposed budget:

Division Transit Project

Division Transit Project – SE 174th & Division

The Division Transit Project, which brought more than $87 million in federal funds to the region, will create a new type of high capacity bus service to move people faster and more efficiently between Gresham and Downtown Portland. Raimore Construction, which was awarded Oregon’s largest-ever contract to a disadvantaged business enterprise with this project, has been moving the project forward during the pandemic. Service is on track to begin in fall 2022. Already some of the safety improvements the project will bring to Division Street are benefiting all road users.

The project is expected to create more than 1,400 jobs, including 650 construction jobs and more than 780 indirect and induced jobs. It also is projected to bring more than $137.7 million in economic value to the corridor.

Better Red

Not only will the Division Transit Project continue to drive job growth, but so too will TriMet’s Better Red project that is expected to kick off in the last half of 2021. Momentum for the project built in 2020 as the federal government moved to support extending and improving the MAX Red Line. We hope to receive $100 million of the over $210 million projected cost of the project from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The project is expected to create up to 1,200 jobs for the region and improve reliability throughout the MAX system.

MAX Improvement projects

The coming year will see several projects to improve the reliability of the MAX system and make for a smoother ride. The work will include replacing sections of track and switch machines that direct trains from one set of rails to another. TriMet also will continue work with our partners on smaller roadway changes that have a big benefit – speeding up our buses around traffic congestion.

Next generation of MAX trains

The proposed budget includes funds for the continued design work and initial manufacturing on our next generation of light rail vehicles. We plan to replace our oldest trains, the ones with stairs at the doors that have been providing service since 1986, with new vehicles beginning to roll out as early as 2022. Funding is also included to continue the major overhaul of our older light rail vehicles.

Moving ahead on greener operations

TriMet has committed to fully transition to a clean energy, zero emissions bus fleet by 2040. In the coming budget, we will dedicate funding for the purchase and implementation of electrification charging infrastructure at bus facilities. This as we begin testing on five new battery-electric buses manufactured by GILLIG.

Reimagining public safety

After cutting six Transit Police positions and reallocating $1.8 million from police contracts and other sources in July 2020, TriMet conducted an extensive community engagement effort we called ‘reimagining public safety on transit.’ In the coming year, we will move forward on 25 actions steps, across five focus areas, adapted from recommendations of a Transit Public Safety Advisory Committee. The committee, made up of regional thought leaders, community representatives and national transit experts, analyzed community feedback, which included more than 12,500 responses to our online survey and feedback from 42 community organizations, as well as security challenges facing the region to develop its recommendations.

Among the new efforts, TriMet is working with community and jurisdictional partners to develop a new Crisis Team pilot model, with members trained to address mental and behavioral health and other quality of life issues. While Transit Police, continuing to serve under a community-based policing model, will still be part of our security, we understand not all situations call for a police response. We’ve also added more shifts where TriMet staff spend more time on the system, helping and supporting our riders.

Continue providing affordable fares

TriMet will continue to provide reduced fares to those riders who need them. Our Low-Income Fare Program, first launched in 2019 with dedicated funding through Keep Oregon Moving, has provided some 33,400 Oregonians with TriMet’s Honored Citizen reduced fare. With Hop Fastpass® and the ability to earn a pass as you ride, Honored Citizen fare payers receive unlimited rides for just $28 a calendar month, a 72% discount from the standard Adult Fare. Riders on a low income have saved nearly $8.7 million since the program launched.

TriMet’s Access Transit programs, which provide nonprofits an opportunity to purchase fares at a discount for riders who are disadvantaged and provide free fare grants to community-based organizations through the Fare Relief Program, will continue with up to $1.5 million in fares distributed throughout the community.  

Next steps

The proposed budget for our fiscal year 2022 was released to the TriMet Board of Directors on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. A formal Budget Committee hearing will be held on Wednesday, March 24 to approve the proposed budget. TriMet will then submit the approved budget to the Tax Supervising & Conservation Commission (TSCC) in advance of the TSCC Public Hearing on April 28. The TriMet Board of Directors will consider adoption of the budget on Wednesday, May 26. If adopted, the new budget takes effect on July 1, 2021, and runs through June 30, 2022.

Share your thoughts

View the proposed budget at trimet.org/budget and provide feedback through April 9. Submit comments at support.trimet.org or by calling 503-238-RIDE (7433) or TTY 7-1-1
Or, provide public comment at the TriMet Board of Directors next meeting at 9:00 a.m., Wednesday, Mar. 25. The meeting will be virtual due to COVID-19 precautions. Find details at trimet.org/meetings/board.