TriMet’s efforts to help those struggling financially connect with jobs, education and services are getting an unexpected boost, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, we have access to an unexpected financial resource: unspent funds from the state of Oregon.
Every year since 2018, TriMet has received about $12 million from the Keep Oregon Moving Act for our low-income fare program. With fewer people riding during the height of the pandemic, a portion of the funding received since 2020 remains available.
Realizing the potential of this one-time windfall, our Transit Equity, Inclusion and Community Affairs team identified opportunities to re-invest those unused funds in our Access Transit Programs. These programs provide resources to connect riders and organizations that help low income communities, to our services.
The Keep Oregon Moving Act created the state’s first-ever stable source of funding for public transportation and helped establish TriMet’s low-income fare program. Under the program, Oregonians who earn up to twice the federal poverty rate qualify to ride TriMet for no more than $28 per month, a 72% discount off the cost of Adult fare.
More than 40,000 Oregonians signed up to receive those savings since the low-income fare program began in July 2018. However, with fewer people riding during the COVID-19 pandemic, less funds set aside for the program were used. TriMet is taking advantage of the available funding to provide additional support for people struggling financially.
Over the next two years, TriMet will pilot expanded programs with the funding, which will be managed within our current Access Transit Fare Program. The new programs will provide additional resources for individuals who are low income and also part of a vulnerable rider group, such as seniors, veterans, college students and people experiencing disabilities.
About $6.3 million in redirected funding will go toward expanding access to transit during summer months for high school-aged students at the 18 school districts within our tri-county district, which also participate in our Access Transit High School Program. We will repurpose these unused STIF funds to establish a new, short-term pilot pass program to provide student transportation during the summer months, with an emphasis on removing barriers for students who are financially disadvantaged.
Currently, TriMet provides about $700,000 in annual grants to high schools in qualifying districts, to support student transportation needs during the school year. This program would provide summer passes to eligible districts, based on the number of students who receive free and reduced school meals. Participating school districts will be able to distribute their passes before the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
TriMet has been working with community partners, transit advocates and members across all of the agency’s outreach committees to ensure these programs and resources are rolled out in the most effective ways possible. Staff are currently developing budgets and operational plans for each pilot program. Public launch of the high school student summer pass program is projected by May 2022, with the additional programs coming online as soon as July. The temporary funding reallocation will have no negative impact on current low-income fare program participants.
Although these programs are short term in nature and meant to serve as pilots to help inform future approaches and efforts, TriMet staff will be working with members of the Committee for Accessible Transportation (CAT), the Transit Equity Advisory Committee (TEAC) and others to explore new and different funding strategies that could be used to sustain and grow these efforts in the future.