03:18 PM PST on Saturday, February 14, 2009

By kgw.com Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. — The economic recession has hit TriMet and public transit will be cut back in order to save cash even as ridership continues to increase.

TriMet officials said service will be cut due to declining employer payroll taxes, a substantial revenue source, and despite federal stimulus funds the agency is in line to receive.

The cuts would come on top of climbing ridership figures for Portland’s mass transit system. TriMet bus and MAX ridership increased 2.4 percent last month over the year before, to 8.2 million rides. The numbers were significantly higher during rush hour transit, according to the agency, with an average increase of more than 100,000 riders per trip over January 2008.

Despite its popularity and increased usage, TriMet must cut $13.5 million, or about 5 percent of the 2009-10 budget, TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch said. That comes on top of nearly $4 million in cuts and a hiring freeze in the current budget year, which ends July 1.

More than half of TriMet’s revenue comes from employer payroll taxes and the agency was seeing less money as a consequence from Oregon’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate, officials said.

“We are not immune to what is happening in the workplace,” TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen said. “This deep recession is requiring additional reductions.”

TriMet on Friday said they would launch a three-month comment and refinement phase and take public input.

The agency said about 1 percent of weekday rides are taken on the lines; and 79 percent of those rides can be made on nearby service, according to TriMet.

Bus line proposals (from TriMet)

Ten bus lines were proposed to be eliminated: 18-Hillside, 37-Lake Grove, 41-Tacoma, 55-Hamilton, 60-Leahy Rd, 63-Washington Park, 86-Alderwood, 153-South End Loop Road, 156-Mather Road, 157-Happy Valley

Two lines proposed to be canceled due to alternative service nearby were 33-Fremont, 74-Lloyd District/Southeast

Weekend service was proposed to be eliminated on bus lines that either have low ridership and/or alternative service nearby. About 1.7 percent of weekend trips are taken on these lines, and about 58 percent of those trips can be made on alternative nearby service.

No Saturday service (weekday service remains): 1-Vermont, 10-Harold,

34-River Road, 51-Vista

No Sunday service (Saturday service remains): 17-NW 21st, 48-Cornell,

58-Canyon Rd, 67-Jenkins/158th Ave

No weekend service (weekday service remains): 39-Lewis & Clark, 43-Taylors Ferry Rd, 47-Baseline/Evergreen, 59-Walker/Park Way, 89-Tanasbourne

Proposed MAX changes:

All rush hour service remains the same except on the Yellow Line, where every train will now run with two cars, expanding capacity, and run every 15 minutes, rather than every 10-12 minutes.

Frequency of all MAX lines is extended from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes during low ridership trips in the early morning and late evening each day.

With the Green Line opening in September (I-205/Portland Mall Project), new service will be added between Clackamas Town Center and downtown Portland. Service will run every 15 minutes during higher ridership hours (7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays; mid-morning to early evening on weekends). During other hours, service will run every 30 minutes.

Many Portland Metro residents rely exclusively on TriMet for transportation. The news brought mixed reactions from riders, and most were keeping fingers crossed that their route would not be among those cut.

Lisa Doggett recently moved from Seattle and said she’d supports TriMet’s decision.

“I think the systems here in Portland are way better, so no matter if they scale it back or add to it, it’s still a way better system and easier to get around,” she said.

Others disagreed.

“I wouldn’t like it. The service in Portland is great the way it is,” said Douglas Vaughn, a TriMet rider.

TriMet officials said the agency could receive up to $60 million in federal stimulus funds dedicated to aging infrastructure, maintenance and capital projects designed to create jobs.

However, officials said the funds come with stipulations. The money could not be directly used to maintain transit operations.

TriMet planned to release specific service cuts on Friday. Also, the agency planned to hold open houses to get public input. Those forums were scheduled for Feb. 25, Feb. 26, Feb. 27 and March 3.

Proposed service cuts would not go into effect until September, officials said.

Public comments are accepted through March 31, 2009.

Email: comments@trimet.org

Comment line: 503-962-5806

Fax: 503-962-6469

Mail: TriMet-MK2, 4012 SE 17th Ave., Portland, OR 97202

TTY: 503-238-5811 (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays)

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