Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Aug. 4, 2020

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Metro considers $9 million annual proposal to provide free TriMet passes for Portland area high school students

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PORTLAND — Metro is considering financing TriMet passes for all high school students in the Portland area who don’t already have a pass provided through their schools.

Officials briefed the Metro Council on the $9 million proposal Tuesday afternoon.

The program is under consideration as part of the regional government’s broader November transportation package, which is expected to include $7 billion worth of construction projects and programs across the tri-county area.

The idea is by making transit easier for kids across the region to access, they will use the service when they are adults, reducing carbon emissions.

Metro said the first phase of the plan wouldn’t include Portland Public Schools’ high school students, who already receive passes. Rather, large districts like David Douglas and schools in Washington and Clackamas counties would be included.

Metro and community groups have been fine-tuning a list of transportation programs to include in the bond as well, setting aside roughly $50 million per year to pay for those services during the years-long planning process. Other proposals include $9 million annually to help TriMet transition from diesel buses and $9 million for construction projects to make it safer for kids to walk or bike to school.

Now all those programming discussions are starting to narrow down to specifics. The $9 million TriMet Youth Pass proposal is one of those items.

Metro hopes to phase in the program over several years so that eventually, middle and elementary school students across the region would have free transit passes, including those in Portland Public Schools who are in lower grades.

“We don’t know for sure how many youths are going to use this program and how much it is going to cost,” Margi Bradway, deputy director of planning and said Tuesday during a council work session.

But the agency hopes to extend funding for all students, perhaps by year two or three.

TriMet is currently free for children 6 and younger.

Metro Councilors showed broad support for the proposal.

Sam Chase said he wants to ensure Metro is setting aside enough money for the program.

“It’s our job to make sure that TriMet has the resources to do this,” he said.

Craig Dirksen, who represents Tigard and surrounding suburbs, said he was slightly concerned the project cost would eat away at other programs.

Metro is still narrowing its list of ways to pay for the various construction projects, including the light rail extension to Bridgeport Village and safety projects on 82nd Avenue, McLoughlin Boulevard and Tualatin Valley Highway, three of the most dangerous roads in the region.

Andy Shaw, executive director of public affairs, said the regional government is now solely considering a vehicle registration fee and a business payroll tax to help fund those projects. Of the $7 billion overall package, the regional government would have to raise $3 billion from local taxpayers, the remainder coming from federal money or other funds leveraged from state agencies.

Metro has said it needs to raise from $350 million to $450 million from various sources to make its annual debt service payments for the projects over a 20-year period.

The Metro Council is expected to make a decision on financing plans next week, and ultimately decide July 16 whether to refer the entire package to voters in November.

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