TriMet’s efforts to help people in financial difficulty connect to 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.
Each year since 2018, TriMet has received approximately $12 million from the Keep Oregon Moving Act for our low-income rate program. With fewer people driving at the height of the pandemic, some of the funding received since 2020 remains available.
Realizing the potential of this unique windfall, our Transit Equity, Inclusion and Community Affairs team has identified opportunities to reinvest these unused funds into our transit access programs. These programs provide resources to connect consumers and organizations that help low-income communities to our services.
The Keep Oregon Moving Act created the state’s first-ever source of stable 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 can travel by TriMet for up to $28 per month, a 72% discount on the cost of the adult fare. .
More than 40,000 Oregonians have signed up to receive these savings since the low-income fare program began in July 2018. However, with fewer people driving during the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer funds set aside for the program have been used. TriMet is taking advantage of available funding to provide additional support for people in financial difficulty.
Over the next two years, TriMet will pilot expanded programs with funding, which will be administered under our current Access Transit Fare program. The new programs will provide additional resources for people with low incomes and also part of a group of vulnerable cyclists, such as seniors, veterans, students and people with disabilities.
Approximately $6.3 million in redirected funds will be used to expand access to public transit during the summer months for high school students in the 18 school districts in our tri-county district, which also participate in our Access program Transit High School. We will reallocate these unused funds from STIF towards the establishment of a new short-term pilot pass program to provide transportation for students during the summer months, with a focus on removing barriers for financially disadvantaged students.
Currently, TriMet provides approximately $700,000 in annual grants to high schools in eligible districts to meet 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-price school meals. Participating school districts will be able to distribute their passes before the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
TriMet has worked with community partners, transit advocates, and members of all agency outreach committees to ensure these programs and resources are deployed in the most effective way possible. Staff are currently developing budgets and operational plans for each pilot program. The public launch of the high school summer pass program is expected by May 2022, with additional programs going live as early as July. The temporary reallocation of funds will not negatively impact existing low-income rate program participants.
While these programs are short-lived and intended to serve as pilots to help inform future approaches and efforts, TriMet staff will work with members of the Committee for Accessible Transportation (CAT), the Equity Advisory Committee (TEAC) and others to explore new and different funding strategies that could be used to support and expand these efforts in the future.