BUTCHER OF FARELESS SQUARE QUITS TRIMET BOARD IN PORTLAND OREGON
Bob Williams, along with another Portland, Oregon, TriMet transit agency board member, quit this week in the face of recent protests and pickets over austerity measures by this $2.5 billion transit agency -- including gutting downtown Portland's so-called free zone, 'Fareless Square.'
Bob Williams, a long time TriMet regional transit agency board member (the 'Butcher of Fareless Square'), along with another board member, quit the TriMet board this week. Williams, who for two years had pushed austerity measures, service cutbacks to regional transit, and fare hikes -- told Transit Rider Union activists that cutting Fareless Square was a great idea, and that he was the main person on the board pushing to cut the formerly free-to-riders zone. (Light rail and the streetcar are still free to riders in the fareless zone, but what had been free buses, for 35 years, in downtown Portland, was gutted in Jan. 2010 by a fare hike -- and what was free to riders in December, is now a $175 fine if you don't pay the newly-imposed fare).
TriMet is a $2.5 billion dollar transit agency, including capital projects. Transit Riders Union organizers collected 1,400 petition signatures protesting the proposed Fareless Square gutting, and organized a picket of the local, and much-hated, chamber of commerce outfit, the so-called Portland Business Alliance. PBA has been the main organization pushing gutting Fareless Square, as well as pushing the so-called sit-lie ordinance against homeless people in downtown Portland (the sit-lie ordinance was overturned by a court in 2009).
In Portland, Oregon, Transit Riders Union organizers have long pushed for having the TriMet board elected by the people. Currently, it is appointed in secret, with zero transparency, by Oregon's governor (in this case, lame duck Democratic governor, Ted Kulongoski). The TriMet board chair, however, remains in place: George Passadore, the 13-year TriMet board chair, is also ex-regional president of Wells Fargo Bank. Wells Fargo posted $6 billion in profits in the first six months of 2009.
Portland, Oregon, has a global reputation as 'a pro-ecology, pro-transit, pro-bicylce' city, but three rounds of cuts to both bus and MAX (light rail) service are proving that marketing strategy to be a false premise.
TRU organizers have talked several times, in 2009 and 2010, to the five-member ($100,000 per year salaried) Portland City Council, but the mayor (against whom a second recall is being waged in 2010) and the other four members of city council have chosen to 'stand down' instead of fight for public transit in Portland, so far. Oregon -- despite a reputaton for ecology, and liberal politics, is actually quite conservative: one of the highest rates for prison funding among the 50 states, one of two states (with Arizona--John McCain) with the shortest K-12 school years, massive unemployment (Oregon has been one of the five worst states on unemployment in the current recession), massive asuterity cuts to higher education, etc.
In California, where austerity budget cuts have also negatively affected public schools and public transit, transit activists in LA (twice) have stopped a fare hike, and forced MTA there to buy 500 buses and halt light rail funding for five years, and, in SF, activists were able to get $70 million redeployed from light rail to buses. Buses tend to serve poor communities, disabled, seniors, and communites of color -- while light rail tends to serve more afflent, Anglo, and suburban communities, per se.
Two new TriMet board members have already, in secret, been appointed by Oregon's 'liberal' Democratic governor, Ted Kulongoski. The two board members who quit (on a seven member, un-elected transit board) were both African-American; Portland just was the site of Jesse Jackson visiting town to protest the most recent shooting of a black man, unarmed, by the Portland Police. The two new, secret appointees to the TriMet board are a local black minister (prominent in protesting the shooting -- so this board member should be an activist ally for transit riders) and a Chicano vice president of a local hospital.
When the unelected TriMet board voted, 6 to 1, to gut Fareless Square (it was created 35 years ago to fight air pollution -- and Portland may be on the non-compliant list for air quality, now, under new EPA clean air guidelines under Obama!!) -- Lynn Lehrbach, with the Teamsters, voted with transit riders to keep Fareless Square and fight the cuts to 60 bus lines.
TriMet keeps building more light rail, even as it cuts light rail frequency, claiming the agency "has no money" for operations. Kind of a toy train set that sits with hardly any trains moving, basically. The newly built, one-year old WES light rail line, for example, is estimated to be losing $500,000 per month for low ridership. TriMet claims to have a current, $27,000,000 budget shortfall, and plans to address this by cuts to 60 bus lines and a five cents a ride fare hike.
Transit activists are quoting Naomi Klein (or paraphrasing her) re "transit shock doctrine" as well as citing Barbara Ehrenreich re transit riders, workers, seniors, disabled and the poor being "Nickel and Dimed" by TriMet.
Fred Hansen, TriMet's $250,000 per year General Manager, also has a part time transit consulting job in Adelaide, Australia. TriMet's former Operations Manager, Steve Banta, just quit TriMet (after only two years) to take a transit job in Phoenix, Arizona. In an exit interview with five Transit Riders Union organizers, Banta noted that Hansen has signs with his smiling face all over buses and trains in the Portland area alleging that "we want to hear from you -- your comments matter." Banta, the former Ops Mgr for TriMet, explained, laughing, that "We never said we'd listen."
address: PO Box 40011, Portland, Oregon 97240
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