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Brian Flores
Dr. Evan Farr
FRINQ Portland (UNST 108I-001)
20 February 2016
Portland and TriMet: A Transportation System Affecting Economic Outcomes
“Red Line to City Center and Portland Airport” is the mandatory
announcement one train makes to distinguish itself from other trains heading
in the same direction. Outgoing riders walk and scatter away from the train
stop while incoming passengers cluster together to compete for open seats.
Most trains and buses near Portland are densely packed every morning and
evening, especially during political or sporting events. Citizens of Portland
today cannot imagine where Portland would be without TriMet’s long-lasting
transportation system. Traffic would be much more congested if there were
no dedicated lanes for light rail transit or buses to take people in and out of
Portland for employment. Businesses may not thrive from a lack of a public
transit system that can provide a dense influx of potential customers. The
City of Portland could lag in economic growth if TriMet did not exist to
encourage people around Oregon and the United States to invest their time
and money into Portland’s housing complexes and businesses with a large
consumer market and reliable transportation. Based on history and current
events, there is a strong relationship between TriMet’s public transportation
system and Portland’s economy. More importantly, this raises a question for
the citizens of Portland and TriMet’s frequent commuters: how does TriMet
affect the economy of Portland?
Initially, the only transit service available before 1969 was the Rose
City Transit Company. The transit company saw a constant decrease in

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ridership while Portland did not dedicate a portion of their grants to subsidize
their fares and serve as encouragement for people in the city to use public
transit. Nearly bankrupt, Rose City Transit switched their bus operations in
1969 to Portland and the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of
Oregon, or TriMet (“TriMet”). This presented a challenge to TriMet by
evaluating the previous transit company’s losses and strategize new plans to
revitalize public transportation.
In a few years, TriMet vigorously applied bus service to 5th and 6th
avenues and implemented Fareless Square as a “strategy to increase transit
use” while saving gasoline and reducing air pollution (“TriMet”). Their plan to
uplift public transit showed profitable results to Portland, marked by the
unveiling of the Portland Transit Mall and Metro in the late 1970s. Federal
funding solidified TriMet’s plan to construct a new light rail extending from
Gresham to Portland. The light rail’s promising ridership further encouraged
TriMet to expand their only train line at the time to Hillsboro, not just the
center of Portland. More light rail lines were constructed and began
operations between 1999 to 2009: Red Line to the Portland International
Airport, Yellow Line to the Expo Center, and the Green Line to Clackamas
Town Center (“TriMet”). TriMet’s success provided multiple outcomes:
Portland’s economy grew significantly from the development of the Portland
Transit Mall, TriMet gave mobility to people who cannot travel around Oregon
from a lack of vehicle ownership, and public transportation was, and still is,
seen by Portland’s citizens as an important tool for Portland and its nearby

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One side goal for public transit agencies is to create a sustainable city
that gradually reduces external costs derived from efforts to control traffic
congestion while promoting social innovation at the same time. Schmitt
outlines the ideal city for sustainability and activity, connecting suburbs and
urban areas with “high-capacity, high-speed public transportation networks”
as dense city neighborhoods challenge each other to improve overall
mobility so people can travel freely (1-3). Reflecting on TriMet’s vast
transportation system, several cities and multiple counties are united with
bus lines and light rail transit. Stretching from Forest Grove to Gresham,
Washington County to Clackamas County, every bus and MAX line
individually contributes to provide efficient public transit service in order to
reduce traffic congestion and increase ridership. Based on the City of
Milwaukie’s estimates for the construction of the Orange Line, TriMet’s recent
light rail line mobilized “22,000 households and 85,000 employees within
walking distance of Portland-Milwaukie light rail stations” (“Milwaukie”). The
expansion of the Green and Yellow lines to Milwaukie eases the tension for
households to travel into the congested freeways of Portland by operating a
light rail to save individuals and families time from waiting in rush-hour
traffic and money spent on gasoline. Additionally, large clusters of people
use TriMet travel into and away from Portland to collaborate ideas to other
individuals, whether through the workforce or social areas like local
restaurants and coffee houses. This does not have a set economic value, but
it serves as a beneficial social tool to innovate and likely improve Portland’s

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economy by rethinking TriMet as a link among people of all backgrounds, not
just people and business.
However, public transportation systems are difficult to evaluate in
terms of their actual economic benefit to the city it’s affecting. Every city is
different and every public transit agency or company operates in
accommodation to their location’s specific needs. According to Eric Jaffe,
there is a large range for public transit’s economic value, starting from $1.5
million and ending up to $1.8 billion. This varies widely by a city’s
population, population density, and business market. For Portland, TriMet is
an important asset to the city’s services that assists people within and
outside of the city to travel and find possible employment opportunities or
customers to nearby retail stores. The effectiveness of TriMet’s public transit
highlights to the Portland Transit Mall that places a permanent business area
to promote products for consumers with a highly reliable and convenient
transportation system.
Several stores and businesses within the Portland Transit Mall promote
their goods to middle-income or high-income individuals who can afford
them, but there are people within the low-income bracket that use TriMet and
look around 5th and 6th avenues more frequently than families from higher
incomes. In general, housing markets may account for the centralization of
households within or below the poverty line, but some researchers conclude
that public transportation also accounts for accommodating low-income
households to urban neighborhoods (Glaeser, Kahn, and Rappaport 23).
Glaeser, Kahn, and Rappaport do not assume that public transportation is the

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reason for households on the poverty line to focus their housing on central
sections of cities, but it’s one reason that can explain Portland’s household
assortment by income level. For most residents, it’s a matter of convenience
that motivates people into living in a low-income neighborhood with TriMet
on their doorstep or as far as two blocks. The significance of public
transportation within a person’s house or apartment is viewed higher to
lower class households than the middle or upper class because it may be the
only reliable form of transportation for work or education. TriMet reduces
financial strain among low-income households in Portland to spend a small
portion of their income for affordable transportation, not an expensive
personal vehicle that has additional costs associated with gasoline prices and
monthly parking fees.
Although public transportation systems provide benefits to their cities,
they are also vulnerable to sudden economic changes. The Great Recession
negatively affected TriMet’s ability to sustain their financial budget when
ridership, consumer spending, and economic growth stalled. In order to
reduce spending, TriMet decided to eliminate the Free Rail Zone, which was
Fareless Square before 2012, and replace the zone-based prices with flat-fee
fares (“Decline in Portland”). A poll within the article shows that about 55%
of 1,022 respondents have either used public transit at a lower frequency or
do not use TriMet at all from pricing increases compared to the previous fare
prices before 2012. For individuals after the Great Recession, spending time
and money away from home was not a sensible option. They were most likely
fearing another economic decline at the time, contributing to a decrease in

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ridership within TriMet’s public transit. Through a business standpoint, it’s
justifiable for the public transportation agency to cut back on spending in
order to compensate the lack in expected revenue from a reduction in overall
Funding for TriMet is not always consistent as there are multiple
variables to consider: ridership, future transportation expansion grants,
taxes, and investment from public or private organizations. Over half of their
financial resources are provided by employee payroll taxes, followed by
passenger revenue over twenty-two percent and federal grants around
fourteen percent of the total (“Funded”). These funds fluctuate from external
events that TriMet may not have any control over. During the Great
Recession, unemployment within Portland’s public transportation sector
gradually increased, diminishing a portion of payroll taxes on TriMet. The
economic slowdown forced TriMet to assess their projected budget and make
proposals to counter revenue shortfall. Eventually, the public agency planned
to “increase payroll taxes on Portland area employers and self-employed
workers” for transit development (“Raising Taxes”). Businesses may assume
TriMet’s tax increases cause concern because it could raise prices on goods
and services. However, this is a measure to properly fund public
transportation improvements and expansions to ensure more communities
near Portland are given mobility to invest their money on Portland’s small
business shops and, in the long term, decrease financial strain for Portland
and TriMet.

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As for income and expenditures, TriMet and Portland make their
decisions separately based on their financial situation. An annual report from
TriMet shows that tax revenue from businesses, employees, self-employed
citizens, and the State of Oregon has nearly exceeded the projected tax
revenue in 2015. However, the reported passenger revenue is more than two
percent short of the projected revenue in the same year (“Performance”).
The decrease in passenger revenue may reflect from the heavy rain in
October through December of 2015. Weather at the time was unfavorable for
travel to the point buses and MAX trains slowed down or stopped until
conditions improved, delaying TriMet service. In effect, this discouraged
people to travel around Portland and directly spend their money on local
businesses. Not only that, most lines after October 31st were limited to onetrain rides only, excluding the Type 4 and Type 5 MAX trains, since trains that
forced themselves through the flooded Skidmore Fountain station were out of
service for emergency repairs (Njus). Most MAX stations in TriMet after
Halloween were crowded as the demand for trains exceeded the available
supply of functional trains, creating a temporary bottleneck within public
transit ridership and consumer demand for businesses in the city center of
In conjunction with TriMet’s transit service and Portland’s economic
development planning, employers have a variety of possible employees to
hire while people seeking jobs can expect a multitude of businesses or
organizations to apply within. According to TriMet, their expansions, such as
the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project, provided jobs for

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construction companies while encouraging businesses owned by minorities
to contribute to TriMet’s transportation projects with properly funded
contracts (“Economy”). This plan has been successful since it implements
multiple small businesses to cooperate on a large project divided into
manageable tasks, ranging from the configuration of electrical wires to train
station design. Aside from employment on a project, the American Public
Transportation Association reports that increasing support and investment
into public transportation systems by one billion dollars can produce or
maintain up to 50,000 jobs in cities with a transportation agency
(“Transportation Benefits”). In the case of Portland, their investment in TriMet
has shown strong results in their economic growth since the development of
the Portland Transit Mall and their light rail transit expansions. Compared to
2014, the Portland Metropolitan Area has a 1.1% decrease in unemployment,
dropping the unemployment rate within the area to 4.7% for 2015
(“Unemployment”). By the time the Orange Line was operational in
September 2015, the success and perseverance of TriMet has provided jobs
to strengthen Portland’s local economy with the incoming transit
concentrated to and from Milwaukie. The same effect has occurred in other
MAX lines from their completion dates, but there is not enough data to
confirm their effects on Portland’s unemployment rates, other than annual
table estimates analyzed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Before confirming the next light rail was between Portland and
Milwaukie, TriMet had other proposals that may have narrowed their
expansions or provided insufficient ridership and profit to sustain a new bus

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or train line. In 1982, the map for potential light rail construction outlined a
few MAX lines that exist today, from the City Center of Portland to the
Portland Airport and Gresham (Mooney). Since the construction plan for new
highways in East Portland was no longer discussed, TriMet capitalized the
funds originally used on the Mount Hood Highway Project to replace freeway
construction with light rail construction in the same area. Other lines, such as
the Red Line to the airport, were not built first because TriMet was dedicated
to help Portland understand the economic benefit of light rail transit on
reducing traffic congestion and eliminating the cost of displacing homes or
businesses for new roads, especially in the comparison and contrast of the
discarded highway project. If light rail transit lines were focused on cities
west of Portland first, TriMet may not have attracted people in Portland to
ride their trains and value neighborhoods and commercial streets that were
bound to be removed for new roads.
For the future of TriMet, new expansion plans are in proposal as of the
beginning of 2016. The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project
focuses on providing a bus rapid transit (BRT) line serving the frequently
occupied bus lines 4 – Division and 9 – Powell to minimize bus overcrowding
with exclusive bus-only lanes (“Powell-Division”). Before this project
emerged, traffic within Powell and Division was a major concern since more
cars were in use than TriMet has expected, adding delays to their schedule
and indirectly providing fewer passengers into Portland from congestion.
With the Powell-Division Project, a BRT lane ensures all passengers can arrive
or depart from the City Center of Portland on time while supporting an

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increase in ridership, providing Portland with new jobs and customers for
local business while communities will depend less on vehicles to focus
investing in efficient and reliable public transportation. Additionally, the
Southwest Corridor Plan is deciding between selecting a light rail transit
(LRT) line or a BRT line to serve cities between South Portland and King City
(“Southwest”). Using a BRT has a lower construction cost to save Portland
and TriMet their funds, but it may not be completely reliable. However, an
LRT line adds efficiency and lower operating costs in the long term at the
price of a higher construction cost, which can negatively affect Portland’s
economy if a financial problem arises.
Ultimately, this raises one question to TriMet’s projects: how will
Portland fund this project? Although funded by Oregon and the United States
for specific project purposes, TriMet still needs to meet their revenue shortfall
somehow in order to complete their projects. A report from California states
that most people equally support raising gas taxes, sales taxes, or vehicle
license fees in order to support public transportation, but the decision should
be based on the “impact on transportation system performance,” not the
“most appeal to voters” (Dill and Weinstein). Any increase on taxes or fees
can support TriMet’s projects, but it may not appeal well to Portland’s citizens
with people living in poverty carrying the most weight from a reduction in
purchasing power. However, the best approach is to implement a gas tax
within Portland in order to discourage car usage in the city while providing
sufficient funding for TriMet, as supported by 35 out of 100 respondents in a

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private survey who strongly agree or somewhat agree to an increase in taxes
for public transportation funding (Flores).
As a whole, public transit in Portland offers various beneficial elements
to the city’s residents. For low-income communities a few blocks within the
nearest bus or train line, the need for a car is no longer an issue because
using a bus or train has a lower cost than buying and maintaining a vehicle
to operate properly, especially when traffic is a problem in some evenings.
Additionally, reducing the costs of transportation for any community
encourages people to invest the money they saved back into Portland’s
economy through buying goods and services from local businesses. The city
directly experiences a rise in economic activity since people have more
money to spend into the city with a concentrated business market, derived
from TriMet providing an alternative means of transportation for people to
choose while appealing new and low-income individuals to connect with
In contrast, public transit in Portland has its consequences. Although
there is extensive service in Portland and major streets, East Portland
residents do not experience the benefit of using TriMet’s buses due to the
fact there are insufficient bus lines supporting as many residents as possible
(“System Map”). Only six transit lines travel east and west in East Portland
that are spread out in large distances from each other, which excludes
residents living between bus lines to fully benefit TriMet’s services. Raising
the cost of tickets and removing Fareless Square has discouraged low-income
families and disabled individuals to continue using TriMet and, as a side

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effect, spend their money on local shops in Portland. This means access to
employment, healthy foods, education, and housing in Portland is restricted
or no longer possible among people who heavily depend on TriMet for
transportation (Bayer).
Without TriMet, Portland today may not gain the economic traction to
be a vibrant city with an effective transportation system a few steps away
from the nearest local coffee shop or apartment building. The city is able to
sustain its businesses and public transit system to encourage riders to spend
their time and money into Portland. Although vulnerable to financial
hardships, TriMet has demonstrated multiple expansion successes and
service improvements to help people within the Portland Metropolitan Area
travel anywhere to work or home at ease. By fixing the lack of proper transit
service in specific parts of Portland and slightly reducing the price of tickets,
the city will fully benefit what TriMet constantly provides to and from the city
center: people.

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Works Cited
Bayer, Israel. “TriMet Policies Shifts Burden to Low Income, Nonprofits.”
Street Roots. Street Roots, 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
Flores, Brian. “TriMet Survey.” Survey. 17 Feb. 2016.
Dill, Jennifer, and Asha Weinstein. "How to Pay for Transportation? A Survey
of Public Preferences in California." Transport Policy 14.4 (2007): 34656. Academic Search Premier [EBSCO]. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
Glaeser, Edward L., Matthew E. Kahn, and Jordan Rappaport. "Why Do the
Poor Live in Cities? The Role of Public Transportation." Journal of Urban
Economics 63.1 (2008): 1-24. ScienceDirect. Elsevier B.V., 19 Jan.
2007. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
"How TriMet Is Funded." TriMet. TriMet, n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.
Jaffe, Eric. "Public Transit Is Worth Way More to a City Than You Might Think."
CityLab. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 14 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.
Mooney, Mary. "Metro Maps Out MAX's Future Across Portland-Area."
OregonLive. Oregon Live LLC, 01 Apr. 2009. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
Njus, Elliot. "Flooded MAX Trains the Result of Communication Breakdown,
TriMet Says." OregonLive. Oregon Live LLC, 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 06 Feb.
"Over-the-Year Change in Unemployment Rates for Metropolitan Areas." U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Web. 16
Feb. 2016.
"Performance Dashboard: December 2015." TriMet: Performance Dashboard.
TriMet, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
"Powell-Division Transit and Development Project." Metro. Metro, n.d. Web.
16 Feb. 2016.
"Portland to Milwaukie Light Rail Project." Milwaukie: Dogwood City of the
West. City of Milwaukie, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.

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"Public Transportation Benefits." American Public Transportation Association:
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Transportation Association, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
Rose, Joseph. "TriMet Proposes Raising Taxes on Portland Area Businesses to
Improve Service." OregonLive. Oregon Live LLC, 24 June 2015. Web. 19
Jan. 2016.
---. "TriMet Ridership Continues to Decline in Portland Area." OregonLive.
Oregon Live LLC, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
Schmitt, Gerhard. "How to Create Sustainable, Pulsating Cities of the Future."
New Perspectives Quarterly 32.3 (2015): 32-36. Academic Search
Premier [EBSCO]. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.
Southwest Corridor High Capacity Transit Mode Comparison. Portland, OR:
Metro, 31 Dec. 2015. PDF.
"TriMet Delivers for Our Economy." TriMet. TriMet, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.
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"The TriMet Story." TriMet. TriMet, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2016