In the previous post, I wrote about our choice to live in a 1,000 sq ft condo in the city. Two of the main reasons why we like living downtown are because it is centrally located and the easy access to public transportation. As a bonus, our home is near the free rail zone and we can ride the streetcar and the light rail within the zone for no charge!
The cost of housing in downtown is higher than the suburb, but the public transportation helps us reduce expenses on the transportation front. We share one car and save on gas by taking public transportation to work. On a typical work day, we drop off baby RB40 at the daycare nearby and then each take the light rail in separate directions. Our employers help out with the public transportation cost as well, so going to work away from the free zone is not too expensive. I drive if I need to run an extra errand or if I have an 8am meeting. On the weekend, we can take the train to various parks, libraries, farmers markets, and shops in the free zone.
I think the free rail zone is great, and I’m sure others who live and/or work in the zone agree. We frequently overhear tourists who love the free zone and many students regularly use it to get to the University. The free zone was established in the 1970′s to help reduce air pollution and previously the bus rides were free in the zone as well. Sadly, this benefit is coming to an end this fall. Trimet, the organization that oversees our public transport system, is facing a budget shortfall of up to $17 million and is planning to eliminate the free rail zone in the next budget year. Among their budget reduction outline, they plan to increase fares, reduce services, eliminate the free zone, and more.
Who pays for the free rail zone? About half of Trimet’s funding comes from a payroll tax paid by area businesses (57%.) The rest comes from fares(24%), state and federal operating grants(10%), and other sources(9%.) So we are paying for the free ride indirectly through our payroll, federal, and state tax. Many other people who do not use this service also pay into the pool. I guess it’s part of big government, but I love the free zone. It’s too bad that the free zone is being eliminated. That’s the problem with entitlement programs, those who receive them don’t want to give them up.
Anyway, I will probably drive a bit more frequently after the free zone is eliminated. The parking fee will cost less than the tickets. Of course, if the destination is within a mile or so, I’ll plan on hoofing it. Also, Portland is the 2nd most bikeable city in the US. Maybe it’s time to get the bike out of storage and buy a baby trailer. Those things look scary to me though. What happens to the kid if you get into a bike accident?
Do you think a free public transit zone is a good idea or a waste of tax payer’s money? Tourists love the ability to hop around downtown without having to buy a ticket. Many office workers also use this to go to lunch at various spots around town. I often see many low income elderly people use this free zone service and I feel the worst for them. It will be a big impact to their small budget to shell out $3 to go to the grocery store or library.