Although the status of TriMet's contract with most of its workers is still up in the air, the regional transit agency's board of directors unanimously adopted its budget for the next fiscal year Wednesday morning.

The $485 million operating budget, which will take effect July 1, includes funds to restore some previous service cuts, upgrade the bus fleet, and make some safety and maintenance improvements.

TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane says the budget will not need to be changed even if Amalgamated Transit Union 757 wins its fight over the current contract.

The contract was imposed by an arbitrator last year. It is TriMet's last offer and includes increases in health care payments by union members opposed by ATU 757. The union has appealed the imposition of the contract to the state Employment Relations Board, which has not yet issued a ruling.

In the meantime, TriMet and the union are not expected to begin negotiations on the next contract until August, at the soonest. That is one month after the new budget takes effect.

McFarlane says that operating under the contract imposed by the arbitrator has helped TriMet save enough money that it will not be required to make cuts in the new budget, even if ATU 757 wins its appeal. Service could be reduced and fares could be increased in future years if the union wins, however, he says.

The new budget underwent two months of community meetings and a review by the Multnomah County’s Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission before the vote.

During Wednesday's hearing, the biggest issue was a request from a riders' advocacy organization that the board extend transfers from two to three hours, and make them last indefinitely after 7:00 p.m. Over a dozen members of Bus Riders United testified in support of their Fair Transfer Campaign.

Board President Bruce Warner promised the witnesses that he and the other members would take up the issue in June after TriMet gathers data on how the changes would affect the agency's budget and operations.

According to TriMet, the new budget includes the following priorities:

• Accelerate new bus purchases, eliminating all older high floor buses and reducing the average age of the fleet to the industry standard of eight years by 2017; $8.8 million for three years.

• Increase bus service on 14 lines to address schedule reliability and rush hour overcrowding; $2.1 million annually.

• Continue the Access Transit Fare Programs (previously called the Low-Income Mitigation Program); $1.3 million annually.

• Hire eleven operators to comply with the Hours of Service policy for bus operators; $1 million a year.

• Increase the contribution to union unfunded defined benefit pension fund; $4 million in FY14, $2 million in FY15.

• Increase light rail vehicle and track maintenance, plus improve lighting and station renewal along the MAX system; $9.5 million.

• Improvements to portable restroom locations for operators, construction of a new restroom facility, and acquire property for a new layover/ restroom location $1.2 million.

• No fare increase (a loss of $2 million in revenue) or service cuts planned.

“We are committed to reinvesting in our transit system; updating our aging fleet; and make targeted improvements for both our riders and employees, to ensure long-term reliability, safety and comfort,” McFarlane says of the budget.

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