$1.3 billion budget increases bus service, creates low-income fare program, authorizes purchase of first electric buses.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The new TriMet budget will take effect on July 1, 2018.The TriMet Board of Directors approved a budget for its next fiscal year on Wednesday that launches a low-income fare program, buys 64 new buses, returns 24-hour service to Portland International Airport, and improves service, safety and stations.

The Fiscal Year 2019 budget totals $1.3 billion and includes $701 million in operating funds. It will take effect on July 1.

The budget does not include a fare increase. But it is boosted by about $26 million that TriMet expects to receive from the new payroll tax dedicated to transit improvements in the transportation funding package approved by the 2017 Oregon Legislature. The agency expects to eventually receive up to $60 million in additional funding from the tax to fund the low-income fare program and other improvements.

The budget also includes the purchase of five electric buses and the electrification of the Line 62-Murray Boulevard route.

TriMet began a 10-year expansion of transit service in 2016 paid for by additional funding generated by an increase in its own payroll taxes approved by the agency's Board of Directors. More than $7.2 million in service improvements planned in the next budget focus on increasing reliability, connecting people with jobs, expanding service hours and easing crowding.

The low-income fare program will start on July 1, the day the FY2019 budget takes effect. Under it, individuals who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level will qualify for an Honored Citizen Fare. It is currently $1.25, which is half the cost of an Adult Fare. TriMet is currently working on the program's new database, registration process, and outreach and marketing plan in advance of that.

Other highlights include two additional bus lines and service adjustments on many others, improvements on Blue Line MAX stations between Portland and Gresham, and up to 30 additional transit peace officers through a contract with Portland Patrol Inc.

In addition, the proposed budget includes a non-union merit budget of 3.5 percent as well as a 1 percent pool targeted specifically to address identified pay equity issues. It also includes a 3.25 percent increase for all union employees as negotiated in the contract approved in December 2017, in addition to union step increases.

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