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The regional transit agency is planning for long-term income declines because of the COVID-19 pandemic

COURTESY TRIMET - Service reductions that took effect on April 15 will continue into the foreseeable future.TriMet ridership continues to be sharply below historic levels because of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the regional transit agency to plan for significant revenue losses now and in coming years.

TriMet said on Wednesday that it expects to lose an estimated $63 million in the current fiscal year, which ends in June 30. It projects a $135.4 million loss in the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.

The nearly $185 million in TriMet received in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will help offset most of the current and next year losses. But the agency said on May 27 that the federal funds are not enough to cover the full cost of responding to the pandemic in the short term.

And, with Oregon's economic recovery expected to take a number of years and the agency's own projections, TriMet anticipates revenue losses from the pandemic will continue in following years.

Because of that, service reductions put in place on April 5 remain, and the agency will take a conservative approach to adding back service. TriMet will also not be expanding services in the coming year, as planned.

"We want to assure riders, employees and the public that as we come back — and we will come back — we will do so while taking appropriate measures for safety," said TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey. "We have elevated our protocols to help riders feel comfortable on board, while also preserving jobs and service as much as possible."

TriMet said the pandemic has led to a drop in TriMet's main revenue sources: fares and payroll taxes. With a sharp drop in ridership from the February 2020 weekly average, nearly 70% at its lowest point, TriMet fare revenue was down by $20 million for fiscal year 2020. Fare revenue is expected to remain down in fiscal 2021, by some $61 million.

Fare revenue only covers 17% of TriMet's operating expenses. Payroll taxes cover roughly two-thirds of the costs. With more than 300,000 Oregonians suddenly unemployed, or one in eight, TriMet expects to lose about $30.5 million in projected payroll taxes for March through June 2020. The agency also expects payroll tax revenue to be $67.7 million less than anticipated in the FY 2021 budget approved in March.

TriMet said it took some steps to reduce costs prior to adoption of next year's budget to preserve service and retain employees. In addition to the approximately 20% reduction in service that went into effect April 5, the agency has suspended some climate action efforts planned for this year. Among othr things, TriMet temporarily postponed plans to transition its MAX light rail system to 100% wind-powered electricity and its bus fleet to 100% renewable diesel. The agency has also put a hiring freeze on non-essential positions.

Weigh in

TriMet is hosting three virtual open houses to give the community a look at how we plan to address service, maintain safety and security on the transit system and manage finances for the coming year.

Virtual open houses are scheduled as follows:

• Tuesday, June 9, 5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. (Conducted in Spanish)

• Wednesday, June 10, 5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

• Thursday, June 11, 5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Additional information and links will be available on TriMet's Facebook page. The TriMet Board of Directors will consider the budget for adoption at its June 24, 2020 meeting.


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