PORTLAND – TriMet could be facing a big bill from the City of Portland, if Mayor Sam Adams gets his way.
The mayor has accused TriMet of reneging on its promise to continue funding Youth Pass, the program that allows high school students to ride for free to and from school. Nearly 13,000 kids have relied on the free bus passes.
Adams said he made a handshake deal with TriMet that the agency would keep the youth program if the mayor agreed to approve their plan for eliminating free rail, which he did.
Now, in retaliation, Adams is proposing an 8,000% increase to the fees that the city charges TriMet for putting benches and shelters on city sidewalks. That means instead of paying about $20 a year for one shelter, TriMet's cost would rise to $1,600.
That would bring in about $2 million which Adams said the city would use to pay for its own youth pass program. Adams further explained his stance on the issue in a letter posted on the Portland mayor website.
"This is an agency that I have been able to trust, to negotiate in good faith," Adams said. "Well, they didn't on this one."
Students also spoke out Tuesday, hoping the issue will get resolved soon.
"I think they should keep the bus passes around because a lot of kids truly depend on them to get to school," said 17-year-old Jalen Webb.
"A parent can't always get into the car and take a child to school because of work and other children," added 15-year-old Wilandrae McCall.
TriMet officials have warned that if the youth program is saved, they will just have to make cuts elsewhere.
"It could be more service cuts, it could be the frequency cut, it could be cutting service all day Sunday," explained TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch.
The city council was scheduled to vote on the proposed fee on Wednesday without public comment. TriMet sent a letter to the city Tuesday urging for a delay so the matter can be discussed.
(KGW reporter Kyle Iboshi contributed to this report.)