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Portland’s ‘Transportation Wallet,’ a subsidy conceived to free up parking, extended to help low-income city residents

A program born out of a plan to reduce parking needs in some of Portland’s most densely populated areas is now being used to help residents in some of its most remote neighborhoods.

As Portland became more expensive, it pushed low-income residents to areas farther away from employment centers and fast and reliable transportation. The municipality’s transportation wallet program, launched by the municipality in 2018, aims to alleviate this problem by subsidizing public transportation, cycling and electric bicycle services for low-income residents each year.

It pays off for 500 people a year to get prepaid tickets that can be used on TriMet, MAX, Uber and Lyft buses, or rent one of the city’s Biketown electric bike fleets.

This is a relief for some Portland residents who do not have reliable transportation and have found themselves straining their budgets for daily travel, but Portland Transportation bureau officials also hope the program will bring more people on bikes and scooters, and expand transportation services to people in history who are harder to access.

The program provides each user with $ 250 per year for public transportation or other means of transportation such as cycling or electric bicycles. A family option allows cardholders to add an additional $ 25 to a prepaid card for up to five family members.

The Department of Transportation funded the $ 300,000-a-year program through city parking revenue and state fuel tax and vehicle registration fees. Program costs include administrative staff as well as technical assistance and language.

PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera noted that since the program is in its second pilot phase, the bureau plans to evaluate its effectiveness for some time in 2022 to consider whether it should be repeated. He said they would consider this in the face of other ways to improve access to transportation, such as sidewalks and safety at crosswalks, turning lanes and work on neighborhood green roads and other bicycle infrastructure.

Although the program now focuses on equity, it was born out of a completely different goal: to make residents rely less on street parking.

It originally encouraged people living or working along the narrow, narrow streets of Northwest Portland or Central Eastside to waive a parking permit and instead use prepaid tickets to use public transportation services. The initiative was funded by a permit supplement in those neighborhoods.

But officials at the Transportation Bureau said they understand they can apply the idea to low-income residents. They developed a pilot program that identified several affordable housing organizations, including Rose CDC, Hacienda CDC, Catholic Charities and NAYA.

The idea was to collaborate with groups that could help bridge cultural, linguistic and economic disparities for people in need of transportation help, said Roshin Corian, a bureau management expert at the bureau.

“It fits in with our transportation justice goals, trying to reach low-income people and colored communities who have been displaced or do not have the same resources,” Corian said, noting that some of those housing groups have staff who are already able to help translate program information for non-English users.

A survey conducted at Portland State University among participants found that nearly all said the transportation wallet saved them money on regular transportation costs, and most said their budget management was “less stressful” because of the program. Users also said the vast majority of the transportation wallet card encouraged them to use more public transportation and travel sharing services.

Transport wallet participants most often used the funds to travel on public transportation, with a smaller percentage using it for Uber or Lyft. Users have rarely registered to use taxis, bicycles and electronic scooters through the program.

However, close to half of the users of all means of transport – public transport, cycling, electric scooters and taxis – also said that they will completely stop using these means of transport after the money is exhausted.

In the 2020 study, researchers from Portland State University surveyed 278 people about their use of the transportation wallet. They collected the data by dividing the survey at transportation fairs.

they Also keep track of demographics Of those who took the survey and found the program effective in reaching low-income travelers and people of color.

About 41% of the participants were white, 24% were black and 16% were Latin. Another 8% were Asian, and 6% were Native American.

And nearly three-quarters of survey participants earned an annual income of less than $ 15,000 a year.

“Every little help is truly amazing to our residents,” said Jessica Lam, a spokeswoman for Hacienda CDC, one of the housing groups whose clients use the transportation wallet. “There are always challenges with anything that has limited funds, but it’s something I expect to see expand in the future.”

-Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; jramakrishnan@oregonian.com; @JRamakrishnanOR


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