What does it take to attend a TriMet board hearing?

trimet hearing from frontThe public hearing where TriMet’s leaders vote to end the Free Rail Zone and enact historic fare hikes is, by any standard, a pretty important meeting.

So maybe it’s no surprise that the city’s most seasoned transportation activist, Jim Howell, called Wednesday’s gathering “something I’ve never seen before at a TriMet meeting – not an outpouring like this.”

Howell ought to know. He’s been attending TriMet board hearings since 1972. His first hearing, he said, was the agency’s second.

But for the dozens of transit riders who spent three hours in testimony against TriMet’s proposal Wednesday, almost all of them organized and trained by OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, the decision to attend a public meeting was totally personal – weighed against everything else in their lives on a weekday morning. So was the decision by every TriMet rider who knew vaguely about Wednesday’s hearing but decided, for one of a thousand reasons, not to attend.

So I decided to ask the transit riders who testified:

“What would you be doing if you hadn’t decided to show up?”

Here’s what they said.

Lynne Barrett:

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“I would be out looking for work – customer service.”

Alisa Fowler, PSU student and JOIN intern:

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“It’s finals week. I would be working on a project at school right now. I had to stay up late and possibly miss 8 hours of my job as a social worker.”

Stuart Fishman:

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“Sleep. It’s my day off, and I worked a long week. I’m a grocery clerk, and I was up half the night with a leg cramp.”

Johanna Brenner, semi-retired academic writer:

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“I have something due tonight. … I’m pushing my deadline. It’s not good timing. … So, the article won’t be so good. This is more important.”

Eavan Moore, freelance writer:

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“I’d be working on research and writing, probably.”

Terrence Coleman, independent community organizer:

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“I’d be at home working on scholarships for children or people with disadvantages.”

Marian Drake:

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“I would be playing the mandolin or doing a watercolor, cleaning my house. Or eating my lunch. I’m hungry!”

Amy Lubitow, PSU employee, and Adam Briggs, Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians:

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Lubitow: “Working on some research, writing.” Briggs: “I was lucky because I had to work through a conference this weekend. I changed my hours around.”

Katherine Redela, graduate student, and son Rudy:

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“I’m doing my research with Latino families in Southeast Portland. I should be doing secondary interviews today, but I tried to reschedule. I brought my son. It’s hard to bring children to these things. … I decided I thought it was important that we’re both here together. Maybe they’ll see my son and think of families.”

Bill Boyd, social worker:

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“I’d be at work. … I’m using a little bit of personal time.”

Tabitha Boschetti, bike rental employee:

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“I’m very lucky to have a Tuesday-Wednesday weekend right now.”

Robert Medeiros:

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“I’d be seeing family and friends. I’m on SSD [disability payments].”

Per Fagereng, retired:

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“I live right around the corner. I would be reading, working on my novel.”

Bryan Leeder, executive board member for SEIU Local 49:

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“I work for ABM Janitorial nights, so I would ordinarily be sleeping.”

I didn’t get this fellow’s name:

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“I’d probably be looking for work in construction. I’m just trying to do my part, trying to keep the bus fares affordable.”

Jeff, TriMet bus driver:

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“It’s my day off. I’m just concerned about going the direction of shedding riders rather than gaining ridership.”

Keith Shultz:

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“I’d be out visiting friends.”

Jack Herbert:

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“I’m here because this just just madness. I’m retired.”

Hector Dominguez, PSU visiting scholar:

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“I’d be doing some engineering research.”

Cameron Johnson:

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“I’d be taking my little sister to school and cleaning my house while my parents go to work.”

I didn’t get this woman’s name, either. She said she’d painted her sign last night:

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“I’d be volunteering at my daughter’s school. I didn’t send her to school because I came here instead. I think if people speak up and show your story, then they’ll learn.”

On its Facebook page, OPAL wrote Wednesday that “we may not have won this budget battle” but called the testimony part of “a long-term struggle for transparency and participation in transit decision-making.”

In 20 years, local historians can debate who won Wednesday’s meeting and who lost. In the meantime, maybe the decisions of 40 TriMet riders to attend a four-hour public meeting also tells us a little bit about the tens of thousands of seatmates they were trying to speak for.

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