Correction: An earlier version of this post failed to correctly report that the state reimburses PPS for 70 percent of the cost of transit passes for low-income students who attend their neighborhood school and live at least 1.5 miles away. This error was caused by a miscommunication during an interview with a PPS official, and I regret it. The post that follows is accurate.
Compared to TriMet’s 20-hour, 365-day transit network in central Portland, Washington County’s yellow school buses are expensive, inefficient and ridiculously limited.
But those yellow buses are deeply subsidized by the state, while TriMet-riding Portland teens require far less help from the state to get to school – because PPS has chosen, voluntarily, to use TriMet instead of yellow buses.
This is the unstated subtext of Willamette Week’s report Wednesday that west-side officials are in heat over Portland Mayor Sam Adams’s hardball play to defend Portland Public Schools’ universal high school TriMet passes.
Unmentioned in WW’s story, as in most related media coverage (notable exception: Portland Transport) is the fact that state taxpayers, including hundreds of thousands of PPS taxpayers, already cover 70% of student transportation costs in Washington County. But because PPS has chosen to save taxpayers money and improve students’ lives by buying TriMet passes instead of yellow buses, PPS gets a far smaller subsidy from the state: $560,000 rather than the $3.6 million the state would be on the hook for if PPS used yellow buses, as Washington County schools do.
If PPS opted to offer yellow buses instead, it could force taxpayers around the state, Washington County included, to reward its foolishness with far deeper subsidies. That’s the perverse result of a status quo that subsidizes only inefficiency.