Yesterday, the City of Portland held a public hearing regarding a proposed Transportation User Fee on households (and businesses) that would be applied toward the growing (and growingly expensive) list of safety and maintenance transportation needs throughout the city.
I attended the packed hearing and waited, and waited, and waited, along with many other people with many other opinions, for the opportunity to speak up about the importance of this fee, the needed infrastructure improvements it would make possible around schools, and our concerns with how the fee is currently being proposed, with regards to equity, transparency, and accountability. Unfortunately, time ran out before I could speak and I had to depart to go pick up my kids from school (by bike, of course!). Here is what I would have said:
Oral Testimony on City of Portland proposed transportation user fee
May 29, 2014
Good afternoon Mayor Hales and Commissioners. My name is Kari Schlosshauer and I am the Pacific Northwest Regional Policy Manager for the Safe Routes to School Partnership. Thank you for the opportunity to provide input and comment on the city’s proposed Transportation User Fee.
The connection between transportation and public health is indisputable; the ability to design and build safe streets for people of all ages and abilities is both possible and necessary. One key way to improve the health and the safety of Portlanders — especially our young, minority, and ageing populations, who are most likely to be injured or killed in the simple act of walking to their destination — is through building and maintaining safe, comprehensive, active transportation routes and networks.
Our kids are healthier when they get the exercise they need. And most of them don’t. Far too many of Portland’s schools are without safe routes to school – simply put, safe crossings and sidewalks that allow children to walk to school do not exist around many of our schools. One of the most reliable and effective ways for our students to get enough exercise is by providing safe routes to schools, and I am pleased to see that safety improvements on local streets around elementary, middle and high schools have been called out. Thank you.
We share concerns expressed by others in the community that this specific proposal is being hurried without adequate time for deliberation, and call on Council to take another look at an prioritize equity, transparency & accountability in your deliberation on this proposed fee.
As it stands now, across the city too many of our neighborhoods and community members do not have options and opportunities to be safe, active and healthy when walking out the door — to school or a friend’s house, the bus-stop, or even the corner market. Too many parts of our city have been inequitably served when it comes to a complete transportation network that includes simple things such as frequent crosswalks, sidewalks on both sides of a street, and safe routes in the streets around schools.
We have concerns about the equity of this fee, and urge Council to take another look at both how it is collected and distributed. Many schools in Portland are Title I schools, where at least 40% of the students are from low-income families. When families cannot even afford to pay for their child’s lunch, a fee such as this is more than just regressive; it may be the breaking point. We cannot support this fee without consideration for low-income mitigation that would explicitly ensure a waiver for the lowest income households. We cannot support this fee without knowing that the oversight committee will be able to set its own selection criteria, independent from PBOT and Council, and ensure the money collected from this fee is distributed to those locations in the city that need it most.
No one disputes the critical need for transportation funding; no one claims that the proposed fee is the best or fairest option; it’s simply the necessary one for the moment. Acknowledging this limitation and including a sunset clause will ensure the opportunity to evaluate its effectiveness and need in 5 or 10 years. Without a sunset clause there will be little to no impetus to modify our approach in the future, or work collaboratively with our regional government to make these kinds of improvements around the region; additionally, Portland runs the risk of becoming increasingly out-of-reach for families of modest means.
On behalf of our children who want & need to walk to school, those who urgently need safe access to sidewalks, crosswalks and transit stops, our grandparents who wish to age in place — we need to make the transportation improvements that this fee will allow. Urgently. And as the City Council representing Portlanders of all ages, incomes, and abilities, I ask you to ensure it is implemented, distributed, and accounted for in a way that is fair, equitable, and beneficial to all Portlanders.
Thank you for your efforts, your leadership, and your consideration of these concerns.
Learn more and get up to speed on the proposed Portland Transportation User Fee here.