December 15, 2023

It's Friday. Ahhhh.

Today's weather: Sun, clouds, breeze. Is it winter or spring? High 50, low 38.

📦 Situational awareness: The U.S. Postal Service says tomorrow is the deadline to mail gifts by first-class mail to ensure they arrive by Christmas, while Monday is the deadline to mail packages by Priority Mail.

Today's newsletter is 950 words — a 3.5-minute read

1 big thing: TriMet ridership still low as fares set to increase

Data: American Public Transportation Association; Note: Includes bus, rail, ferry and other modes; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: American Public Transportation Association; Note: Includes bus, rail, ferry and other modes; Chart: Axios Visuals

Public transit ridership in the Portland metro area is at 68% of pre-pandemic levels, new data shows.

  • That's based on September 2023 ridership as compared to September 2019, according to American Public Transportation Association (APTA) data.

Why it matters: Public transit — whether MAX, buses, or the WES Commuter Rail — makes cities cleaner and greener, opens up possibilities for people who can't afford a car, and frees up parking lots to be turned into housing, green space and more, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

By the numbers: Portland's slow transit recovery puts us 62nd out of just over 100 metro areas with more than 500,000 people.

Context: TriMet's own tracking system shows an increase in bus and MAX ridership this year over last — with light rail ridership increasing more slowly.

  • That adds up to a steady climb out of a dramatic fall in early 2020, when COVID-19 hit — but average weekly rides are still well below pre-pandemic numbers.

What they're saying: "As venues and offices fully reopen and people see the situation in the wider community improving when it comes to safety and security, we do expect more people to be coming back on the transit system," TriMet communications director Roberta Altstadt tells Axios.

Meanwhile, TriMet fares are set to increase Jan. 1 — pushing an adult 2 1/2- hour ticket and a LIFT ride up 30 cents to $2.80 and a day pass up 60 cents to $5.60.

  • The cost of monthly passes — $100 per adult — remains the same.

Of note: TriMet gets about 7% of its annual revenue from fares, and 70% from a regional payroll tax, per the agency's budget.

The big picture: Hardly any city is fully back to pre-pandemic ridership rates.

  • Among the 103 metro areas researched, September 2023 public transit ridership was at or above 100% of September 2019 levels in just 12 areas.

The bottom line: TriMet is planning for a 50% increase in ridership by 2026 compared to 2022 numbers, according to its budget, although Altstadt calls that number "aspirational" to help budget projections.

How other cities are experimenting

2. Year in reflection: The state Senate walkout

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The longest legislative walkout in Oregon history — six weeks — happened this year, despite voters overwhelmingly approving a 2022 measure aimed at curbing unexcused absences among lawmakers by prohibiting them from serving another term.

  • Measure 113 added language to the Oregon constitution stating that no lawmaker with more than 10 unexcused absences in a single legislative session can run for reelection.

Catch up fast: Republican state senators tested that law back in May when over a dozen walked off the floor, denying Democrats a quorum to resume business and vote on bills on gender-affirming care, abortion and gun control.

  • GOP senators are currently challenging Measure 113 in the state's Supreme Court — opening remarks began yesterday. They believe a loophole in the language could allow them to serve another term before being barred.

What's happening: We asked Melissa Unger, the executive director of SEIU 503 Local — one of several public employee unions that championed Measure 113 — to reflect on how the law has worked this year.

  • This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

🤔 Did you expect Measure 113 to play out in the Legislature the way it did this year?

  • "We expected that hearing overwhelmingly from voters that they expected folks to show up, even when they disagreed, to try to figure out how to solve some of Oregon's challenges, would have an impact. And I don't think it did."

⚖️ What are you anticipating from this legal challenge?

  • "We believe that voters passed Measure 113 and that it will be upheld."

What's next

3. Rose City Rundown

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

☠️ Neighbors and environmentalists are raising concerns about toxins on the proposed site for Portland's second large outdoor shelter for unhoused people. (The Oregonian)

⛷️ Limited skiing is back starting tomorrow at Mount Hood Meadows and Timberline, after the resorts closed this week because of all the rain. (KOIN)

🍩 Portland is among many cities facing a downtown exodus — dubbed the "donut effect" — and experimenting with ways to counter that. (Axios)

  • Our thought bubble: Can some Voodoo help?

4. Weekend Guide

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

It's baaack! Yes, the weekend. So many options, whether you're in the holiday spirit or not.

🕺 The traditional Nutcracker ballet continues through Dec. 24, but this weekend check out the NOT-Cracker by Portland contemporary dance group Open Space. Matinee and an evening show tomorrow and a Sunday matinee. $12-$75 plus fees.

  • Set in Portland, the story follows a down-and-out local who thinks he can't dance but gets help from a breakdancing toy soldier and baby penguins.

🌊 Catch the view of a king tide — dramatic and "exceptionally high" tides, per NOAA's National Ocean Service — from a variety of high spots along the coast. The last day of this cycle is tomorrow.

😱 Halloween meets Christmas at A Christmas Horror Story — four haunted houses and photos with Krampus, balanced with twinkling lights and free hot cocoa. In Kelso, Washington, in the Three Rivers Mall. Tonight and tomorrow, 7-10pm. $30. Not recommended for children under 10.

⛸️ A temporary downtown ice-skating rink with a "woodsy winter village" opens tomorrow in a big tent under the Morrison Bridge on-ramp. 10am-10pm through Dec. 31, with a reduced schedule in January. Closed on Dec. 25. $12 youth, $20 adults.

  • Also downtown, seasonal pop-up shops this year include gourmet dog treats, a visit with a Black Santa Claus and of course, socks.
  • A giant gingerbread village is on display at The Benson hotel. Free.
  • Parking is free all weekend in both SmartPark garages on Yamhill, at 10th and at 4th avenues.

Film, art and free pix with Santa

📺 Meira binged nearly all of "A Murder at the End of the World" while sick in bed.

🗻 Emily is heading to Mt. Hood, rain, snow or sun.

This newsletter was edited by Rachel La Corte and copy edited by Steven Patrick.