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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

Know when and when not to call 9-1-1 this Fourth of July

July 4th is typically one of the busiest days of the year for 9-1-1 call volume. On any given day, the Portland 9-1-1 Center processes more than 3,000 9-1-1 and Public Safety Non-Emergency calls. On July 4th, that number increases exponentially. You can help ensure that first responders arrive quickly in real emergencies by knowing when you should and should not call 9-1-1.

9-1-1 telecommunicators also answer the Public Safety Non-Emergency phone lines. What does this mean? When you call 9-1-1 or the Public Safety Non-Emergency number (503-823-3333), you may wait on hold for someone to answer. The 9-1-1 Center ALWAYS prioritizes 9-1-1 calls, and you can help by only calling 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. Whether something is an emergency or not is determined by a danger to life or property. If it is not happening right now, it is more than likely not an emergency.

Please do not dial 9-1-1 to report fireworks unless there is an active fire hazard; examples of active fire hazards include aerial fireworks that have caught a roof on fire and fireworks shot directly at a person. Instead, help keep your neighborhood safe by reporting non-emergency illegal firework activity by calling the Non-Emergency number at 503-823-3333.

23 Frequently Asked Questions about the Transportation User Fee

Below are 23 of the most commonly asked questions and answers on the proposed Transportation User Fee. The Transportation Bureau will update this as we hear more questions and concerns. If you have other questions or comments, please email them to

1. Why is the City seeking more money for transportation?

Our streets are deteriorating under the pressure of weather, age and regular use. The main source of funding for maintenance - the gas tax - has been shrinking for decades as people drive less and buy more fuel-efficient cars. Congress has not raised the gas tax in 21 years, so with inflation, it buys about half (check?) what it used to. Instead of providing money for maintenance of city streets, the federal government mainly helps cities pay for expansions like wider roads or new light rail lines.

The average Portland household pays $25.19 in state and county gas taxes each month -- and only 11 percent or $2.82, goes to the City for our streets. The rest goes to the state. Portland's proposed Transportation User Fee (or any other Portland specific fee) would provide a way for Portlanders to help maintain our own streets, make them safer for everyone.

2. What are the consequences of not having enough revenue for maintenance?

Portland will always have its streets, the City’s largest asset. In addition to 4,827 lane miles of streets, Portland owns and maintains 55,477 streetlights and 157 bridges.

Without adequate resources to maintain the transportation system, it will continue to deteriorate. Currently, 48 percent of the City’s busiest streets are in poor or very poor condition. When streets become so deteriorated, they are more expensive to fix. It would require $91 million a year to provide enough maintenance to have all the City’s streets in fair or better condition in 10 years. The City Auditor estimated two years ago it would have cost $75 million a year. Without adequate funding, the problem will continue to grow.

Across the city, 53 percent of corners have no ADA ramps, further limiting access to many parts of the city for people experiencing disabilities.

3. What are the consequences of not having enough revenue for safety?

There were 36 traffic fatalities in Portland in 2013, far more than the 16 homicides in the city that year, and neighborhoods continue to identify difficult intersections that the City cannot address with existing gas tax revenues.

4. Didn’t the Auditor you'd have plenty of money if you didn't blow it all on pet projects?

Not really. The auditor said that an extra $75 million a year is needed for pavement maintenance alone. The projects that the report did point to as being prioritized above basic maintenance were as follows:


  • The Sellwood Bridge. The City made a commitment to Multnomah County to help replace the Sellwood Bridge. That commitment will cost the City $6.5 million a year for years to come. It is true that technically, the bridge is the county's responsibility, but it is an important part of the entire Portland Metro’s transportation system, and the County could not have paid for the bridge itself without cutting into funding for things like jails and services for seniors and the poor. Clackamas County residents use the bridge a lot. It would have been nice if they had paid something, but they said 'No.'
  • The Streetcar. The Transportation Bureau spends about $4 million a year to help run the streetcar. The streetcar has helped bring a lot of development to the city, which increases property tax revenues and in turn helps to pay for police, fire and parks. Also, there were nearly six million rides on the Streetcar last year. Many people with property along the line agreed to pay extra, special taxes to help build it because it would increase their property values, so it would be rather unfair to them to shut it down now. Commissioner Novick has suggested that the City's general fund should help pay for it because the development along the line increased general fund revenue.
  • Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail. The Transportation Bureau pays about $2.5 million a year for bonds to cover the City's portion of the cost to build the line. The Federal government put up half the $1.4 billion needed for construction. TriMet and other governments are helping, too. One could argue, again, that we should have figured out how to fund our street maintenance needs before making that commitment, but light rail is an important part of our transportation system. 
  • The Downtown Marketing Initiative. A few years ago, the City told downtown business groups that if they were willing to accept an increase in downtown parking meter rates, the City would put some money into helping to market downtown as a place to shop. For a few years, the City's general fund helped pay for it with money that comes from property taxes. But that support declined to the point that the entire budget of $828,309 in 2013-14 was covered by PBOT using its discretionary revenue, including gas tax dollars. This program has actually been eliminated from the city budget for 2014-15, and the downtown business community is hopping mad. 
  •  The Portland Mall Management Inc. (PMMI). TriMet, property owners, the Portland Business Alliance, Portland State University and the Transportation Bureau have developed a successful partnership to manage and maintain the Portland Transit Mall. The Transportation Bureau spends about $750,000 a year as part of its agreement. Before the 2009 reconstruction project, the mall had fallen into disrepair and PBOT was unable to maintain its assets, including the light poles, signals, signs, pavement and benches. By working together with these public and private entities, the mall is being maintained at a cost that PBOT may not be able to afford alone.

5. What is the proposed Portland Transportation User Fee?

A Transportation User Fee is a monthly fee based on use of the transportation system that is collected from residential and non-residential properties within a city. The fee is based on the estimated number of trips a particular property type generates. A trip is generated by any mode – whether by foot, bike, car, freight or transit. Properties that generate more traffic pay more, ones that generate less traffic pay less. Users of the road system share the costs of ensuring that the transportation system is safe and well maintained.

6. Do other cities have a Transportation User Fee?

Cities across the nation have implemented transportation user fees. There are currently 28 Oregon cities with Transportation User Fees, including Hillsboro, Oregon City and Milwaukie in the Portland area. See a map of the Oregon cities as of May 2014.

7. Why not just raise the gas tax, which could discourage people from driving?

Surveys show that gas taxes are extremely unpopular with the public, and this effort has been shaped by public input. A survey of Portland residents in March 2014 as part of the Our Streets PDX conversation showed that residents favored a street fee over a gas tax and other alternatives.

A gas tax would keep the transportation system financially dependent on the growth of driving and the associated pollution, climate change and negative health impacts. It would continue to diminish in purchasing power relative to inflation. It would also increase the perception that people who bike, walk or take public transit do not financially contribute to the transportation system. With a transportation fee, everyone pays and everyone benefits. 

8. Can’t we have higher fees for cars, since they cause more wear and tear on streets than people who use public transit or bicycles?

Weather and oxidation over time are the main threats to street pavement condition. Buses and freight cause far more damage and general deterioration to streets than passenger cars do. Portland remains committed to public transit and freight access. Having a fee based on use of the transportation system means everyone helps maintain the assets we all own as Portlanders.

9. Why not just charge the big vehicles that impose the most wear and tear?

Freight trucks do impose lots of wear and tear. Because of that, the State has a freight weight-mile tax. Eugene considered a local one some years back, but concluded it was just administratively impractical to track how many miles a truck drives within the city limits of Eugene. In Portland, City staff have concluded that we would have similar administrative problems. In addition, the City’s Attorneys tell us that the freight companies would have a pretty good argument that cities are legally preempted from applying a local weight-mile tax under law.

Transit buses also impose wear and tear on the roads. But transit is of special importance to low-income people and seniors, and using transit is environmentally preferable to driving, and reduces congestion. There have been discussions with TriMet and the Federal Department of Transportation about whether it might be possible to develop double-axle buses that impose less wear and tear.

10. Why not charge bicyclists, who don’t seem to pay for the transportation system?

The proposed transportation user fee would be paid by bicyclists and everyone else using the streets. A fee only on bicyclists would require expensive new administrative costs to track bicycle purchases and use.

11. Isn’t there a way you can charge people from outside of Portland who use our streets to work here and shop at stores in the city? Can we charge them for using our streets?

There’s no perfect system for accomplishing that, but the transportation fee could help. By charging non-residential uses such as businesses and large public institutions, the fee could potentially be passed on to everyone who visits those businesses whether for work, shopping or other purposes, wherever they come from.

12. Why the seemingly sudden sense of urgency about the condition of our transportation system?

It's been a big issue for a long time-- we just haven't focused on it enough. Some of the problem goes back to the late '80's. Transportation used to get a lot of money for maintenance from 'utility license fees,' but in the late '80's, the City Council diverted that money and started using it for police, fire and parks. Consequently, in the '90's, property tax cut ballot measures in Oregon made it more difficult for Cities to fund police, fire and parks, so the diversion of the utility license fee money to those services got really locked into practice.

13. But still, why the hurry right now?

Two answers. One: we've actually been having widely publicized town halls and advisory committee meetings since the beginning of February 2014. Secondly, every day that we don't act the problem gets worse and more expensive. A stretch of street that might need $10,000 worth of "fog seal" treatment to extend its life for several years will fall into significantly worse condition without any maintenance. Instead, that same stretch of street will eventually need $100,000 per lane mile to grind and pave.

If left unmaintained, a stretch of street that could have used a 'grind and pave'  will further decay to the point where it needs a complete rebuild, at a cost of $1 million or more per lane mile. The costs get worse and worse the more we delay. Meanwhile, every year a new group of students goes to school and too many of them don't have safe sidewalks to walk on. That's why we're eager to move forward with an equitable revenue solution.

14. How would the City use the money?

The proposed fee would mainly be used for basic maintenance and safety improvements. The Portland Bureau of Transportation expects to allocate 53 percent to maintenance, including paving that will prevent potholes and cracks on our streets. In the first five years of full implementation, preventive maintenance for pavement could grow to 150 miles a year, up from 100 miles in 2013-14. The maintenance program could also install more synchronized traffic signals that reduce congestion and improve safety. It would replace old street signs with modern, reflective signs that help emergency responders.

PBOT would invest 44 percent on safety improvements that are proven to reduce serious injury crashes and fatalities. In the first five years of full implementation, the safety program could build an estimated 400 blocks of new sidewalks, add crosswalk striping or beacons to 100 intersections and provide faster response to residents who express concerns at the safety hotline 503-823-SAFE.

There are 343 miles of busy streets in Portland with no sidewalks, and the need is especially great in East Portland, which has more children and low-income households than many other areas.

Missing sidewalks and concerns about safety at high-traffic intersections lead people to walk and bike less. Parents are less likely to let their children walk and bike in areas where they have to walk in a street or through ditches to get to school. Low-income households are disproportionately impacted by these conditions.

15. How would the fee be collected?

As of early June, several options are being considered.

16. Is there a discount for low-income residents?

Yes. Low-income households would pay 30 percent less than the standard rate.

17. What is the fee for households?

The fee would be phased-in over three years, with implementation starting July 1, 2015. Single-family residential properties would be charged $6 per month in the first year, $9 per month in the second year and $12 per month starting in the third year.

Low-income households would pay $4.20 per month in the first year, $6.30 per month in the second year and $8.40 per month starting in the third year.

18. How is the Transportation User Fee calculated for residential properties?

Engineering studies estimate that single-family homes generate about 10 one-way trips per weekday.

Ten trips a day may sound like a lot, but for an average family, it could include some combination of the following:

  • Leaving and returning from work (2 one-way trips)
  • Taking a child to school in the morning and returning to pick them up in the afternoon (4 one-way trips)
  • Driving age children going to and from a friend’s house (2 one-way trips)
  • Trip to and from shopping (2 one-way trips)
  • Trip to and from family member's sporting event (2 one-way trips)
  • Local deliveries and service providers (U.S. Mail, FedEx, trash/recycle pick-up)
  • Trip to and from the doctor/pharmacy (2 one-way trips)
  • Trip to and from a restaurant of any type (2 one-way trips)
  • Trip to and from the recreation center or exercise facility (2 one-way trips)

19. Is there a different fee for people who live in multifamily buildings like apartments and condominiums?

Yes. Multifamily households generate less traffic (for example, a garbage truck comes once to one apartment building and once to each single household), so they have a lower fee. As with all rates, it would be phased in over three years.

The multifamily households would pay $3.52 per month in the first year, $5.29 per month in the second year and $7.05 per month starting in the third year.

Low-income multifamily households would pay $2.47 per month in the first year, $3.70 per month in the second year and $4.93 per month starting in the third year.

20. Who pays the non-residential fee in a building with multiple tenants or uses?

We would expect the bill to go to the property owner. Often in those circumstances, the property owner passes along those costs to tenants, as they do with other operating expenses.

In a building where tenants pay utility bills, each tenant would receive a bill for the Transportation User Fee. In some cases, buildings have several different uses. In those cases, the type of use occupying the most developed space on the property – the Predominant Developed Use – would define the rate for the entire property. For example, if an office building has a small coffeehouse and a small retail store, the transportation user fee for the coffeehouse and retail stores would set at the rate for office space.

21. What is the fee for non-residential properties?

The non-residential fee would be based on engineering estimates by the Institute of Transportation Engineers of how much traffic each property type generates. The fee would be charged based on monthly, average weekday trips.

22. How do I find out what my monthly fee would be?

PBOT has developed an online calculator for non-residential customers where you can select a property type and square footage to see an estimate.

Visit the online calculator now.

23. What if I think my bill is too high?

Contact the transportation bureau by emailing to ask about the estimate. You will be asked to describe your property and the land use on the site.

Taking a step back, but still moving forward

We're going to step back and take some more time to think about the residential fee, as we are doing with the nonresidential fee. A primary focus is going to be on how to ensure that we alleviate the impact on low income Portlanders. Commissioners Fritz and Fish were both very focused on that, and they are right to want to be sure that we do all we can.

I don't regret having set the deadline of a June 4 vote, even though we're letting the deadline slip. Sometimes having a deadline forces you to focus. This deadline has focused the public, and it has focused us. When we held town halls on the funding mechanism, we got lower turnout than we did for the town halls on the city's transportation needs. But setting the date for a vote promoted a huge reaction, particularly from small business owners and advocates for low income people.

With regard to the impact on low income households, I am hopeful that we will be able to come up with a strategy that addresses not only the impact of this fee but the impact of water and sewer fees. During our planning, we recognized that it would be administratively difficult to extend low income discounts to all people in multifamily housing, although it's important to note that the multifamily rate is lower than the single family rate to begin with. But we didn't see a way around this barrier; after all, the water and sewer bureaus have never been able to extend low income discounts to those living in multifamily housing, either.

And, interestingly, advocates haven’t seemed particularly focused on low income discounts for water and utility rates; I've been through two years of utility rate adjustments now, and I don't recall any testimony about the inaccessibility of low income discounts for people in multifamily housing. Two weeks ago, we had a discussion in council about the fact that fewer than 10,000 people access the low income discount for water and sewer, but it's not something people have been banging on our doors about.

But faced with a NEW fee, the advocates came out and made a forceful case Thursday night, which Commissioners Fish and Fritz in particular followed up over the next few days. I was, as has been obvious, a bit cranky with my friend Commissioner Fish for focusing on an issue with the proposed new fee that seems to have been a forgotten issue with the old water and sewer fees. And I do think it's an example of how people will tolerate problems with something that's "always been there" more than they will tolerate the same problems in something new.

But crankiness doesn't solve problems. It makes sense to delay a vote while we search for a way to make low income discounts fully accessible to people in multifamily housing. The difference between the proposed fully-phased in 'regular' multifamily fee of $7.05 per month and the proposed discounted fee of $4.93 per month is only $2.12 per month, but every dollar matters for someone living paycheck to paycheck.

And, although I'm not sure yet if it will work, I came up with an idea late Sunday night that I'm rather excited about. The City’s existing process with the arts tax allows people who are living below the poverty line send in some paperwork and get an exemption. Maybe we could use that process to provide rebates on water, sewer and transportation fees. You would send in your arts tax exemption form and get a check equal to the annual total of the utility fee discounts you're entitled to. I've asked Thomas Lannom in Revenue to think about whether we can make this idea work.

When we appoint work groups to look further at both the residential side and the business side, I'm going to encourage them to think as broadly as they want to. We've been focused on a user fee, which is what other cities have done and is consistent with the way we fund utilities generally. Based on perceived political and practical obstacles, we stopped thinking about options like a sales tax, or a local income tax, or an increase in the business profits tax.

But maybe now that we have a lot of people more engaged, they'll want to take another look at some of those options. And that's okay - as long as they do it quickly, because we have a November 14 vote deadline to meet.

A lot of small business people didn't like the idea of a user fee because it doesn't take profitability into account; maybe they'll want to raise the idea of increasing our existing business profits tax instead. That would have the advantage of administrative simplicity because the mechanism is already there.

We wrote off the sales tax because it lacks public political support, but I was looking at some numbers the other day, and it appears that many people would pay less under a 0.5% sales tax than under our residential street fee proposal, even though a 0.5% sales tax would raise as much money as the nonresidential and residential fees combined. That's because, even though a sales tax is regressive compared to the income tax, rich people still buy a lot more than lower and middle income people. It also occurs to me that we could possibly use the arts tax exemption process to develop a low-income sales tax rebate, which would alleviate regressivity.

Now, the polling on a sales tax is not encouraging, and I'm sure some powerful groups are dead set against it, but if the work groups are interested and think an army can be raised to promote the idea ...

A local income tax is, of course, the most progressive idea, and it's something the people of Portland have actually supported before - the I-Tax. For some reason it did not do well in our poll. But again, if the work groups conclude that progressivity is the highest value, maybe there's a strategy for that.

By the way - there's a point I've been meaning to make that I might as well make now. I am committed, and I think the same goes for the Mayor, to keep working on this issue until we get a solution. If we adopt a proposal, and it gets referred to the voters, and defeated, neither the Mayor nor I is going to give up for another six years. We'll come right back with another proposal. We don't have an economic future if we allow our roads to crumble. We have a moral obligation to ensure that children can walk to school on sidewalks, not in ditches. Transportation funding is not something that would be nice to have. It is essential.

Statement from Commissioner Novick on Transportation User Fee Proposal

May 29, 2014— It is true, as some outlets reported yesterday, that the Mayor and I are proposing to do further work on the business / nonresidential side of the proposed Transportation User Fee before putting it to a vote before Council. This does not mean that we are planning to have a fee for residents but no fee for businesses; in fact, we are putting language in the residential fee ordinance that says that if the Council does not pass a nonresidential fee by this November, the residential fee will be cancelled. Both residential and nonresidential users would start paying as of July 2015. But we do think there is reason to do more work on the business/nonresidential fee.

The business / nonresidential fee is inherently more complicated than the residential fee. What we plan to do, as other cities have done, is base the nonresidential fee on the Institute of Traffic Engineers’ “trip generation” model. The ITE divides up businesses and other nonresidential users into a number of categories, and then, based on a lot of research, gives a figure for each type of business for how many “trips” (e.g., traffic) each type generates, per month, for a given number of square feet. Business pay fees based on how many trips they generate.

Other cities use the ITE, but there is some variation in the way they use it; not every city’s nonresidential fee is calculated the same way. Some cities, for example, combine some related ITE categories into one category.

In Portland, in 2007, PBOT worked with many representatives of the business community to create a formula for using the ITE that was broadly acceptable to most of those representatives. In this year’s effort, we took that formula as a starting point, figuring that since it was broadly acceptable in 2007, it would be this year as well.

Over the past week, however, reading numerous emails from small business owners, it became clear to me that many business owners were not part of that 2007 process, and have a lot of questions. Some are not sure which of the ITE categories they fit into; some question the fairness of applying the ITE model to their particular business. And it wasn’t just business owners; religious organizations and other property owners have concerns about the application of the ITE model.

We still believe that the ITE manual is an appropriate basis for computing nonresidential fees. But again, other cities have developed variations on how to use the ITE. We think it is appropriate to take a few months to give business owners and other nonresidential parties who may not have been involved in the 2007 process to ask questions about and help shape our particular formulation.

So, the Mayor’s and my plan is to move forward with a vote on a residential fee, and set a deadline of November 14, 2014 for the City Council to pass a nonresidential fee. Both fees would take effect as of July 1, 2015. If Council does not pass a nonresidential fee by November 14, the residential fee would be cancelled.

I appreciate all the feedback and suggestions that this proposal has garnered, and I look forward to continued dialogue.

Thank you,

Commissioner Steve Novick
City of Portland, OR