PORTLAND -- TriMet held the first of several public meetings Monday to hear input on proposed budget cuts.

One big concern for public transit users was the likely end to Fareless Square.

Getting rid of the free downtown square and all that, I don't think that's a good idea, personally, said TriMet rider, Aaaron Webster of Beaverton. Webster is a student at Portland State University studying architecture. He takes the MAX daily and said the fareless square is a big draw which brings people to downtown, constantly.

I'm perfectly fine with a slight rate hike if that's gonna change things, but I think there are some things that shouldn't be cut just for the [overall] good of the whole system, said Webster.

TriMet has also proposed a $2.50 flat rate, valid for two hours in any direction on both buses and MAX trains. Neil McFarlane, TriMet General Manager, said it would generate about half the revenue needed to cover the $12 million shortfall.

Plus, if TriMet loses a labor contract resolution with its union in July, it'll need to find an additional $5 million in savings, McFarlane said. That would then boost the budget shortfall to $17 million.

For the people that have a lot of money, it's no problem. But for some people that are just getting by and they rely on the public transportation to get to and from places, it's going to hurt them a lot, said TriMet rider, Lowell Russell.

Russell recently moved to Portland from Arizona. He said he prefers public transportation here but feels the elimination of the free rail zone and fare changes are disheartening. You're better off taking public transportation, but you've got to be able to afford it, too, he said.

McFarlane said also said that TriMet can save more than $1 million by reconfiguring routes on 15 bus lines and by eliminating some low-ridership trips onten other lines.

More information on the other public meetings this month can be found on the

TriMet Web site.

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