Troubling Perceptions of Safety on TriMet

According to the Business Journal poll, more than half of all respondents don’t always feel safe on MAX or buses. Since this appears relatively unrelated to actual crime stats, what could TriMet be doing to make people feel more comfortable?

50 responses to “Troubling Perceptions of Safety on TriMet”

  1. Their polling methodology is totally unscientific & not worthy of attention. A voluntary poll like this is always going to get a disproportionately high level of response from people who have a story to tell. Generally speaking, website polls are designed to whip up traffic in the regular readership and their friends, and have low accuracy in the real world.

    It would be a fine idea for some professional polling outfit to perform a real poll of riders. One could poll their perception of safety, their actual level of exposure to dangerous situatous, and their level of ridership, and extrapolate some useful data. Tri-Met would benefit from such a poll, though I’m not sure they could do an impartial job of it.

    This, however, is not data in the useful sense of the word.

  2. Personally, I think there needs to be a much more visible presence of TriMet personnel (not necessarily full security or fare inspectors) within the Fareless Square area.

    There is a lot of activity that goes on which may not be criminal, but is disruptive or unsettling, and activity that may go unreported.

    I’ve suggested in the past that TriMet hire a few good-will “ambassadors” who ride at non-peak times in Fareless Square and simply walk through the trains and along the mall and greet people, ask them how they are doing, etc. This should deter a lot of the rowdy and disruptive behavior.

    I know that TriMet claims that legally their security people cannot initiate questioning of an individual (without probable cause) inside fareless square because there is no reason to ask to see a “fare instrument”. There may be legal reasons involved because said personnel are law enforcement officers. But I see no reason that a “greeter” cannot wander around and say hello and report any behavior they witness which is negative.

    I have reported numerous disruptive events to TriMet, but I do not know if they are included in the statistics if a security officer was not involved, or if the disruption did not qualify as criminal activity.

    Consider it an extension of the “broken windows” theory: Reduce disruptive behavior, increase visible presence, and the perception of safety will improve, and I think it can be done without violating anyone’s civil liberties.

    On a similar note, some modifications to Fareless Square may be in order, but that’s probably best for a completely separate discussion.

    – Bob R.

    PS… For an idea of how non-illegal behavior affects a perception of safety, just this Friday night (Sat morning) at 12:02 am, a stranger came to our door and rang the bell, wanting to know when the next bus was coming (there is a stop on our corner).

  3. Many of the comments about safety are not actually about safety but instead about how people *feel*.

    Many mentioned too many young people, or loud obnoxious talking or swearing – as things that made them feel unsafe. A few complained about panhandlers or homeless. One even complained about inappropriate cell phone conversations. All of these things made the commentors *feel* unsafe.

    And I contend that there is nothing we can do about that. That particular demographic do not spend much time in the city. People who get in their cars in their garage or driveway and drive to their local strip-mall or “lifestyle center” and they never interact with people different then them. So all of these “big city” things like homeless people, or loud obnoxious teens, or whatever – make them uncomfortable.

    Are they really unsafe? Not at all. The biggest risk from a homeless person is that they might insult your sense of smell, or I have found that in the evenings they might be a bit drunk and ramble on about things….

    Unsafe? No. But I swear that some people are just scared of anywhere with buildings taller than 3 stories.

    I have never felt unsafe on Tri-Met and I ride busses and trains all over the place at all hours of the day and night. Sure sometimes there are some rude people, or whatnot. But that happens in the city. I even take my young child with me and never have any problems.

    One of the things that is worth noting, is that these *fears* are somewhat self-fulfilling. If the “normal” and “clean” people decide that they are too scared to ride the transit – then the only people that will be left on the transit are the “scary” ones.

    Many people who complained about loud or inappropriate behavior, have probably never asked anyone to stop. Most of the time, I have found that if someone is doing something that bothers you if you ask nicely for them to stop – often they do. It is just that we have grown inward as a society and it is easier to complain in a comment on a website than to look someone in the eye and ask them to stop swearing. We can somewhat take responsibility for our own communities.

    Tri-Met is very safe. Both in personal experience and statistically – there is very little risk on Tri-Met at just about any type of day.

  4. …folks in town to visit, thought I’d show Trimet. Went to the Lloyd center. Stop dirty, a bit creepy… nowhere to sit… ticket machines don’t work. They are from NY, not Kansas. I don’t think Trimet impressed them much, which was disappointing to me. I think MAX feels unsafe sometimes because there is no driver presence, as on buses. Ambassadors is a good idea – perhaps volunteers?

  5. Lately I’ve seen a bunch of Trimet police wearing those bright yellow jackets and such hanging around the Galleria and hopping on and off the MAX going both east and westbound. Sure, they’re not on every train, but it’s kind of a wake-up call compared to what I’ve seen in the past.

    Ironically, I feel much, much safer downtown and riding transit than back in 2002-2003, when downtown felt much more empty and devoid of normal people.

  6. Put something in front of the trains to keep people from ending up UNDER the train when they get hit. Remember the old cattle guards on old trains?

    Just a skirt around the front a couple inches above the track might do it.

    Having an unguarded front has probably killed several of the 19 people MAX has killed to date.


  7. (W)hat could TriMet be doing to make people feel more comfortable?
    End Fareless Square. Immediately and permanently. Give downtown businesses “Downtown Zone” passes that allow their employees who otherwise don’t have passes to ride somewhere for lunch for free inside the former fareless area.

    Ambassadors is a good idea – perhaps volunteers?
    They have those in North and NE Portland – maybe an expansion of the program could be beneficial. I saw some on a 75 once, and picked up a flier at a TriMet open house that mentioned it. I believe they are volunteers.

  8. Offer free rides to police officers and private security guards as long as they are in uniform. Doesn’t matter if they’re on duty or not; the presence of somebody in a uniform should help calm the nerves of the skittish.

  9. might be off the mark but dont get in front of the train and it wont run you over. also public transit is attitude, en mass if the folks on the train dont like some guys music then ask for it to be turned off. if the group says it is to loud, it is to loud, and the person can be made to stop. or simply expelled from the bus. same with homeless or any one else. we are the people who are paying for the train and we can insist on folks being civilized. or did you think you where alone on the train?

  10. I think its reasonable to say that certain things may make a ‘casual’ passenger feel unsafe that an ambassador could not stop (the talking loudly, swearing, etc.)

    However, I still feel the ambassador would make a huge difference: The activity described above isn’t unsafe, and it’s the fear of escalation that makes people feel unsafe. With an authority figure present (even if only in title and a shiny plastic badge) many of those fears of escalation will be relieved.

  11. This is what happens when you mix low income people with middle income people.

    The fact is, transit is a form of welfare designed to move people who cannot afford their own transportation [such as a car].

    Then we have this huge promotion to bribe middle income people to ride transit. Most of these people do so to avoid parking fees and hassle in the downtown area or rose quarter. They are NOT accustomed to being around people who cannot afford something as trivial as driving, so of course they feel uneasy.

    Stop trying to mix income groups and the problem will be solved.

  12. The fact is, transit is a form of welfare designed to move people who cannot afford their own transportation [such as a car].

    That may be true in other cities, but TriMet enjoys a large population of ‘choice’ riders who could be using other modes but choose to take transit.

    Stop trying to mix income groups and the problem will be solved.

    I for one don’t want to live in a society that is totally stratified by income!

  13. How about they eliminate the whole system and give us the ability to drive cars around instead? I am so tired of riding on the MAX and listening to the lowlives talk about their drug experiences, using the “F WORD” every other word and getting harassed by bums for money. It’s really turned into our loser transport system. Maybe they could start by posting some rules of behavior on the busses and MAX? They do this at the mall, why not on a publiclly funded system?

  14. The fact is, transit is a form of welfare designed to move people who cannot afford their own transportation [such as a car].

    This fact is hardly a fact. In cities such as Boston, New York and Chicago (where I grow up) professionals commonly ride transit, for many people it’s a lot easier than driving. In Chicago gentrification occurred (and is probably still occurring) along the L lines, because young professionals could more easily get to their jobs downtown.

    Yes, there were poor people who couldn’t afford to own a car. There were also students who didn’t yet have a car, secretaries who would prefer not to spend $200+ a month on parking, lawyers who preferred a 20 minute trip on the L to a 50 minute drive.

    Before you make generalizations about what mass transit does check out rush hour in one of the aforementioned cities and tell me what you see

  15. I get the impression that some people are riding a much different transportation system than I am. I rode both MAX and a bus today. Did I see some people who appeared poor? Yes. Did I see a much greater diversity of people that I see in general (like my neighborhood, work, etc)? Yes. Did I see lots of swearing or was I asked for money? No.

    If your frustration is with the fact that there is significant poverty in a country as great as ours, I suggest you work for change. If your frustration is with people different than you, I suggest you think about where the change really needs to happen. I don’t think it’s with Tri-Met.

  16. The fact that people are lazy and unmotivated should mean that we ALL have to be subjected to the crap. It’s just another governmental attempt to lower the standard to the lowest common denominator while they all sit in their golden palaces, giving themselves 20% salary increases and living high off the hog on their PERS. Do you really think if any of these government officials acutally rode the transit system regularly as the rest of us do that they would tolerate this? They would probably redefine “livability” and “sustainability” rather quickly.

  17. Greg,

    “The fact that people are lazy and unmotivated should mean that we ALL have to be subjected to the crap.”

    So, what are you suggesting we do with the people that you don’t seem to want to be around? For now they are your fellow citizens and last time I checked had the same rights. Have you tried getting by on a min. wage job lately? It’s not easy. Not everyone is born to good fortune and those of us who were should be careful about making about assumptions about just how easy it is and how much it is all just about hard work. As was famously said of George Bush, when you’re born on third base…

    More to your point, plent of governement workers ride my bus. I know that because I talk to the people I ride with. And actually, more than just “tolerate” it, we all enjoy the opportunity to interact with the full spectrum of our community. It’s one of the few places left where you can actually do that…and to be honest, it is both eye opening and educational.

  18. JK: I agree with you – I have myself been clipped by the MAX, and so has my girlfriend – at the intersection in front of Art Media where it stops at a stop sign (dumbest idea in the world).

    My experience was pretty scary – as I was crossing the street in front of the MAX, the doors closed and the driver hit the gas – and I was right in front of the train!

    safety should be paramount – and is a big reason cities decide to grade-separate their transit systems. *hint* *hint*

  19. TriMet could come a long way by actively enforcing its rules (laws, actually; they are backed by police officers who can legally issue summons to pay a fine or appear in court) regarding the appropriate use of transit facilities.

    Namely, Chapter 28 of the TriMet Code (

    Frankly, the Lloyd Center MAX station is one that I have had quite a few bad experiences with, of which sufficiently frightened my wife so that we no longer take MAX to Lloyd Center. Lloyd Center security is very effective of ensuring that similiar activities do not take place in the parking lots or inside the mall.

    On one recent trip, we were the only people at a MAX platform along with two other individuals who felt that “FU*” and “SH**” where the only words in the English language, and had no problem vandalizing, kicking, or hitting anything in sight (namely the TVMs). I’m sorry, I have a hard time accepting these uncivilized people as part of “cultural diversity”. Nor do I want my nearly three year old son to witness such activities; much less become a target/victim of these individuals.

    As is told in the customer service industry, “perception is reality”. Doesn’t matter that TriMet’s crime rate is relatively low; if people perceive it to be high, it IS high. TriMet can either enforce the laws it already has, with the police power it already possesses – or we can twiddle our thumbs and ignore those who we are despirately trying to attract as transit riders.

  20. See now you’re putting words in my mouth. I wasn’t insinuating that lower income people are “crap” what I was referring to is the insulting behavior (cursing, talking about the previous night’s drug binges, etc) by the lowlife scumbags. One day I was showing my mom and grandmother around towntown and what they had to be subjected to on the MAX was beyond belief. The swearing was so bad and I was terribly embarassed. They were like “why would you want to live in a place like Portland and have to listen and be subjected to THAT?” I have been asking myself the same question ever since. If they would just post rules of conduct like they do at the mall entrances and then enforce, that would be okay. But it still isn’t going to solve the transient problem. Maybe they should have a business class upper deck to the MAX where the upper class and where elderly people (who really should be given limo white glove service instead of being dehumanized on the transit system) can mingle without having to deal with the lower class issues. I would even pay $5 a ride to ride in business class so I wouldn’t have to deal with all the insulting behavior.

  21. Err, so they are not “crap,” they are “scumbags.”

    My bad. You still say that you don’t want to “deal with the lower class issues.”

    Guess what? Those are our issues, whether you want to deal with them or not. Yelling about TriMet isn’t going to change that fact.

  22. Although I do not know any specifics, about twice a month or so Portland Police are summoned to the 82nd Avenue light rail station eventhough the Max platform itself was specifically designed to have clear sight lines from the top of the stairs leading down from the street.

    I bring this up because any sightlines to transit waiting areas are extremely important; even more so for the three Max platforms along I-84. Given the importance of these sight lines as they relate to safety is the very reason why TriMet should NOT attempt to develop the property that now comprises the Hollywood Transit Center. Any structure on this property would block the clear sight lines between the Max platform and Halsey Street, and thereby compromise the safety of Max passengers using the platform.

    The other thing that comes to mind would be for TriMet turn around the high level seats on the low floor cars so that they face the interior of the cars rather than the back wall of the motorman’s compartment. This simply allows for more eyes viewing what is going on in the cars and less likely someone could be attacked from behind.

  23. Yeah, I have a better idea. How about I move out of Portland altogether to a better locale that has more open spaces and is more accomodating to people who want to be successful, not have to deal with transients, drug addicts and the lower rung? So much for this idea of “sustainability” and “livability”. It’s garbage and it’s pathetic and it stinks really bad. GO MEASURE 37!!!

  24. How about I move out of Portland altogether

    I think that is an appropriate response if someone really finds living in Portland so dissatisfying. There isn’t a shortage of people who want to live in Portland. It is now one of the most popular places in the country for the creative generation.

    People can live an ex-urban lifestyle in Oregon, but it is expensive. Because of the land use laws, there is limited housing outside urban areas. And Oregon doesn’t offer the subsidies that are often provided elsewhere to spur development in rural areas.

  25. Transit lines in the middle of freeways and isolated transit centers like Hollywood suck, for more than one reason; and the planners knew the demographics even back in the 70’s; they just didn’t give a s***. Just seek the cheapest way to build it–the hell with the riding public.

    Just approaching this from the standpoint of a transit user.

  26. Greg, where are you from and where in the Portland Metro do you live?

    7th and Halsey next to Lloyd Center.

    Originally From: Yamhill County. In fact, I’m a 7th generation Oregonian descended from a Pioneer family.

    Why not still there: The tyrannical dictators won’t let my family subdivide their property and give me some. So I have to instead live in the cramped urban ghetto prison and be subjected to this type of harassment.

    Go Measure 37. Time for a revolt against communism.

  27. The tyrannical dictators won’t let my family subdivide their property

    You mean the land that was given to your family by the government social engineers who were trying to get people to settle in Oregon?

  28. My parents bought their land fair and square. My ancestors had a donation land claim in West Linn where Bolton and Mary S. Young state park and Marylhurst are all located today. It was several thousand acres. But they gave that back to the locals in the late 1800’s when they relocated to Dayton. But in the 70’s the tyrants took away all the land from the landowners unless they are of a priveleged class and are in the UGB and getting kickbacks from the corrupt politicans. They classified almost everything outside the Metro UGB as “EFU” even if it’s a bunch of barren rocks. They even outright stole several acres my grandma owned through condemnation so they could build a stupid greenway. Well 4o years later that land sits in a shambles and nothing’s been done on it at all. Many other property owners suffered the same fate and had their property seized from the state of Oregon and weren’t paid a single dime for it. What’s even more insulting is that the state didn’t even DO anything with the land they stole. These jerks can get all our tax money and lavish PERS and extravagant salaries, all on the backs of the taxpayers. And they want us to live in cramped quarters and ride the toy train all over town. I want to see THEIR houses and see if THEY ride the transit systems and live in ultracramped overpriced living quarters.

  29. Little off topic, but my main problem are people smoking at the bus stops… I thought TriMet had created a no smoking policy, would be nice to see that enforced.

  30. Greg,

    Most pioneers I’ve read about risked their lives and everything they owned to create their own destiny rather than wait in a self-imposed “ghetto prison” for hand-outs from their family.

    Maybe you should consider following in the footsteps of your ancestors!!

  31. Yeah Greg. I gotta say, you seem more to be whining and not acting than actually being suppressed. I moved here FOR choices from places that didn’t have them. Seriously, it sounds like you need to take a stroll on down to Mississippi or Omaha or Wyoming where you have all the freedoms to do whatever to the land…

    …you just gotta have the guts to take the leap. Sounds like you’re loathsome to leave even though you seem to hate it. Be happy and take a hike – there ARE other choices to UGBs and such. Lots of choices. It’s YOUR CHOICE to leave or do something about it. But whining with exorbitantly negative statements isn’t helping your case. It just makes you sound petty.

  32. Greg: Come on man, it sounds like you want everything served up to you on a silver platter. Portland is not Dayton. There are poor people, minorities, and junkies here, and if you really find the reality of the world that distasteful, maybe you should just go back and live in Grandma’s basement out on your pioneer plot and wait for Oregonians in Action to build you a new home.

    Reminds me of some Drive-By Truckers lyrics:

    Once a country boy’s seen the way the steam rises
    off a man’s insides on the sidewalk
    Tends to change the way he thinks, the way he sees everything
    and he goes back to where he came from.

    If you’re unhappy, just go.

  33. While I appreciate the Greg may not be in the center of the spectrum of opinion here, making suggestions for his life choices is not in line without our rules for talking about policy, not personalities!

  34. Whatever. You are all newcomers, saying I should leave? Give me a break. You all should leave. Go back to California and Massachusetts and New York….

  35. Chris (and Greg),

    At what point do Greg’s comments stray over the line of commenting on people, personalities and lifestyle choices/circumstances instead of policy? Personally, I don’t find gross generalizations of certain groups within the bounds, either. It makes it a challenge to respond and stay within the bounds of the policy if everyone isn’t being held to the same standard.

  36. Typical “progressive” liberal response – try to shut someone down who has a different point of view.

  37. Chris –

    I agree. I think what happened here is Greg used himself as an example of what is wrong with the policies. As a result it became personal. I think the key is to avoid the use of “you”. That probably includes “you conservatives” and “you liberals” as well as “you idiots”.

  38. I think the conversation had degenerated quite a bit before I got to chime in. I’d like EVERYONE to keep it at the level of policy. But groups are not individual personalities. There isn’t a bright line.

  39. Tri-Met cannot enfoorce no-smoking policies at bus stops, unless they own the property. Same with train platforms.

    Which means, if you are on a dedicated train platform or transit center – like Hollywood, or most of the MAX line on the west side, or whatever – they can enforce the no-smoking policy.

    But if you are at a bus stop or trains stop on the street, that is public easement – even if there is a shelter. They cannot make policy there.

    I asked them the exact same question a while back. Although what aggrivated me was that I was at the stop at 17th and Center, right in front of the Tri-Met central lot, and it was me and 5 Tri-Met employees in uniform waiting at the stop. 4 of them were smoking. I asked Tri-Met what their policy was and they gave me the answer I stated above.

    However, I contend, that they can regulate what their employees in Tri-Met uniform do, and they should not be smoking IN the shelters.

    And as for Greg and his off-topic ranting, nothing prevents people from moving out of Portland. What is prevented, apparently, is subdividing the parents property so that he can move out of Portland FOR FREE. Big difference. Also, one need not live at 7th and Halsey either. So if one has a problem with a “cramped urban ghetto prison” then I suggest moving out of the inner urban areas. I am sure that there is no policy that prohibits relocating.

    And I won’t even get started on how little state employees make compared to the private sector – so get off of PERS because the state employees (even including PERS) make significantly less than the private sector.

  40. Well I had another day on our wonderful MAX system. My stupid car’s transmission went out and I can’t pay for it to get fixed right away :( In the morning the MAX was 35 minutes late. Supposedly their signalling system was broken so it had to go REALLY slow. The driver would blare the horn at each and every intersection, completely annoying everyone on the train. So I was late for another appointment – 45 minutes this time since I missed the connecting bus. Then this afternoon I had to hear a group of lowlives bragging about how they had just gotten their Oregon Trail Cards at the welfare office and were gonna “hook it up tonight” referring to drugs. Why don’t they put photo ID and fingerprints on these things? Maybe they need to raise the fare to $5 to keep these people off the MAX.

  41. And as for Greg and his off-topic ranting, nothing prevents people from moving out of Portland. What is prevented, apparently, is subdividing the parents property so that he can move out of Portland FOR FREE.

    Apparently you have a different idea of what “FREE” is. I would pay for any land that I acquired, of course I would. I’m not a freeloader like most of the people in this town. I am a hard worker and pay a lot into this asinine system!

  42. Yeah the commute this morning was bad, but I’m fairly sure that it wasn’t Tri-Met’s fault:

    (Just think, if he had done the same thing on a freeway, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, cause the freeway jams up everyday, where as Tri-Met is generally pretty reliable.)

    I do think your statement about your car not working is classic though. I mean, most people think of cars being reliable and always getting them where they want to go in comfort and on time, and as you noticed, it doesn’t always work that way, regardless of your method of travel. Sometimes, some idiot with a 130 foot trailer messes it up for you.

  43. Greg,

    Perhaps its you that needs to change and perhaps everyone else wishes they didn’t have to put up with your actions. How did you determine your thoughts are the “normal” and “accepted” standard? As for separate levels for the “upper class” and “lower class”, why don’t we separate the by race too? Oh, wait…we did that, then those whacky liberals decided it wasn’t any good.

    I’m not sure what year you live in, but in case you didn’t notice its the 21st century. Portland isn’t a religious commune devoid of diversity, if I wanted that I’d move to Provo or Orem. I’m sure you won’t find all of the things you find offensive there, you should visit it sometime.

    Its too bad that MAX inconvenienced you by being late when your car was broke down…but you should have taken a cab. I mean, these mass transit things are for poor people that can’t afford cars…oh, wait. You just said you couldn’t afford a car. Get to the lower deck and be quiet.

    As for the topic at hand, I wish I could use TriMet more…but I spend more time on Southwest than TriMet since my commute tends to be a bit further. I take pride in TriMet, I believe it is tax dollars well spent even if i don’t use it regularly. It is unfortunate that so many people visit Portland that have such limited exposure to the rest of the world, so they see someone that is “different” and they feel threatened.

    Its not a city if everyone is the same, white, wealthy and well educated…its a sterile gated community, I think there are plenty of those to be found *outside* of the UGB.

  44. Why should I have to take the cab when I already paid for it via the government’s forced charity? They would rather pander to the lowlives of town than make the system accomodating to those of us who actually pay into their asinine system. As for moving out of the state, why don’t YOU leave? My family has been here for 7 generations and I am not about to leave because of someone who has recently migrated here thinks I should. When my lease is up, I am out of Portland as soon as the first available opportunity presents itself. This town is deplorable!

  45. “Its not a city if everyone is the same, white, wealthy and well educated…its a sterile gated community, I think there are plenty of those to be found *outside* of the UGB.”

    Isn’t Portland the whitest city in America due to the fact they have gentrified so many areas and pushed out the low income people?

  46. Actually, Greg, although some snarky editorials have dubbed Portland as such, the actual title of Whitest City in America (for a city of over 100,000 people) goes to Livonia, Michigan which, although being located within 20 or so miles of Detroit, has an African-American population of less than 1%.

    I must thank you because this is a factoid which I did not know until you brought up the issue, but it only took a simple Google search (hint hint) to turn up the answer.

    – Bob R.

  47. PS… Eugene is the “whitest city” (over 100K) in Oregon (narrowly beating out Salem), each being 8-10% more “white” than Portland, and Vancouver, WA (not subject to all the policies you decry in Portland and Oregon) is about 9% more “white” than Portland.

    This does not mean that Portland doesn’t have a long way to go in terms of race relations, affordable housing, mitigating the effects of gentrification, etc., but “whitest city” it is not.

    – Bob R.

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