Sorting Out Fareless Square

We’ve had plenty of opinion about fareless square, and/or it’s curtailment.

I’d like to try to back up a little bit and take this out of the realm of opinion, and get into a more structured analysis. So I’m going to pose this question:

If you were asked to conduct an objective analysis of costs/benefits for fareless square, what data would you want to gather.

Please, DON’T express opinions about outcomes. If you really have a bias, feel free to ask for the data set that you think would support the bias, but let’s try to keep the discussion limited to the data that would help inform a decision.

Feel free to explain why you think the data you’re calling for would be useful.


80 responses to “Sorting Out Fareless Square”

  1. Data? data? you want data? That’s no fun.
    It would be interesting to know the number of riders who board in Fareless and continue outside without paying. 10%? 25%? 50%?
    Or how many Fareless riders are riding within the Square…for what reason? destination? would they pay a $1 fare?
    As I question the correlation between poor behavior and free rides, maybe we could plot those two. I include talking loud on a cell phone as poor behavior, but this is subjective as hell. Not sure how to get this data.
    Its curious that the “crime wave” that started in Gresham, where they don’t seem to have enough police, and then jumped to Washington County, where they do, this “crime wave” has little to do with Fareless Square. What’s the deal?

  2. I’d like to study the possibility of a downtown-only service like the Dash in Los Angeles which could replicate fareless square but removing it from existing bus lines.Would it be effective? Could the fare be 25c like in LA?

  3. “Its curious that the “crime wave” that started in Gresham”



  4. (1) What percentage of people who travel downtown to shop do so, at least in part, because they can travel freely around downtown on the bus or MAX once there?

    (2) What percentage of people who “ride free” would (a) employ some other means of transport (car, walking, bicycle) to get around downtown if the free ride wasn’t available, or (b) forego the trip completely (not go to Saturday Market from Pioneer Square, for example)?

    (3) How would projected ridership patterns change in the absence of Fareless Square? What would be the impact on total farebox revenue and/or daily/weekly/monthly pass sales?

    (4) What percentage of transit users would switch to another mode of travel if they could not travel freely around downtown Portland?

    (5) What are the projected net economic impacts on downtown businesses if there was no Fareless area to freely move customers around?

    (6) What is the projected increase (if any) in the demand for downtown parking in the absence of Fareless Square?

  5. 1. How many fareless square passengers drove into fareless square and parked then hopped onto a fareless service and what did they do? Are they going to work? Are they shopping? If so, how much are they spending? Are they dining?

    2. How does fareless square impact Portland’s tourist population? Are they compelled against renting a car because they can take MAX into Downtown and then use fareless to get around without paying a transit fare?

    3. How many drive-alone commuters use fareless service during a regular work week in Downtown Portland and for what? If fareless were eliminated, would they increase mid-day auto trips to run errands, go to lunch, or head to a meeting?

    I think most of the questions I would want answered have to do with the economic impact fareless square makes on the city and how it’s existence impacts downtown congestion (which also impacts air quality and livability issues as well)

  6. There are a number of different sorts of data. Some is readily available, other kinds would have to be gathered. But ideally:

    The number, time of day, distance, type of transit and purpose of trips within fareless square.

    How many trips are by people who would have to pay a fare if fareless square if it was eliminated. How did those people get downtown?

    How many people use fareless square for trips from parking facilities that are more than a quarter mile from their destination (assuming they would walk a quarter mile but limit their parking options to somewhere closer to their destination).

    How many people would pay a fare if fareless square were eliminated. Would a lower fare change that?

    How many people would stop paying a fare to get downtown if they had to pay an additional fare to get around during the day.

    How many people would buy a monthly transit pass instead of paying trip fares if they had to pay to get around downtown.

    How many more auto trips would eliminating fareless square create?

    How many more parking spaces will be required to support those trips? Where downtown will those additional spaces be needed?

    How many customers of various businesses used fareless transit to get there – in essence which businesses will be effected.

    How many extra buses/trains are required for fareless square that wouldn’t be necessary if everyone paid a fare.

    What would be the cost of expanding fareless service to Gresham, Beaverton and Hillsboro?

    Are their differences in the above numbers for trips on the east side, within downtown and between the two.

    I’d like to study the possibility of a downtown-only service

    Ethan, they did consider that when they looked at fareless square in 1988. The conclusion then was that it was not cost-effective. That doesn’t mean is still would be. But I think it is important to realize there is probably no additional cost to providing the current service. The buses and trains will all still run on the same schedules even if there is no fareless square. Its tough to beat zero cost.

  7. This is in caps, for emphasis:



    I do the courteous thing and wait,

    THEN THE S.O.B’s get off at the next stop!



  8. Next time your left standing on the curb by a “rude” bus driver I want you people to understand;


    That’s why folks are left standing in doorways of buses,not because bus drivers are rude, but because they get held up for people WHO GO ONE OR TWO STOPS!



    routes that last hour after hour before getting a break, americans with disabilities act requirements driving us insane;




  9. How would lloyd center be affected by a change/elimination of fareless sqaure?
    How many passengers would Trimet lose if Fareless was eliminated and replaced by regular fare?
    What would be the difference in ridership if Trimet did a reduced fare in the area that is now fareless?

  10. Cost per mile of operating a bus/Max train times the number of daily miles traveled in Fareless Square.

    Compare that to the same equation if fares were applied.

    Objectively consider not only distance traveled as part the fare structure, but also frequency of service. Downtown has greater frequencies than any other location.

    Is Fareless Square a form of discrimination in that transit passengers outside of Fareless Square that use transit for short hops must pay for the ride and wait longer for the service to arrive, and/or possibly not even have service at certain hours of the day and night?

    If Fareless Square continues, should the payroll tax be modified to include a higher amount for businesses located within the Fareless Square area?

    Should downtown fares be applied to offset the costs of the transit mall?

    How many rides both start and end within Fareless Square?

    How many of those rides are by people living in the Fareless Square zone that never leave the area and therefore use the service without ever financially contributing to it.?

    If Fareless Square continues, should residences within Fareless Square also be directly taxed for the service?

    What are the numbers of incidents that occur within Fareless Square, including the number street people that use transit for shelter?

    Is Fareless Square more about image, ego, precedent and something you can tell the world than it is about providing a high quality of transit service?

  11. Here are some data points. I’ve contacted TriMet, the City of Portland, and Multnomah County to learn more about Fareless Square funding.

    I had planned to do a full article on this but since Chris has already launched this Fareless Square thread, I’ll post the info:


    City of Portland pays $288,419
    Multnomah county pays $337,115
    Lloyd TMA pays $50,000

    Total: $675,534 (Annually)

    That’s an average of about $1,850 per day.

    The City of Portland money comes from the Office of Transportation and is funded primarily by parking revenues, not from state contributions.

    The Multnomah County money comes from a mixture of revenues from rental car taxes and hotel/motel room taxes.

    I’ll post some more speculative info in the next comment.

    – Bob R.

  12. Here is a rehash of a comment I made over at the Tribune yesterday, based on the $1,850/day average:

    The question then becomes A) how many people ride entirely within Fareless Square every day, B) how many additional service hours does TriMet have to provide (if any) to accommodate these short hops, C) what do those service hours cost. From that, you would subtract D) how many of those people would still ride and pay a fare, if there were no Fareless Square.

    Then you’d know how much (if any) TriMet was contributing to fareless operations which wasn’t being paid by local agencies.

    The problem right now is that the answer to D is highly speculative. You could do a survey and ask riders if they would still be riding in Fareless Square if there were a fare, and what they’d be willing to pay, and how often they’d ride, but you’d just be measuring opinions.

    I do know that when I did an analysis of the Yellow Line boarding counts earlier this year, it appears that about 1,500 or do daily boardings and deboardings are entirely within Fareless Square. Not all of those can be counted as truly fareless riders — many people hold passes, for example, so it wouldn’t matter to them if there was a charge. And of the remaining riders, many are transferring to or from a bus with a valid fare in the Rose Quarter area.

    (It is easier to do this kind of analysis with the Yellow Line because it terminates within Fareless Square, so you can actually count every inbound boarding from Rose Quarter inward to Galleria as a fareless boarding, and every deboarding from Library/10th outward to Rose Quarter as fareless boarding.)

    From this point forward, it’s pure “back of the napkin” analysis, but I think it’s in the ballpark — here we go:

    I’m going to assume that when you take out the pass holders and the transferees that there are 1,000 legit Fareless riders per day on the Yellow Line.

    Now, in the downtown portion the Red Line and Blue Line all share the same stops/tracks with the Yellow Line. The Red Line runs just about as often as the Yellow Line, so let’s call that another 1,000 riders. The Blue Line runs more often, so let’s call that 1,500. Now we’re at 4,500 riders.

    Because the Blue and Red Lines go to the Lloyd Center, we should add some more there. The Lloyd Center station is pretty busy … let’s say about half of the riders are fareless (completely pulling that number out of thin air) and throw in another 1,000.

    There aren’t as many fareless riders on buses these days, but for good measure let’s throw in another 1,000. Now we’re at 6,500 riders. I’m thinking that figure is on the high end.

    What we’re then talking about is a city/county/other contribution of about 30 cents per boarding ride. Most Fareless Square rides are well under a mile.

    According to TriMet figures for FY2006, the average operating cost of a MAX ride is 52 cents per passenger-mile (dividing operating costs by total passenger miles).

    Before any real decision is made about the fate of the square, I hope a serious evaluation is performed to really determine the correct number of riders and the cost of providing that service. But just using a quick-and-dirty analysis like the one above, it appears that the city/county/other contributions are at least in the ballpark.

  13. What is the frequency of public safety incidents (complaints, arrests) within Fareless Square? Outside of Fareless Square? How does this compare to previous years?

    How does the frequency of public safety incidents within Fareless Square differ by time-of-day (e.g., before and after 7:00 PM)?

    What proportion of riders within Fareless Square are elderly? Infirm? Mobility-impaired? Disabled? Accompanied by infants or small children? Indigent?

    What proportion of riders making trips that both originate and end within Fareless Square live in the Central City? What proportion come from outside the Central City? What proportion work downtown? What proportion are downtown primarily for shopping? What proportion are downtown primarily for recreational activities? What proportion are tourists?

    What proportion of riders making trips that both originate and end within Fareless Square live within Fareless Square? Of those who don’t live within Fareless Square, what proportion initially arrived in Fareless Square on foot? By bicycle? By private car? By carpool? By MAX? By Streetcar? By bus?

    What are the current no-proof-of-purchase rates for the MAX, the Streetcar, and for buses? [It’s critical that data about these rates distinguish between those riders found to have no proof-of-purchase whatsoever and those whose transfers have passed the time limit or whose monthly passes have expired or who are found to have falsely claimed eligibility for youth or honored citizen fares. In the past, Trimet has often lumped these in together, with the result that only about half of reported “fare evasion” actually consisted of absence of proof-of-purchase.]

    What are the no-proof-of-purchase rates for MAX trains inbound to Fareless Square vs. those outbound from Fareless Square? What are no-proof-of purchase rates for segments of MAX routes that do not pass through Fareless Square?

    What are the no-proof-of-purchase rates for buses inbound to Fareless Square vs. those outbound from Fareless Square?

    What would the cost be to install controlled entry gates (such as those being discussed in Gresham) throughout the system? What would the maintenance costs be? What would the impact be on loading times?

    For each year since the MAX began, how many fare inspectors were employed? How does this compare with other proof-of-purchase cities (such as San Diego, which claims a fare evasion rate of 2%)? How has the number of inspectors kept pace with increases in ridership?

    What percentage of the time are riders challenged for proof-of-purchase on the MAX? On the Streetcar? How does this compare to other cities. (It’s been reported that the challenge rate in San Diego is 28%.)

    What are the fare evasion rates in cities that _do_ have controlled-access systems? (Turnstile jumping, gate triggering, fake cards and tokens, etc.)

    Are surveillance cameras on MAX trains monitored in real time or merely archived for later use in identification and prosecution? What about cameras on buses? Boarding platforms?






    (I can’t believe that TRIMET gets away with this discriminatory policy, and y’all turn a blind eye to it, y’all a bunch of transit racists!)

  15. Here’s my 2 cents….. They should charge based on where people get on and where they get off – you know, like driving … The further you go, the more gas you have to use.


    Chris specifically asked that _this_ thread not be about biases, outcomes, opinions, etc., but rather examine data and the right questions to ask about data.

    There’s been plenty of shouting and arguing in the other thread.

  17. 1) Number of rides in fareless square that are longer than 1/4 mile, (5 blocks.)

    2) Approximate number of those riders that already have transit passes or tickets…

  18. Let’s remember that the original point of Fareless Square, as I understand it, was essentially economic vitality: The city’s leaders wanted to revitalize downtown Portland, and Fareless Square was one of many strategies in the original Downtown Plan (if I remember correctly). They, and it, seem to have worked, if you accept the premise that Downtown Portland is now a more vital place than it was in the early 1970s.

    So, I think the question is, how does Fareless Square contribute to the ongoing economic vitality of downtown? I’m not sure how exactly to quantify this, but I don’t think that the focus should be on the farebox. It has never been a transit operational issue; it has been an economic development issue. The funding sources spell that out pretty clearly. If Fareless Square is still playing an essential role in continuing economic development and maintenance, then this analysis needs to find a way to measure and perhaps quantify that effect.

  19. This is from a document I found, I believe, on RTD’s website about the history of Fareless Square. Bob, are you familiar with this? Anyway, here is an excerpt from the document regarding the rationale of for fareless square.

    Rationale Behind Fareless Square
    In 1974, a staff report recommended a Fareless Square in downtown Portland. Following are the benefits and objectives cited in the report. Fareless Square:
    1. Promotes transit riding by providing people who do not currently use transit an opportunity to try it;
    2. Reduces auto generated air pollution by eliminating short auto trips within the free fare zone;
    3. Helps provide higher mobility and coordination for travel between governmental centers and offices in the downtown;
    4. Provides more opportunities for travel within downtown to retail, financial, hotel and entertainment areas.
    The Transportation Control Plan outlined methods for addressing air quality problems in the Portland air shed. Fareless Square was promoted as a component of this plan. Other elements of the plan included the downtown parking lid and staggered work hours. In addition, Fareless Square was promoted as an element of downtown revitalization.

  20. Ha… can you tell I live in Denver? When I said RTD, I meant Tri-Met. FYI – I grew up in Portland and work in the transportation field here in Denver where we operate a fareless shuttle down our transit/ped mall … hence my interest in this topic.

  21. Downtown is without doubt more “vibrant” than it used to be. However, there still are lots of dilapidated and unrented spaces in downtown. Businesses are being chased away by a radical element and city government that is apathetic. The fur store is a great example of this as is Cindy’s bookstore in Chinatown.

  22. Statistics don’t lie. They can be erroneous, they can be manipulated, and they can answer the wrong question due to faulty assumptions. This thread is attempting to look at what we want to ask to address the issue in an objective fashion.

  23. Greg –

    Take your arguments to another thread, please. Please see the very clear instructions in the original post.

  24. I’m sorry Bob;


    You CANNOT take humanity and boil it down to a bunch of numbers.

    It doesn’t wash!

    Regretfully Yours;

    Al M

  25. You CANNOT take humanity and boil it down to a bunch of numbers.

    When you’re trying to examine whether or not a policy is working, and deciding whether it will be better to change or end the policy and spend money elsewhere, you’ve got to be able to compare Policy A to Policy B. That takes numbers. We need to look at the human dimension as well, and deal with issues of perception, but any rational public policy decision requires objective data.


    (Including this one.)

  27. I was leaving but couldnt resist peaking over here one more time:



    You can always ignore whoever you find disagreeable!

    Nobody forces you to read anything ya know!

    Sheesh, some people!


  28. You CANNOT take humanity and boil it down to a bunch of numbers.

    That is irrelevant to this particular discussion. What does that comment have to do with fareless square? What does it have to do with an objective analysis?

    The answer is nothing. Its an argument that people shouldn’t be having his discussion at all and there seem to be numerous posts here that seem to serve no purpose other than to disrupt that discussion. Successfully.

  29. Hi all,

    Looking only at Fareless Square is looking at the system here through the wrong end of the telescope. We really need to consider the bigger picture, which means the overall structure of Fareless Square and the overall fare structure. We need to ask

    – If Fareless Square is eliminated, should anything else change in the fare structure? How can we get some of the benefits — especially for downtown shoppers and visitors — while eliminating the liabilities — mostly the safety factor?

    – If Fareless Square is maintained, should its boundaries change? The basic boundaries were drawn in 1975. I understand the history, but now we have a zone that covers only the south half of the Pearl (the streetcar runs north to Northrop but Fareless Square ends at Hoyt), and only the north half of the new waterfront development (RiverPlace is in the Square but South Waterfront is not).

    In other words, Fareless Square is serving some downtown residents but not others. I understand how it came to be this way, but that doesn’t mean it must remain this way.

    And the pass structure is strange. An annual pass to ride the Streetcar end-to-end is $100 (57 times a single $1.75 fare), yet an annual pass covering a similar distance on (say) the #17 bus is $715 (408 times a single fare), and there is no one-zone annual pass. I think I understand the history, but nevertheless the fare system is becoming balkanized — it’s not as seamless as it ought to be.

    Does TriMet publish a statistical report from which we could glean data? I have the 06-07 budget, which is extremely detailed on the expense side but very sketchy on the income side. The file has more detailed figures, but none that would help me here.

    I would be interested in knowing:

    (1) Of the roughly 300,000 daily boardings, about how many are regular TriMet riders in each category of pass, and how many are occasional who pay a single fare? What are their origins and destinations? The current discussions are focused on those who don’t pay fares; I would like to know the distribution of those who *do* pay.

    Portland is like a European city in many ways. One aspect of this is that the wave of inner-city gentrification is pushing the poorer folks out to the outer districts. Yet they are the ones who — if they work in the city — are paying the most for their transportation because they cover the most zones and thus buy the spendiest passes. I understand how it came to be this way, but that doesn’t make it the right way. Maybe this needs to be re-thought?

    (2) Roughly how many convention and sports event visitors ride between Lloyd Center/Rose Quarter and downtown? During the day? In the evening? This is supposed to be a big advantage of Fareless Square — to what extent is it actually working that way? If we cut off Fareless Square at 7 PM, what effect does that have on the visitor factor?

    (3) The Streetcar has about 10,000 boardings a day. How many $100 annual Streetcar passes are sold? Technically South Waterfront and North Pearl/Nob Hill residents should pay, but do they do so?

    I advocate a calm approach to dealing with Fareless Square — look at the fare structure holistically and see if it’s serving the right people the right way.

  30. Mike –

    A partial answer to your question about streetcar passes. A significant number of the South Waterfront residents were given passes by their condo developers when they purchased or moved in. Some of those passes are just now reaching expiration, so it will be interesting to see how many people renew. I know that the streetcar organization did a mailing recently to South Waterfront residents, and I helped them set up the web site so that pass-holders could elect to purchase new passes online.

    To keep this on topic, I think your concern could be turned into a broader question regarding fare system boundaries:

    What percentage of riders who live on the immediate periphery of fareless square, and should technically be utilizing a pass or single fare to ride the system, are stretching the boundaries a bit and not carrying a valid fare instrument?

    – Bob R.

  31. I advocate a calm approach to dealing with Fareless Square — look at the fare structure holistically and see if it’s serving the right people the right way.

    I agree, and I think what Chris was saying above is lets do that based on current information, not 25 year old conclusions and people’s anecdotes.

    I also agree with you that a fresh look at boundaries of fareless square, if it continues to exist in some form, makes sense. And looking at the whole fare structure is a good idea as well.

  32. As a tourist and a frequent visitor to Portland, I would suggest either ditching the Fareless Square option or go to a limited time. For myself I would not mind paying the normal 1 zone fare to get around Portland as long as all of the fares are the same ($1.25 for bus, max, streetcar) Some folks in our area (Seattle) are waiting to see what happens in regards to Fareless Square though Sound Transit’s Link Light-Rail is planning on making Link riders pay regardless while buses would remain free until the International District Station (Southbound) or the Convention Center Station (Northbound)

    The thought of this I am assuming is not to have extra riders that simply transfer to Sounder which would affect the overall ridership of the system.

    On a side note, how many riders of Portland Streetcar use Fareless Square in general? I know this number would be pretty high but would the reduction of service or elimination of the Square heavily affect the ridership of the rail systems there? Would the general commuters be relieved by the reduction of ridership but the possible increase in fares? How would eliminating the square benefit Tri-Met overall?


  33. Brian – About 43% of the stops on the current streetcar route are outside of Fareless Square. The rest are within fareless. The current boarding counts are not correlated into stop-by-stop boardings, instead they’re train-by-train and time-of-day. I have asked that future boarding counts include stop-by-stop numbers.

  34. If Fareless Square is eliminated, should anything else change in the fare structure? How can we get some of the benefits — especially for downtown shoppers and visitors — while eliminating the liabilities — mostly the safety factor?

    As I’ve mentioned before, the cost of an all-day pass is just slightly higher than that of two tickets (a round trip). Assuming a shopper or visitor is going downtown for several hours, paying just a little more for bus fare than a round-trip ticket gives them all the benefits of Fareless Square.

    As long as Tri-Met’s fare structure keeps the day pass just a little more than twice the cost of the basic fare, the “shopper and visitor” benefits of Fareless Square can be preserved at a fairly low per-rider cost.

    (That wouldn’t apply to all users, just those who already are buying a ticket in and a ticket back.)

  35. djk –

    Since I’ve been kinda strict about keeping this on-topic, can you phrase your comment as a quantitative question? (Think of it as the Fare Structure edition of “Jeopardy”.)

  36. he cost of an all-day pass is just slightly higher than that of two tickets

    Which raises another question, what are people paying. Because the cost of an all day pass is 4.25, the cost of an honored citizen fare is .80 and for kids 7 to 17 its 1.40. So for grandparents and two grandkids the current one way fare is 5.40 or 10.80 round trip. All-day passes are going to cost that same group $17.

    That wouldn’t apply to all users, just those who already are buying a ticket in and a ticket back.

    Which is why the issue of how many users of fareless square paid to get downtown is important.

    It would also be good to know how many downtown workers would habitually pay extra for an all day pass in order to be able to get around during the day. I suspect folks already paying for roundtrip for two zones might pay the extra $.15 on the off-chance they would want to go somewhere.

  37. 3) How many fareless square users have a car parked in or near fareless square?

    (My parents used to park at Galleria, and go to the library (walk) and Pioneer Square Mall (MAX) Saturday Market (MAX) and Powells (streetcar.) And because of validation, it didn’t cost them anything.) One solution for people like them would be to have an active smartpark ticket also serve as a TriMet ticket…

  38. How many TV travel shows and guidebooks praising Fareless Square as a boon to visitors will become incorrect?

    Off the top of my head: Frommer’s, Rough Guide, NW Best Places, A. Bourdain Portland episode, Globetrekker Portland episode… Basically, all of them.

    What does Tri-Met spend that $700K on? Will those costs actually go away?

  39. Sorry. Bob. That wasn’t really a question; just a partial response to a question. The Jeopardy version would essentially be the point I was responding to: How can we structure fares to provide the benefits of Fareless Square while minimizing potential drawbacks, if any, of the current system?

  40. How many people don’t use transit because of the people they have to share it with? Which group is larger the “undesirables” or the people they drive away? How many “undesirabes” would stop riding if there was a fare? Would it exclude enough of them to make the folks who are uncomfortable use transit, or would they still be driven off by those that paid a fare?

    How many people would give their transfer to someone if they were panhandled for it?

    Given a choice between sitting next to a homeless person and someone chatting on a cell phone, which would most people choose? Would the type of conversation matter?

  41. How do the indigent and homeless, who might be excluded if a fare were required, use fareless square? What are the destinations and purposes of their trips? Same with other “undesirables”, however those who avoid transit define them.

  42. I would call a

    “data summit”

    at this summit we will determine the good data, the bad data, and the ugly data.

    the data will then be further classified into sub sections of micro data;

    better data, worse data, and ‘ i cant even look at’ data;

    from this data we will continue extrapolation of both column a data & column b data until the micro mini data is available.

    at that point we will interview the homeless and the unemployed to see if our data has any factual data in the data at all.

    at that point we will throw the whole data study out and hire a consultant ($1,000,000) to use their data to see if our data is in the real world.

  43. How much additional revenue would be generated by eliminating Fareless Square (regardless of whether the grants from the city and county continued)? What would this additional revenue be used for? (increased staffing, reduced payroll tax, rebates of the local grants, increased pay/benefits to Trimet’s unionized employees, reduced fares, capital projects, more bus lines, ???)

  44. Additional revenue=X
    Increased staffing=Y
    Reduced payroll tax=Z
    Rebates of Local grants=W
    Increased pay=U
    Reduced fares=S
    More bus lines=T

    So here it is:

    X^3 – Y^3 ( {Z – W} ( {U^2 + S + T^2 } =answer

    These are the statistics that give us the answer to what happens when we end fareless square.

    Just put in numbers from statistics for letters and voilà, its all figured out!

  45. I want all of you that went whining to daddy about me to know that I have promised daddy that I would be nice, ok,

    so please dont go bothering daddy about me anymore.

    your pal;


  46. Bob said, regarding costs of Fareless Square:


    City of Portland pays $288,419
    Multnomah county pays $337,115
    Lloyd TMA pays $50,000

    Total: $675,534 (Annually)

    That’s an average of about $1,850 per day.

    That’s an interesting statistic, Bob. According to the TriMet Fact Sheet (from, the total annual passenger revenue is in the neighborhood of $68,000,000.

    So the cost of Fareless Square is about 1% of TriMet’s total “take” from the fare box. If these numbers are all comparable, ending Fareless Square would increase farebox revenue by 1%.

    So those who claim that “paying passengers are subsidizing the Fareless Square riders” are simply wrong in their facts.

    OK, if my analysis is correct, we can consider the benefits and weaknesses of Fareless Square independent of revenue considerations.

    If TriMet has a serious problem with revenue lost from fare-dodging, solve that problem. The only effective way to do it is to seriously increase the probability of getting caught, i.e., by increasing the human presence.

    In Amsterdam — which hs never had a fare-free zone — they’re dropping their POP system and going back to having a conductor on every light-rail train. (They’re doing this a line at a time, as they can recruit enough conductors.) Putting an adult on each train has the twin benefits of bringing in more revenue and reducing teenage rowdiness.

    Undoubtedly the costs of the conductors exceed the recovered revenue, but the riders feel safer too. If that’s what we want in Portland, Fareless Square is only a small part of the solution — we simply must be willing to hire more people.

    One recent O or Trib story said there are about a dozen fare inspectors. If that’s true, what a joke! No wonder we have fare-dodgers! Hiring more people costs more, obviously, but some things cannot be done on the cheap.

  47. Mike –

    Thinking about your comments, I come up with questions like these:

    1. What are the actual costs incurred by TriMet (beyond baseline service levels which would exit with or without the square) in operating fareless square.
    2. Are the city/county/other contributions to TriMet sufficient to cover these costs.

    We need the answer to Question #1 in order to answer Question #2.

  48. 2. Are the city/county/other contributions to TriMet sufficient to cover these costs.

    Or if Trimet receives more than any additional cost, which is likely, will additional fares recover the extra revenue. If not, where will the money come from.

  49. How many people would drive if fareless squre wasn’t fareless?

    And, would people driving instead of taking the bus be a good thing or a bad thing?

  50. The financial subsidy to the Portland Streetcar siphoned from parking meter revenues (about 1.5 mil I think) must be also added to the $288,419 the City of Portland directly forks over for Fareless Square to obtain the true picture of how much taxpayers and motorists are being fleeced so transit can be free downtown.

    Keeping that in mind, here is the ultimate question: Should parking meter revenues be redirected (and better utilized) to pay for streets and roads (thereby benefiting the motorists that pay them) instead of being poached to subsidize free transit? Additionally, the answer needs to be far more wide ranging than just how it affects downtown, and must include a extensive diverse group of motorist participation. My answer is unequivocally yes, parking meter revenues should go to streets and roads and NOT be used to subsidize transit (or bicycle infrastructure)!

  51. We’re not seeing much actual data (yet, I hope — maybe we’ll see some here or in the press) about the real relationship between Fareless Square and (1) fare-dodging on a grander scale, (2) panhandling and other eccentric behavior, and (3) serious crime like the several recent tragic — but rare — muggings.

    I find myself wondering whether TriMet (or anyone) is really trying to survey to discover whether the relationships are real or just perceived.

    Just to cite one example, it is asserted that Fareless Square provides a “rolling homeless shelter”. Is there any data, or even authoritative anecdotal evidence, on which to base this assertion? How would we know if a street person was riding back and forth, unless someone rode back and forth in the same train snd tracked his movement?

    I’m starting to get an uneasy feeling that the recent muggings are causing us to fly into a panicked state which is exacerbated by some sensationalistic stories in the local press.

    When tragedy strikes, it’s human nature to want to do something. We want to reduce the risk of repetition, but perhaps in our haste to react, we overreact, with unintended consequences or consequences that are out of proportion to the risk. [We could probably all cite some recent examples of this in our society…]

    From what I’ve read about Fareless Square history, some in the community thought it was a bad idea from the get-go. Some now think it’s a bad idea. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be abandoned. Most ideas have proponents and opponents.

    Do you think it’s possible that the recent crimes are now being hyped — beyond their real importance — by those who simply want Fareless Square to go away and are latching onto the crimes as a convenient excuse to advocate for their agenda?

  52. A question to add a dimension to Terry’s comments:

    How many motorists parking downtown utilize Fareless Square? How many all the time, once a month, a few times a year, etc.

    How many additional parking spaces would be needed in the central city if Fareless Square were not implemented? How much would those new parking spaces cost to construct, and if not constructed, how much would prices have to be raised on existing spaces in order to preserve availability?

    – Bob R.

  53. I saw homeless people have sex on the streetcar once, in the middle of the aisle. They were drunk and humping right on the floor. The streetcar was full, but it wasn’t in fareless square!

    You should have seen people’s reaction… it was hilarious. And apparently the operator didn’t want to deal with it, because he never stopped and told ’em to get off… we rode all the way from NW 21st down past Powell’s before they got off.

  54. How many additional parking spaces would be needed in the central city if Fareless Square were not implemented?

    And, as I said above, where would they be needed. Without fareless square, the “central city” is not one place. The parking garage next to the Galleria doesn’t serve people going to old town, the pearl or even Powell’s.

    …latching onto the crimes as a convenient excuse to advocate for their agenda?

    This is certainly happening. But the debate, to some extent, is about perceptions. Is transit downtown not being used because of perceptions around safety? If it is perceived that way, and its interesting that no one here has actually asked for any data on that point, what can be done about it. In some ways, if the problem is real it is easier to deal with. If its mostly perception, what will change that other than telling the fearmongers to stop fear mongering.

    So I think there needs to be some hard data on people’s perceptions of safetry on both MAX and buses. And that needs to be divided into regular users, occasional users, non-users, and never-will users.

    For current users, there also needs to be a distinction by where people board and get off and while they are on transit. Do they feel safer once they are on transit downtown than they did while waiting for it? Do they feel safer at a MAX stop than they do when waiting on a street corner for a bus in the same neighborhood? Do they feel less safe in fareless square than they do during the rest of their trip?

    One other question, where will the homeless go if eliminating fareless square moves them out of downtown? Because they will go somewhere. If you have water in the basement and it pools at a low spot, you can get it out of that spot by raising that spot, but the water is just going to run to the next lowest spot in the basement. The problem isn’t the low spot, the problem is the water in the basement.

  55. “So the cost of Fareless Square is about 1% of TriMet’s total “take” from the fare box. If these numbers are all comparable, ending Fareless Square would increase farebox revenue by 1%.”

    This concept of attempting to break out costs between this and that district is bad thinking.


    The cost must be calculated equitably around the whole system, not;

    ‘how much does it cost to provide service to Hillsboro’

    ‘how much does it cost to serve Oregon City’

    I’m going to repeat this again, since many of you are so expert in ignoring any facts that don’t agree with your view of the world.

    People have to pay to use trimet in every city within the service area, EXCEPT DOWNTOWN PORTLAND.

    I am sick and tired of listening to everyone try to justify this blatant favoritism by coming up with lame excuses like;
    ‘the city of Portland pays for fareless square’.

    I’m talking about the little guys, everyone pays but Portland.

    “One recent O or Trib story said there are about a dozen fare inspectors. If that’s true, what a joke!”

    TRIMET had made it very clear over the years that fare inspectors ARE NOT TO INSPECT FARES.

    This company wouldn’t have any fare inspectors if the feds didn’t require it.

    TRIMET makes money on passenger boarding’s, not fares.
    “How many people would drive if fareless squre wasn’t fareless?”

    If anybody is stupid enough to get in their car to go from 5th and Washington over to 10th and Jefferson then so be it. I’m not subsidizing stupidity.
    “How much is fareless square worth in the positive tourism publicity it generates?”

    This statement is the actual real truth of why we have fares less square.
    It’s not a secret that the money mongers have long been seeking to make Portland a ‘must see’ destination for tourists. Most tourists pass over Portland between Seattle and San Fran, the money mongers want that loot!
    “. Is there any data, or even authoritative anecdotal evidence, on which to base this assertion?”

    You guys want to break down all of human life and behaviour into some kind of data set that you can study, like bales of hay left at the loading dock.

    People are not commodities.
    “Do you think it’s possible that the recent crimes are now being hyped –“


    Trimet has had a management attitude of “everything goes” on its buses and trains.

    That attitude has directly lead to the public disregard for its transit system from some of the less ethical members of Portland society.


    Now this ‘tolerance’ has come back to bite trimet management in the ass.

    They deserve it as far as I am concerned.

    Management of this agency has been asleep for some time now.


    Yes they are on in the comm. Center, but nobody is assigned to watch them!
    I think its appropriate for me to ask some of the more vocal members of this group EXACTLY HOW OFTEN AND WHAT TIMES OF DAY YOU RIDE TRANSIT.

    I would like to know for myself weather your just talking out you’re a-hole or weather or not you actually ride the system.


    Your Pal


  56. I’m going to repeat this again, since many of you are so expert in ignoring any facts that don’t agree with your view of the world.

    That’s actually quite funny, coming from one of the leading experts on this forum at ignoring facts.

  57. I would appreciate answers from:

    BOB R

    and anybody else who reads and posts to this discussion frequently.

  58. Al, the question is irrelevant to this topic. Besides, I’ve already talked about the where, when, how often in numerous other posts. If you were paying attention, you’d already know.

  59. I have just deleted the last 7 comments because they have nothing to do with the purpose of this thread, which is to SUGGEST DATA POINTS that would be helpful in evaluating fareless square as a policy.

    My next step will be to close comments if this continues.

    Folks, I have talked with Al about his posting. If you don’t find his contributions constructive, I would suggest you refrain from responding to them.

  60. “I would appreciate answers from:ROSS BOB R DJK MATHEW GTINSALEM TERRY PARKER”

    Its now 3pm and I see no answers. Now I know that ross, djk are on line or where on line. I assume that Bob R is lurking somewhere.

    I am a little surprised that Bob R didn’t respond but I understand he needs to be on the “side” of his long time buddy’s so I forgive him.

    Now, there are only two reasons why those above chose not to respond;

    A-They don’t like me, so they attempt to shun me, sort of an adolescent way of dealing with things;

    B-They refuse to answer because they know their answer will make it obvious that they really don’t have the slightest clue as to what is really happening in fareless square.

    If the answer is “A” then they prove to me that pettiness is more important than logical debate which indicates a complete lack of credibility on all of their posts.

    If the answer is “B” then they prove to me that they have no idea what they are talking about anyway.

    ERGO, I have my answer, no further discussion is required.

    I have complied with the posting intent because I have done a statistical study outlining two possibilities in regards to answers being delivered here.

  61. Al, this is not the thread for this discussion. Take it to the “Mercury Blog” thread which is where we’ve been having the more heated debate.

  62. Chris, Bob –

    I do appreciate your efforts to keep this on topic. I know it can be a challenge; looking back, I count more than 25 off-topic comments on this thread (more than 1/3 of the comments).

    I’d prefer that instead of closing comments on a rather interesting and (I think) important topic, you simply made a broader effort to enforce order by deleting off-topic posts as they appear. Off-topic posts increase the likelihood other people will respond to them, dragging things further off-topic.

    Obviously, it’s your blog, so you can handle things any way you like. Just my 2 cents.

    Taking this back on topic: does the presence of Fareless Square provide any measurable incentive for out-of-town visitors staying downtown to forgo rental cars for their trip? If so, does that have any measurable impact on downtown congestion and/or parking? If people don’t rent cars because they rely on transit, what is the net impact of NOT getting the auto rental transaction?

    Casey asks “How much is fareless square worth in the positive tourism publicity it generates?” Is there any way to quantify whether Fareless Square influences tourist’s decisions to either visit Portland, or return to Portland after visiting?

  63. Does Fareless square have measurable impact on transit users that need to go beyond fareless square in their attempt to board, does fareless square result in some passengers being left behind that need to get out of fareless square. (the answer is yes)

    Quantification of bicyclists who are passed up because the bike racks are used for fareless square riders.

    Measurable effects of fareless square on bus routes and how that is making buses late.

    Average distance that each rider in fareless square rides.

    Can an analysis be done on why people are using fareless square, and exactly who is using fareless square.

    How does fareless square affect bus drivers ,fare inspectors and police. Can a survey be done for all of those listed.

    Should a survey be done of riders who use Trimet outside of fareless square allowing them a say in the decision, or should those riders have no say in how fareless square operates.

    Should this issue be put on the next election ballot?

  64. Sorry I’m so late in replying. I know I’ve overheard tourists marveling at how it’s free to go about the city center, and this was rolled into several other things they liked about the city. I suppose the only way to quantify it would be to ask tourists what they think of the system.

    Also, in selling Portland as a convention city, it helps to be able to say that you can hop on a free light rail train to your hotel, a restaurant, shopping, whatever. With other cities, transportation costs (such as cab fare) can become a complaint for convention-goers.

  65. Hi all,

    Chris started this thread on Dec. 13 asking us what data we’d like to have, in order to think better about the Fareless Square issue.

    There were many responses, some of which actually suggested specific data. Chris implied — but didn’t actually say — that some data might be forthcoming in response to his call for suggestions.

    So Chris (or anyone else with detailed access to TriMet data) — are we going to get some data? Any idea when?

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