TriMet: Should Fareless Square Hours be Limited?

TriMet has scheduled public meetings regarding Fred Hansen’s recent proposal to limit the hours of operation of Fareless Square:

In response to recent security concerns TriMet’s General Manager has outlined a new security plan as part of a multi-faceted strategy to improve safety and security at night throughout the transit system. An important element of this plan includes limiting fareless hours to 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Much of the disruptive and threatening behavior that is witnessed on MAX occurs at night between downtown and the Lloyd District. The proposal is specifically targeted at passenger safety in the downtown core, and to substantially reduce the type of undesirable behavior that impacts the safety of our system.

See the full meeting notice here.

The scheduled meetings are:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 16

    Liberty Center Auditorium

    650 NE Holladay St, Portland

    11 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 16

    Portland Building Auditorium

    1120 SW 5th Ave, Portland

    5-7 p.m.

The meeting notice web page also lists alternate means of providing public comment, including phone and email.


21 Responses to TriMet: Should Fareless Square Hours be Limited?

  1. Jason Barbour
    January 2, 2008 at 3:07 pm Link

    Wow – that was fast… I just posted a shorter version of the exact same thing in one of the older threads.

    My appeal to everyone: now that everything’s set, let’s focus our energy on the official process, rather than each other.

  2. GTinSalem
    January 2, 2008 at 5:11 pm Link

    Though I do not live in Portland any more I used to and I would ride the MAX a LOT! I think most of the problems happen in the fareless square portion. Once I witnessed a fight break out between a group of four tweakers as the MAX was crossing the Steel bridge. One guy was completely bloodied up and blood was splattered up against the train wall. One other time I saw two pit bull dogs and they nearly tore into each other. I can’t even beging to guess the number of times I have been harassed for money. I noticed these things happen at all hours not just late at night. I also think a lot of stuff happens outside fareless square. A few months ago I rode out to Willow Creek in Hillsboro. When I got off a lowrider car with booming bass pulled up, its passenger gets out and meets up with a friend on the platform. The friend got on the MAX car and the passenger got back into the car and drives away. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out…. I think people would feel safer and not have such a negative impression of Portland if they immediately stop this misbehavior dead in its tracks. They should have an emergency number to call, like a 9-1-1 but a rat someone out on transit number, perhaps 8-1-1. If they don’t TriMet will lose a lot of credibility and the feds won’t want to give any more money for it.

  3. Ray Whitford
    January 2, 2008 at 5:25 pm Link

    This MAX supporter/user thinks that Fareless Square is no longer needed 24/7. The price of gas and diesel is going no where but up. The financial reason for Fareless Square is gone. $100.00 per barrel of crude, as of 01-02-2008! Where are the Peak Oil nay sayers now?

    I don’t see this change from a security point of view. Unless we use the extra funds for more fare inspectors and for a “future subway” to get us beyond our current Streetcar system (30 minutes through the Central City is way to slow). A subway would also give us more secure platforms in the Central City, for those people who think security is so bad on MAX.


  4. Terry Parker
    January 2, 2008 at 7:16 pm Link

    Fareless Square needs to be totally eliminated, if not for security reasons, for equity purposes. All transit passengers throughout the entire transit service area should be paying fares related to not only distance traveled, but also frequency of service. If that creates financial hardships for some low income people, then establish a special lower priced pass for that group.

  5. Ethan
    January 2, 2008 at 9:33 pm Link

    I don’t understand what getting rid of Fareless Square will do that fare inspections wouldn’t take care of. I can’t say that I am necessarily opposed to limiting the Fareless hours, but remain confused by the conflation of the Fareless issue with the fare evasion issue. Is it because Fareless Square makes it easier to evade paying fares? It seems that the current Fareless Square system would make enforcement easier by reducing the area in which fare inspections would have to occur.

  6. Jason Barbour
    January 2, 2008 at 10:07 pm Link

    I think part of the issue is people that get on a train or a bus inside Fareless, don’t get off when they’re supposed to, and cause problems when they reach the end of the line.

    Although this is slightly off-topic, just earlier today I overheard the operator of the 14 I was riding, talking to someone putting money into the farebox: “You only have $1.50? You look surprised” – so it seems some people don’t realize that it costs $1.75 for a 2-zone transfer.

    Perhaps I’ll add to my comments that I’ll provide during the process that a comprehensive look at the entire fare system should be taken, not just Fareless Square.

    …a rat someone out on transit number…
    Why not try 238-RIDE, or the “Emergency” box on the MAX?

  7. Matthew
    January 2, 2008 at 10:54 pm Link

    “I think part of the issue is people that get on a train or a bus inside Fareless, don’t get off when they’re supposed to, and cause problems when they reach the end of the line.”

    Buses, yes. I’d totally support eliminating buses from fareless square, once the MAX runs down the Mall. If you get on a bus, you should pay, partly because every boarding/deboarding slows the bus down, so not having a bunch of fareless riders on it might help it a lot…

    MAX, no. If there is a problem in Hillsboro, the person could have gotten on in Gresham, or Downtown, or Beaverton, or anywhere else along the line… It isn’t like you have to talk to the operator when you get on, you can get on at any stop without a fare, there is nobody to challenge you at the door.

  8. Mike Feldman
    January 2, 2008 at 11:32 pm Link

    Ethan Says:

    I don’t understand what getting rid of Fareless Square will do that fare inspections wouldn’t take care of. I can’t say that I am necessarily opposed to limiting the Fareless hours, but remain confused by the conflation of the Fareless issue with the fare evasion issue.

    I’m also confused. If the problem is antisocial behavior on the MAX, only a significantly increased human presence will reduce the problem. Many cities have discovered this. The issue isn’t Fareless Square, or the honor-system fare system, but a relatively few antisocial people who are causing the rest of us to panic.

    Just a few examples I’m aware of (statistics from Wikipedia):

    (1) Portland can’t really be compared to New York, but still: years ago (1970s, if memory serves), NYC had a serious problem with muggings in the subway, especially at night (the subways really do run 24/7, unlike MAX). They were able to restore a feeling of safety by stationing a police officer on every late-night train and in every station during the wee hours. That’s over 400 stations, and heaven knows how many trains. Expensive, but it was worth it for the restored perception of safety. All things considered, the NYC subway is remarkably safe. And it carries 5 million (!) passengers a day.

    (2) The Jan. 2008 issue of Railpace (glossy paper mag that covers the Northeast) reports that the PATCO rapid-transit line, from Philadelphia to the NJ suburbs, is hiring 19 new “transit ambassadors” to help people in stations and provide a feeling of security. This is not a dangerous line — it is 14.2 miles long and has 13 stations, 9 of which are above-ground. It carries 33,000 people daily. It has a 55-member sworn police force. Compare this with MAX – it has 44.3 miles, 64 stations, about 100,000 riders a day — and the Transit police force has (if I recall) 36 members.

    (3) In Amsterdam, Holland, they eliminated conductors on the trams/light-rail trains in the 1980s, but are progressively restoring them, one line at a time. This is decreasing fare-dodging, but also increasing safety because of the human presence. Eventually every train will have a conductor to check fares and keep an eye on things. (They’re doing it piecemeal because they can’t hire conductors fast enough.)

    (4) In The Hague, Holland, they’re closing off the rear areas of light-rail trains at night. Most MAX trains are 2-car; it would be essentially a no-brainer to lock the doors and douse the lights of the rear car at night; that would reduce the number of patrol people needed at that time.

    Hansen and company are blaming Fareless Square for insecurity on the trains. That’s way too easy a target, and I perceive that people who’ve been gunning for Fareless Square for years are now finding a convenient excuse.

    MAX is a victim of its own success — its extensions to outlying areas and 100,000 riders a day are inevitably going to produce a certain amount of antisocial behavior, especially in the wee hours.

    There’s no substitute for a human, adult presence at those hours. It will cost money, maybe more than the additional income from Fareless Square. Portland is already a very safe city, as big cities go. But if we want an increased feeling of safety, we’ll have to agree to pay for it.

    I agree we need a big-picture look at the whole fare structure. I may comment here on that, and will certainly send my comments to the public-input address too.


  9. The Smooth Operator
    January 2, 2008 at 11:38 pm Link

    I do think that Fareless Square hours should be limited. It’s history has always been as an encouragement for people to frequent downtown businesses. So it is not needed after business hours.

    —Although this is slightly off-topic, just earlier today I overheard the operator of the 14 I was riding, talking to someone putting money into the farebox: “You only have $1.50? You look surprised” – so it seems some people don’t realize that it costs $1.75 for a 2-zone transfer.—

    I cannot speak for other operators, but on my bus $1.50 buy a youth ticket–period. The same as $2.00 buys a 2-zone ticket. I do try to inform a boarding passenger that for 5 cents more I can give them an All-zone. OTOH I have had people get mad at me for giving them the “wrong” transfer. My response has always been a very polite version of “tough”. I have no use for fair evaders…

  10. Al M
    January 3, 2008 at 9:47 am Link

    Shoot me now, I can’t talk about this anymore.

    I’m so worn out by this issue that I don’t give a damn what they do.

    As far as I am concerned, the entire TRIMET service area is fareless square!

  11. Jim Howell
    January 3, 2008 at 9:54 am Link

    Change the fare system

    The TriMet fare system should be changed regardless of the bad behavior on MAX that some people attribute to “Fareless Square”. The entire fare system is unnecessarily complicated, mostly unenforceable and lacks fairness.

    It should be replaced with a system that is simple to understand, easy to monitor and enforce and is fair (where everyone pays something). It also should generate revenue equal to the current system.

    The current three-zone fare system is difficult to understand and is rarely enforced. The zone boundaries are concentric rings around downtown based on the erroneous assumption that all riders are destined to downtown, with those taking the longest trip paying the most.

    This “bulls-eye” fare system is inherently unfair because many riders are not destined downtown. For example, someone traveling between NW 23rd Avenue and St. Vincent Hospital, a distance of only two miles, must pay $2.05 for a three-zone fare, whereas someone traveling 11 miles between St. Johns and Oregon City would pay only $1.75 for a two-zone fare.

    No system is completely fair but until a distance-based system becomes technically feasible and easy to administer, the Three-zone fare system should be scrapped.

    “Fareless Square” should also be eliminated because it is unfair. It provides no benefit to pass holders and little benefit to fare paying riders, yet allows free rides to those that come downtown in their private vehicles, adding to parking problems, road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

    It could be replaced with a “Ride-all-day Zone” where any valid two-hour transfer or ticket would also be valid within this zone for the entire day. If this zone were larger than the current “Fareless Square”, such as one that includes the inner eastside, OMSI, South Waterfront, PGE Park, NW District and the Pearl District, it would benefit far more people than “Fareless Square”. Downtown auto use would probably not increase because the cost of an all day fare would be nominal, about the same as 90 minutes of street parking.

    Honored Citizen and Youth/Student discounts would be maintained. TriMet could sell tickets and passes at quantity discounts to merchants, event planners and social service agencies to distribute as they see fit to their customers and clients. This would largely offset the impact of eliminating “Fareless Square”.

    Since everyone would be required to have proof of payment, fare inspections could be made anywhere on the bus, streetcar and light rail systems, making fare evasion more risky.

  12. jee
    January 3, 2008 at 12:28 pm Link

    I think that Jim Howell has the best idea so far with the “Ride-all-day Zone”. Good job.
    I also like the idea of a “crime reporting hotline”. I think it would make sense for it to also take text messages (it’s all the rage with kids these days, though I hate doing it). A text would give a rider a more discrete option to report crime. There would be clear instructions in every train car(and bus?) with an ID. The user would only need to enter the id. Though that may leave the reporting system open to pranks/abuse.
    And of course CHECKING FARES EVERYWHERE and human presence is key.

  13. Terry Parker
    January 3, 2008 at 1:22 pm Link

    For the most part, not all of it, in concept, I agree with Jim Howell on this one. The primary notable exception, not the only exception, is that fare recovery should generate increasingly more revenue than the current system creating a revenue stream that better reflects the cost of providing the service. That means the average fare per transit rider needs to be increased. Where Jim and I totally differ is related to parking issues downtown. Although not mentioned in his post, parking revenues need to go to pay for street and road maintenance, not subsidizing transit. Eliminating Fareless Square, including for streetcars, makes that all the more plausible.

  14. Jim Howell
    January 3, 2008 at 1:58 pm Link

    Terry, the way for transit to become more self-sufficient Is not to charge more for mediocre service, which would inhibit ridership and farebox revenue, but rather to provide the kind of service that will attract exponential growth in ridership and revenue.

  15. Terry Parker
    January 3, 2008 at 11:32 pm Link


    The way for transit to expand and become more than just mediocre is to charge fares that make it far more self-sufficient than just recovering only 21 percent from the farebox. Ridership trips costing $10.00 per journey can not continue to be sold for $2.00 each. No company could survive under such a money loosing business plan. Any significant increase in ridership requires additional labor and equipment costs. Expanding the web of either light rail or snail rail currently requires huge overburdening infrastructure costs to taxpayers. Without increasing fares that better reflect the actual costs of providing the service, intensifying transit service to accommodate and truly serve a greater share of trips requires horrendous, unbearable and unrealistic public subsidies that are unrecoverable by the majority of taxpayers and small businesses slated to pay them. The latter would only have a negative impact on the local economy. Sustainability can not truthfully exist without financial self-sustainability. If there is a surge in transit ridership due to increased oil prices and/or the region’s socialistic and dictatorial overtaxing policies on driving, for a maximum recovery of transit’s true costs, then NOW is the time to not only significantly raise transit fares, but also directly tax bicyclists to pay their own way for bicycle infrastructure. (I just had to get that last little bit of importance and tax fairness in.)

  16. Bob R.
    January 3, 2008 at 11:41 pm Link

    Terry –

    While I agree that over time transit should recoup a greater percentage of operating revenue from the farebox, transit is for the time being and foreseeable future operated as a public good.

    We are less concerned that our public schools are “money loosing”, and it doesn’t seem to bother too many people that our public parks are unprofitable. The last time I checked, the police force wasn’t charging crime victims fees to recover the costs of assistance, and the fire department doesn’t refuse to help you if you can’t pay for their services.

    Do you propose that people without children should not pay into public schools, and that people without fire insurance should not receive fire protection, and that neighbors who can afford do to so should pay for the police while other people do not, and that entrance fees should be charged for all neighborhood parks, and that children who cannot afford to play in the park should be turned away? (If so, there is at least one political party which would welcome you with open arms.)

    Now, many of those (currently) public functions are vital and life-saving, such as police and fire. But the world would go on existing in some form without public parks, libraries, and transit. To a certain extent, our society would exist without public schools — it just wouldn’t resemble much what we have now.

    But to argue that transit, out of all the other public services, must turn a profit in order to justify its existence seems a bit odd. If you don’t think it should be a public function at all, just say so. That’s a position of a number of transit critics, as well as people who believe that transit would thrive in a truly unregulated, unsubsidized transportation marketplace.

    As long as transit is supported by the public as a public service, we should keep an eye on costs and benefits, but to suggest that it must be profitable when other public services are not seen that way seems a bit strange.

    Can you please provide a list of which current government functions you currently view as “socialistic” and which ones you don’t, just so we can keep track?

  17. Bob R.
    January 3, 2008 at 11:44 pm Link

    If there is a surge in transit ridership due to increased oil prices

    Then the cost-per-boarding will significantly fall. Transit is most expensive to operate, on a per-rider basis, where ridership is lowest.

  18. Jim Howell
    January 4, 2008 at 5:30 am Link


    Your contention that”…intensifying transit service to accommodate and truly serve a greater share of trips requires horrendous, unbearable and unrealistic public subsidies…” unfortunately, is shared by most transit planners. I happen to disagree.

    Intelligent investment in frequently operated connecting service in a grid network that utilizes transfers as a fundamental component of most trips greatly expands ridership potential. The system, as it grows, becomes an accessible and convenient transportation alternative to the car.

    As new connections are added to the network, trip options increase exponentially, in what becomes a multi-destinational system. Ridership will also grow exponentially without a corresponding increase in cost. Because of seat turnover, the latent capacity of most buses and trains will be better utilized.

  19. zilfondel
    January 4, 2008 at 10:57 am Link

    I want to use smart cards on Trimet. I’m really sick of the inconvenience of having to run out and buy a book of 10 tickets at Freddie’s when I don’t need to waste the $$ for a monthly pass.

    Trimet is stuck using 1960s technology when the rest of America has practically gone without paper money. I think more people would ride – and would ride more often if it was easier to pay for the rides. I mean, who here has $1.75 in their pocket in exact change? RIGHT NOW??

  20. Terry Parker
    January 4, 2008 at 12:35 pm Link

    Bob R said: “But to argue that transit, out of all the other public services, must turn a profit in order to justify its existence seems a bit odd.”

    What I have been saying right along was that transit fares must better reflect the costs of providing the service – greater than the current 21 percent of operating costs. I do not recall mentioning a specific percentage, however I would suggest in the range of 65 to 80 percent. Furthermore, I do not recall ever suggesting transit turn a profit, but I may have compared it to something that does.

    “Can you please provide a list of which current government functions you currently view as “socialistic” and which ones you don’t”

    When tax codes are used as a method/attempt to dictate the actions/activities of the public, it is a demonstration of socialistic behavior on the part of those running the government. This includes excessively/aggressively taxing one activity, product or service while subsidizing and/or under pricing another for that purpose, and is dissimilar to just charging basic user fees Therefore using the tax codes to try and force people to use one mode of transport over another mode of transport (getting people out of their cars) meets that criteria.

    From a transport standpoint, probably topping the list of government functions that are socialistic is providing bicycle infrastructure using taxpayer subsidies instead of user fees. Bicyclists not only irresponsibly freeload their use of “specialized” infrastructure off of the taxes others pay, but also continually blame others never accepting responsibility for their mishaps, and for the most part arrogantly ignore traffic control devices including not stopping at stop signs and blowing through red lights. This demonstrates a pattern that includes a total lack of accountability and irresponsibility, yet political figures like City Commissioner Adams (who hides behind a façade he calls safety measures) and Congressman Blumenhauer continue to provide socialistic support. To my knowledge, no other similar group that habitually ignores/violates laws and pays no taxes for the government services provided receive that kind of blind support. Providing specialized bicycle infrastructure is a privilege, not a right.

    Other socialistic government functions on the list would include (but not limited to) any form of congestion pricing, proposed motorist tolls on the Columbia Crossing that would subsidize the crossing infrastructure for other modes rather than charging user fees to those modes, the discount portion of the proposed Portland Street Maintenance Fee that provides discounts to residential properties based on mode of travel, subsidies for the streetcar and the development fees Commissioner Saltzman is proposing. Portland’s property tax abatement policies must also be included.

    A non-socialist list would include (but not limited to) police and fire “protection”, and the portion of gas taxes that pay for roadways, but not for other modes of transport.

    As for a possible surge in transit ridership, if it does occur, undoubtedly much of the increase will be during peak periods which will require additional labor and equipment costs.

  21. Erik Halstead
    January 5, 2008 at 1:43 pm Link

    What’s ironic is that there are two separate discussions going on in the Portland area – one of TriMet’s (and Portland Streetcar’s) Fareless Square; another of “congestion pricing”.

    It seems that there is one group of people who feel that the highway users don’t cover their share and should be paid to access the roads during peak hours; these same individuals often are the ones that support reducing the fare structure on public transit, so as to make public transportation nearly 100% subsidized while levying a fine against road users.

    There is another group of people, typically road users, who feel that their taxes that they already pay are being skimmed off to pay for these subsidized transit projects, and they shouldn’t have to pay more for something they already pay for.

    I’d like to point to the Seattle experience –

    Seattle has a fareless zone; it is in effect during the day but it expires at 7:00 PM.

    Seattle also has “congestion pricing” on its transit system – during rush hours all transit fares increase. During non-peak hours a transit ride is $1.25, regardless of distance.

    During peak hours, a one-zone ticket (within or outside of Seattle city limits) becomes $1.50; a trip that begins in Seattle and leaves the city (or vice-versa) becomes $2.00 – a $0.75 increase.

    Further, monthly passes are priced accordingly; one with an off-peak pass cannot freely travel during peak hours without paying a supplement.

    It would seem that, because as Bob R. states that the trips that have the fewest riders cost the most per person – and EVERY express bus, by its very nature, falls into this category (because an express bus spends 50% or more of its time deadheading – carrying no passengers, but costs the same to operate) (the 96 Tualatin I-5 Express is an exception, but TriMet does not technically consider this bus to be a true “express”), and with Terry P.’s opinion that all users should pay their costs accordingly, it would seem to me that:

    1. There should be no “free” rides on public transit. (In other words, Fareless Square should be eliminated.)

    2. Because there is more demand during the peak hours, a “rush hour fare” should be required on all TriMet and Portland Streetcar trips.

    3. Fares should be calculated, in part, by distance. The current zone structure, however, should be examined to determine if it is relevant as there are some trips (i.e. on the 57 and 76 routes) that pass only in one zone, but are much longer than many routes that travel in zones 1-3).

    For those who are concerned about the impact that eliminating fareless square might have towards Portland’s tourism and convention “industry”, TriMet should work with Metro and the POVA to sell passes – possibly a three-day pass in addition to the day and seven-day passes – that can be sold exclusively to convention attendees and hotel guests. While the cost to the vendors would be the same as if the pass were sold to a Portland resident, a portion of the cost could be applied as a “green credit” or incentive; or paid for through a tax on rental cars and Convention Center parking spaces (since Metro is free to set its own parking rates.)

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