TriMet: Simplification or Fare Increase?

Joe Rose at the Oregonian is reporting that a TriMet fare task force may will recommend doing away with zones, and prohibiting using transfers for return trips (transfers would only work in one direction).

While I’m a big proponent of keeping things simple, this proposal does not excite me. Beyond potential equity issues (I honestly don’t know if this is better or worse for transit-dependent folks, but OPAL is already objecting) which should get a very thorough analysis, I generally prefer some relationship between distances and fares. Tying trip cost to distance is important to encourage compact land use patterns.

I suspect this is just the beginning of what will be a very intense conversation this Spring.

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58 responses to “TriMet: Simplification or Fare Increase?”

  1. I think it is good for transit dependent folks in the suburbs who currently pay extra to get downtown. Worse for people in southeast and northeast Portland who were able to do short errands with a single fair.

    I suspect the bigger issue is that this will change the proportion of fares that come from the city and suburbs. If you equalize the fares between zones, then someone, somewhere has to make up the difference by paying a higher fare. It would seem that means city residents will pay more and suburbanites less.

    Whether that translates to transit dependent paying more and choice riders depends on the proportions of those riders in the suburbs compared to the city. There was a time when that would have been obvious, but I am not sure it is any more. There are a lot of choice riders in the central city and a lot more transit dependent folks moving out toward the edges.

    I don’t think the cost of a transit trip has any discernible impact on land use patterns. Other than maybe to encourage compact development of low cost housing near transit in suburban areas. If you consider suburban development of any kind bad, then I suppose this might encourage that.

  2. Tying trip cost to distance is important to encourage compact land use patterns.

    When it comes to transit, the problem is that many transit users don’t have a choice of origin or destination, and moving or finding a different job (or whatever) is not feasible and, moreover, not worth lower transit fares.

    But in any case, the proposal does not seem to do this. The only option mentioned is a 2-hour fare that’s now $2.50 and one-way only.

    What I would really like to see is the selling of time. Specifically either $2 for one-hour of riding (and not boarding) and $2.50-$3 for 3 hours. Make it so people who just want a ride down the street can do so for cheap, yet keep it simple, fair and enforceable.

  3. When are the smartphone-based fare systems going to be fully operational? Some sort of turn-key setup with very minimal investment should be here in the next 2-5 years. Until then, whatever we do doesn’t really matter, but after then, distance-based fares will be crucial. That way, we can reduce the incentive for driving short trips.

  4. I much prefer flat-fare, no zones. Keeps everything simple. Besides, any zone-based system necessarily charges some people more for very short trips — consider the cost of riding from Sunset TC to Hillsboro vs. the cost of riding from Sunset TC to the Oregon Zoo. The “next stop” trip costs more than “all the way to the end of the line.” Same problem going from Gateway to 82nd vs. Gateway to Gresham.

    On the other hand, using transfers for return trips still keeps it simple — just board before the time expires. And THAT rewards people who take short trips (shopping trips, anyway) because they’ll be better able to return on the same ticket than people who go all the way across town.

  5. The issue is now one can very easily make a round trip (or more) on a single fare, all of sudden that $2.10 single fare starts to become $1.05 one way (and thats an adult 2 zone cash fare, try a honored citizen or pass which will be much much less). Surprise, surprise, TriMet is short of cash with a fare policy like this. Why is no one concerned about the financial sustainability of TriMet with this current fare arrangement? I get that transit is a public service but my god, riders only pay 25% of the cost now, riders clearly need to do more heavy lifting if they want any service better than hourly headways (as we begin our 4th round of cuts) and fixing this unlimited 2-3 hour rides fare loophole is better than deeper cuts or raising the actual fares at a higher level. Waiting 50 minutes at Tigard TC for the next “frequent service” 12 bus in the late evening to go to Gresham does not benefit the transit dependent poor despite saving on a fare. All riders on the bus or train lose with worse service when there’s so little money in the farebox.

    This look at the overall fare policy is long overdue.

  6. I’m not sure I like this–and I too like the idea of selling time rather than distance, at least until the infrastructure is in place to do distance based fares fairly.

    One thing I wonder: How many people buy 1-2 zone passes?

  7. They will need to redo the transfer with route and zone direction. OR for best results, install an electronic fare box with a magnetic strip. That way it will tell which bus you rode on. This option is very similar to transit system in the subarbs of Detroit (SMART Transit) where you do not allow return trips on the same route. Transfers over there are good for 3 hours. Don’t know how a reciptol agreement would work with the c-tran in vancouver.

  8. I seem to remember that when I moved to Portland 9 years ago, the official policy was that transfers were for one direction only. I always assumed TriMet realized they couldn’t enforce that and changed it to a 2-hour pass. How would they enforce it now?

    Also, I agree with Ross Williams that transit fares probably don’t affect land use patterns very much–using transit is always going to be much cheaper than owning a car. If anyone has a study suggesting otherwise, I’d love to see it.

  9. I was playing this out in my head. What keeps me from boarding MAX at 82nd, riding out to Gateway to shop at Fred Meyer, then taking the 77 back? Or the 19 to Glisan, and then walking or taking the 72 back to the MAX station? Or maybe taking the Green line to Target, and then the 15 back to 82nd and the 72 the rest of the way? I can do that, because I live in an area with a lot of transit coverage. (Of course, I wouldn’t need to do this because I always have a monthly pass. But pretend for a moment that I was unemployed and cash was very, very tight.)

    A “no backtracks” rule would still let people who are on a fixed income make a round trip, just as long as they were making a short trip (like local shopping), live in an area well-served by multiple transit lines, and were, for lack of a better phrase, time-rich and cash-poor.

    I really don’t see the problem with allowing someone to use a two-hour fare for a round-trip shopping run in their own neighborhood. That’s about the only trip you’ll reasonably be able to complete in under two hours. And someone who needs the bus to make a grocery run, but doesn’t use it often enough to justify a pass, very likely needs the $2.50 they’re saving.

  10. Hi, Chris. Actually, there’s no “may” about it. The task has voted to recommend the fare restructuring, as the story makes clear in the second paragraph. Cheers.

  11. C-TRAN did away with transfers in 2005… only to partially return them several years later on All-Zone and Express Fares. Fares within Clark Co. still do not include transfers.

    Spokane has no zones, either… in fact one of their most-ridden weekday routes is also their longest.

    However, this still creates somewhat of a “zone” system, where each route is its own zone. Assuming no route changes are in effect, one could ride the 12, 72 or Blue Line from one end to another for $2.50 (Gresham to Sherwood/vice versa, Clackamas to Swan Island/vice versa, Gresham to Hillsboro/vice versa), yet someone who lives on a shorter route like the 80-Troutdale who needs to go anywhere other than Downtown Gresham is out of luck, they will be forced to buy a day pass. This could also become an incentive for TriMet to remove interlines. (ex: 12-Barbur/Sandy becomes 11-Sandy and 12-Barbur; 75-Chavez/Lombard becomes 75-Lombard and 39A-Chavez, etc.; disclaimer: this is hypothetical, not endorsement of said examples by individual posting them, not a suggestion to TriMet to make said example changes.)

    Another possible unintended consequence: higher rates of pass fraud where someone gives their pass to someone else, which is clearly against TriMet Code.

    Despite my top-of-mind devil’s advocate brainstorming and I think it should be $2 instead of $2.50 (give people a break who only need to use two routes), finally here’s a proposal I support!

  12. Jason,

    TriMet isn’t considering ending transfers outright, just use of them for return trips. You still would be able to take the 80 to downtown Gresham and then transfer to the MAX to get to Pioneer Square on a single fare.

    (If you were responding to someone else’s suggestion rather than to the article itself, then feel free to ignore this comment…)

  13. The transfer thing just wouldn’t work. Portland routes have too many “directions” built in to the route itself.

    For example if you live on SE Broadway and 40th, and you want to go to Hotcake House on SE Powell & 10th you can do so on the 9. Which direction am I going? When do I start the return trip? What about taking the 9 from end to end? What to do then?

    Just make it time based. Charge per hour. Done.

  14. C-Tran had a policy back then, where you can have a transfer to a next bus only. Transfer would be dystroyed. If you need to connect to another bus say from Route 37 to 32 to Route 7. Pay the first bus, get transfer, change to 32, surrender transfer, ask for a 2nd transfer, they will punch in the “B” box meaning, transfer has been exchanged “once”. and one time only. Surrender transfer to Route 7.

  15. Here is another bus situation. Grey Harbor Transit in Aberdeen/Hoquium, Washington. Their transfers are good for the next bus only in one way direction. Not for a return trip on a same route. Unless you board a certain bus that requires 2 transfers, it will be marked/punch as such. You surrender your transfer at the last bus you board to complete your trip.

  16. Here’s my idea, after driving Trimet and studying Trimet for the last 15 years.
    All executives, their staffs, be immediately dismissed.
    Capital projects dissolved completely.
    Trimet board of directors DISSOLVED and a new board created that should be elected or appointed by LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS.
    Expansion ideas all terminated until such time that Trimet becomes financially stable.
    Rides cost $1 per vehicle, no time limits, no zones, no classifications, no transfers.
    Each boarding will cost an additional $1, a smart card system can be used as a debit card or $1 cash will be accepted by on board fare boxes on buses, rail stations will be secured so that riders must pay BEFORE entering any station.
    The only passes that will be issued are to the disabled, $25 per month unlimited rides on Trimet or Lift.
    There will be one manager for every 100 operators, that would be about 15 managers. (that includes road supervisors as well as station managers)
    The General Manager will be appointed by the elected board of directors, his staff will be limited to one administrative assistant.
    Legal department will be limited to 3 attorneys and three assistants.
    HR will have one director with one assistant.
    Mechanics division will employ based on free market principles.
    Marketing department immediately dissolved as Trimet is a monopoly and does not need marketing.
    Communications department immediately dissolved as unnecessary.
    IT department dissolved until such time that Trimet is financially solvent and can afford luxuries.
    Citizens advisory committee to be comprised of CITIZENS THAT USE TRANSIT.

    I’m dead serious, every single job that is not directly related to driving a bus/rail or fixing a bus/rail needs to be eliminated until there are no more jobs that are not related to running or keeping things running left to eliminate, THEN YOU START CUTTING SERVICES!

  17. Mechanics department will employ based on free market principles

    What does that mean, precisely? And would operators be subject to the same “principles” as well?

    And given that you’ve just got rid of both IT *and* marketing, who will produce things like maps, schedules, TransitTracker, automated stop announcements, etc.

    And how would one secure, eg, the Jeld-Wen Field stop, or any other downtown, street-level rail station? Are you proposing fencing off the tracks all along the line, and/or building automated gates along the ROW that only open when a train needs to pass through? Or platform-side gates between that only open when there’s a train behind?

    Not to be rude, Al, but you seem to think that TriMet’s operators are the only ones at the agency who deserve a well-paying job. I haven’t seen Jeff F. here lately, but you saying that he ought to be fired, simply because his role with the agency doesn’t involve driving a bus or a train?

  18. Another example of how this could be skirted: from downtown, take bus 68 up Marquam Hill (as long as you do it before 9:30 am), then take bus 8 back downtown.

    This plan results in a huge rate increase for some people. TriMet is clearly looking to raise a LOT more money from fares. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

  19. I have to agree with you @engineerscotty when it comes to @AL-M’s comments. It seems interesting that only the mechanics be “free-market”.

    Also, how since the capital budget has been eliminated how do you pay for all those fare gates and other amenities?

    Also only one manager to 100 drivers is ridiculous. You would need more management just to handle the day to day problems that occur.

    Also only one HR person and one assistant to handle an operation the size of Trimet? The one person would be tied up just doing required paperwork and then some and would have no time to do anything else that is necessary.

    I would also ask the question, with the IT department gone, who will take care of all those computers and other technology related issues that need to be taken care of?

    It is pretty easy to say just eliminate all those positions without looking at the consequences of what will happen and the unintended consequences of those actions.

  20. “The only passes that would be issued…” Wow, you REALLY hate riders don’t you? Who would commute on the bus if she or he had to have exact change twice a day?

    Not to mention the increase in dwell time required by all the fumbling for wallets and purses.

    Crazy thinking.

  21. I’ll agree with Al’s cuts and changes if he agrees to a health care package that more in line with the private sector.

  22. It’s both:

    Simply a fare increase.

    Shorter trips need to cost less!

    A two-way trip across the river will cost a whopper of $5.00.

    There appears to be a bias against intra-city trips.

  23. Not to be rude, Al, but you seem to think that TriMet’s operators are the only ones at the agency who deserve a well-paying job. I haven’t seen Jeff F. here lately, but you saying that he ought to be fired, simply because his role with the agency doesn’t involve driving a bus or a train?

    Oh, I’m here, just quiet, and not interested in fisticuffs with Al. Scotty’s second paragraph goes a long way toward defining what the Marketing Department really does, which has very little to do with what the term means for most of us. In its current form it could be called “customer information department”, and a fair number of employees in Marketing are in the union.

    The department is also responsible for maintaining the advertising contract, and a lot of people these days seem to think advertising is great and should be expanded (quite different from public reaction a few years back).

    I’ve seen a lot of comments here and elsewhere about TriMet stepping up and instituting electronic fares. I can say with some confidence that no one at TriMet disagrees with that. What doesn’t seem to occur to people is that systems like this are a huge expense to tune up. The fareboxes on TriMet buses are really old and can’t simply be “upgraded” to handle electronic fares and the network required to communicate all those transactions from vehicles to banks does not exist. It’s a great and desirable goal, but no one can flip a switch and make it happen, especially on the cheap.

    All of this is, of course, my own opinion and not official TriMet information. My opinion is based on 27 years of observation and involvement and a certain amount of experience dealing with electronic customer information.

  24. I said it before about our health care benefits, which is a problem BECAUSE BLUE CROSS IS RIPPING OFF AMERICAN CITIZENS.

    Just give employees 1/2 of what you are spending at blue cross and let us worry about our own health care problems.

    We don’t need Trimet to buy it or Blue Cross to cheat us.

    Trimet is in bed with the criminal health insurers by agreeing to pay those ridiculous rates, they need to think outside the box rather than forcing us to pay the ransom

  25. And also let me add that a good dose OF FREE MARKET PRINCIPLES is what TRIMET needs.

    It’s a wasteful,bloated, incompetent, unmanageable, self serving bureaucracy that could be the poster child for everything that is wrong with government.


    (my point of view is my own and in no way represents the squids that run this place)

  26. If these squids had any ethics at all they would voluntarily announce that all executives would take an immediate 10% cut in wages.

    Instead they whine ‘WE HAVEN’T GOT A RAISE IN FOUR YEARS’

    Oh you poor squids with your six figure incomes as you sit around tables and talk with each other and pat each other on your squid like backs for what a wonderful job y’all are doing!


  27. Jeff F said

    I’ve seen a lot of comments here and elsewhere about TriMet stepping up and instituting electronic fares. I can say with some confidence that no one at TriMet disagrees with that. What doesn’t seem to occur to people is that systems like this are a huge expense to tune up. The fareboxes on TriMet buses are really old and can’t simply be “upgraded” to handle electronic fares and the network required to communicate all those transactions from vehicles to banks does not exist. It’s a great and desirable goal, but no one can flip a switch and make it happen, especially on the cheap.

    Well, all this is starting to make me believe some of the assertions I’ve seen here, that the only investment TriMet is willing to make is to build new MAX lines. I understand — and have believed — the standard response: “money is painted in different colors” and can’t be moved from project A to project B.

    Still. I’m all in favor of the expanding MAX network, but favor it less and less as TriMet pleads poverty when it comes to everything else: replacing old non-A/C high-floor buses, acquiring new-technology fare systems, installing enough decent bus shelters, hiring enough techs to keep the MAX ticket machines working reliably, hiring enough enforcement officers to minimize fare-dodging, not to mention improving the bus service overall.

    I think TriMet once deserved its kudos as a first-rate, rider-friendly medium-sized transit system (both bus and rail), but in the 6 years I’ve lived in Portland, its service and its attitude toward the public seem to be deteriorating. Except for MAX expansion, it seems to be all short-term, get-through-the-current-fiscal-year, bureaucratic thinking. Are we forgetting how to invest? Where’s the management vision? Where’s the board vision? Are we losing our edge?

  28. One more point, I did a little editorial over at my blog about this fare situation and why we are in such mess right now, especially since Trimet always brags about our great ridership:

    If that was actually true then why is our FAREBOX RECOVERY RATIO so pathetic?

    Here’s my theory:

    Trimet’s transfer system is and has been a miserable failure for a long long time. I have never seen another Transit district allow a ride to and from a destination on the same transfer.

    There are very few places that have such unreadable and unenforceable transfers in use. Can drivers actually read the day code? The zone code? The classification code?

    Some not too bright drivers actually do attempt to read all of the above and try to enforce what is actually a completely unenforceable methodology.

    Passengers can use the same transfer for days, and many do, as a driver I gave up years ago trying to deal with the stupidity of the transfer process.

    Trimet created a completely unsecured light rail system. The “honor system”. It was all part of the 60’s and feel good 70’s mantra.
    It was a different world back then don’t forget for those of you who were actually alive and old enough to remember.

    The system was meant to be “friendly” and easy to use.

    A fare-less square gave riders easy access to buses and trains and allowed for very simple fare evasion.

    When you think about it, it seems the planners INTENTIONALLY created a system that was destined to have problems.

    Why would they do that?


    They achieved that goal by creating a unworkable transfer product and a ‘fare FREE’ zone where people could easily get on the system without having to pay.



    And then the planners started using those numbers to show PAPA FED that PORTLAND IS THE PLACE TO PLUNK DOWN BILLIONS OF DOLLARS for silly little projects that basically served people of wealth.


    And even more money flowed into PORTLANDIA!

    Then one day PAPA FED SAID, sorry Portlandia, we can’t give you any more money.

    And all those ‘fake’ boarding rides became somewhat irrelevant, because the PORTLAND BIG SHOTS couldn’t turn boarding rides into cold hard cash.



  29. Al M said

    Trimet created a completely unsecured light rail system. The “honor system”. It was all part of the 60’s and feel good 70’s mantra.

    Well, I’m not sure what you think the alternative should be. You’re pretty well-informed and well-traveled, not some clueless journalist who thinks we could wave a wand and instantly enclose the MAX system. You know better than that; I think you’re just venting.

    I’m also pretty well-traveled. I’ve experienced all the US and Canadian subway systems (except Miami) and most of the light-rail ones. I’ve ridden light rail in (moving from West to East) Seattle, Portland, San Jose, Sacramento, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Denver, Dallas, St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, and Boston. Not to mention a bunch in Europe.

    They are almost all open systems like the MAX. The only exceptions are the few “secure” stations (that is, with turnstiles or fare gates) in downtown light-rail tunnels in Philly and Boston, and maybe (I don’t recall) San Francisco, LA, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. Outside the tunnels, the drivers collect fares, like on a bus.

    MAX is above-ground except for Washington Park. Visit any station on the MAX (or any of the other cities) and ask yourself how you’d enclose a ground-level station. (Example: putting up a high fence tempts peop-le to walk on the tracks.) You’ll see why the standard way — here and abroad — to build these is Proof-of-Payment “Honor System”.

    Yes, there’s some fare evasion. If TriMet were truly concerned about this, they’d hire more fare checkers (or whatever they call them here). The tradeoff is between the lost fares and the cost of the extra staff.

    Here in Portland, I live in the Central City, adjacent to the Streetcar. In almost 6 years here, I’ve rarely seen a fare checker on the MAX, and never, not once on the Streetcar.

  30. Folks need to lighten up a bit on TriMet. The agency is short of funds due to our very slow recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression…thank you G.W. Bush! Some patience is in order and recognition that we are going to have to pay more to keep the service we have.
    I still can’t believe I get a montly pass for just $26.
    And TriMet should be building more rail, not less as it carries more riders at lower cost and construction costs are low and unemployment is high for construction workers. Now it the time to build if you can land the capital dollars.
    Not sure how to improve morale among some of the Ops…wait for them to retire I guess. But the tone is not much help. I understand that edge when the ILWU takes on the privately owned shipping companies to fight for their share of profits. But here we have a public agency dependent on riders fares and employer/employee taxes whose union employees don’t contribute one dime for their own health care costs. Time for them to step up for the sake of their riders.

  31. I am generally in favor of this solution because it keeps the day pass at twice the normal fare. A single fare was never meant to cover quick round trips, so people using it that way are costing the system money and aren’t really paying their fair share. The fact that OPAL doesn’t like this pretty much proves my theory that their fair transfer campaign was never really about an inability to make single trips on a transfer as they claim–it clearly is actually about wanting to make round trips for the price of a single fare.

    What I don’t like the elimination of zones completely and the virtually impossible-to-enforce “one direction” rule. I too like distance-based fares, but the current system has pretty arbitrary borders. I think they should get rid of the free rail zone but institute a “central city fare” of $1 or $1.25 for Downtown, Pearl, Lloyd Center, and Central Eastside. That would at least encourage transit-oriented development and car-free living in the core, and would allow tourists to get some kind of discount. TriMet should at least be equalized with the streetcar fare, otherwise it will incentivize people to overcrowd the streetcar just to avoid the TriMet fare.

    I don’t see how they will enforce the single direction rule without an electronic fare medium. It’s not like every route goes either downtown or away from downtown–we have crosstown routes and routes that go through downtown and out the other side. How will these be treated? It seems like they are trading the zone complexity for a new kind of complexity.

  32. I’ve been a lurker here for a while, but figured I’d finally jump in with a few comments.

    Zef: I like your idea, I’ve been thinking they should just make it a $1 fare or something very simple and cheap in downtown/central city. Hopefully Streetcar would go along with this as well. It is frustrating as one who rides the streetcar for transit to be absolutely packed into the streetcar everyday around lunch, with a lot of the people riding for 3 or 4 stops for free. Even if it was $1 for all day in the central city, I don’t think that would discourage a whole lot of riders, only the ones who crowd into streetcar for 2 stops to go to lunch, and eh, are we really that concerned about losing those riders? A lot of people would still ride it anyway, especially tourists, and gladly pay–I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen tourists get on, go to pay, and then find out they don’t have to–they’re incredulous. No normal, reasonable person from out of town assumes that streetcar or MAX is free… maybe we can learn from them.

    Michael Feldman: I ride streetcar most weekdays, and I’ve been seeing fare “surveyors” (they don’t enforce anything, just ask if you have a fare) probably half the time I’m on there, during the afternoon. It’s the same handful of guys, and they obviously only check after Glisan St. It is pretty new though, I used to never see them. It’s been like this for a few months now.

    Same goes for MAX. I don’t ride MAX as often, but I think I’ve seen fare inspectors every time I’ve ridden the Green Line to Lents over the past couple of months. Maybe it’s just dumb luck, but again, I used to never see them, but have been seeing them more. I think they’re definitely stepping up enforcement. And, surprisingly, I haven’t seen any fare evaders caught on those trips over the past couple months–so I doubt there is a whole lot of fare evasion going on far away from the city. At least, I don’t think there’s enough evaders out there ready to be caught that it would be worth stepping up enforcement even more. Unless they just only focused on the stops right outside the fareless square, where there are probably a lot more evaders.

    Lenny: I don’t know how you’re getting a pass for $26, but I’d like to know! I get a discoutned student pass at PSU for $190 a term, which is $63 a month. The full cost pass is I think $88/month. Maybe that does need to go up, but… it’s not chump change.

  33. Except for two occasions, every time I have had my fare checked on MAX it has been between Beaverton Transit Center and Sunset Transit Center heading toward downtown. The exceptions was one time the from Goose Hollow to Washington Park and the other was this past Monday out of the Willow Creek Transit Center.

    I think that anyone who suggest going to fare gates check out what happened in Los Angeles when they added fare gates to their Metro Rail line and select light rail stations.

    The only people who ended up ahead was the company that put them in and maintain them and probably the board of directors. Overall it cost more to install the machines and maintain them than they lost from fare evasion.

    I also agree that there a downtown only fare would be a good thing until the time comes that we can have the technology to do distance based fares that is equitable.

  34. “Lenny: I don’t know how you’re getting a pass for $26, but I’d like to know!”

    >>>> Honored citizen rate for 65 and over. I pay $1 for an all-zone ticket each time I board the bus.

  35. I actually don’t think this would be too difficult to enforce. TriMet would just need to produce different types of transfer slips that have a spot to indicate which route the slip was obtained on. That way once I leave the 14, I couldn’t get back on it without paying another fare.

    One problem I see with this, however, is if I make a mistake and either get off way too soon or miss my stop significantly. There wouldn’t be any forgiveness for messing up your journey. Also the loophole those of you who mentioned in taking different routes to and from destinations.

    Could they integrate the transfer expiration and zone-based fare better? In other words, make the 3-zone transfers last longer than 2/1-zone fares while keeping 2/1-zone fares cheaper? Do they already do that?

  36. I see drivers routinely check and enforce the transfers even on busy lines such as the 6 Al. If someone doesn’t show them the transfer clearly they just ask to see it closer or take ahold of it (and keep it if it’s no good). It takes less time for them to inspect it than I imagine some electronic fare systems may take to charge a card. What’s so not bright about being vigilant?

  37. (I don’t mean to say that most drivers do seriously check most transfers, I don’t have a clue, but I see people turned off the bus for having bad transfers very often and it never seems to be a big deal or slow down the works too much.)

  38. Jake,

    Note that most transit agencies who have “no round trip” policies (which is a lot of ’em) still permit multiple boardings in the same direction–i.e. if you’re coming home from work and stop at the grocery on the way, that doesn’t require a second ticket.

  39. Are there any local access transit systems that use one way fares? The only systems I can think of which use these are suburban commuter rail lines.

    There’s something goofy about having a ticket that’s good for travel on any route but this one.

  40. bjcefola: The CTA used to have a similar prohibition against using a transfer for a round trip. I believe they dropped that prohibition when they switched from cash and paper transfers to fare cards. I’m not positive this is the case though, they switched to fare cards after I moved away from the area, and haven’t had a need to do a round trip within two hours.

  41. nobody: I too used to know CTA… You’re right, when they had tokens technically you got a one way fare.

    But that system had a big difference. Regular fare didn’t come with a transfer, it was optional and cost extra. If you didn’t buy the transfer you had no transfer right at all, and would have to pay full fare when you got on the next bus no matter the route. If you bought a transfer I don’t think it mattered what direction you went in, it just gave you 2 additional boardings over a set number of hours.

    Under that system you’d never have the situation Trimet would create, where people would be able to ride for free on any route but one.

  42. Ideally, transit must convenient and affordable. For many transit users, a round-trip 2-hour ticket ideally meets their needs. Doubling the cost of transit this way will reduce transit use. It will cost more to configure this proposed new fare structure than it will raise. This behind closed doors budget task force is most likely staffed by and for those who love money more than Portland & Oregon. Money becomes the primary economic element ONLY when the primary objective is profit.

    Meanwhile, come on down to the new car show and inspect the mostly inferior product you may soon have no choice but to purchase, finance, insure, fuel, pay to drive and park and complain, boo hoo, about those costs AND the nightmarish traffic YOU create. Your misery is every automobile-related business interest’s pleasure.

  43. “Ride for two hours” is just simpler, without worrying about whether people have worked out a round trip. $2.50 for two (or three) hours, $5 for all day is easy to understand. I think two hours should be enough time to get anywhere on the system, since even a three-bus ride with long wait times means you’ll be able to board the final bus before the fare expires. And other than a local shopping trip, almost nothing most people do (going to work, a shopping afternoon downtown or at the mall, going to a movie or a Blazer game) will be wrapped up in time to let you go home on the same ticket — unless you’re traveling over a VERY short distance.

    Besides, as I pointed out before, people in areas well-served by multiple bus lines will be able to work out a less convenient “loop” route to get them back home again, doing their neighborhood shopping trip on a single fare. There will still be single-ticket round trips for people who have the time to do it and the need to save $2.50.

    Generally, I’m okay with everything about this proposal EXCEPT eliminating the ability to return on the same ticket.

  44. Nick theoldurbanist:

    Oops, I didn’t think about the honored citizen rate. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

    On this proposal, I think a time based system makes most sense for simplifying it, and I think it would be good to allow people making short round trips to do it on one ticket. Like Douglas has said, these are usually the people who need it most. It’s only transit dependent people that are going to pay a fare to ride a bus to the grocery store or pharmacy or whatever, and these people, I think, should have a break if they’re doing that.

  45. Folks need to lighten up a bit on TriMet. The agency is short of funds due to our very slow recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression…thank you G.W. Bush! … And TriMet should be building more rail, not less as it carries more riders at lower cost and construction costs are low and unemployment is high for construction workers. Now it the time to build if you can land the capital dollars.
    Not sure how to improve morale among some of the Ops…wait for them to retire I guess. But the tone is not much help.

    Funny how had I written such a comment I’d be blasted for having a commentary that’s not related to the OP and that’s harsh toned. And no, lambasting the Operators who toil under a management that doesn’t care does not help – it doesn’t help promote transit from someone that claims to be a transit advocate but is just another anti-bus/pro-rail lobbyist.

    The 72 line has the lowest subsidy per passenger of any TriMet service. And bus riders are saddled with many costs that are specific to MAX – yet are counted as bus operating costs; further many “capital costs” on the bus system are treated as “operating” (such as the replacement of buses, for which TriMet made an “agreement” with ODOT not to seek state and federal funding for new buses in order to allow that money to freely fund MAX expansions.) And finally, TriMet is at fault for inflating bus operating costs by maintaining 21 year old buses that have drastically higher fuel and maintenance costs than newer buses.

    TriMet could purchase – using state and federal dollars – brand new, articulated, hybrid-electric buses – that would require “no TriMet funds” (as TriMet is promoting with Milwaukie MAX), that would result in no new operating expenses (because it’s improving existing service – not a brand new service), would reduce operating cost (lower fuel and maintenance expense) and potentially increase revenues (more rider capacity). TriMet could on some routes even reduce 15 minute headways to 20 minute headways with articulated buses – you’ve just dropped your operating expense 25% without reducing capacity because you’re using one less bus per hour.

    Of course, the rabid anti-bus folks out there don’t see past TriMet and its failure to properly maintain and operate a bus system…which is why TriMet is simply not viewed as a system of “best practices” among other agencies. In fact, TriMet is more a laughing stock.

    If rail is “so cheap”, then why isn’t every bus line a rail line? Oh, because it isn’t so cheap…$100 million a mile…just the “Frequent Service” system alone is 164 route miles. At $50 million a mile (most light rail systems are coming in much higher than that) we’d need $8.2 billion to replace the frequent service lines with light rail.

    Finally…it’s not TriMet’s job to employ unemployed construction workers. It’s time to cut the rope – because every time a light rail project ends, we hear the same “oh, unemployment is up, those construction workers don’t have jobs…we better find them new jobs” routine.

  46. As a Los Angeles transit rider, I am befuddled by this whole thread. Los Angeles County is far larger than TriMet’s whole territory, and yet Metro does not charge any zones on Metro Bus, subway, or light rail (except for a few commuter express buses on the freeway).

    More to the point, everyone here seems to assume that in theory, fares should be based on distance. Why? NO, THEY SHOULDN’T!

    The fare structure should have some relationship to the marginal cost of each boarding. This is mainly in the form of extra time for the bus to slow down and stop for the passenger to board and pay. Fares should align incentives toward greater efficiency in boarding to reduce cost and improve speed.

    Moreover, the amount of the fare itself affects the boarding time. If you have an easy, round number like $1, $1.50 or $2, people can pay more quickly than if they are stumbling for $1.05 or $2.10. Likewise, simplicity in the fare structure allows passengers to avoid having to take time to figure out how much to pay.

    We also eliminated transfers in favor of day passes, which help speed boarding even further. When you have a bunch of people waving day passes instead of fumbling for change, the bus will catch an earlier a signal cycle at many intersections instead of getting trapped behind a red light, yielding a faster service at lower cost.

    One major mistake of ours to avoid: spending tens of millions on rolling out smart card fare media, readers, gates and turnstiles (ours is called “TAP”). It’s entirely unnecessary. It sounds like Portland has magnetic swipes right now, but even if it was just paper you would still save money eating some losses from fraudulent passes than cutting bus trips to pay for smart card cost overruns.

  47. BIGGEST RIDERSHIP PER CAPITA is the headline.
    If that was actually true then why is our FAREBOX RECOVERY RATIO so pathetic?

    It could also be that TriMet has provided more low-revenue service, or due to cost issues.

    someone that claims to be a transit advocate but is just another anti-bus/pro-rail lobbyist.

    How do you know if he is one?

    further many “capital costs” on the bus system are treated as “operating”

    Like? And where’s your evidence?

    riMet could purchase – using state and federal dollars – brand new, articulated, hybrid-electric buses – that would require “no TriMet funds”

    Than why are Federal dollars only covering part of the current purchase?

    reduce 15 minute headways to 20 minute headways with articulated buses

    Is this a good thing? What about mobility device capacity?

    If rail is “so cheap”, then why isn’t every bus line a rail line?

    Because we can’t get an endless supply of funding to implement it, and because many routes can’t support it.

    every time a light rail project ends, we hear the same “oh, unemployment is up, those construction workers don’t have jobs…we better find them new jobs” routine

    I haven’t heard that. And it’s not like we get to decide what to do with much of the money, either.

  48. I would like to at least comment on one thing:

    People making a round trip on one fare or even people avoiding paying a fare in most cases – are *not* costing Tri-met any money.

    A possible loss in fare revenue does not equal an expense.

    The bus or train runs anyway, whether or not there is one person or 30 people riding it.

    Fare collection should be maximized to a point – but the more restrictive you get the more potential you have for discouraging rides.

    Farebox revenue quickly bumps into ridership levels.

    So a person can get on a completely empty bus and ride it all day without paying fare and it doesn’t make tri-met spend any extra money. However tri-met had potential to make a few bucks off that person.

    The discussion should focus on how to get people to keep riding AND pay fares. They cannot me mutually exclusive. As soon as a fare policy reduces ridership it becomes bad business.

    This is just like the MPAA and RIAA complaining about piracy. Many people just won’t pay for something – but that doesnt equal lost money, only lost potential.

  49. John, I generally agree, but in TriMet’s case they are charged with running a level of service supported by taxes and fares. When tax revenue goes down, they have to raise fares to make up that revenue or cut service. I would prefer that the legislature give them the authority to automatically raise or lower the payroll tax to whatever results in steady revenue, but that would just make too much sense, apparently. In the current situation TriMet doesn’t even have the option of asking the public to pay more taxes (I believe they can only ask for property taxes for capital expenses), so fares are really the only option for preserving at least a chunk of the service.

  50. Way back to the original proposal…I am concerned for those (like myself) that live in North Portland where short trips are the norm. Taking MAX 3 stops (1.5 miles) to go to Freddie’s then coming back within an hour or maybe 90 minutes is common. Plenty of other similar examples in NW, downtown, inner eastside, etc. Charging $5 for that trip seems steep. That difference will encourage some to drive or ride more. I think they need to offer a short-trip alternative fare.

  51. Brad: I would have assumed that most people using transit in the way you describe, for lots of short shopping trips, are transit-dependent and use transit enough to justify a monthly pass. Is that not the case?

    I would say that if someone can’t walk or bike 1.5 miles and has access to a car, it makes more sense to drive than wait for transit just to take a short hop. If you don’t have a car, a monthly pass probably makes sense.

    I would also add that in many cities, parking is expensive enough that $5 would be a small price to pay to take transit. Unfortunately, Portland has chosen the path of cheap or free parking that makes transit very uncompetitive.

    Transit generally is not good for short trips. Walking and biking are cheaper, better for health and the environment, and faster for short trips than taking transit. Not only that, people making short hops on buses slow down the trip for everyone making long trips. That is one unfortunate effect of the free rail zone and fareless square before it–all those free riders slow things down for the people who really have somewhere far away they need to get to.

    So I say, let transit be the favored mode for long-distance travel, and let the pricing reflect that. That said, I still support a cheaper central city fare just to encourage residential and employment development in the central city and to support tourism.

  52. zefwagner: I used Tri-Met a lot the way Brad described. I walked most everywhere immediately close and would take transit or ride my bike to destinations over a mile or so, and then drive anywhere transit wasn’t useful. I would buy tickets in books of 10 and use them when I needed, but not enough to justify a whole monthly pass.

    There were several bus lines and a few train lines within a few blocks of my house, so they were ideally suited for short trips… I could step out my front door and catch a bus – and with the excellent PDXBus app for my iPhone I could tell if a bus was coming within a block or two and if not I would walk but if so I would jump on a bus.

    If I had to pay the full 3 zone price I would not use transit and would lean towards my car when I didn’t want to bike.

  53. zefwagner, I’m thinking of the unemployed, disabled or retired person on a fixed income who doesn’t need to shop every day. When every dollar counts, they might need to make only two or three trips a week. Maybe not enough to justify even an honored citizen pass (assuming they qualify).

    If someone is employed, they may well need a monthly pass and probably can afford one.

  54. Let’s see…I helped to start three bus lines in the last 15 years to Swan Island. I love the bus, but the numbers don’t lie… cost per ride is high, except for lines like our 72 and a few others which are the exception, not the rule.
    We have essentially one east/west light rail line with a couple of branches on the eastside, and just half of a north/south line, yet they carry over 130K rides per day at about $1.50/ride. Oh I left out Streetcar…that’s another 12K. Sure capital costs are high but these investments are in place for many years and capital costs are shared with state and federal government.
    Look what’s happened on Interstate. The old 5 bus carried maybe 6,000 riders/day; Interstate MAX is now carrying over 17,000 with cost per ride at $1.72, and it doesn’t even get out of north Portland. Image the potential ridership for a MAX line to Tigard via OHSU; it could easily double the 12’s 12,500 at half the cost.
    The cost center for operating transit is operators, like it or not, and that cost is the same for a 44 passenger bus or a 300 passenger MAX train. In the printing industry businesses invested in new 4 color presses that required one operator instead of 4. A lot of skilled union operators were out of luck, but these businesses survived and grew (until digital technology radically changed the printing industry!) When labor costs are high, you have to invest in higher productivity or you go bankrupt.

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