TriMet fare increase? Hell no!

T.A. Barnhart

Rising gas prices are driving more people (sorry, couldn't resist that) to take the bus. I'm all for that, but TriMet needs to respond to the increased traffic with more than just increased fares. How about for the first time ever they do what most businesses do when faced with increased costs: increase sales, not prices?

The current increase in ridership may turn out to be temporary even if gas prices continue to rise. Whether or not the current spike is a momentary blip or becomes long-term practice depends on how TriMet responds. The first and most important thing they need to do is not worry about their costs but getting enough damn buses on to the streets during rush hour.

I ride the #19 Woodstock to work each morning. There are four buses on that route that serve the majority of people who need to be downtown by 8am. The first two come past my stop near 49th at 7:12 (one loops down to 32nd and Rex, picking up high school kids and office workers), another at 7:25 (that's my bus), and another about 15 minutes later. These buses have varying levels of ridership, depending on the weather and people's personal circumstances I can't know, but there is almost always room for everyone to sit until the last few stops before Powell and then over the Ross Island Bridge, where I exit.

But more and more, the bus is starting to overfill. One morning last week, on the 7:12 that swings over to SE 32nd and Rex, the bus was jam-packed by the time we got to Powell: there was simply no more room on the bus. And yet, at Powell, we had to cram more in. This is becoming common, and I doubt very much my line is an exception. If more people are switching from cars to bus, and TriMet is running the same schedules, then more than likely the new riders are being shoehorned into buses TriMet has already planned to be full under the old ridership.

TriMet has always been run by people who would destroy any private business they would be given. They seem to have no idea how the retail world works, and while I adamantly oppose privatizing TriMet, I would like them to become a lot less stupid as guardians of this public resource.

Over the years — and I've been riding TriMet since 1981 — TriMet has responded to increased costs and insufficient ridership levels in two ways: raise fares and decrease service. Can you imagine a store tackling the same problems in the same way? Who is going to go to a store that increases its prices while offering fewer choices?

And if that were the only offense TriMet commits against the public it is meant to serve. Alas, it gets worse.

$2.05 is just wrong

At the last price increase, I thought TriMet was kidding. The all-zone ticket increased to $2.05 — yes, that's two dollar bills and A Nickel. TriMet expected riders needing to go from, say, downtown to Gateway or Clackamas Town Center, to pony up both two bucks and a stinkin' nickel. I couldn't understand how they could make such a ridiculous decision. But then I remembered this event from years ago:

My then-wife and I, with a six-month-old child, were barely getting around in an ancient and dying Volvo. We needed a reliable car, and we needed it now. So we drove out to the Volkswagen dealership in Beaverton, the poor old V-car barely surviving the last trip of its honorable life. We picked out the last of the previous year's Golfs, a good car (even if it was silver, a car color I hate), and we came to an agreement on the payments. And then: "I'll run this by my manager."

When our sales flunky returned to finalize the deal, he told us, sadly, that his manager had "requested" that we increase our payments another $1 per month. $60 over the course of a five-year loan. In real-life terms, that money that meant virtually nothing. It probably went straight into their pockets, just a little extra folding cash. We, having no power in the transaction — our car was dead, we were 15 miles from home, we had a little baby in a second-hand carseat, and could not even simply walk away — just took the deal. "Took it," as in "up the butt."

Later, still angry about that treatment, I realized why they had demanded the extra $1 per month: Because they could. They did not care about the extra payment; they just got off on jerking around low-end, semi-desperate people like us. And while I don't think anyone at TriMet sits around wondering how to humiliate riders, what is clear is that something like that extra nickel means absolutely nothing to them. They look at their charts and numbers, and they decide, "We need to raise the fare to $2.05."

But they don't have to find that extra nickel. It's not just that little bits of change tend to be more scarce than people assume, especially in this day of debit cards. It's what that extra nickel means: TriMet getting every penny, or nickel, they think they need means more than inconvenience or the symbolism of charging that bit extra. And the simple fact is, they have a choice. The TriMet vision include both of these points:

Which takes precedence? Grab the extra nickel to be fiscally responsible, or keep the fare at a convenient and non-stupid level to meet the need of customers to not be forced to scramble like some gutter rat for a frikkin' nickel?

And if you're wondering what the hell I'm going on about, you clearly are not one of the people impacted by that extra nickel. Maybe you rarely take the bus, or have plenty of spare change, or don't have to grab the kids, your stuff for work, everyone's lunch and, if it doesn't slip your mind as you try not to be late for work as you try to get everyone's life in order for the day, find that extra nickel. It's exactly these little things that drive people over the edge in life, that makes living feel so rough and ugly that making the necessary effort just becomes pointless.

But wait, we've got even more stupid

I buy a monthly two-zone pass. Fortunately I can get it at my local Safeway, if I have enough money at the end of the month (I get paid on the 3rd, so having $65 is not always easy on the first of the month). Now and then, however, I have to take MAX out to Sunset or Gateway. That's zone 3 and requires an upgrade. But guess what? The only place to get an upgrade is on a bus. You cannot buy one from a ticket machine. You cannot get one at a frikkin' MAX station. You have to remember to ask before you get off the bus, or you have to run up to a bus at a stop and ask for one (and hope you get a driver who isn't pissed off that you are doing that, not something you can assume). And you have to have thirty cents to make that purchase.

I don't mind buying the upgrade, but I damn sure mind that TriMet can't do something as simple as adding a tiny bit of programming to allow me to buy an upgrade from a ticket machine. This underscores the central problem with TriMet customer service is that it has very little to do with customer service.

The TriMet Method: Inverse retail

Let's say you own a store. You offer excellent products, products no one else can match for quality. But for some reason, you are not selling enough to stay in business. Despite the quality of your product, people seem to be content to buy the crap that Target and Walmart sell. So what do you do to respond? I'll tell you what you don't do: You don't raise prices. You don't reduce selection. You don't make shopping more difficult. Everyone of those steps will ensure your failure — unless you have a trust fund or sugar daddy to underwrite your losses.

But guess what? That's exactly how TriMet operates. No matter what retail challenge they face — insufficient ridership, increased costs — the TriMet response is always the same: Increase fares and reduce service. I've been riding TriMet since 1981 (when it was Tri-Met) and I've been in awe in their inability to grasp the basics of Retail 101. I'm sure there are a lot of different skill sets represented on the TriMet Board, but apparently those skills do not include the successful running of a business. The only reason TriMet hasn't gone belly-up is because they have both a monopoly and a sugar daddy: federal money.

Here we go again

So now TriMet is facing another crisis. Oil prices are going up, and the oil companies are raising prices in order to hold on to their ungodly profits. The Bush Administration, of course, has no desire to do anything but let those profits soar; after all, all the players come from and will return to oil corporations or their close friends. Dubya may go down in history as the second-worst president ever (I still vote for Nixon, without whom Dubya is not possible), but he'll also go down with billions of dollars to his post-presidential name. So what can TriMet do when it does not have the money to pay for the increases in costs due to oil prices? How do they keep the buses running?

It's not like they are alone in this. Everyone is paying more for gas. Rich, middle-class and struggling, all are paying the higher costs (which are still some of the lowest gas prices in the world). The difference, of course, is the percentage of income that gas represents. For many people, increased gas prices are taking a tangible bite from their monthly income. In fact, more and more people are deciding that driving their car is no longer something they can afford. So they are riding TriMet. And TriMet is welcoming them in their usual way: Poor service and higher prices.

Those of us who commute via the bus see this happening. Buses that once were just full as they hit downtown are starting to be crammed long before they reach the bridges. Yet we see nothing about TriMet improving service by adding more rush-hour buses. We do see that our fares are going to increase. For that extra money, we get the extra bonus of further reductions in service as more people get crammed on to the same number of buses.

And before you accuse me of selfish whining, let me point out what riding the bus entails. I live 8 blocks south of Woodstock, so I leave home 15 minutes before my bus is due. I then wait 5-to-10 minutes — or more — for a bus that is invariably late (and it hasn't even gotten to the busy part of the route). Oh, and did I mention that my 8-block walk is through whatever weather the gods choose to throw at me: blazing heat, pouring rain, freezing wind up the gorge, or mid-winter darkness. I'm lucky enough that there is a building with an overhang at my stop; I at least don't have to stand and get soaked as I do at other stops. I get to stand and breathe in exhaust fumes, enjoy the roar of cars and trucks harmonizing with my iPod. I either am squished by another rider who needs to lose at least sixty pounds or stand with my bags the entire twenty-five minute ride (most of that time being jerked back and forth by lead-footed drivers). Sometimes it's suffocating; sometimes I get to enjoy the fragrance of unbathed human flesh. (And on most rides, I get to listen in to cell phone calls, too; that's a special treat.) And when I finally am able to squeeze my way off the bus, I have to cross traffic (with no crosswalk or light) zooming off the Ross Island Bridge like it's the last turn at Indy. I hope that for the 8-block walk to work, I am able to dodge the drivers who don't give a damn about niceties like stop signs and crosswalks. So far, my luck has held out.

And then I get to do it all over again after nine hours at work.

Fare increases are regressive and violate TriMet's mission

Let's face it. The vast majority of people who ride TriMet are at the lower ends of our local economy. People with money drive. The number of people who can afford to drive and choose to ride TriMet is fairly high in Portland but still not the majority. The bus is for the lower classes, the students and minimum wage earners, the administrative assistants and retail workers and job hunters. How do I know this? Well, along with 27 years of TriMet riding, I know how politics works. And people with money are people with clout, and they would not take this shit. The simple fact that TriMet can keep raising fares and decreasing service is pretty conclusive evidence that those they "serve" have very little power to do much more than whine to one another.

Transit different

So how about TriMet trying something radical to deal with this latest crisis? Instead of extorting the money they say they need — I have no choice: I pay whatever fare they demand or I lose my job — how about TriMet work at increasing income? That's what a real business has to do. At one point, despite having a product universally hailed as unique and superior, Apple was on the verge of failure. Their computers cost too much, and people were buying Wintel machines, despite their being horrible to work on. So Apple did the smart things: They made products that no one else could match, and they began pushing their prices downward. My first Mac, in 1987, cost $3,500 — with a student discount. My current Mac, a Mini, was $700, and that included an extra gig of ram. As a result, Apple's market share continues to climb and its stock is the envy of most businesses.

What stops TriMet from following Apple's lead? Why has it proven impossible for TriMet to improve their product and keep the costs low? Just as Microsoft was able to grow complacent and incompetent by having a captive market, TriMet has always been able to get past its immediate problems by raising fares and cutting service. That's exactly what we are facing yet again — even though we have reached a point where ridership is about to soar.

TriMet needs to grab this opportunity. They need to ensure that commuters are not being forced to ride in the same manner that sardines are marketed. Nothing will drive the new ridership away quicker than horrible riding conditions. Force people to walk through the rain or heat for the privilege of being crushed against strangers, and at the same time demand that they pay more for the pleasure — that's the TriMet formula for screwing this pooch.

There are alternatives. Grow the damn business. Add another bus to each commute route during rush hour. Tell drivers of buses running late to stop picking up new passengers; another bus is only five minutes behind and will be worth that wait. Freeze fares. Train drivers to go easy on the brakes (they ain't driving damn bumper cars). Figure out which routes consistently run late and over-full, and then fix them.

Or they could do something truly innovative. Hire an assistant manager from a successful store to explain how a real business works. Why do people go to Nordies and other stores? Why do Freddies and Target have strong customer loyalty? I've worked in retail in the past, and I had regular customers. Why? Because I not only met their needs, I gave them value. Part of that value was showing them that I valued them, making them them feel special. Making them feel appreciated. I was not their only choice, but I was the one they chose. Sadly, TriMet is my only choice for commuting. If they raise my $65 fare to $74, I won't have much of a choice. They can gouge the extra 14% from me and the other chumps who literally depend on the bus and light rail, but they'll lose this opportunity to convert even more car commuters to mass transit.

Every crisis is an opportunity, and the world knows no shortage of crises. Apple used its near-failure in the 90s to bring back Steve Jobs, and they are now the #1 tech company in the world. They viewed crisis as opportunity and that turned into success. TriMet has the same opportunity. They can find ways to turn this current situation into the means of expanding mass transit without it being exclusively through the pocketbooks of riders. Especially those who can least afford it.

Otherwise they turn what is an opportunity to prove the value of mass transit into an opportunity for mass transit's opponents to possibly destroy it.

  • orexpat (unverified)

    So, you're upset. I think we get that.

    You want TriMet to be run more like a business, but then you use an example from business (an auto dealer) make a point that would seem to argue against this.

    You want them to pay for increased costs by increasing ridership...but then you admit that "But more and more, the bus is starting to overfill."

    So you want them to buy new busses and hire more drivers. Guess what? That's a big cost. And what about the cost of diesel which is now pushing towards $5 a gal?

    You have some choices:

    • move closer to work
    • bike
    • say thanks that compared to most of the US you have a decent transit system that (compared to car ownership) is reasonably priced

    "Otherwise they turn what is an opportunity to prove the value of mass transit into an opportunity for mass transit's opponents to possibly destroy it."

    Actually, your talking points could be cribbed from plenty of right wing (or libertarian) blogs. Maybe time to take a deep breath, rethink and reframe?

  • (Show?)

    i've been rethinking this for over 20 years. this is nothing new. this is business-as-usual for TriMet, and they haven't figurd out why it continues to fail.

    cheap and easy for you to tell me what i can do with my life. i appreciate you paternalism. it means the world to me. as does your uninformed judgment of my life.

  • Janine (unverified)

    Hear, hear. I've been thinking this for a long time, not just about TriMet but about every public transit system I've had the (mis)fortune to ride.

    I'll add two things to your list of things they need to do:

    1. Fix the damn ticket machines! It seems like at least one is broken at every station (at least along the westside Blue line) and it's not uncommon at my home station to have both machines broken. Talk about an easy way to increase revenue...

    2. Train the bus drivers in customer service. You would think they would already do this, but if they do it's not working. I see a driver being rude to someone nearly every time I ride the bus.

    I'm one of those people who doesn't really need TriMet; I have a car and can still afford the gas, though it pains me every time I fill up. I ride to be an environmentally responsible person and to avoid having to deal with parking my car downtown. It doesn't take much in the way of annoyance to make driving my car look like the better option. TriMet needs to get their act together if they are ever going to attract many riders like me.

  • 18yearoldwithanopinion (unverified)

    One of the problems that TriMet has is that it must offer a money losing service in many places. I am a high school kid who uses TriMet when I can’t borrow my mom’s car. Based on how few people ride my route I can tell you that TriMet loses money on it but it keeps the route to fulfill its mission. The real solution is for the legislature to increase the amount of money that TriMet gets from payroll taxes in order to reduce the pressure on fares for revenue. Bus drivers have really stressful jobs but TriMet should invest some resources into increasing costumer service.

  • (Show?)

    after posting, i stumbled on this at Grist:

    Public transit agencies across the United States are lately encountering a curious double-bind: ridership has increased quickly and dramatically, straining current capacity, and at the same time, significantly higher fuel costs have stretched many transit budgets too far. If the current ridership boom had taken hold when fuel prices were much lower, transit agencies would theoretically have been able to cope by steadily expanding service to meet demand and wouldn't need to raise fares or cut services. But, alas, since ridership surges have coincided with big increases in fuel costs, many transit providers are struggling to stay afloat.

    i'm extremely sympathetic to TriMet's position, and i am grateful that we have the good system we do in this area. nonetheless, they have forever seemed clueless about the basics of retail, and that not only hurts the agency's bottom line, it hurts those who truly depend on afforadable mass transit just to survive in this region.

  • (Show?)

    I'd like to see them increase routes in east county - especially routes that run outside of the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. time.

    If you want to go somewhere outside of commuter hours, you're in trouble. Want to get around town, as opposed to going into Portland? Very difficult.

    Heck, one of the areas that needs bus service the most (east end of Burnside before it meets Hwy 26), has no service at all. You see plenty of people trying to carry their groceries from Winco to get to the closest route - most of which only run commuter hours. And each stop is a considerable distance from the store.

    We've been riding the bus a lot lately. I have a stack of tickets I got for free when I donated to the Bus Project through the WWeek giving drive or whatever they call it. Abby rides free since she's 6 and I use a ticket. And we've been trying to use TriMet to get around Gresham - it's very difficult. Buses often run only once an hour, if they're running at all since we have very few non-commuter routes.

    People out this way could really use some more routes to get around. They always say people out this way don't ride the bus that much - but what do they expect when you don't offer the routes that are needed or enough routes outside commuter hours?

  • (Show?)

    Jenni wrote... I'd like to see them increase routes in east county - especially routes that run outside of the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. time.

    I suspect that some of those routes are so lightly traveled that it'd be cheaper for TriMet to just send you a cab.

    In general, I've found ZipCar to be an excellent and affordable alternative when I'm trying to get to a late-night meeting.

  • (Show?)

    Ah, yes, but you have to go all the way into Portland to get a car (nearest cars are at about 60th and I'm at 257th) to then drive it to a meeting in Gresham. I'm a ZipCar member, but I have yet to use the service.

    There are some routes that would likely be heavily traveled. And some routes that don't do well in the 7a-7p slot would do well in 5p-10p and weekends. The problem is that it is too often assumed there aren't enough riders out here, when in fact they're looking at things out in east county the wrong way. People out this way are often times less likely to be working in inner/downtown Portland, less likely to be pulling an 8-5 job, etc. People out here badly need public transportation services to get them to places like the grocery store, but the ones that are on service lines are often times the most expensive ones in town.

  • ws (unverified)

    Tri-Met might consider a form of congestion pricing: Instead of raising fares, reduce them outside of prime commute hours. The bus is not crowded simply because Tri-Met lacks the equipment to meet current demand increases; the bus is crowded because a great number of people elect to ride the bus closest to a time that would deliver them to an 8 to 4, 9 to 5 job.

    Give the people an incentive to ride earlier or later than their standard boarding time and see what happens. Some employers might be able to accommodate an adjusted employee work schedule to allow for this.

    The fare seems cost prohibitive to me. I've got to have a vehicle for my work. I wouldn't object to riding MAX when not on a work assignment, but for the distance I need to travel for non-work activities, it's actually cheaper, faster, and more pleasant to drive. If Tri-Met were to halve the fair(80 cents or a dollar) outside of peak commute hours, I'd probably use the bus.

    In terms of distance traveled for the money, the fare zone system is great if you live in Hillsboro and have to commute to PDX, but it kind of sucks if you live in Beaverton and only need to travel to downtown Portland.

  • ben (unverified)

    It's hard not to appreciate the time and effort that went into the parent post, but...

    Last time I heard, my understanding was that only 40% of TriMet's revenue comes from fares. I can only assume that the statistic has changed in the five years since I read it, but even so it seems likely that without the fare increase, TriMet would be bleeding money... or would simply be forced to cut service. Um... some more.

    The litany about your experience as a frequent rider doesn't phase those few of us who know what it's like to live on the Westside (or East County, per a previous comment) and depend on TriMet to get around. I much prefer eastern WaCo to the suburbs of any other city where I've lived, but at least in Southeast close-in, you can almost pretend that the rhythm of your life isn't dictated by the priorities of transportation engineers. Almost. Which is better than any experience you'll scrape together in Washington County.

    TriMet needs more money and higher frequencies on the runs it already has, before they can even hope to get past duct tape and baling wire.

    Further, with respect to the bus network alone, route density and run frequency hasn't increased nearly as fast as population. I would imagine that a lot of money has gone into light rail that might've gone instead into improved bus service, and the people who live far away from the light rail lines suffer for it.

    Can they get grants from the federal or state governments? Is there some kind of mill levy that can be put in place that has a demonstrable return of value to the local economy? These strike me as paths of least resistance to fare stabilization. Rants? Not so much.

    ...Portland's one of the first cities to feel the crunch, because its land management and transit priorities are almost forty years into keeping one eye on the future - TriMet's always been a system from which people can get decent use, which is more than a lot of Western cities can say about their public transportation networks.

    What do you think is going to happen in those cities that have neglected their public transportation networks and allowed sprawl, because that's how the people with money felt it ought to be done? The thought kinda scares me, actually.

    Bottom line: it's a bad situation, but still better than the alternatives.

    And finally, some wisdom acquired from being one of those Westside folks who's been able to take sociable bus operators for granted in the past: these folks' first priority is to drive a whale of a vehicle through their entire run as safely as possible, and even a single miscreant aboard the bus makes their job immeasurably more stressful. I'm sure they just lurve sharing the road with cyclists. What about rude motorists? ...I could go on. If a driver's being friendly, that's a bonus in my opinion, though I'm not fond of ones who are gratuitously pedantic about system rules.

  • George Seldes (unverified)

    Calling for TriMet to operate more like "a business" definitely falls under the "Be careful what you wish for" heading--the principal action that distinguishes a private, for-profit business from a municipal service being a ruthless devotion to the single bottom line (profit) as opposed to a triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental).

    Does the Tri-Met service area have a Transit Riders Union? Might want to start one ...

  • James X. (unverified)

    Ridership per vehicle is up considerably. That means that without increasing fares, TriMet is making more money.

    TriMet says their diesel prices have gone from $2.12 to $4.05/gal. That's $1.93. Or, 1.1 current two-zone fares. Bus mileage is 5 mpg. So that means that to cover the increase in diesel prices, you need 1 new fare every 4.5 miles. TriMet's got that.

    And regardless, TriMet should be run for social profit, not fiscal profit. We gain tremendously as a society when single-passenger vehicle use is decreased, and mass transit use is increased. Don't raise fares, expand fareless square. Then we all profit.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Ok, seriously, am I missing something here?

    Am I missing something here?

    TriMet says diesel prices have increased from $2.12 to $4.05/gal. That's $1.93/gal.

    $1.93 is 1.1 current two-zone fares.

    TriMet says bus mileage is 5 mpg.

    So to cover the increase in diesel costs, TriMet needs 1 new fare per 4.5 miles. They have that.

    So why do they need to raise fares 20-25 cents?

  • James X. (unverified)

    Er, I didn't mean the extra "Am I missing something here?" That's just annoying.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    Instead of a fare increase to offset costs, lets cut the salaries of all non-union management (including those uptight supervisors)- including Hansen's and Fetch's. They have been telling us to cut back for years, now it is their turn to cut back. By cutting those salaries, you can shift that new money released by the cuts to go into those accounts for what is really needed.

  • (Show?)

    Any increase in fares to offset costs should be accompanied by incentivizing the bulk purchasing of passes by local businesses. Transportation district taxes on local businesses pay more than 70 percent of the operating cost of TriMet, yet there are no incentives for businesses to engage in the bulk purchasing of passes for employees.

  • John Bromley (unverified)

    I would not mind the fare increase as much if TriMet could keep its validation and ticket machines working.

    What is so hard about having a TriMet employee ride the system and check each of the machines each day and have them fixed within 24 hours?

    Instead, I go home and report the non-working machines via their web site and nothing happens! A week later, the same machine is still broken. A month later the same validation machine is still not working. Does no one at TriMet care?

    I think the management is more interested in building out the system than keeping the existing system working. It is perhaps more fun to cut the ribbon on a new Max line than increasing customer satisfaction with the service.

    I think it is time for Fred Henson to go and for the TriMet board to hire someone who cares about customer service and safety.

  • Kathy H (unverified)

    Why has no one mentioned the obvious? TriMet can increase their revenue by simply COLLECTING THE FARES.

    I think every TriMet user would agree that they don't see all riders paying their fare, whether by pass, ticket or cash. On the (rare) occasions that I see a fare inspection on Max there are always evaders found on every sweep of the car. When was the last time that anyone saw a fare inspector on a bus?

    If they up the fare enforcement, TriMet has more money to buy that overpriced diesel. And those of us who DO pay eveyday can feel a little better about having paid our share.

    People will get the point - they will start paying that posted fare, if only to avoid the larger fine.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    "Why has no one mentioned the obvious? TriMet can increase their revenue by simply COLLECTING THE FARES"

    A good reason to eliminate Fareless Square. But that is another issue...

    Maybe TriMet should do what they do in Calgary...eliminate inspectors all together and use the highest police force available in the city (Calgary uses the RCMP - fully loaded with live ammo and a no nonsense demeanor).

  • Randy (unverified)

    TriMet has lousy customer service for the same reason that other departments filled with public union labor employees have lousy customer service. They just don't care! They can't easily be fired or discliplined so they don't care. Typical result of union protection.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    TriMet could be run better. When I started regularly riding a 2 zone ticket was $1.25. By the time I ended my job downtown I was paying $1.65 per trip. My stop was on 42nd and Hawthorne and even with gas prices today I could drive that for less than I paid each day to TriMet. If there was affordable parking downtown or my office would have provided it I probably would have done that rather than ride with the people who talk to themselves and scream at the others.

    They crammed us in like sardines on that line during rush hour and often times we were so full by 20th Ave there were no stops until downtown unless someone got off. When I rode back in the middle of the day or went in later to work the 14 was practically empty. I suspect most of the fare increases go to cover those non-rush hour times when the bus runs with 3 people on it including the driver. Ever take the 75 past 7 o'clock down 39th? Try it's a ghost bus but it keeps running just in case someone wants to get to Lombard.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Kathy: Isn't there a fare inspector driving the bus?

  • Steve (unverified)

    Instead of decent bus service TriMet will be spending billions more for light rail. Which is exactly what you blues are telling them to do and have been for years.

    We're a model for the nation. Celebrate.

  • (Show?)

    At the Coalition for Livable Future's Regional Equity Summit last week the issue of public transit in rapid-population growth areas in East County, Clackamas County and Washington County came up, particularly in terms of need for lateral routes not directed to downtown Portland.

    When I lived in southern Africa for a time doing research, almost 20 years ago, there were two systems at work that I wonder about for meeting some of these needs. In Durban, South Africa there was a system of mini-buses called Mynas, because of their shape & then painted to match as a marketing tool. I think that they both ran lesser used routes and also ran links between bigger mainline routes. They were about the size of the buses TriMet uses to provide service to handicapped persons.

    Could Tri-Met use smaller, less expensive, more fuel-efficient buses on some of its routes during lower-traffic times -- or even use them to provide more frequent service interspersed with the big buses during the times when buses are getting over-filled? Could such buses be used to extend service to growing but more dispersed areas further away from downtown?

    The other phenomenon was what were known as kombi or minibus taxis. These were privately owned passenger vans that ran fixed routes, both within cities and long distance, and at that time catered almost exclusively to Africans (it was the end of the apartheid era).

    They carried anything from 8 to 15 passengers depending on the size of the van and the willingness of the driver to illegally overload them. The intercity routes were close to unregulated, and a couple of years after I took them between Swaziland and Johannesburg I would no longer have done so, because competition turned literally deadly and what were known as "taxi wars" broke out, with drivers for lines competing over certain routes shot up competing buses to establish monopolies. Owning a minibus taxi was one form of relatively inexpensive entrepreneurship for Africans in South Africa, but between difficulty scraping the money together and the fierceness of competition even when not literally cutthroat, there were serious maintenance and driving related safety issues.

    I wouldn't advocate that system exactly, for obvious reasons, but again it seems as if either on private or public basis it might be possible to use such vehicles to complement and fill service gaps (spatial and temporal) in the existing TriMet system. If private, possible issues about undermining the public system might be met by having a fare-fee that would go to subsidizing the public system.

    One way to look at these options is as offering two scale steps intermediate between carpools and big buses, and thinking about matching them with the scalability of demand over space and time in the region.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    The "run TriMet like a business" idea seems flawed. It's not a business. It's a monopoly. And I will bet that neither Mr. Barnhart nor most readers here even view public transit as a business: far more likely is that they view it as comparable to the municipal water supply, that is, as some sort of utility that "the community" must have.

    I lived in an English city some years ago, during the Thatcher era, with privatized public transit that I used daily. There were, in effect, competing bus lines on all the routes I used: some typically large, double-deck buses, some small, comparable to the shuttle buses one sees moving people between airport parking lots and terminals. They were all heavily used and extremely crowded. There was no price differential from one bus company to another. "Service" was indifferent: even the drivers used to smoke, right next to the NO SMOKING signs! Just an observation...good old laissez-faire capitalism didn't seem to be "working" there in the way that an ideologue would tell you it ought to, I would maintain.

    Per TriMet customer service, I have some anecdotal observations to pass along. Twice in recent months I have had to get off buses and cool my heels when an altercation between a driver and a passenger escalated to the point of shouting, obscentities, and the driver calling the cops. In both cases, yes, the passenget involved was being a jerk, but so was the driver. One would think that once the offending passenger was off the bus, the driver could just proceed, but no: in both cases, EVERYONE got booted off the bus while the cops came to "investigate". In one of these incidents, SIX cops showed up, and for what? Because some passenger screamed at the driver, then got off when the driver told him to get off, and then stood on the sidewalk screaming some more at the driver. For that we needed SIX cops?

    As far as I can tell, shutting down the bus and kicking everyone off when there's a problem passenger is simply TriMet policy. Thus a bunch of people wind up being seriously inconvenienced....In both incidents that I observed, I wrote letters to TriMet about what had transpired and in reply got boilerplate.

    I'm not at all sure what Trimet ought to do about responding to fuel prices, and I'm not thrilled with Mr. Barnhart's rant, but undoubtedly TriMet needs to do more than just think about prices.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    I'll add my two cents worth here---

    First cent----I also live out in East County (actually I live in the same complex as Jenni---hey Jenni, email me at [email protected] I need to ask you something). I work about 3 miles from my complex. Part of my job is to take the mail everyday at end of work to the Post Office. When I first moved to Gresham, I purposely chose a place that was close to my work. I didn't own a car, having used TriMet exclusively for the previous 10 years. I figured I'd keep using TriMet. Well, the buses run so infrequently out here, even during "rush hour" that I ended up at work 40 minutes early. Well, okay. I'ts worth it to save money and be green.(I can't pedal a bike or walk more than a couple miles at a time due to an old foot injury). Then, after work, I needed to go to the Post Office, then home. The distance for that trip when driving is 4.57 miles and when driving takes a total of 10 minutes. Here's what I have to do on TriMet-- 1. Board #12 bus on 223rd Street and take it to Gresham Transit Center. 2. Board #80 bus at GTC and take it to Hood/2nd. Walk 2 blocks to the post office. Take care of business. Walk back to 2/Hood. 3. Board #81 Bus at 2/hood and take it to my complex. Total time----1 hour 21 minutes.

    So, I can be home within 15 minutes or I can be home in an hour and a half.....hmmmmmm.

    Second cent---I work with a low-income family. There are two adults and 3 kids ages 9, 12, 15. They all need monthly bus passes. The passes total $224 per month for the family and they recently decided that buying an old clunker was cheaper even with the current gas prices that paying for those passes each month. Heck, I just bought a brand new Toyota Yaris and I pay less per month in payments on it than their passes would cost (and yes, I know that cars have added expenses like insurance, gas,upkeep---but when you are that poor you don't look to the future, you look day-to-day).

    As for my personal situation, I rode TriMet for a bit, cut WAY back on my expenses, saved up money and bought an EGO electric scooter ( Now I use it on decent weather days and use no gas. Honestly there are days I'd rather ride TriMet but it's just not feasible given where I need to travel and the schedules out here.

    Like I said, my two cents worth...

  • AL M (unverified)

    Interesting post, some interesting comments, some unhelpful disrespectful comments.

    If you look at the whole ball of wax, instead of just a bad piece here and there, you see that the system is pretty gosh darn good, and well worth the price of a ticket when compared to the price of driving.

    Put on your headphones get out your book and just go without worry.

    Most of the time you get there!

  • Kathy H (unverified)

    James X. "Kathy: Isn't there a fare inspector driving the bus?"

    Nope. They aren't allowed to enforce fares or issue tickets. They are 'fare informers' not fare enforcers.

    They have no ability or authority to deal with someone who doesn't pay.

  • (Show?)

    Fuel prices go through the roof, making buses (which use fuel) more expensive to run and we have people being shocked about the economic reality that rates have to go up as a result.

    And we wonder why progressives never convince voters they understand business?

  • Unit (unverified)

    TA, I think most everyone agrees it's unfortunate that TriMet may be raising fares....including TriMet. But your suggestions are simply not realistic, nor are they particularly helpful.

    You suggest that TriMet should raise revenue by increasing service. If only it worked that way. Public transit is not a profitable endeavor in the US; it is a service that requires subsidies to operate. The subsidy is desirable because of the economic benefit of transporting people to/from work and other destinations in an environmentally-responsible and community-friendly manner. When the alternative is building an auto-centric hellhole like Houston or Phoenix, transit is a great public investment. But an increase in service costs means an increase in this subsidy. Fares will never never never never never pay for this. TriMet would probably have to double, triple, or quadruple the fare to cover their costs, and then most everyone would stop riding. $2 may feel like a lot for a ride, but try riding BART in the Bay Area, where your ride costs 2-3 times as much.

    It would be great to hold or lower fares, and it would be great to increase service. To do either/both of these, the region would need to support an increase in the payroll tax, or identify another funding source for transit. I suggest you get involved in supporting TriMet by lobbying for a payroll tax that better supports the transit system we need.

  • (Show?)

    One Meta on this is that an urban transportation system remains hugely inefficient in the early decades of build out, and then becomes exponentially more efficient as it nears maturity.

    When the lines on a map look mostly like a star with most lines radiating from the center, it doesn't work very well and long ride times are the norm for the majority of commuters.

    Once the map begins to look more like a web, with cross lines between the radii, serviced by smaller and more frequently occuring vehicles, ride times decrease at the same time that capital outlays for the hub and spoke central design begin to mature.


    Continued maintenance of the old streetcar lines and/or rights of way could have saved us tens of billions of dollars but it's too late to do anything about that one.

    <hr/> <hr/>

    Also worth considering that any cost calculation needs to include the national expenditures (allegedly) required to secure petroleum. These costs are never factored in to the highway/street/automobile mix. Then there's the difficulty inherent in trying to decide how much the lives of little brown people living on top of my oil are worth when I fill my tank or have a new street paved into my subdivision.

  • christy (unverified)

    "Fuel prices go through the roof, making buses (which use fuel) more expensive to run and we have people being shocked about the economic reality that rates have to go up as a result.

    And we wonder why progressives never convince voters they understand business?"

    That's a good one. I think conservatives are going to have to give up the "better for the economy" line, at least for a decade or so, while we repair the economic damage done by the current administration. Please!

  • gludt (unverified)

    boring ...

  • al m (unverified)

    ""I think conservatives are going to have to give up the "better for the economy" line, at least for a decade or so""


    Let's see, how about we give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans while we conduct A WAR eh?

    Then there is no money for transit huh?

    So who is to blame for all this mess?

    NOT TRIMET that's for sure!

  • (Show?)

    when i spoke of running TriMet like a business, i was specific what i meant: you don't increase business by raising prices and cutting service. if a monthly pass goes up to $75, and word of over-packed buses gets around (and it will), will TriMet be selling more passes? or will people start carpooling, biking, telecommuting (all very good things)?

    i used the example of Apple because it's a great example of improving the product & driving down the price at the same time. i'm not saying we should necessarily cut fares (although that extra nickel is nasty) but that a long-term plan to make mass transit cheap -- and perhaps even free -- is something we could use.

  • (Show?)

    btw, at this point, i'd have to vote for James X as the smartest person at BlueOregon. i'm appreciating your various comments and hope you start to post full pieces.

  • (Show?)


    Yes, it's it ridiculous how hard it can be to get around? We chose this complex because it had good reviews, was close to my husband's work,and had 3 bedroom apartment. It was the closest one we could find that had all three of those.

  • Gordon Morehouse (unverified)

    Sal says: "Any increase in fares to offset costs should be accompanied by incentivizing the bulk purchasing of passes by local businesses. Transportation district taxes on local businesses pay more than 70 percent of the operating cost of TriMet, yet there are no incentives for businesses to engage in the bulk purchasing of passes for employees.

    True, there's no bulk incentive that I know of, but there are tax writeoffs for businesses to assist with Trimet passes. My company pays for half my monthly 3-zone pass, meaning I spend only $38 to ride Trimet as much as I want in all zones. I was informed that the company gets a substantial tax credit for this.

  • Jonathan D. (unverified)

    I agree that the Trimet should not be increasing its fares, but Trimet is not to be blamed. The issue resides with Sam Adams and our politicians. Trimet is nowhere near self-sufficient financially and can only operate as many buses and services as tax payers give them funding. I would hope Portland decides to shell out more money to increase ridership because it is good public policy to keep people out of their cars. Sam Adams should use the surplus right now to improve Trimet, purchase hybrid buses and improve surface, so that if gas prices decrease, people will continue to use trimet. In addition, we should improve our bike system so that people can use bikes to connect across town, and continue to decrease the use of cars.

    Also, the bus services is meant to get people to and from work, i.e. to Downtown Portland and back. This is the same in pretty much every city in the U.S. and Europe. Public transit never works well to go cross town. I wish it did, but society can't even adequately fund a system to get us to work. I love taking the bus, it save me a ton of money and helps the environment, and I hope we start funding it more through tax revenue.

    I appreciate the post, but I think it misses the point. It should be taken up with Sam Adams. Why is our priority a SE street car instead of more buses, hybrid buses, and perhaps extended buses? Extended buses, the ones maneuver better and would relieve a lot of the issues of leaving people at bus stops in the morning because there is no more room. If we increase capacity, comfort and convenience, ridership will increase. Our politicians must decide this is worth funding.

  • al m (unverified)

    “i used the example of Apple because it's a great example of improving the product & driving down the price at the same time.”

    ~~> Comparing Apple to Trimet is like comparing apples to oranges, no pun intended. One is a service the other is a technology retail. No comparison is possible here.

    You want to compare Trimet to a similar ‘free market” service, look at Greyhound. I would dare say that Trimet provides a much higher quality service than Greyhound.

    “t's a ghost bus but it keeps running just in case someone wants to get to Lombard.”

    Once again, Trimet should be compared to a public utility more than a profit making company. For transit to be real, it has to be available. Yes they should be running more buses during peak hours, agreed. Too much investment in Light rail at the expense of the bus service has caused this problem.

    “It should be taken up with Sam Adams. Why is our priority a SE street car instead of more buses,”

    ~~>Bingo again, exactly right!

  • The Libertarian Guy (unverified)

    Having used public transit in much of my 60 years of life I am a big advocate, but see no reason for private businesses to be locked out of the marketplace as they are today. The local marketplace needs to be open to all sorts of transit companies regardless of whether they are mom and pop, or corporations. Here's an example of what may be the finest transit operation in the world.

    It might offer an idea or two.

    The Libertarian Guy

  • (Show?)
    Ever take the 75 past 7 o'clock down 39th? Try it's a ghost bus but it keeps running just in case someone wants to get to Lombard.

    I have taken it many times (usually between Hawthorne and Hollywood) and found 15 or more riders on the #75, even well past 9 or 10 pm. Those riders may be paying one zone fares, but they are certainly still paying.

  • Ian (unverified)

    Also, in some cases taking TriMet is a wash (at best) with driving. Last year, just to be responsible, I took the train downtown from Beaverton Creek TC when I was doing some shopping. The cost of two All Zone tickets was only about $2 less than what it cost me in gas to drive and park in a SmartPark for a couple hours. Not only that, but the round-trip took over 1 hour. I love the idea of public transportation, but that trip just didn't sell me on TriMet being as practical as they make themselves sound.

  • al m (unverified)


    I've seen this before and yes they are excellent.

    HOWEVER, This is a third world country and obviously wages are severely depressed here.

    The words "free market" have a pretty scary meaning to me, PAY THE LOWEST WAGES/BENEFITS POSSIBLE.

    Trimet can be a pain in the arse to use. Hell I get a free pass but can't use it cause its so freaking inconvenient late nights from the west side, AND I WANT TO TAKE IT TOO!

  • Ted (unverified)

    1) An individual participant's commute to and from work is a fairly inelastic demand, because commuting is essential to getting paid and making ends meet. So the price versus quantity (of ridership) stuff that is being discussed in free-market parlance isn't really accurate.

    2) A substitution effect is occuring as a result of the oil shock that is resulting in an outward shift of the demand curve for public transportation, thus the crowded bus lines.

    3) Unlike the MAX trains, increased ridership increases variable operating costs (direct costs) for Trimet. Higher fuel consumption, higher maintenance, etc, are positively correlated with increased ridership. Therefore, simply 'increasing sales' does not yeild 1:1 benefit and mathematically cannot be the whole of the solution.

    4) Increasing the amount of capacity means increasing capital expenditure, which must then (partially, since ridership is subsidized by the tax payer) amortized on a usage basis. The good thing for the Neo-Con-Pretending-To-Be-A-Goldwater-Con taxpayer is that they are buying more ridership for the buck and that is offset to a lesser extent by the lower usage of roads and highways.

    The biggest problem is that politicos on both sides of the isle want to boil the problem down to such simple rhetoric, when a comprehensive multivariate analysis of the situation is required. The average person for whom bond measures and taxation represent a substantial portion of their overall income, whether they be middle class Republican or Democrat, seeks the optimal trade off, since the optimal solution is non-partisan for the great swath of the mainstream tax bracket.

    Come together, People.

  • The Libertarian Guy (unverified)

    A friend from Copenhagen tells me that he'd ride the bus if it ran more frequently like it does there. Well here's a comment about bus service in some Scandinavian countries.

  • truffula (unverified)

    Train the bus drivers in customer service

    I either ride my bike or the bus downtown six days a week. I can count on one hand the number of uncivil interactions I've had with bus drivers over the seven years I've been doing this and all of them took place when I was on a bike, not a rider in the bus. When I consider the range of people and personalities drivers encounter every day, I am amazed at how friendly they almost always are.

    As to the "convenience" arguments, grow up. US Americans need to get over our unreasonable sense of entitlement and start living in a less unsustainable way. If it takes longer to ride the bus than it would to drive, that's just what it takes. Plan for it.

  • (Show?)

    Nope. They aren't allowed to enforce fares or issue tickets. They are 'fare informers' not fare enforcers.

    They have no ability or authority to deal with someone who doesn't pay.

    That's wrong. They can't issue tickets but they can deny boarding to a person who doesn't pay the fare. I've seen them do so many times.

    I don't mind buying the upgrade, but I damn sure mind that TriMet can't do something as simple as adding a tiny bit of programming to allow me to buy an upgrade from a ticket machine. This underscores the central problem with TriMet customer service is that it has very little to do with customer service.

    Nope. You have this completely backward, TA. The decision about not offering upgrades on MAX ticket machines was made specifically as a customer service improvement in response to customer feedback.

    MAX ticket machines, in fact, used to be programmed to allow the purchase of upgrades and they used to offer other options that they currently don't offer as well. The feedback TriMet got was that the ticket machines were too complicated. So they simplified their offerings from the machines. I know because after they proposed their changes, I went around in circles with them on that one. It was the one change that there was no way around by planning ahead.

  • (Show?)

    jeez, doretta, that's depressing. if the ticket machines are too complicated, how do people find the right bus home? why not have "More Choices" for those of us with the ability to read printed instructions? there is always a way to provide excellent service at multiple levels. just because some people have trouble using technology (and i understand that; i did 5 years in tech support and know that for some people, it's just tough sledding) doesn't mean no one should have access. they could program the machines if they wanted to -- and that only underscores my point about the decrease in service.

  • DE (unverified)

    There is nothing funnier than hearing people ask TriMet to run more like a business, and then lament poor service in unprofitable areas of the region and suggest that they enforce fares and fix fare machines to increase revenues.

    A real business would charge more for the low-ridership lines and less for high-ridership lines. Way less. There would be even less service, if any, in low-density suburban areas.

    Second, trust that the fare collection/enforcement issue is NOT negligence. It is absolutely a calculated policy decision. TriMet, like a business, estimates the savings of each additional fare enforcer and fare machine repairman. At some level, adding an additional employee costs more than that employee would add value in the form of fines (which involve several more levels of bureaucracy to actually collect) or fares (ie. one more repairman might be able to ensure that no fare machines were ever broken for longer than 1-2 hrs, but you might have to pay him to sit around for hours a day waiting for a call). Moreover on the farebox issue, I would imagine the overwhelming majority of riders system-wide are commuters, and don't use fareboxes anyway. The following is a document everyone should read before tapping out a rant like the one TA spraypainted above:

  • James X. (unverified)

    Thanks, T.A., for the compliment! Two things are keeping me from contributing as a guest: revealing my super-secret identity, and taking the time to compose and perfect a full-length post.

  • Joba (unverified)


    It's hard to know where to start.

    Buried within your extremely emotional and chaotic rant, I know you had a point. But it was difficult to get past the emotion in order to see what it was. And when you finally presented that point, you cited no stats, gave no real proof and in some cases, simply made things up.

    Getting past some of the emotions, it's important to state some pretty basic facts up front:

    Portland's public transportation used to be a retail operation. Guess how that worked out? (Here's a hint: Not well. 34 “retail operations” provided transit to Portland residents in the 100 years before TriMet. Not one survived.)

    Unlike a “retail operation” or Apple, TriMet is required, by law, to maintain a balanced budget.

    Unlike a “retail operation” or Apple, TriMet cannot be privately financed or get private investment.

    Unlike a “retail operation” or Apple, TriMet's fare revenue only accounts for 20.8% of its total revenue source. (Want TriMet to act more like a retail operation? Great idea. They'll raise their fares in order to reach as close as they can to the 100% level, they'll eliminate service on all of the under performing (see: not profitable) lines and use all the extra government money for all kinds of fun projects.)

    You say that “Over the years — and I've been riding TriMet since 1981 — TriMet has responded to increased costs and insufficient ridership levels in two ways: raise fares and decrease service.”

    Really, TA? TriMet has responded to increased costs by decreasing service? Really? So since 1981, TriMet has continually cut service in times of rising costs? Really? In 1981, was there a Banfield MAX? No. Was there a Westside MAX out to Hillsboro? No. Was there an Airport MAX? No. Was there an Interstate MAX? No. In 1981, were their 92 bus lines, 16 of them frequent service? (Hint: Also no.) To claim that TriMet has cut service since 1981, is ludicrous.

    You say, “The number of people who can afford to drive and choose to ride TriMet is fairly high in Portland but still not the majority.”

    That's patently false and shows your lack of knowledge on this subject. 70% of TriMet riders own a car (or choose not to own one) and choose to ride TriMet.

    Do you think being stuffed into transit like a sardine is a unique concept to transit users who ride on some of the best transit systems in the world? Try riding a subway in Tokyo, Beijing, France, etc. It's nothing new. It's a fact of life.

    Don't go on some “of the people, by the people, for the people” self righteous crusade and pretend to be fighting for low income riders and then turn around and insult the same people you claim to be sticking up for ( See: “sales flunky,” “unbathed human flesh,” “another rider who needs to lose at least sixty pounds”) And don't forget that the GM announced an effort to help low income riders by creating a two-week pass. (A small consolation, but at least they're trying).

    If your point was that TriMet should find alternate funding sources or our politicians should take a hard look at increasing payroll taxes in order to keep fares low, fine. Say that. Don't fill Blue Oregon with the woeful stories of your inability to bargain for a good deal at a car dealership.

    The fact of the matter is that Portland is blessed with one of the best and most successful public transit agencies in our nation's history (ask any transit executive from any other transit agency) and has done so in a very short amount of time.

    Do they spend too much on light rail without focusing on bus service? Of course. They could stand to spend more on facilities and security while they're at it (See: Uproar over old man being beaten on MAX in November). But bus service and graffiti removal aren't sexy and you can't get many federal dollars for them.

    So write to the GM and request it. Call TriMet customer service and complain. Go on the website and learn some more about the agency. Write to your state legislator to ask for more payroll taxes in order to prevent another fare increase. Ask your federal reps to treat buses like they do light rail. Go to one of the annual TIP Open Houses they hold each year. (Did you?) But don't post an emotional and error-filled rant that has little place on BlueOregon.

  • Jonathan D. (unverified)

    I have had great experiences with 95% of the drivers, which is I think amazing, since so many of the passengers and drivers are jerks they have to deal with each day.

  • (Show?)

    Joba, of course it was emotional. jeez, i always write with my emotions. please feel free to submit posts using a random word generator -- guaranteed to be emotion-free.

    and feel free not to lecture me on how i should live or write. stick with writing about your own experience, not mine.

  • John Mulvey (unverified)

    Tri-met will never be responsive to the public and the unrelenting fare increases will continue until it is run by a locally-elected board.

    It's unlikely that Metro would make the move, given the heat they'd likely take politically, but the transportation needs of this community will be better served once Metro finally uses its statutory authority to take over Tri-met.


  • Joba (unverified)

    "of course it was emotional. jeez, i always write with my emotions."

    Obviously. And in this case, as with many of your posts, it often seems to get in the way of facts, coherent thoughts, etc.

    "Feel free not to lecture me on how i should live or write. stick with writing about your own experience, not mine."

    Thanks Dad, but you did nothing to refute my points. And since you've been so kind as to give me the freedom to lecture or not lecture you and as long as I'm forced to read your diatribes on Blue Oregon, I'll lecture you all I wish. This is a blog, after all. Not an ivory tower.

  • Erik Halstead (unverified)

    That's wrong. They can't issue tickets but they can deny boarding to a person who doesn't pay the fare. I've seen them do so many times.

    Actually, TriMet policy is that a Bus Operator is not to deny boarding to a fare evading passenger. A Bus Operator that denies boarding for this reason puts themselves at risk for a potentially explosive confrontation with the passenger.

    The correct procedure is to inform the passenger of the fare policy, do not issue a Transfer, and to push the "fare evasion" outmessage on the BDS (the handy dandy computer like thing next to the farebox).

    If a Fare Inspector or Transit Police officer is nearby, they are supposed to stop the bus and inspect fares.

    In reality, it doesn't happen (because the Inspectors and Officers are too busy dealing with MAX). But in the last year I have seen several fare inspectors on busses, working at Tigard Transit Center or at Barbur & Bertha outbound (in which case the Inspectors don't ride the bus like they do on MAX - they board the bus while it's stopped, the bus remains stop until any fare evaders are removed from the bus and then the bus departs). In fact they even put out signs that tell all bus operators to make a mandatory stop.

    But bus service and graffiti removal aren't sexy and you can't get many federal dollars for them.

    Bus service is eligible for a 80/20 federal/local match. Seattle purchased over 250 articulated hybrid-electric busses, and the federal government paid 100% of the difference between the cost of a non-hybrid and the hybrid bus. There are numerous FTA programs that will fund bus-related capital projects. It should be noted that the MAX Red Line actually couldn't get any federal dollars; nor have any of the Portland Streetcar lines.

    It is these non-federally funded projects that require TriMet, the City of Portland and Metro to dip into local funds that would have otherwise funded bus projects - but instead TriMet has one of the oldest bus fleets of a major transit system - about two-three years older average fleet age. One-third of TriMet's bus fleet lacks air conditioning and cannot be fitted with diesel particulate filters, is 14-18 years of age (at or beyond the FTA guidelines for bus depreciation and retirement), and has other issues that make the busses undesirable.

    Seattle's transit ridership has increased in the double-digits each year for three years. Portland has had bus ridership drops two years in a row (and after I had published the fact in an article in the Portland Tribune, did TriMet finally release a press release (but refuses to provide actual monthly ridership data) proclaiming an 10%+ ridership jump.

    TriMet's webpage (ridership data) still shows the ridership drop numbers.

  • Douglas K (unverified)

    I'll go along with T.A. on the stupidity of two bucks and a nickel as fare. Nickels made sense back when buses cost thirty cents to ride. Nowadays, Tri-Met really should be setting their fares at quarter increments: $2.00 now, $2.25 after the fare increase.

    They could also simplify the fare system dramatically by simply getting rid of the zones. Pay $2.00 to ride, $5.00 for an all-day pass. Very simple.

    If Tri-Met is trying to attract new riders, they really need to make the fares as simple as possible. THey eliminated fare upgrades from the ticket machines because, surprise, people found the machines too confusing. Well, yeah. And I've seen any number of new riders caught by fare inspectors for zone violations ... not due to any apparent dishonesty, but due to genuine confusion.

  • George Seldes (unverified)

    Although people have been brainwashed to think that fares are necessary and useful, they are actually probably more of a cost than a benefit, both for the reasons outlined in the original whine and moreso in the comments by the person who knew a family whose monthly pass costs approached $250.

    The last estimate I heard was that it cost a transit agency something like 7% of the farebox revenue to collect it, count it, handle it, and bank it -- not to mention the many opportunities for shenanigans (as with the older parking meters). Whenever you have lower paid people handling streams of coins and small bills, you have the potential for a small stream to be diverted by an enterprising soul or two. If that estimate is about right, then that shoots another 3-6% of the total gross revenue stream just on counting bills and coins (depending on whether you take the low estimate -- 20% -- or the high one --- 40% -- for the share provided through fares).

    In other words, we are paying an awful lot of money in overhead that provides no transit, just to track the money we demand at the farebox.

    What Tri-Met really ought to do is bite the bullet and go entirely fareless -- save the money on fares, coins and whatnot. Get rid of fare inspectors, farebox mechanics, validation machine mechanics -- just have have more Tri-Met people ride more routes day and night to monitor cleanliness and security.

    There are a lot of good arguments for fareless, not as a hole within a fared system, but as the basic operating paradigm. It astounds me that people who scream bloody murder at even the thought of tolling any critical chokepoint (like a bridge) have no problem with the idea that we should make everyone pay a toll to get around on a bus. In other words, it's ok to provide un-tolled roads, but not untolled buses or light rail -- why?

    We shouldn't raise the employment tax though -- this is a bad idea. You should tax the things you don't want, not the things you want more of. The one thing that bears a tax without being diminished is land, and most of its value is socially created. Land within the metro area is worth the most because of its desirability to others, not because of anything the owner did. Thus, don't tax employment to fund transit, tax the assessed values on land. In general, land near the urban core is the costliest and the best served by transit.

    See this blog for more on free public transit:

  • (Show?)

    You don't have to go entirely fareless to vastly simplify things--dollar tokens. Get em at shops (who'll take the extra traffic and the break on their transit tax), hopelessly obvious mechanical machines, or get this--a person ON THE TRAIN. They could even do security and or fare enforcement. You'd still have monthly and annual passes for commuters, but everyone else just buys a token and hops on. Or they hop on and give a buck to the man on the train.


  • (Show?)

    a person ON THE TRAIN. They could even do security and or fare enforcement. You'd still have monthly and annual passes for commuters, but everyone else just buys a token and hops on. Or they hop on and give a buck to the man on the train.

    That's how things are handled in Boston. When I visited in 2004 for a week-long training, I didn't have a car so I walked or took the T.

    When the T was below ground, you bought a token from somewhere (could be purchased at a booth before the turns tyles) and that got you into the gated area to get on the train. When it was above ground, only one door on each connected train would open - and there was a person sitting there to take your fare. You dropped in your token, you got on the train.

    From what I gather from the MBTA site, they now use "Charlie cards" and "Charlie tickets." The tickets are similar to what we have here, and the cards are reusable, rechargeable, and cheaper per ride.

    But it was a lot harder to get away with not paying your fare since the under ground subway was gated and the above ground had a person there at every entrance.

    KATU estimated in May of last year that 8% of MAX riders didn't pay their fare - that was $4.35 million. Not to mention that in Gresham the police have found that a lot of people skipping the fare are there causing trouble as well.

    I do think we need to look at TriMet and our public transportation system - things change over the years, populations have shifted, etc.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    I think your comparison of TriMet to a business is faulty. If a business has falling sales and rising costs, it may lose market share to a competitor who can better control costs. In the long run, the relatively inefficient business may go bankrupt.

    Trimet has no direct competition. It does not make profit and it not in the public interest for it to go bankrupt. If its operation is inefficient, there should be public outcry for replacement of its management. Whatever its overall efficiency, its costs must be met. Either costs must be be cut through greater efficiency or less service, or its income must increase through higher ridership, higher fares, or more public subsidy.

    If we want to subsidize mass transit to a greater extent, we should find a progressive way to do this. Payroll tax is marginally progressive, in that high wage earners and high income self-employed people pay more than those not doing as well. A progressive income tax would be a preferable subsidy source, In my opinion, but we do not have that at the local level and have only a slightly progressive income tax at the state level.

    Most public agencies want to increase their budgets, so I doubt TriMet cuts service unless that is necessary. I do not doubt that the system could be operated more efficiently, but I have no way of quantifying that. Independent audit is the usual way of trying to measure efficiency. Perhaps the Legislature should mandate more auditing or an independent task force to study creative improvements to mass transit.

  • MCT (unverified)

    As a teenager visting home, Oxford, England I learned to ride the bus. This was a simple matter there, you could go anywhere fairly quickly though a series of transfers....the routes were very efficient and you never had to wait more than a few minutes for the next bus. Which was good, because the winter climate there is rather like Portland's, only damper. I believe the longest walk I made to get to a bus stop was about 6 blocks....bus stops were everywhere. No ticket dropped the shillings, pennies & sixpences into slots. Bus drivers made change,too. Trains and coaches (like Greyhounds) took you anywhere in the country that you wanted to go.

    I don't know why most American mass transit systems cannot reach that level of efficiency....perhaps because the surge in need of mass transit is new to us. Our cities and suburbs were not designed in tight close-to-everything clusters as were the old polpulation centers of Europe.

    As far as Tri-met goes I believe it is run with the sense of endless entitlement that all government agencies seem to have. You hire on, you're part of a tax-payer funded entity. Your mission statement is not profit driven. If you see you're running short on financial to back to the taxpayers and riders and say you want more money or services will be cut. I often wonder how many of the deciders at Tri-met or any other government agency who provide services....actually use the services. Are there Tri-met upper level management workers who ride the bus?

    I think it is hard for a lot of comfortably salaried citizens to realize what this ecomony, the rising cost of everything, is like to live in for those who were just barely getting by before the gouging started. An extra $50 here a $100 there is barely noticable. But for the average working family, there comes a point when all those little price increases become overwhelming...the paycheck just doesn't stretch.

    And yes, since the government, the planners, and the deciders have decided that in the future they want us to get out of our cars and find another way to get There, I think the very least they owe us, the ones who pay for it all, is a comprehensive and efficient low-cost mass transit system. And perhaps they could also get on with the job of finishing the slow-boat-to-China job they're doing with expanding the Urban Growth Boundaries and include some employemnt center zoning where we could find work we don't have to commute an hour or more to get to.

  • al m (unverified)

    Here is one for you libertarians:


  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    TriMet fares historically (before the energy price increases) have only covered 21 percent of operating costs. This year the tri-county payroll tax will cover 57 percent of the operating revenue. Those figures need to be reversed. Fares should cover the higher amount and therefore need to be doubled or even tripled. The latter would possibly allow for a low income program to be established.

    Furthermore, there needs to be a surcharge added to fares to help pay for transit expansion and a charge to board bicycles. It should be the ridership that pays the local dollars for new light rail lines, more frequent bus service, and accommodating bicycles on transit, not other taxpayers or motorists through taxes and subsidies.

  • Gabe (unverified)

    When you talk about "increasing sales" in the same way a private business would, you're forgetting one thing: Trimet doesn't profit off of ridership. Trimet gets public dollars to supplement the fares it collects. More "sales", by which I believe you mean more buses to accommodate more riders, would be an increased expense to the organization, and to taxpayers. Trimet has no competition, and they wouldn't care if they did. So obviously it's not going to be run like a for-profit business.

  • D.C. (unverified)

    First, Kudo's to Erik H. He's on the money with his post. I AM A TRI-MET DRIVER and will not pretend to comment on some of the things I don't understand, but WILL COMMENT on those I do.

    Drivers: Our attitudes ARE A DIRECT REFLECTION of how you treat us. We are human, just like you, and even though we are "in customer service" like so many of you like to point out, that doesn't give you the right after putting your $1.75/2.05 in the farebox to treat us like crap and expect us to just keep taking it. We will eventually break (you would too, don't fool yourself) and will, over time, develop a bad attitude. It's not our job to be treated like crap and put up with it.

    I am one of those "freaks": I still love my job and enjoy MOST of my passengers. I try to start my day with a clean slate, treating everyone with respect and with a "please" and "thank you". But, after a few hours, 90% of my passengers (10-20% are angels and I live for them) get this sense of "I own you" and act accordingly.

    I work to treat each person individually..many (not all, I do have those angels) who get on my bus who have had a bad day certainly don't treat me like an individual, I get treated like "I'm another one of those drivers, grouped before I get the chance to shine...sound familiar? I get dumped on. CONSTANTLY. And yet I still try (and you have the gall to expect me to) to keep that rosy deameanor..but eventually, I WEAR DOWN. It's like those old rechargeable batteries; if you charge them before they should be, they don't hold a full charge, meaning it may not take as long for me to lose that rosy demeanor the next time. Now, we DO have drivers that were just born cranky. Can't help that. So do lawyers, cops, waitresses, etc...all in "customer service". I didn't cause it, but I'm sorry for it.

    Do you HONESTLY think I like being late? This leads into my next part...

    Schedules AND Passenger FAULT for them:

    Many of our schedules are tight. On average, it takes over 6 months through an approval process to get a schedule modified to add time to it, so in the mean time, nothing changes. I don't have a clue how long it takes to get a bus added to a schedule. Contrary to popular belief, drivers (we actually prefer the term "Operators") DO NOT like to be late and most certainly don't like to make you late. It also irritates us to no end when we pull up to your stop and you are looking at your watch bent out of shape and then, as you board, looking at us, follow by the statement "do you know you're late?!" Uh, Duh! Here's your sign! We know we are late, our little dash computer (BDS) tells us (or if we've driven more than 2 days, we know). We would like to keep a rosy attitude but with your sarcastic remarks pushing that away...(and by the way, WE are NOT making YOU late..YOU ARE MAKING YOU LATE. allow me to explain below...)

    Here are some ways to help keep your bus on time AND maybe help improve your driver's (oops-Operators) attitude in the process...let's see how many people will take these as suggestions and NOT attacks..


    1) Unless this is your FIRST time on the bus, you know the fare. Have it out, READY, when you get on, so when the bus pulls up you can just get on and go. If it is a pass, have it out, THE ENTIRE PASS, ready to show the Operator.

    If it is a transfer, show the WHOLE transfer, FRONT side to the Operator. We are concerned about the Daycode and time, not what the back looks like. Why do you people roll them into little cigarettes? It takes so friggin long to unroll them when the bus shows up, MAKIN US LATE!

    2) If you need special assistance, you need to be at the front of the line, and (this may sting a little) you need to, at least initially, sit near the front of the bus. When you have one adult & 5 kids or need extra time to sit down AND you go all the way to the back, IT TAKES TIME THAT MAKES US LATE! WE ARE NOT being inhuman, there is just not time in the schdule for every little possible glitch you may encounter. Sit initially and then move as time and bus movement allows, but let the bus get rolling.

    3) BE PREPARED for the bus to move as soon as you get on. Again, the bus IS TRYING to be on some degree of schedule, and if you are fumbling for money or having other difficulties, or slip to reach for a bar because you were unprepared for the bus to move (even though it has moved the last 15 times you were on it) IT TAKES TIME! This being said, if you DO NEED TIME to get seated because you are not super-steady on you feet, ASK! I would rather wait for those few who need it then to dump you on your butt or worse.

    4) IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, ENTER THROUGH THE FRONT, EXIT THROUGH THE REAR. EXIT THROUGH THE REAR. EXIT THROUGH THE REAR. It amazes me how many people will walk from the back of the bus to come out the front door downtown. Go out the back! Now, if you are sitting right behind the driver, OR have special needs and if it is too hard to go out the back-ok then. but in reality I can be loading the bus while you are unloading..SAVING TIME and eliminating a bottleneck!

    AND THE HARD BRAKING? I can't speak for the "crappy" drivers, but when I'm driving and trying to make up lost time, sometimes some things go by the wayside to make up time. If I am on time or close, you see a marked improvement...just sayin..

    Finally...even if you did all that, your bus may still run late because not everyone will get with the program AND because of other traffic issues (Trains, wrecks, traffic, etc.) I've already said it but it bears reapeating..WE DON'T LIKE BEING LATE NOT DO WE LIKE MAKING YOU LATE. These "suggestions" above will greatly help, but remember I said YOU are making yourself late?

    I know it sucks BIG TIME when you have to take a bus earlier than the one you really want to just to get to your destination..we have to do THE SAME THING when WE report to work to relieve another Operator; they don't cut us a break either if we show up late to relieve an Operator if the bus we are on is late. If we don't show up on time, in most cases, we don't get our work either. So we take an earlier than needed bus to ENSURE we get there.

    YOU HAVE TO DO THE SAME. THINGS HAPPEN. LIFE HAPPENS. We can be right on time and an accident happens in front of us before you get on the bus. Now we are 15 minutes late. You don't have a clue (or frankly care) why, it's just late; now you are late--again. Or, it could be traffic everyday. Damn bus is late 18 minutes everyday. So, what you are telling me is that you ARE ALREADY AWARE of this, so, why don't you take the bus BEFORE that one to get you there on time. Yeah, it's a pain in the butt, but a fact of life. It wasn't the Operator's fault, it's not Tri-Met's fault for traffic (They do enough stuff to be blamed for without having stuff being made up) nor can they randomly change the schdule for "maybe" I guess this means..OH NO--YOU have to take responsibility!! You will likely not get sympathy from a Tri-Met operator on this because we don't get a break either...we don't show up (regardless of reason, even a late bus) we don't get paid either.

    Well, nough said. I honestly love my job, and for the most job, equally enjoy my passengers. I have some that I wouldn't trade for anything. We are quick to blame the other guy. I can't speak for the fare increase or for how fast to get the crowd off your bus (I do try to crowd in my bus because you all either want to get to work or go home after a long day and I don't really want you to have to wait longer).

    I hope to have you on my bus...I always try to stand in other's shoes before assuming anything..I HOPE YOU DO THE SAME. Have a great day!

  • jdchandler (unverified)

    Everyone says that we have the best transit system in the USA. This is a good propaganda line, but doesn't seem to be the truth.

    Yes, we have a system that provides transportation to all parts of the city (to some extent), but the old busses are causing major problems with keeping schedules, not to mention frustration for drivers.

    The biggest problem with Trimet, though, is the unresponsiveness. Several people have said - call trimet and complain if you don't like something. have you ever tried it?

    Management doesn't seem to care what happens to riders and they hide behind "confidentiality rules" to ignore what drivers do. 90% of trimet drivers are friendly, courteous and helpful -- although many of them need training in the actual handling of the bus.

    The 10% of the drivers that are rude, antagonistic and possibly even insane, can get away with anything, because management will not deal with the issues.

    The only way that riders will ever have a voice, and that is the only way we will ever maintain "the best transit system in the USA" is for us to organize. Together we can force Trimet to respond to us.

    I wish I had the energy to organize a Trimet Riders Union, but I don't. I will join such a union when it is available. Where are the activist riders?

  • Patrick (unverified)

    If Trimet was like a retail store in this situation they would start by shutting down all their unprofitable stores and removing products off the shelves that didn't sell well. Which means that most of their bus lines would not exist, and they would only run at peak hours. I don't know of too many retail stores that sell a product at below cost. Also, lets not forget that most of Trimet's money comes from personal income taxes and that most personal income taxes come from wealthy people who do not even ride the bus or the MAX. If you can name one retail store that sell products cheaply and at a loss to the general product by using subsidized money from the wealth I will gladly shop there. Anyway, i do not disagree with you overall... Trimet needs to see this as an opportunity to increase ridership and they should be more creative.. However, I think they should accomplish this by providing more high-end services like express buses that charge more..maybe like 120-150- per month but provide a guarantee' on-time service, a guaranteed seat and maybe wi-fi access so folks can get work done on the way. They should design these lines at a high enough price range to make a profit and then use the extra $$ to subsudize additional services for lower income, or just cheap, folks. After all this is how a business would operate, no? Isn't this what Apple does....By the way, in what bizarro world do you live in where Apple is cheap? Did you ever look at how much more Apple charges for their iPhone or a computer than its competitors..Apple gets business by providing a cool experience at a premium price. Also, Apple has big profit margins on all thier products.. except maybe iTunes music store which they use to push iPod sales.

  • J.M (unverified)

    I honestly know what T.A is saying. So your service is up, so lets make it less user friendly. Not just raising prices but also lack of bus service. T.A spoke of the 19 but to make it worse from having not enough buses running the schedule is only a few minutes off from the 17. So my experience with living near both stops if i miss one, i miss both. To add another example of Trimets VERY poor customer service, is their trimet wanna-be cops, ticket checkers. So i got checked, have no problem, but i forgot my pass(thought i put it back into my wallet). Well, instead of hey remember next time, its i'm writing you citation. I wasn't for that and I happened to be a block from my house. I said write me, and void it when I show proof, Just give me ten minutes to run home and come back and show you it. So I ran home, returned to max station, and the wanna-be cop ID # 1459, still gave me a citation, says he doesn't know if i am still an employee there, he needs to have his supervisor look into it. Oh but not today, i still have a court day, and if i don't appear in court I have to pay the $94 even though i showed him my pass.Oh but to add more to the story while i was searching in my bag looking for my pass, he accused another passenger for not having an accurate punched ticket stub(the hole punch was the wrong size).The officer gave him an insincere apology to the guy when finding ou that hole puncher is one that some drivers have. Trimet has a lot of fixin to do. First i would start with learning what customer and public service is. Second, they need actually be a company that is serving the public, community, and providing what is needed and wanted by the people who are actually using it. Third i would fire #1459 for accusing me and other individuals for lying directly to our faces, even with proper proof of purchase. I might as well not pay to ride if i am still going to get fined with proof of purchase.

  • Adron (unverified)

    I'm no Republican, nor Democrat, not really Libertarian, Definitely NOT a greenie, and am not allied to commies or socialists.

    But I must say, such an illogical articles followed by such a bunch of drivel from people could only be found on a "Blue" blog. The "red" ones are just dumb, but this faux intellectualism without any real understanding of the topics or situations is inherent to the "Blue" side in huge doses.

    Thanks for the entertainment. This entry will be the laughing stock of many an intelligent person that actually knows the fiscal, economic, and opertional absurdities of transit and transportation.

    You guys need to just have a beer (Portland has good ones) and stop thinking so hard.

  • Adron (unverified)

    btw - Patrick...

    "Also, lets not forget that most of Trimet's money comes from personal income taxes and that most personal income taxes come from wealthy people who do not even ride the bus or the MAX."

    Thanks for pointing out something that most on this blog seem to ignore. They blame the wealthy, basically anyone making the top 10% income bracket, which starts at only about 60k, who pay well over 90% of the income taxes for the other 90%. Is it fair, hell no. But it does help keep the bloody fares absurdly cheap and the roads "free" (relatively speaking).

    Point is, don't bite the hand that feeds.

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