This afternoon’s two hour hearing on TriMet’s proposal to cut the hours of Fareless Square—to 7 am to 7 pm, from its current ‘round-the-clock status—was a feisty one… not that TriMet general manager Fred Hansen would know. Hansen, who proposed cutting back Fareless Square at a City Club luncheon late last year, wasn’t at the meeting (unless he was hiding behind the last row of seats, but that seems unlikely).
Instead of hearing from the man with the idea himself, TriMet staffers handed out a memo from Hansen. Then, a facilitator hired by TriMet sat at a table on a stage in the basement auditorium of a Lloyd District office tower, and called names of people who’d signed up to testify. He didn’t work for TriMet, and he cautioned that he wasn’t there to give information or answer any questions.
Carolyn Young, TriMet’s executive director of communications and technology, did open up the meeting with a little bit of information, saying that Fareless Square is “a Portland institution… but it does have some negative downsides.”
TriMet is trying extremely hard to pitch the Fareless Square cutback as a public safety solution. Young was in lockstep with that message. “The purpose of that proposal is security. You’re all aware of recent incidents that have been widely reported in the news media related to TriMet. Our general manager has proposed a multi pronged plan to address security concerns, and this proposal is one of the elements of that plan.”
Then she disappeared from the stage, leaving many of those testifying to ask the facilitator, and a transcriptionist, if TriMet even cared what people had to say. “Do [TriMet officials] plan on listening to audio tapes, or are we just here to talk to each other?” one guy asked.
“I am very disappointed that TriMet doesn’t have a representative sitting here,” a man named Liam Zuk said. If someone from TriMet was there to field questions, perhaps he could get some answers, he continued. “I would like to know, where are the preponderance of the incidents that are such a problem? Where are the crimes occurring? When are they happening? And how would changing Fareless Square actually improve that? So far, TriMet hasn’t offered any information on that.”
Patrick Nolen, of Sisters of the Road, said the lack of a TriMet representative at the front of the meeting “feels very disempowering to me. It says to me that this process is not very significant to TriMet that they don’t have someone here.” His comments drew the biggest applause of the meeting.
Another guy thanked TriMet, facetiously, for solving the air quality crisis that prompted the creation of Fareless Square in the first place (forget about that whole global warming thing!). “Focus the resources where the [safety] problem is,” he urged. “There’s still a chance for TriMet to say oops, sorry, we’re actually going to address the problem that exists, and not one that doesn’t.”
Those sentiments were echoed by nearly everyone who spoke. Only a half dozen people were in favor of cutting back Fareless Square, while dozens were opposed—and openly questioned the logic of attacking crime along the MAX line in Gresham and Hillsboro with a cut in service in downtown Portland.
City Council candidate Amanda Fritz summed it up at the end of the meeting:
“I am very disappointed that the TriMet board isn’t here listening to our testimony,” she said, adding that during her years on the planning commission, listening to testimony was key. “I can’t imagine making a decision without listening to the testimony.”
She turned to the transcriptionist: “Please add for the record, ‘her voice quivered and she waved her hands to emphasis her point!’” More applause.
“Where is the evidence that people who do not pay fares cause problems?” Fritz asked. “Could we not have some statistics on this, could we not have some evidence?”
After the meeting, I overheard one guy corner TriMet’s Young, asking her why she didn’t stay on stage and listen to the comments. She gestured to the spot in the audience she’d been sitting in, and said she’d been listening from there. The guy called bull, saying it looked pretty bad that no one was up front, actively listening. “We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” Young says.
There’s another hearing tonight, from 5 to 7 pm. That one’s downtown, in the Portland Building Auditorium (1120 SW 5th Ave).
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