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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Portland Citizens at TriMet Hearing: “Are We Just Here to Talk to Each Other?”

Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Wed, Jan 16 at 1:54 PM

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).

Comments

Amy,
what kind of surprised me is that when I left the podium Carolyn chased me down and mentioned that she was a representative of trimet and that she was "in the room" (I had mentioned no one was). I started to comment that I felt that they would have been better served by being up on stage with the other gentleman (who seemed an ok guy). I got about half the sentence out and she turned around and walked off... this did nothing for my feelings that the process was flawed by a lack of concern and made me feel even more like my voice did not matter to the final outcome.
thanks
Patrick

wow, that sounds like a good use of time

Someone needs to work on Trimet's communication strategy.

This has "done deal" written all over it, which, let's face it, isn't unusual in Portland politics, but usually we try to pretty these things up a little better for the community.

Can city council get involed or is TriMet an individual organization without oversight? Just wondering because I have no idea.

Garrett,

It is in Metro's charter that they can take control over Tri-Met.

Tri-Met is only answerable to the Governor. Maybe it is time to make the Tri-Met board elected. I'm going to call my state rep. Hansen needs to be spanked.

OK, I know I'm going to get a lot of flack for this one but I am a VOLUNTARY Trimet rider who is, quite frankly, tired of all the crap that goes on on the MAX. If you don't do something about the homeless situation and the trouble makers, you will never increase ridership beyond the people who HAVE to use public transit. What about the people who WANT to but don't? As far as I'm concerned, they can totally do away with Fareless Square at all hours, get the riff raff off the train, and I would be very happy. Why should the people have to subsidize transportation for the poor and not be able to use it themselves?

As a TriMet customer, I support limiting the hours of Fareless Square, as proposed by TriMet. If the limit ultimately fails to accomplish its objectives, then we can always return to the current 24-hour Fareless Square system.

As a TriMet customer, I support limiting the hours of Fareless Square, as proposed by TriMet. If the limit ultimately fails to accomplish its objectives, then we can always return to the current 24-hour Fareless Square system.

Limiting fareless square hours makes sense - maybe have longer hours for weekends only? Usually when I'm downtown I'm making lots of short trips in the downtown area - that's the only reason keeping a fareless area would make any sense.

I ride MAX from out in gresham, where everyone has to have a paid fare 24 hours a day, and there is plenty of "riff raff" on the trains. Will that really be different downtown?

There's only two places where I've ever had any sort of confrontations on trimet, and that's near the Portland Airport and at Gresham Central. In what way will the fareless square reductions keep me safe at these places?

It seems clear that the problem here is the problem throughout the country. We have lost our voice, we have lost our power. Those in charge of the machinery are now bending the public over and giving them a surprise. Trimet knows how many people use the fareless square daily, and that equates to lost revenues. Trimet only wants to cash in on one of the most appealing aspects of downtown transportation. We as citizens cannot allow this.

Shame on Tri-Met.
Shame, shame shame.

Suburbanites complaining about free rides downtown act as if they are getting short-changed somehow. "Woe is us, we have to pay and you spoiled downtowners don't!"

Fact: us downtowners pay taxes to build the massive number of roads in the burbs that we don't use. In terms of rider miles (the way transit is measured, aka "how much does it cost to move one person one mile?"), we subsidize suburban car use far, far, far more than suburbanites fund our measly ten block trips.

On my BLOCK we have close to 200 people living, and the city has had to build around 0.1 miles of roadway for our use. Same size road surface area in Gresham serves, what, 10 people? Five? One fire station in downtown protects 50,000 or so people, same size station in a suburb can protect, at most, what, 1,500 for the same cost? Police patrol, electrical wires, phone service, sewers ... suburbanites consume FAR more tax dollars per person than us city dwellers ever will, so they need to STOP BITCHING about me saving two bucks on a ten block bus ride.

Anyway, two bucks in bus fare in Gresham can bring you dozens of miles. Fareless square is less than a mile across, and if we stay on the bus past that we pay. It's not like we are getting all that much.

Lastly, fareless square was NOT created for our convenience (though it certainly is convenient). It was created to ease air pollution, which is good for people outside fareless square too (they do, after all, breathe as much as we do). It worked. It is still working. It is accomplishing the actual goal it was created for and that goal applies to the outer areas as much as it does to us downtown.

I heard Hansen couldn't be there because he was afraid to ride the Max.

Whoa, easy there Dave. I don't know exactly who these whiny suburbanites are, but I am definitely not one. Fareless square should absolutely stay. It is a portland institution, not to mention a great way to get people on trains and moving around the central city without clogging downtown streets with cars. Why TriMet thinks that charging people to ride downtown is going to cut down on crime in areas where riders already have to pay anyway. Besides, the idea that anybody "has to pay" is based on the honor system at this point. Fare inspectors are about as rare a sight as working ticket machines. But that is a completely separate issue. TriMet clearly has no idea what to do about this problem (if it really is a problem, and not just a symptom of a metro area of 2 million people with a big public transportation system, blown out of proportion by people who are still under the impression that portland is a small town), and apparently isn't interested in figuring it out.

By the way, everyone pays taxes for stuff they don't use. I'm constantly giving the fire department money, and those guys haven't even so much as rescued my cat out of a tree!

Are you really surprised by this? Trimet has no intention of taking public opinion into account on this one. Notice, the Portland mayor and city commissioners are mum on this issue too. One would think that in an election year that mayoral candidate Sam Adams would raise his voice for or against this Hansen proposal, but guess what? He hasn't said a word. I wrote to his office about it, and the email that I received back said that he hadn't "made up his mind" on the issue. Everyone it seems wants to slip this one under the rug and try to pull a fast one on the people of Portland.

If Tri Met would put someone on the train to check tickets outside of fareless square, THAT ALONE would get rid of most of the riff raff...all the way to Gresham & back to Beaverton. Then fareless square can remain fareless square, and Tri Met in the end would make more money- because people would start buying tickets.

I have been using Max for the last 3 years, and not once has anyone checked to see if I had a ticket. It makes even an honest person wonder why they are buying a ticket. The last time my daughter came with me, we couldn't get the machine to take our money...along with a handful of other people. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE??? Looks like they are using all the crime for an excuse to do away with "fareless square" to me.

I think just by having a Tri Met "presence" on the train and on the platforms- that would help tremendously with the crime. I notice most of the problems have been on the trains rather than the buses. Since the buses also use fareless square, doesn't it make more sense that the problem isn't with fareless square?

Time to wake up Tri Met!! How rude of you to not even have your own people there to listen to your paying customers!!!

If Tri Met would put someone on the train to check tickets outside of fareless square, THAT ALONE would get rid of most of the riff raff...all the way to Gresham & back to Beaverton. Then fareless square can remain fareless square, and Tri Met in the end would make more money- because people would start buying tickets.

I have been using Max for the last 3 years, and not once has anyone checked to see if I had a ticket. It makes even an honest person wonder why they are buying a ticket. The last time my daughter came with me, we couldn't get the machine to take our money...along with a handful of other people. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE??? Looks like they are using all the crime for an excuse to do away with "fareless square" to me.

I think just by having a Tri Met "presence" on the train and on the platforms- that would help tremendously with the crime. I notice most of the problems have been on the trains rather than the buses. Since the buses also use fareless square, doesn't it make more sense that the problem isn't with fareless square?

Time to wake up Tri Met!! How rude of you to not even have your own people there to listen to your paying customers!!!

I used to live in San Jose, CA. They have a light rail system (the VTA) that is almost identical to MAX. It is a VERY safe public transit system, with very few problems.

I would say when I was riding it that about 5% of the time, a fare-checker/security officer was on-board, checking fares. They were good at it and caught lots of people! Often at night they had security guards just riding the trains.

Why can't Metro have a similar system? The fines would probably pay the wages of the officers!

Hello,


Man this is a great post. Thank you for putting this out there for all of us. It has helped alot!

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