In Our View: A Tougher MAX

Portland’s light-rail system is cracking down on fare evaders

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Portland’s public transit agency announced recently a get-tough policy against fare evaders on light-rail trains. That’s good for passengers and businesses, as it makes for a more reliable and efficient light-rail system.

It’s also good for Clark County, because an extension of the MAX Yellow Line into our community is part of the Columbia River Crossing plan, affirmed in 2008 when the Locally Preferred Alternative was approved. Thus, residents on this side of the river have understandably increased their attention on Portland’s light-rail system. Folks here who like the idea of light rail coming to Clark County want to see TriMet improve in every possible way. Opponents are properly looking for TriMet flaws that can help them build their case. And it’s been no secret for many years that countless light-rail riders have been abusing the downtown fareless area and riding the trains without tickets.

On July 20, though, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane called a press conference and announced a crackdown on fare-rule violators. Six fare inspectors have been added, bolstering that department to 18 people. TriMet also has a 48-officer Transit Police Department that helps enforce fare policies. As The Oregonian reported, more than 69 percent of 15,292 “enforcement actions” on light-rail trains last year resulted in warnings; 18 percent led to citations, and the rest were exclusions. That kind of leniency is gone. “Our emphasis is changing immediately from education to enforcement,” McFarlane said.

To address one of the most frequent excuses — “The ticket machine didn’t work” — maintenance has been increased, and TriMet says the most recent review showed that 93 percent of the ticket dispensers work properly.

How serious is this tougher stance? You could find out … for $175. That’s the fine for fare evasion, plus a 90-day exclusion from the system. Compared with the cost of fares (an all-day pass is just $4.75), the choice of compliance seems quickly and easily made.

The Free Rail Zone for light-rail trains and streetcars (but not buses) includes downtown Portland and the Lloyd District. If you’re on a train leaving the zone, announcements are made that tickets are required.

TriMet made a few other announcements recently that should interest Clark County residents:

Total annual ridership for the recently completed Fiscal Year 2011 (buses, MAX light rail and the Westside Express Service commuter train linking Beaverton and Wilsonville) surpassed the 100 million mark for the second time in history. The first time was in FY 2009. In FY 2011, the totals were 58.4 million passenger trips aboard buses, 41.2 million passenger trips on MAX trains, and 370,800 on WES trains.

Specifically for light rail, June ridership increased about 6.6 percent this year over June 2010.

The newest MAX line — the Green Line to Clackamas Town Center, which opened in September 2009 — showed ridership increases this June (over June 2010) of 15.9 percent on weekdays and 6.8 percent on weekends.

TriMet announced a “major milestone” recently for the MAX Red Line to Portland International Airport. In 10 years, the line has accommodated 10 million rides to and from PDX.

The popularity of Portland’s light-rail system is increasing even during tough economic times. It’s also encouraging to see tough enforcement times emerging to catch fare evaders.