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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 25, 2006 3:06 PM. The previous post in this blog was Good for a laugh. The next post in this blog is Special appearance. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

All through the town

The jalopy's in the shop today, and so I've been getting around on Tri-Met. It's a great system. It had better be, for what we all pay for it.

This morning on the MAX east side line, inbound at Hollywood, we had a fare inspection. I've ridden thousands of Tri-Met vehicles in my day, and this is only the second or third time I've ever experienced it. About six or eight uniformed guys got on board the train and asked everybody to show their tickets. I almost hadn't validated mine because one of the validator machines at the station I boarded at was out of service. Glad I had found another validator that worked. A couple of dudes without proof of payment were asked to step outside. Given their looks, I think a call to the parole department might have been fruitful.

The fellow next to me had a ticket that had literally been through a washing machine. It still worked, though.

Later in the day, riding the bus down on the soon-to-be-ripped-up-for-no-good-reason transit mall, I heard this exchange between the middle-aged male driver and a young woman standing outside the bus door in the rain:

Woman: Are you the 12?

Driver: No, this is the no. 9.

Woman: It says "12" on the back.

Driver: Well, don't look at the back!

Makes sense. Of course, nothing beat the sign I saw on the sidewalk outside a downtown storefront: "Improve your state of mind."

It was a state liquor store.

Comments (25)

Every time I see a fare inspector on the MAX, they are issuing citations for the entire trip. Not long ago I asked a fare inspector his estimate of the percentage of freeloaders riding MAX. With a straight face, he told me "about 80%". "No, seriously?", I asked. "I'm totally serious - 80%", he replied.
Makes you wonder whether better enforcement could help keep fares down for those of us who actually pay for the ride.

If an inspector scared 40 deadbeats an hour into paying their $1.50, that would be $60 an hour in revenue.

I got a warning a few months ago - I had bought a ticket but didn't realize I took it out of my purse before I left the office. Of course, when I saw the inspector get on I thought I had my ticket - I spent 10 minutes going through my purse over and over but she gave me the warning anyway.

I can't imagine that it's 80% - I see inspectors on the train frequently, and they usually only find 1-2 people without proof of fares.

It's not a user-friendly system. At many stations it's hard to find a validation machine (none on the platform at all at 42nd or at Teufel's), they're not well marked, and you just have to know, from experience, that buying a ticket isn't necessarily enough to be legal when you board the MAX.

As for the signs on the back of the bus, well, how useful is it to know which bus you've just missed?

If I just missed the 9, it's nice to know, because the next one won't be by for a while. But if the sign on the back erroneously tells me it was a 12, well, I might take heart that the 9 will be here any minute.

Yeah... If I've missed the 4 by that much, I can opt to take either a 9 or a 14. So it _is_ helpful.

With the one-way trip cost of Eastside Light Rail at $45+ (this was a 1990s number, the current amortized cost has to be much higher), we should just let people ride it for "free." The $1.60 (or thereabouts) fare can't come close to reimbursing the cost of the public employee fare inspectors (wages plus unsustainable PERS) PLUS (caps, sorry Jack) the cost of the validator and ticket machines. Get rid of 'em and make it a Fareless Square all the way around. Face it, its a public welfare project. Quit trying to make me believe it pays for itself.

While we're at it (off subject kindof, but its a related government boondoggle and prescient), let's get rid of the Bottle Bill. I am sick (literally) of recycling my cans and bottles at those god-awful cesspools known as recycling machines. And don't blame the retailers. They get nothing for this "service" except costs. I (and you) can recycle those precious cans and bottles at curbside now. The Bottle Bill has outlived its usefulness. Let's give it the decent burial that it is due.

The dirty little secret of this enforcement scheme is that many of the so-called validators don't work, especially on Portland's eastside. Last time we rode the MAX [also because the jalopy was in the shop], none of the validators at NE Burnside and 122nd Avenue were in working order. Other more regular transit riders, seeing our frustration, chimed in: "Oh, those haven't worked in weeks."

One wonders if the enforcement excels in such areas.

PS: We called Tri-Met to report the malfunctions. The operator sounded like she could not have cared less.

If you look at charges for mass transit not from the perspective of cost, but from the perspective of value to the rider, the ticket charges and collection costs make a certain amount of sense. It would be interesting to see whether fare collections, net of collection and enforcement costs, contribute positively or negatively. I'm guessing (and it's the basis for the first sentence above) they are mildly positive, mostly as a result of the sale of monthly passes. More effective enforcement would probably require a conductor on the trains, or turnstile access, neither of which seems practical.

I am sick (literally) of recycling my cans and bottles at those god-awful cesspools known as recycling machines.

Why not take them inside one of the many stores that will take them, count them for you, and give you in-store credit or cash? New Seasons does this, and it is painless, cesspool-free, and you don't have to deal with some of the interesting characters who spend their lives hanging out by the recycling area. If you are a Cost-Co member, it is even easier. Take your bottles (caveat: they have to be bottles from Cost-Co) in a car, tell them how many you've got, and they give you cash. Takes about a minute.

Contributing to topic drift: If our state legislature had a little energy left in it, we would have a 25-cent bottle deposit by now. From a fair number of miles of cycling on rural Oregon roads I can testify that a nickel is not enough to inhibit the litterer, motivate the scavenger or reward the recycler.

Molly, that's the most sane thing I've heard yet (the "get rid of the fares" statement). I bet they could pretty easily replace fare revenue by allowing more concessions/advertising, etc at max stations. But that, of course, would require some creative thinking on the part of our fearless leaders, so I'm not holding my breath.

In regards to the cess-pool machines, personally I love them. Except when they are ALWAYS out of order. Then they suck.

One thing about the ticket requirement is that it creates a pretext through which cops can stop someone on the Max and ask them questions. I think the same is true of seat-belt laws--cops can stop anyone they want on the pretext of not wearing the seat-belt, and then move on to other things (drug use, warrants, etc.). I recall a few years back when the FBI was concerned that the fareless zone was a security risk because anyone could get on board, and there was no pretext opportunity for law enforcement to question suspicious characters. Now they've at least got the wiggle room of pretending that they are concerned about whether the person has bought a ticket or not.

No way the delinquency rate is 80%.
At least on the rush-hour rides, the vast majority of people are holding monthly passes. Certainly, that percentage of pass holders is over 20%.
When I've seen inspectors come through (sometimes at 9:00am, sometimes at 9:00pm) I've only ever see them get one or two delinquents in a train of 30 (9:00pm) or 90 (9:00am) people.

allen says: "If our state legislature had a little energy left in it, we would have a 25-cent bottle deposit by now. From a fair number of miles of cycling on rural Oregon roads I can testify that a nickel is not enough to inhibit the litterer, motivate the scavenger or reward the recycler."

I suspect part of that is not that the value of the deposit needs to be raised as the types of items included in the deposit program needs to be expanded. That's so it would include plastic water bottles, metal and plastic tea containers, latte bottles, and fruit juice cans, bottles and boxes.

I do think that an increase in deposit value might help, as I've taken to placing them out with the weekly curbside recycling, as they are not worth enough for me to spend the time and energy to redeem them.

While we're at it, I think a deposit on burger wrappers, french fry holders, beverage cups and carry-out bags from fast-food restaurants would be a boon to the aesthetic settings throughout the state. And all those stinkin' little plastic envelope condiment containers, too.

Lastly, I suspect that those retail outlets that fail to keep their recycle areas clean, picked up and reliable are the ones who are creating a pretext for the rescending of the Bottle Bill.

And Molly? Give us an idea where you live, so we can all drive over and toss it out the window in your neighborhood. You don't seem to care.

' the types of items included in the deposit program needs to be expanded:

Yes, that too, by all means. And to revert ever so briefly to the original topic: I think a fareless system would be much more vulnerable to Jack's objection to the public cost burden, even if the numbers were not much different from what they are today. And have you noticed that it's human nature not to appreciate things that are granted and taken for granted?

42nd avenue does indeed have a validation machine; it's next to the ticket vending machines on the area above the platform by the elevator.

No fare = MAX turning into a 40-mile lone rolling homeless shelter during the winter. Ugh...I'll gladly pay my $1.85.

"42nd avenue does indeed have a validation machine; it's next to the ticket vending machines on the area above the platform by the elevator."

My point exactly. No validation machine on the platform.

I ride Tri-Met almost daily. Lately I've been noticing how poorly the overall Tri-Met system is working. One driver ate his lunch from a styrofoam container while driving with one hand, or both elbows. I mentioned this to another driver who told me that the driver's don't get lunch breaks anymore.

Also, more and more bus benches and shelters are disappearing (at least around the Buckman area). Numbers of stops are being closed as well.

Just yesterday I noticed the #15 said #9 on the back of the bus. But for every curmudgeon-ish driver (and what a stressful job that must be) I have encountered many wonderful drivers. I have plenty of admirartion for those people. I wouldn't want that job for all of the tea in China.

P.S. Molly-

Here in Buckman we leave our cans and bottles out with the recycling and they are picked clean before the morning pick-up. I never see ANY cans or bottles floating around Buckman.

I've often thought there should be a hefty deposit on styrofoam containers (which I thought were outlawed years ago, but I still see around). Godfry- great idea!!

Lily -

Per styrofoam. They were banned in Portland. However, there was a loophole included to allow private non-profit organizations to continue to use them, evidently with the idea that they would use those they had on hand and switched to an alternative. Needless to say, that did not happen, as the relative price of styrofoam cups plummeted in the wake of the bad news and many non-profits reordered because the cost was significantly lower than the alternatives and they were not constrained by city ordinance.

OHSU is one of the most egregious of offenders on this count. I have personally met with more than one OHSU cafe managers to ask why they have not suspended use of the styrofoam cups. They flat out refused, as they were saving bundles of money annually ($50,000 per annum was the figure quoted to me.) They posture themselves as caring about your health (as long as you've money or insurance), but when it comes to the environment, they don't give a rat's patoot. The irony is that now in OHSU-run cafes on campus, you get paper cups for coffee (provided by the coffee vendor to get their name out there) and huge, plain styrofoam cups for _cold_ drinks, which don't even need the insulating properties of the styrofoam.

Closing this loophole is long past due.

"With the one-way trip cost of Eastside Light Rail at $45+ (this was a 1990s number, the current amortized cost has to be much higher), we should just let people ride it for "free." The $1.60 (or thereabouts) fare can't come close to reimbursing the cost of the public employee fare inspectors (wages plus unsustainable PERS) PLUS (caps, sorry Jack) the cost of the validator and ticket machines. Get rid of 'em and make it a Fareless Square all the way around. Face it, its a public welfare project. Quit trying to make me believe it pays for itself.

While we're at it (off subject kindof, but its a related government boondoggle and prescient), let's get rid of the Bottle Bill. I am sick (literally) of recycling my cans and bottles at those god-awful cesspools known as recycling machines. And don't blame the retailers. They get nothing for this "service" except costs. I (and you) can recycle those precious cans and bottles at curbside now. The Bottle Bill has outlived its usefulness. Let's give it the decent burial that it is due."

What the in the hell?

"While we're at it, let's get rid of the Bottle Bill. I am sick (literally) of recycling my cans and bottles at those god-awful cesspools known as recycling machines. And don't blame the retailers. They get nothing for this "service" except costs."

They DO get something for their "service". A couple of things, actually. The ability to sell items that have bottle or can deposits and RETURN CUSTOMERS.

Try shopping at a less sleezy retailer.

Molly,

I don't doubt that MAX is too expensive to operate, but your numbers are waaay off.

In 2003-4 91 million rides were taken on MAX[1]. At $45 per ride, that is more than $4 billion dollars. Note that $4 billion is considerably more than the entire system cost, including federal funds -- $250 m eastside, $1 b westside, $125 m red, $350 m yellow. And you are claiming that it costs $4 billion to operate *every year*, on an operating budget of $367 m.[2]

Even allowing for inflation and a few conspiracy theories, your numbers don't add up.

[1] http://www.trimet.org/inside/ridership.htm
[2] http://www.trimet.org/news/archives/2005/mar23budget.htm


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