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Friday, December 7, 2007

Reader poll: How many fare cheats on MAX?

Fred Hansen, executive director of Tri-Met by virtue of being Neil Goldschmidt's cousin,* tells the City Club today how he's going to crack down on the thugs who are making a ride on the transit agency's MAX trains an uncomfortable, if not dangerous, adventure. One aspect of the new enforcement effort is a "zero tolerance" policy for fare evaders. Hansen estimates that fare evasion on Tri-Met overall runs 8 percent, but he has no separate estimate for MAX, which has no turnstiles and whose drivers never make contact with passengers. Recently, the Los Angeles rail system announced that it's installing turnstiles to combat what it says is fare evasion of 5 percent.

Both those estimates seem awfully low. Anecdotal evidence suggests a much higher rate of fare cheats on MAX. As today's Trib tells it:

Hansen estimates that around 8 percent of riders are not paying fares but says TriMet does not track light-rail evaders separately from those on buses. Agency spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says the percentage of MAX fare evaders probably is higher that those on the buses.

Several law enforcement officials believe the percentage of MAX fare evaders is substantial, however.

According to Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso, when one officer recently boarded a train and gave passengers the option of showing their tickets or getting off, more than half disembarked.

Since no one in power at Tri-Met seems to have even a guess as to the percentage of MAX riders who don't pay fares, we thought we'd ask our fearless readers to take their own stab at the issue (no pun intended):

What do you think the fare evasion rate is on MAX?
0-10 percent
11-20 percent
21-30 percent
31-40 percent
41-50 percent
Greater than 50 percent free polls

* - Not to be confused with Sheriff Bernie Giusto, who is on the Tri-Met board of directors by virtue of keeping Goldschmidt's statutory rape secret.

Comments (20)

Note: joke. Hansen is not Goldschmidt's cousin. I just made that up.

If you have a monthly pass and want to buy an upgrade to add a zone to ride MAX (say, to the Airport)...forgetaboutit.

After a flight cancellation, I tried to buy an upgrade at the machine to take MAX home...couldn't do it. The MAX ticket machines won't let you. I asked a TriMet guy standing around..."can't do it", he said. "You CAN buy a Senior Citizen ticket", he said, and the extra 65 cents or whatever it was would "cover" it.

Can I pay the Fare Inspector? "Nope". Can I buy an upgrade from you? "Nope." Will I get a ticket and be thrown off the train if I DON'T buy a Senior Citizen ticket to "cover" the upgrade? Yup. "But I'm NOT a Senior Citizen?" "It's the only way to do it."

That's crazy, protests I. "Yup", he answered.

I bought my Senior Citizen ticket (not that anyone would KNOW to do this from any kind of instructions on the machine.) And, yes, I was asked for my ticket by a Fare Inspector. I showed my Monthly pass AND Senior Citizen ticket. "This is crazy," I said. "Yup...people complain all the time. You should write in..."

I wrote in and complained as to why I couldn't buy an upgrade. "It was causing a problem for the machines" was the answer, given with a free handful of "short hopper" passes for the future.

Gotta wonder how many fare evaders are such because the ticket machines won't LET riders buy an upgrade? And are we really tossing people off trains who the machines won't --can't-- sell upgrades to?

Can you say scam? Portland light rail may be the biggest government boondoggle in U.S. history. Remember when Mary Fetsch told us the west side line was completely paid for? Whoops, they need to spend more money on security cameras. Remember when Mary Fetsch told us Tri-Met would like to talk to the Portland cop who said there were huge crime problems on MAX because no on at Tri-Met had heard any complaints? Despite rejected it every time it's been on the ballot, Oregon taxpayers are just going to keep paying, and paying and paying for a system that serves, at best, 3 percent of the population.

"Zero tolerance" is going to be a difficult standard as long as so many ticket dispensing and validating machines don't work. I pay when I am able to (it's easy when it's so cheap for seniors), but at some stations it is simply not possible to get a stamped ticket, and then the only "zero tolerance" option is not to ride, I guess.

"Hansen is not Goldschmidt's cousin."

No but he's a charter member of Neil's
"Line Your Family's Pockets with Public Money" Club.

And Neil's "Stack the Deck on Every Commission" Club.

Here's my counter-anecdotal evidence. When fare inspectors get on the train mid-way down I-84 during rush hour (when the train is awfully full) they often encounter one scofflaw in every 30-40 people they ask for fares.
I'm starting to think the problem isn't with MAX, it's with Gresham (and Hillsboro, for that matter).

An informal survey by KATU earlier this year, when it was doing a report on Max free riders, found about 25% of riders were ticketless or without appropriate purchase outside of Fareless Square. Zero Tolerance is a joke. Trimet police will get tough for a couple of days but things will degrade back to where they are now within short order. Trimet doesn't have the stamina to keep kicking folks off the train on a longterm basis. Being a fare inspector is a thankless, risky job. Something better left to BlackRock or the "Dog." Just joking on this last part.

I sometimes ride the trolley around downtown to NW 23rd and back. For fun I have asked how many of riders have bought a ticket-usually about 1 in 12 raise their hands when asked, and many shout out "I didn't know we needed a ticket". Not scientific, but accurate. This same method has been used on MAX, and the results are usually over 50% outside of fareless square. Where did Hansen get his 8% figure? Where's his backup info?

Where did Hansen get his 8% figure?

Roll up your sleeve and bend over.

Same place as all of the guesses here then.

The sad part is their fix is adding more Wackenhut Security? Like thats gonna help anything. They're not armed with anything, so they arent any better off than the riders when it comes to crime. And most of them are not in any great physical shape either.
If if some punk comes at them with a bat, they will have the same outcome as the old guy that got clocked.

Those nice people at the Trib are also talking about organizing groups of men to ride the rails and enforce justice. Since Trib fans and Bog fans seem to be the same people, maybe we can get a sign-up for that gig here.

Where did Hansen get his 8% figure?

I suppose they know, more or less, how much they take in from the fare box, and they can get within a couple of orders of magnitude, from sampling, on how many riders they have. That would get them closer to the number (with a lot of variables, like monthly passes, 10-ticket purchases, lower fares for seniors, etc., cluttering up the math).

some punk comes at them with a bat

Isn't that the meaning of 'Wackenhut'?

8 to 15 percent is also about the percentage of ticket vending machines that don't work at any time. Last summer, when attending the Blues Festival, BOTH machines at the stop in N Portland for the trip downtown were broken, and on the way home, the machine downtown just took my money and said "Thanks!". No ticket, no nuthin' The 40 or so other people at the stop saw this and nobody paid. TriMet's response? "Get off at the next stop and purchase a ticket"... yeah, right!

Until TriMet can figure out HOW to allow people to pay for tickets, a "zero tolerance" policy will just send folks who want to do the right thing right back to their cars.

Fighting bad behavior by enforcing a broken fare system is a little like creating "affordable" housing by tearing down existing houses and building condos. ...oh, right, we do that here too.

Oh, get real. Until TriMet can figure out HOW to allow people to pay for tickets

That's just dumba*s. It's not about allowing folks to pay - it's about getting rid of freeloaders. That means that you have to have a system in place that requires people to pay.

Only in Portland are planners so brain-dead that they set up free rides. And when the predictable occurs, it's only in Portland that apologists come in and ask for ways for riders to be allowed to pay.

This place has gone nuts. Which is why my family, after around thirty years as Portland residents, plan to leave. We'll enjoy watching it all unfold, as long as we aren't paying for it.

JerryB; several of us tough guys met for lunch today, and we would like to sign up. Please organize the gig, or someone else might. I grew up in the country a while ago, and when we had similar kinds of "thug problems" even us kids took care of the problems, and sometimes parents joined in, and without police help. If State Police Officer Bob Steele found out, he thanked us for the efforts. It takes a Village.

The percentage of cheats varies by the hour. In the morning and evening commute times, that percentage is probably less than 5%, since most of the passengers are commuters who ride the trains every day and have monthly passes.

Around mid-afternoon,however, the percentage could rise to 50% or more. This is the time I have observed the most drug deals and otherwise anit-social behavior on the MAX. Same thing in the late evening.

The commute numbers are so large they bring down the overall percentage and 8% could be the exact number. But then, how does one measure the number of people who would be riding MAX in the afternoon, and paying fares, were it not for all the hooligans on the train.

Hmmm... I think I wasn't clear enough -- I'm not saying the problem is caused by broken ticket vending machines. I'm just saying that a "zero tolerance" policy is going to nail a lot of honest people who needed to get somewhere but were unable to buy a ticket. Trimet needs to solve THAT problem first or risk alienating even more of their riders. Using an "if you don't have a ticket, you're a criminal" logic only works if riders are able to buy a ticket in the first place. ...all I'm saying.

Fare evasion on the streetcar is high; I don't think this is true on MAX. The fare inspections I have witnessed on MAX have typically turned up 1 in every 20 without a fare. Most have tickets or passes. Streetcar is a much different story.


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