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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 10, 2009 9:53 AM. The previous post in this blog was The way it's done in Portland. The next post in this blog is That time again. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Tri-Met blowing smoke on Fareless Square

A reader who wrote an e-mail message to Tri-Met protesting the elimination of buses from the Fareless Square free ride program received a bit of a brush-off response from "Linda" (no last name given) of "TriMet Customer Satisfaction." Among her seemingly rote responses were these:

We still want to preserve the environment and increase transit use, but downtown Portland has changed dramatically since Fareless Square was established 34 years ago. We now have a comprehensive light rail system and the Portland Streetcar, which provide high quality transit service downtown. When the Green Line opens this September on 5th and 6th avenues between Union Station and Portland State University, both Green and Yellow Line trains will run north - south through downtown. As a result, we will have virtually the same service on the Transit Mall as is currently available. Nearly every destination in Fareless Square will be served by rail within 3-4 blocks, and we will continue to provide a service that promotes mobility between downtown and the Lloyd District.

Changing the fare-free zone to rail only would simplify the system for riders and improve the efficiency of bus service, while maintaining frequent, free transit in the current fareless area. Operational efficiencies include improved travel times for buses traveling through the Mall; reduced potential for conflicts with Operators that currently need to remember which passengers are staying in Fareless Square; an overall simplification of the Operators' responsibilities; and a reduction in bus related fare evasion, where bus passengers previously willing to take the chance of extending their free trip outside of Fareless Square will no longer be able to do so. In addition, customers should find travel in Fareless Square less confusing, as it is currently difficult to know which bus routes travel the length of the Mall, and which turn to cross the Willamette River or to the west.

Wow, one after another assertion so shallow. Charging money on buses where none is charged now "would simplify the system for riders"? For $2, we'll take complication. "Maintaining frequent, free transit in the current fareless area"? Certainly far less frequent than exists currently, when every bus in the square is free.

"Reduced potential for conflicts with Operators that currently need to remember which passengers are staying in Fareless Square"? Really? Do the Tri-Met drivers really bother with this? From our vantage point, they let everybody board on Fareless Square, with or without fare, and never ask any questions beyond that unless they're in a nasty mood. "An overall simplification of the Operators' responsibilities"? Ditto.

"A reduction in bus related fare evasion, where bus passengers previously willing to take the chance of extending their free trip outside of Fareless Square will no longer be able to do so"? Yes, but an offsetting increase in train-related fare evasion -- what's the difference? "Customers should find travel in Fareless Square less confusing"? Again, for $2, we'll cope with the heavy weight of complexity.

Linda's doing a great job rattling back what the visionary Crocodile Hansen told her to say, but most of it seems as bogus as a bus ticket sold to you by these lovely people.

Comments (11)

Back when this was first discussed, they made the mistake of saying what this was really about: part of the sit/lie jihad against people of limited means and mobility. Downtown is for young, hip, fit, creative class people making $100K or better in the new everyone-is-a-freelancer-so-workers-can-all-be-screwed economy.

This is brought to you by the same brainiacs who killed off Artquake because it got too many people downtown during that weekend. That was bad for business! And who are all those people anyway? They don't look like big spenders.

When they start writing the obituaries for Portland's exceptionalism, I hope they start with how downtown businesses succeeded in driving people out of downtown, then wondered why nobody was in their stores and restaurants.

"...and a reduction in bus related fare evasion.".

Hmmm. Is bus-related fare evasion the real problem with Fareless Square? I seem to recall seeing a link on this blog to a an earlier story indicating that fare evasion on the streetcar line to the Pearl District was somewhere north of 50%. Not to mention the light rail users boarding downtown without paying, then riding to their destination several miles away.

Thanks a bunch, Linda.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/10/world/americas/10degrees.html?hpw

Interesting article. I love how NYTIMES frames buses as solutions for "POOR" cities.

Newsflash to the NYTIMES...most state/city governments in the US are feeling pretty POOR, too.

TRIMET blows smoke on all things rail.

WES is turning out to be quite a hit.

"Operational efficiencies include improved travel times for buses traveling through the Mall"

In the mall buses have to stop at their designated stops, which as has been discussed are four blocks apart. How does eliminating Fareless Square for the buses improve travel times?

I ride buses around all day to different work locations and have ample opportunity to observe the system in use. The new bus mall is a joke. A bus driver told me "you think it's bad now, just wait till the light rail is up and running". The driver's theory is that the city is trying to sabotage the buses.
I wrote a letter to the Oregonian (they only published part of it) where I described the constant abuse of honour system I see on streetcars every day. The street car is a huge welfare recipient, which benefits people who could easily afford to pay the fare, but have such a huge sense of entitlement that they think the city owes them everything for " pioneering the Pearl". Give me a break!!!!

Irene -

Good point. In fact eliminating Fareless Square in the Mall and downtown will actually INCREASE travel times.

Passengers boarding will board slower because some finite portion of them will need to deposit cash or tickets in the fare box. Many will use passes which they will merely flash at the vehicle operator with no additional delay but some will need to deposit fares, which will slow down / delay boarding and by definition will delay trips through downtown.

Tri Met sucks.


Trimet has lots of problems right now.

Bloated bureaucracy, continued expansion when they can't even fund what they have now, a fare structure that is so complex that you need to take college level courses to understand it, ticket machines that never seem to work, blah blah blah.

I dunno, I got a bad feeling about all of this to be honest.

My biggest problem is having to watch people getting hurt, and lots of them are right now.

Watching the bus service be dismantled is painful indeed.

Having any fare less square is obscene right now.

Hey, its Portland, you guys that read this blog need no further explanation.

This blog tells the real story of the
PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF PORTLAND!

First of all, it's been "TriMet" and not "Tri-Met" for years now. And I encourage everybody to watch Fred Hansen's & the board's discussion of the proposal. But:

*In regards to "simplifying the system for riders", the argument (as stated by Fred) is that many buses turn off the mall, and people trying to get to e.g. PSU might get on the wrong bus. This has been encouraged by not having clear signage about which buses do go all the way. However, people who don't know might gravitate to MAX anyway, potentially lessening that issue.

*Especially if they run extra, "shuttle" trains MAX will be more than enough frequent. Yes, it's possible that a bus might get you there literally a minute or two earlier, but then you have to know where it will stop and get over to it.

*I have seen operators confront fare evaders at the Fareless Square boundary. But as Fred Hansen said, it can "put an impossible burden on the operator" when a bus is full to remember who hasn't paid.

*I in no way get how there would be an increase in evasion on trains. People who might now evade going over the Hawthorne, Morrison or Burnside Bridges or to anywhere in SW don't have a train that they can switch to. And even if it did, it's not any different than someone who evades away from the square.

*Travel times can decrease if a bus has less people to board and can spend less time at a stop. Specifically, a few fewer boardings might mean that a bus is be able leave at the end of one traffic signal cycle instead of having to wait through the red and then a train and buses passing in the middle lane.

Overall, the real problem is that the horse isn't quite yet in front of the cart yet--MAX on the mall isn't open yet so people can't try it and see if it works good for getting up and down the mall.

And the real loss would be being able to get from halfway between one set of MAX stations to halfway between another two, as well as east or west beyond Morrison/Yamhill.

As for the streetcar, it's a totally different thing and is not planned to be touched by this proposal.

Y'know, if TriMet upheld their claims of service, I'd actually consider not complaining about their charges.

However, since they cannot provide the service they promise, I don't think anyone should pay the price they charge. Instead, people should pay the price they happen to feel is adequate and appropriate for the time they ride. That they pay nothing at times seems to indicate to me that many customers are already adopting this attitude, which is so similar to the drivers' attitudes about the schedules.

As long as the schedules and 'service' are fantasies, so will the fares paid.

I encourage folks to returning to driving and parking downtown. Screw TriMet.

Interesting thoughts -- not entirely effusive! -- about streetcars from a transit planner here:

http://www.humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html

Excerpt:

WARNING: This post contains an observation about streetcars that is not entirely effusive. It may provoke hostile reactions from zealous streetcar enthusiasts. It would probably be better for my transit planning career if I didn't make this observation, but unfortunately it seems to be true, and very important, and not widely acknowledged or understood. So I'm going to say it. But I'm going to be very careful. As I said in this blog's manifesto, "my goal is not to make you share my values, but to provide perspectives that help you clarify yours." If you're a streetcar advocate, I want to help you be a better one by really understanding a critical issue that doesn't get talked about very clearly in most streetcar debates. It goes to the fundamental question of why you would build streetcars in urban corridors where there's already a good bus route.

Enough cautions. Here it is:

Streetcars that replace bus lines are not a mobility improvement. If you replace a bus with a streetcar on the same route, nobody will be able to get anywhere any faster than they could before. This makes streetcars quite different from most of the other transit investments being discussed today.

Where a streetcar is faster or more reliable than the bus route it replaced, this is because other improvements were made at the same time -- improvements that could just as well have been made for the bus route. These improvements may have been politically packaged as part of the streetcar project, but they were logically independent, so their benefits are not really benefits of the streetcar as compared to the bus.


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