Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Fares

A person riding the MAX or Streetcar downtown gets a free ride; but a person riding the equivalent short distance on a bus downtown; or in downtown Hillsboro, Gresham, Tigard, Oregon City...has to pay $2.05.
A person riding from Forest Grove to Tigard (57 and 76/78 buses) can pay just $2.05; but someone riding from the Zoo to Sunset TC has to pay $2.35.
A MAX ticket is guaranteed to be valid for two hours from the time of purchase - no matter what day of the week it is. Per TriMet Code (TMC 19.25(G)), a bus transfer is only valid for "one hour past the scheduled end of the trip time for the bus on weekdays, two hours on weekends." But, TriMet's non-legalese fare policy which is posted on buses, states that the transfer is good for one hour from the time the transfer is issued. TriMet's simple English policy is in blatant violation of TriMet code and thus someone who boards a 12 bus in Sherwood at 6:20 AM on a weekday, per TriMet Code shall have a transfer that expires NO EARLIER than 9:30 AM because the end of that particular trip is at 8:30 AM in Gresham. If that passenger is given a transfer that expires at 7:20 AM, transfers to another bus and is cited for fare evasion, he will have a legitimate claim against TriMet for being issued a transfer in violation of TriMet policy.
On WES, you cannot pay fare with cash. On buses you cannot pay fare with a credit/debit card (but you can on LTD. Guess Eugene/Springfield is ahead of the game here.)
TriMet's fare structure and policy is horrible. Even in Seattle during off-peak hours there is one simple fare which is clearly posted on a sign mounted to the farebox. When on-peak fares are in effect (or when the bus is in the Fareless Zone) the Operator changes the sign so that there is no question what the correct fare is - it's on a sign and the fare price is in two inch print.
If you're a new bus rider at one of TriMet's 6,000 unimproved bus stops, they will have no idea what the fare is until the bus shows up, and many Operators who are already stressed from their jobs don't want to play cashier and figure out the correct fare for a rider. (For those Operators who do, thank you!)
TriMet could solve this problem once and for all by implementing a very simple time-based fare system; eliminating the confusing 1-2-3 zone system (where zone 2 is really nothing more than an overlap zone, because true one-zone tickets are extremely rare and the minimum cash fare is a two-zone fare), simplifying fares to the nearest quarter. TriMet finally made HC fares a flat $1.00, and Y fares $1.50 -- why aren't 2 zone fares $2.00 and all zone fares $2.25 or $2.50? Better yet - why not follow Seattle - off-peak fares are $2.00, and peak fares are $2.50? Or just make all fares $2.50 with a promise of new fare increases for three years?
I agree that Portland is long overdue for having modern fare card systems...TriMet is one of the last major transit systems to rely on the "flash pass"; and this type of fare "collection" doesn't allow for accurate fare counting because there is no accounting for how many riders flash a pass versus don't pay a fare and board anyways. Most other cities use a RFID card that riders swipe against a reader when boarding and exiting the bus which can correctly calculate the fare, and as an added bonus provides more detailed ridership data. TriMet relies on people to actually count riders a couple times a year for each bus - hardly accurate.
The agency usually concentrates fare inspectors in areas with repeated problems.
You mean, on MAX? It's been ages since I've seen a fare inspector on a bus. In fact the only time I did was after all the news media hoopla about MAX TVMs failing at an alarming rate and TriMet in a P.R. stunt, put fare inspectors on buses that were nowhere near a ticket vending machine. I saw maybe one or two people pulled off the bus - total - in all the times I saw the fare inspectors...yet when I'm on MAX and see a fare inspector I'm guaranteed to see at least two people pulled off the train each time...that is...if there's a fare inspector. As a daily bus rider who rides MAX maybe once a month if that...that is an alarming coincidence.