Life on the Streets: Public transit

By Helen Hill, Street Roots

Ever since Portland’s TriMet [the city’s public transport operator] made the decision in October to ramp up fare enforcement on MAX trains and add nine new inspectors, there’s been a lot of concern among those who rely on public transportation the most.

Street Roots recently asked its vendors to weigh in about their experiences on TriMet. One vendor who wished to remain anonymous said he thought there is a lot of wasted time and resources in the fare enforcement policies.

“They (fare enforcers) get on at Gateway and start checking fares. Then more get on a few stops down. They get on at multiple times on the same line and check your fare again on the same route. It seems like they are wasting a lot of time and money.”

The vendor recalled an incident involving a guy, wearing a Fred Meyer hat, who appeared to be headed into work.

“He got pulled off the train. They demanded he get off. He said he had valid fare; he just didn’t tap. They held up the whole train until he got off. Then at the Clackamas Town Center stop, a guy had a pizza box in one hand and a soda bottle in the other. He tried to set it down on a seat to get his fare out, they made him set his food on the ground.”

Karen Flemming feels TriMet operators have been polite and helpful to her.

“I cannot blame them for checking because you should see the people who come from the airport,” Karen said. “I take that MAX every day. People who have just flown in will hop on and not even get tickets. I think they do target the homeless who are regular and don’t pay, because they don’t have money, and they know that. But they’ve been polite to me.”

Rick Davis compared his experience here to Denver’s public transportation system.

A MAX train arrives at Portland's Albina/Mississippi station on TriMet's Yellow Line. (Photo by Tim Adams/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

“In Denver, they have 24-hour service,” he said. “If you’ve got fare, you can get on the bus and crash, you can stay moving all night. Here, they will kick you off, they make you get off the bus and sit out in the cold. If I had a suit and tie on, I don’t think they’d be kicking me off in the cold. Everything with TriMet is the bus driver’s option. Some say yes; some say no. Most say no, because they’ve had prior problems. I understand that.”

And there’s a difference between weekend and weekday drivers, Davis said.

“The weekday drivers seem nicer; the weekend (drivers) are rookies, without seniority. They can be tough.”

Paulette Bade rides TriMet exclusively, and she’s seen a lot of profiling.

“I have my bus pass, but I’ve seen them throw lots of people off if they don’t have fare, no matter if it’s raining or snowing, no matter what the weather is. They will kick you off right then and there. I think it’s a shame because we have a lot of homeless who ride just to stay warm,” she said.

Vendor Pops Duby said the profiling is extreme.

“If they see somebody who has more than one backpack, or the backpack looks overstuffed, they don’t look exactly clean and proper, it’s ‘Hey, do you have your ticket?’ When I’m trying to sell my bracelets, I try and dress up a bit, and they will pass me by every time. I think it’s bullshit, just to be honest. It’s like they have an agenda to stop homeless from getting on the MAX. And they are the ones who need it the most.”

For Doyle Parker, it’s all about the individual driver.

“They’ve always been good to me. I only got one ticket. But one time there was a sweep on us and we had an ungodly amount of stuff. The driver on the MAX was patient, he let us on with all our stuff, and let us off without any hassle. Other times they profile us, pass everybody else up but us. So you never know.”