Ticket machines

Question: What is the deal with those $@%#ing ticket machines?

Short Answer: I don’t know, I hate them too.


Rendition of one thing I would like to see happen to the ticket machinesDescent

Another possibility I am open toTicket monster

No, seriously.  I joke only to keep from screaming.  Okay.

I have two main problems with the ticket machines.

1. THEY DON’T WORK.

(actually who needs a second reason?  That one right there really should be enough)

Exact fare required, No coins acceptedA typical broken fare machine, Hawthorn Farm

Like that error message?  Sorry for the low quality – I was on a train riding through that station when I saw it out the window & got a picture. Exact fare required, no coins accepted.  Considering that an adult fare is $2.30, a Youth ticket is $1.50, and an Honored Citizens ticket is 95 cents, how, specifically, are you supposed to make that work without using coins?

TriMet’s official response is, in my opinion, lacking:

Try another method of payment.

BUT: What if you don’t have another method of payment…?  (see next section of this entry for a continued rant on this)

Get off at the next platform, buy a ticket, and board the next train.

BUT:  This puts you at least one train behind (which can be a wait as long as 30 minutes depending on where you are, where you need to go, and what time of day it is) because the train that you were on can’t wait for you to buy a ticket at the next platform

Bonus: This is also assuming the ticket machine at the new platform works (one night I saw the cash machines out of order at Beaverton Creek, Merlo SW/158th, and Elmonica SW/170th – which are three consecutive stations.) In those situations, the correct thing to do is apparently to get off, not be able to buy a ticket, get on the next train, get off at the next platform, not be able to buy a ticket, get on the train after that, get off at the next platform…  Yeah, that’s a reasonable response.

- and this is also assuming that you can find the machines on the new platform – for example, if you got on at Goose Hollow heading west and the machines didn’t work, there are no ticket machines at platform level at Washington Park or Sunset TC.

Then buy a book of tickets beforehand, and validate one of those tickets when you arrive on the platform

WELL: This is a nice idea, but not always practical (if you live by a platform but not by any place that sells tickets.  Or if you’re a tourist, like when the machines at PDX are broken). And seriously, if there is a machine at every platform, it is not unreasonable to expect to be able to pay for your fare at every platform. Some of this burden needs to rest on TriMet, not just the passengers.

Bonus: This is also working under the assumption that the ticket validators at the platform will stamp your ticket with the correct date and time.  Which is not a safe assumption to make:

Ticket validator out of orderRed light = validator is out of service

Bob and Matt of PortlandTransport.com did an excellent video on this a few years ago.  Sadly, doesn’t seem like a whole lot has changed since then.

And even when the machines take your money, they don’t always give you a valid ticket:

No expiration dateSaw this one from a passenger – she said it confused a fare inspector because it came out of the machine with no date stamped on it. No fines were issued – instead the inspector settled for writing the date along with his name and badge number on it as a way to validate it. But really, if a passenger puts in money for a ticket, I think it’s fair to expect they will get a valid ticket from the machine, not from a fare inspector hand-writing a validation on it.

2. CARD-ONLY MACHINES

If you look close, you'll see this one has an error message too

This bothers me more than the machines being broken, to be honest.

WHY, ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH, IS IT NECESSARY TO HAVE A BANK ACCOUNT AND CREDIT CARD TO RIDE PUBLIC FLIPPING TRANSIT.

In the TriMet tv video about the broken ticket machines, the cheery voiceover promises that half of the old ticket machines will be replaced (though by this point, it’s “have been replaced”) by Spring of 2009. What they didn’t say is that those machines were replaced with ones that only accept credit/debit cards.

Now what is the possible advantage of that?  Hey I have an idea – let’s take away a method of payment for passengers!  Awesome!  That’s a great way to ensure that people pay their fare before getting on a train when they have one fewer way to do it!

TriMet likes to pride itself by talking about how much of the ridership are “choice riders” – that is, they have a car but choose to use public transit.  But not everyone is a choice rider – a lot of transit users are unemployed, on food stamps, on welfare, or homeless (and there is nothing wrong with that!). So not every rider has or uses a credit card – are they somehow less deserving to use public transportation if they have the cash in their hand to do so but not a credit card?  Apparently the answer is “Yes.”  Which seems to be missing the point of public transit.

WES ticket vending machineAll of the fare machines for the WES train are credit card only.  I guess if you don’t have a credit card, TriMet doesn’t want you on that train.  A bit classist, there, no?  I’ve heard some people say that it’s so that TriMet doesn’t have to send out money collectors to those platforms, but I don’t know, if we’re celebrating WES as part of the service area, then shouldn’t it be, well, serviced?

If I go to a train platform with a $5 bill in my hand expecting to buy an all-day pass, I should be able to do that. “Use another machine” is the official response. But if I only have cash and the cash machine is broken, what then? I actually ran into that situation before I worked for TriMet – I gave my $5 bill to a very nice lady who used her credit card to buy me a ticket from the machine because both of the cash machines at the platform were broken. People shouldn’t have to depend on the kindness of strangers to pay for their fare, they should be depending on the reliability of the ticket machines. Which they can’t do.

I’ve also noticed that on many platforms, the more conveniently located machine is credit card only. For example, at Beaverton Creek where you can only access the platform from the east, the cash machine is all the way at the west end of the platform (and I check it every time I go westbound through there since you can see the screen from that side, and it’s very frequently out of service). At the Rose Quarter platforms, the credit-card only machines are located closer to the arena than the cash machines.

10 tickets onlySometimes, a “working” machine means something like this partially working machine – you can by a 10 pack of 2-hr tickets, but nothing else

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but given the exquisite failure rate of the fare machines, do you really trust giving it your credit card information?

Picture courtesy of reader Matt. Why is it that when a machine only lets you buy one option, it’s usually this one which is overkill for what people need?

So… I can’t tell you why the machines suck, I just know that they do.  Here is my advice if you encounter a broken fare machine:

1. Take pictures if you can!  Most cell phones nowadays have cameras, so if you have a cell phone and it has a camera, get a picture of the machine in case you get fare inspected and need to defend yourself. The inspector can call in to verify if that machine had been having issues so it’s important that you get the correct machine. Make sure you get a picture of the machine number, located on the top right of the front of the machine.

2. Again, if you have a cell phone, call it in. 503-238-RIDE is a good number to have in your phone contact list.  If the customer service desk is open when you call, tell them the platform and machine number.  Their answer will be that you have to get off at the next platform, buy a ticket, and wait for the next train. This may or may not be feasible for you, but at least get it on record that you reported it.  If you have the time to kill and can get off the train to buy a ticket at another platform, that’s going to be your best option to avoid getting a citation since that’s TriMet’s answer to the problem, even though it’s a poor response on their part.

3. Tell the train operator when you get on, and ask (nicely) if they can call it in.  DO NOT yell at them – it’s not their fault that the machine is broken or their responsibility to keep the machines working.

4. Don’t throw out your old tickets - Laura Dudley used her stack of old tickets as part of her defense that she was not a fare evader when she fought her citation – and it helped her win her case. If you don’t have a valid fare but have several expired fares on you when a supervisor or fare inspector asks to see your ticket, it could make them more sympathetic if you can show that you habitually DO pay.

5. If none of the machines at a platform work but that platform is also serviced by buses (e.g. Willow Creek, Gresham Central), get a transfer from a bus operator.  Obviously this isn’t always an option, but I’ve seen it done before when all of the machines at Beaverton Transit Center were broken (Bus operator and blogger Al M recorded a video on another night that this happened.)

6. Don’t mouth off to the fare inspectors if you get stopped.  Be polite while you explain why you don’t have a fare, informing them which machine(s) were broken and what you did to report it. If you act like a jerk, they probably will issue a citation.

Good luck.

(and please don’t vandalize a machine that is broken. I am in favor of a giant red angry monster coming to eat the ticket machines, but I am not in favor of someone deliberately vandalizing a machine. Don’t be a jerk.)

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7 responses to “Ticket machines

  1. Good advice!
    You should post this at TRIMET DOWN!

  2. Pre-paid tickets are totally the way to go. Don’t have to fuss with change, don’t have to have a credit card, etc.

    …and I don’t care where you live; sometime in your life you go to a grocery store and you can buy tickets then.

    Or you can always buy 10 tickets at a ticket machine when it is working (they come unvalidated, BTW).

    Yes we should still hold TriMet accountable to having a working machine at every platform, but at least there is a reasonable workaround in unvalidated tickets.

    • True – there are workarounds. But the validators on the platforms don’t always work either (a number of them were issuing stamps for February 29th last month, as an example).

      I don’t advocate people not paying fares because they don’t feel like it, but at the same time, given that public transit is supposed to serve the public, I strongly believe that anyone who can put together a handful of change that’s enough for a train fare is entitled to ride.
      Sometimes those panhandlers asking for change for train fare actually *are* asking for money for train fare! If they manage to scrape together $2 and the cash machine is broken, I don’t think it’s necessarily reasonable to say to them “You should’ve gone to Safeway and gotten a ticket there.”

      The issue wouldn’t bother me as much if it weren’t so widespread – one machine failure here or there would be one thing. But the frequency with which the machines fail is a huge issue that TriMet has not satisfactorily addressed.

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  4. I remember oncewhere 1 of the ticket machines at Beaverton Creek was accepting coins only, no dollars, and the other machine was accepting dollars only, no coins. Anyways long story short, there were fair inspectors / local police working on that platform that day. Being that I had a combination of dollars/coins to purchase my ticket I wasn’t able to use the machines, (it wasn’t taking credit cards either). The response from the police / fair inspectors was that I wasn’t allowed to board the train (I was heading to Beaverton TC to catch the #76) and that I had to walk over to Murray wait for the #62 bus (running every hour) and purchase my ticket from that bus and walk back to the platform to board the MAX.

    I have many other horror stories regarding broken down ticket machines, but that one always come to mind.

    • I’m sorry that happened – not sure when this was, but TriMet’s policy for a while has been to board the train, go to the next top, and buy a ticket there, so at the very least if they didn’t have courtesy passes for people who couldn’t get tickets from the machines, they should’ve let you take the train to Millikan (or Merlo – wrong direction but closer and you could also get the 67 there to BTC) to buy a ticket.

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