Tag Archives: fare inspectors

Wagging the (bomb-sniffing) dog

The Stabbing and the Response

Not a TriMet picture. Other systems have shields that protect operators

After driver Leonard James was stabbed by a passenger, a lot of operators (bus in particular) were wondering what TriMet’s response would be to increase safety on the system. Driver Dan Christensen had a great post on how TriMet seems quick to leap in to action to respond to some safety issues, but very slow to respond to others, particularly this one where a driver was severely injured. After a press conference at Gateway at the end of October, Dan summed it up nicely#Trimet bus driver gets stabbed, so what do we do? We get a bomb sniffing dog!! And he was right – no shields on the buses (like the one pictured above) to protect operators.. in fact, nothing that would prevent another stabbing.

So what did we get?

In that press conference, Snoopy the bomb-sniffing dog was introduced, along with TriMet highlighting other security measures (none of which seem to be anything that would prevent a driver getting stabbed….) Above is an excerpt from TriMet’s official release from the event, and that second bullet point is playing fast and loose with numbers.

What I think of every time I read “TriMet just hired 8 more fare inspectors” or “There are now 26 fare inspectors” or any other number that’s not even close.

There are only four people who work at TriMet with the title “Fare Inspector”. That’s it. Four. That’s how it’s been for a while. While TriMet’s release technically says “full time equivalent of 26″ the media ran with that as “26 fare enforcers” (which TriMet never corrected), but whoever these 6 new enforcers are is a mystery. No new fare inspectors have been added in years. Granted, there are new supervisors – in this last round of supervisors that officially started at the beginning of November after their training was finished, there were 8 new road (bus) and 3 new rail supervisors. But that’d be 11 “new” folks starting in November, not 6 as mentioned in the above press release, so no one seems to know where that number 6 came from. Technically none of them are new employees, as supervisor is a promoted position, not something that a non-TriMet operator can apply for, so they’ve all been at TriMet for a while. The addition of these supervisors also wasn’t in response to any particular safety-related event, as they were already promoted and in training when Leonard was stabbed.

As I’d mentioned in my post on field operations, road and rail supervisors work on district shifts or code enforcement shifts. So for example, in a rail district shift a supervisor will be responsible for things like monitoring on-time departures from the end of the line, doing fit-for-duty checks at relief points, assisting with safe movement of trains during special events (e.g. Saturday Market, concerts, sporting events), as well as responding to any incident requiring someone on-call in the area, like a mechanical problem, a fight onboard a train, or a collision involving a train or anything blocking the right of way. In a code enforcement shift, a supervisor will check fares for 8 hours. Granted fare-checking isn’t the ONLY part of TriMet code that’s enforced (they can cite someone for being in violation of any part of TriMet’s code) but it’s primarily what’s done in a code shift.

So I’m assuming the reason why supervisors have been added but fare inspectors haven’t is that TriMet gets more “bang for the buck” with supervisors. In addition to their supervisor roles, they can all do “double duty” as fare inspectors, whereas fare inspectors will ONLY do code enforcement. I don’t necessarily see a problem with that.

Number of shifts by type for road and rail supervisors by day of week, for both the previous supervisor signup and the current one.

do wonder about TriMet’s priorities adding more supervisors seemingly just to add more code enforcement shifts. You’ll notice that there was no change in the number of district shifts for road or rail supervisors with the new folks added, but there has been an increase in code enforcement shifts (the variance in code shifts per day is due to the different days off to sign). And now TriMet is already looking to add more road supervisors, though not rail supervisors. I’m going to make the assumption based on how shifts were added that this is just to add more code shifts, not district shifts. Let’s be honest – as the public is painfully aware, bus service has not been added at TriMet. There are no areas that now have bus service that previously did not – in fact, the OPPOSITE is true. So why add more road supervisors? Just to have more people checking fares? If that’s the case, why bother giving them all the additional training as supervisors? Make them outright fare inspectors and be done with it… in a way it’s a waste of their abilities and training to have supervisors only working code shifts.

Adding rail supervisors now makes sense, at least from my perspective. It gets them up to speed by the time the Orange Line opens, and in the meantime, they do a lot to keep the trains moving. Many minor mechanical issues cause no delay because there is a rail supervisor in the field who can quickly respond. Because of differences in their training, road supervisors are not qualified to troubleshoot trains or relay conditions to Control like rail supervisors can, so any service disruption of the trains (which are FAR more disruptive than bus issues) requires the presence of rail supervisors.

Is fare evasion a problem? Sure. But here’s the thing – there are other problems related to this issue that don’t seem to be getting anywhere near the same level of attention.

Rail Reliability and Performance

On-time performance, not so great for MAX

It hasn’t gone without notice that there have been a lot of service disruptions on MAX lately. Sometimes a major disruption to service is TriMet’s fault (switch/signal problems, train malfunctions), and sometimes it’s not (cars driving into the right of way and either hitting a train/cat pole or getting stuck). Either way, it’s the rail supervisors who have to get the trains running when a disruption happens. In major incidents, rail supervisors doing code enforcement shifts will be pulled off to assist with the situation. They’ll be potentially throwing switches to help trains do turnbacks, working crowd control and directing passengers to bus bridges, clearing trains of passengers, troubleshooting, flagging trains through the area, acting as Control’s eyes and ears on the ground, etc. With the exception of assisting passengers, those aren’t things that road supervisors are trained or qualified to do.

Picture found online – supervisor on scene of accident on Interstate

Anti-rail/pro-bus proponents often bring up the flexibility of bus compared to the inflexibility of rail as a reason to not focus all transportation funding and efforts on rail. And they have a point as we’ve all seen. When a bus breaks down, it affects the people on it and the people waiting for it, but other buses in that line can get around it. When a train breaks down (or any other major rail service disruption), it tends to affect ALL trains and as a result, a significantly larger number of passengers are affected. That includes passengers on the trains who miss connecting buses at transit centers, and it also includes those passengers who only ride buses because in-service buses get pulled from service to run bus bridges when rail breaks down. You’d think, then, that making every effort to reduce how long service is interrupted would be a main priority.

(meanwhile, the other night…)

BMW and tree that took down the OCS at Sunset

Rail supervisors coordinating with Beaverton Police and TV Fire & Rescue

The train that was stranded and had to be evacuated due to no power  – note that the pantographs are down. Before people could safely be evacuated from the train, all potential sources of power to the train had to be cut

I started writing this post before the recent crash at Sunset TC, and that incident was too related to not go back and add into this post before publishing it. For those not familiar with what happened here, at about 11:15pm on November 13th, a drunk driver doing about 80mph on 26 westbound took the 217 southbound exit (the lower curve seen here), lost control, went airborne, and crashed into the right of way below the highway exit, taking out part of a tree on his way down and pulling down the catenary. This killed power in that area, stranding a nearby westbound train that had to be evacuated.

At that hour of the night, there are three rail district supervisors on duty – one stationed on the west side covering Hatfield to Washington Park, one stationed at the Trolley Barn covering Goose Hollow to Expo to 82nd, and one stationed on the east side covering Gateway to Cleveland, PDX, and Clackamas. A major incident like this requires more than one supervisor, so the Trolley Barn supervisor went over to assist the west side supervisor (they were later joined by a third off-duty rail supervisor who was heading home after his shift when he saw the scene and offered to go in to help). Now consider, as we saw on the day that a window washer’s rope broke a pantograph AND a truck hit a train on Interstate (while trains were still delayed at Rose Quarter due to an unrelated car doing 80mph off a freeway and knocking out signaling equipment), just because you have a major disruption in one area of the alignment doesn’t mean that you won’t have one anywhere else… then consider that this arrangement Tuesday night left one supervisor responsible for EVERYTHING east of Washington Park. We’re lucky that there weren’t any other major rail disruptions elsewhere that night…

There are other times during the service day that only one or two district supervisors are responsible for large sections of the alignment. If they get called to a situation at one end of their territory but then another situation occurs elsewhere, it could take a while to get that supervisor to the scene to address it since they haven’t yet learned to teleport. Major disruptions require more than one supervisor on scene, which is why rail supervisors working code enforcement would stop acting as fare inspectors, quickly get to the scene of the disruption and get to work getting things moving again. However, with the new changes to code enforcement, rail supervisors doing code won’t necessarily be working exclusively on or near MAX trains and won’t necessarily have access to a car, meaning that if there is a service disruption they need to get to, they will likely have to rely on TriMet’s buses to get there and we all know what an efficient and timely mode of transportation that is.

Now, I’m not a service planner at TriMet and so I know my opinion doesn’t count for anything when decisions like how many new supervisors to add are made… however I’m just going to throw it out there that maybe prioritizing ways to minimize rail disruptions (if that means adding rail supervisors who have the capability of mobilizing quickly for disruptions, then so be it) should be a higher priority than adding road supervisors strictly for the purpose of doing fare enforcement. Personally speaking, no, I don’t think that checking fares should ever be prioritized over keeping the railroad moving.

And I’ve got a bone to pick about the current state of code enforcement.

The Ticket Vending Machines

The other major issue that I think needs to be addressed before we go all gung-ho with fare enforcement is the failure rate of the ticket vending machines (TVMs). People have been using Twitter to complain about the TVMs recently, which I’m glad to see because it shows at a glance that the problem is very widespread and makes it harder to ignore. There are a lot of people wondering why TriMet even bothers with having a Twitter account (theoretically to monitor, answer, and fix problems with the system) when a problem as blatant as the TVMs is always met with a canned response about riding one platform and buying a ticket there. Passengers with legitimate complaints aren’t being listened to, the machines aren’t being monitored and fixed in a timely manner… It wouldn’t take a lot of effort for TriMet to acknowledge that there is a problem with the machines and made the public feel like they’re being listened to, but as far as anything official is concerned the burden is still on the passenger.

Via Portland Transport‘s Bob R – TVM stuck in a reboot loop

TriMet still has not officially acknowledged any issues with the TVMs (the most recent I could find was Mary Fetsch still insisting that more than 90% of the machines are working, but anyone, rider or employee, who has been out in the field could tell you otherwise). The only response from TriMet after daily complaints from riders about the TVMs was to send out a message reminding people they can buy books of 10 unvalidated tickets. I’ve grudgingly suggested the same thing to passengers reporting broken TVMs as a way to save their own skin even though this “solution” does nothing to fix the pathetic state of the ticket machines. But passengers do need to protect themselves, as there are daily fare missions where people will be cited for no fare DESPITE the unreliable condition of the TVMs.

Excerpt from a supervisor’s report after a Blazers game, via Al M

The TVM problems also end up impacting and undermining fare mission work, as seen recently when a fare mission at IRQ got moved to just the northbound platform because none of the machines on the southbound platform were working. Can’t really cite people for no fare when they can’t even buy a ticket at the platform you’re running the fare mission on, and yes, there is a growing number of code enforcers that are as frustrated with the status of the TVMs as the passengers because it impairs how they can do their job.

This one spawned a discussion on Reddit – four days later, same error message

Speaking cynically, really, what’s the incentive for TriMet to fix them? They either can get a share of the $175 citation off of a rider who doesn’t have a fare, or $25 up front from a rider who buys a book of tickets to hold in their wallet but not use. This completely sucks from a customer service perspective, but from a business perspective it’s admittedly a pretty good move.

Gallery of rider photos of TVM/validator defects recently posted on Twitter.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to have nightly fare missions checking passengers for valid fare when the TVM issues are so widespread. If a person approaches a TVM with $2.50 in hand but they’re not able to purchase a ticket because today that machine only feels like accepting nickels, hey, that passenger did their part. They shouldn’t be required to go to station after station (yes, sometimes machines at consecutive stations fail) waiting 17 minutes each time for a train because they are unable to find a TVM that works.

So there we are. There are a lot of problems TriMet is facing from an operational perspective right now – concern about the bus operator who was stabbed, ticket machines that don’t work, rail reliability issues and potentially not enough resources to handle service disruptions. What did we get in response? A bomb-sniffing dog and more supervisors doing only fare checks. Sure, we’ll all be thankful on the day that dog detects and disarms a bomb on a train, but in the meantime there are some major issues here that merit a well-thought out, proactive response and decisive action to fix from TriMet.

Caveat transfer

STOLEN PROPERTY!!!

I’ve been watching this go on from the sidelines long enough, and though I’m not aware of anything major happening yet, I don’t like the idea of treating well-meaning passengers like suspects.

Background: We’re nearly a month in to TriMet’s sweeping service changes of a flat rate fare and no more zones. Now an adult 2-hour ticket is $2.50, regardless of distance, and an all-day ticket is $5. Essentially, passengers are being encouraged to buy their all-day ticket up front, since if their trip and errands will take more than two hours, they’re no longer saving anything by buying two 2-hour tickets for their travel. You could even fairly say that the all-day is a better deal because you can get a full day’s worth of trips on TriMet for the same cost as 4 hours’ worth of trips. This is all very well and good.

Here’s the problem. Prior to this service change, if you bought an all-day pass on a bus there was a lot of variance on what time that transfer would be cut to, but that wasn’t really a big deal. Sometimes drivers or fare inspectors would just ask passengers with a short transfer to show it again to make sure it was valid for the day. However, since the beginning of September, there are now new standards on how all-days should be punched and cut:

Training bulletin on the new fares

The all-day transfer that you buy on a bus is now literally “all day” – which on the new transfers is 2:30am. But take another look at the bottom bullet:

In other words, if your bus driver tears the entire transfer off of the book instead of using the cutter to tear it at 2:30, it indicates to a fare inspector that you may have stolen that transfer.

And here’s the catch. There are over a thousand bus operators at TriMet right now. Trying to get all of them to do something the same way is akin to herding cats. Even before this change went into effect, what you got when you paid for a transfer on a bus often depended on who was driving. For example, a lot of drivers subscribed to the “Zones are needlessly complicated, everyone on my bus gets an all-zone transfer” idea, many would cut transfers more generously than 1-hour past the end of the line, others were sticklers for the rules to the letter, etc.

Unfortunately for passengers, that inconsistency has carried over to this new policy. A lot of drivers are still handing out their all-day transfers torn directly off the book instead of being cut at 2:30, some are still cutting them short, and they’re often unaware that they’re supposed to be doing anything else. I was talking with a friend of mine who is at bus a couple of weeks ago about all these new changes, and her response was “Oh, I’ve been tearing the entire all-day tickets right off the book. Should I not be doing that?”

And sometimes operators make mistakes. I know another bus operator who was partway through his shift before he realized he mixed his fares up in his transfer cutter, and so the ones he had punched as all-day tickets were being cut at 2 hours, and the ones he punched as 2-hour tickets he was cutting at the 2:30am line. As far as I know, neither of those fares would be considered valid if inspected (the ones punched as all-days were too short, and the ones cut at 2:30 only had 3 punches on the bottom instead of the necessary 4).

But passengers have no way of knowing any of this until they get stopped by someone doing code enforcement or a bus driver who refuses to let them board because their fare is “invalid,” even if they paid for it fair and square. And yes, that is happening, as seen in supervisor reports from earlier this month posted at Al M’s blog (though I have not yet heard of anyone being cited for having an improperly cut transfer):

Oddly enough, as pointed out by a friend of mine who does code enforcement, the old transfers with zones had a statement on the back saying that if the driver disputed the validity of the transfer, the passenger should mail the disputed transfer to TriMet’s customer service along with an explanation of what happened. These new transfers have no such statement on the back and I’m not sure what recourse is available for passengers in that situation.

I don’t know, I don’t like setting passengers up to fail. The ticket machines are a joke, the validators aren’t 100% reliable either (wait until it starts getting cold out! Many of them stop working in cold and wet weather!), and now passengers might be treated with suspicion if they buy a transfer from a driver who didn’t tear it right and – as an added bonus! – we took away the wording on the back of the transfers telling them what to if their fare is disputed? Come on.

I’m really not trying to undermine fare inspectors here… I have several friends who do code enforcement, and I’m not writing this to make their jobs harder or let slip any big secrets that transfers that aren’t cut properly can be questioned as stolen. They also didn’t create this policy, that came from above, and from what I’ve seen the inspectors who are told to carry it out aren’t too fond of it either (or the ongoing TVM issues, and all the other systematic things that are making their jobs harder). Yes, sometimes people do steal transfers off of buses and that’s a problem, but I don’t think treating everyone holding improperly cut all-days with suspicion is the appropriate response, especially when there are a lot of bus drivers who aren’t cutting their transfers correctly. That shouldn’t be the passengers’ problem.

Protect yourself

If you buy a transfer on the bus, make sure it’s valid for you.

  • You are not expected to know the two-letter day code, but make sure only two letters are punched
  • If the H or Y square is punched, make sure that you have appropriate ID to show that you are entitled to a reduced fare (HC card for the Honored Citizens fare, ID showing that you’re under 17 for a Youth fare, etc) This IS a requirement in order to carry that fare – if your fare is checked and you don’t have valid ID, that’s risking a $175 citation
  • If the driver gave you a transfer punched with one of those by mistake, ask for an adult ticket. If you bought an adult ticket, make sure that the A square is punched
  • If you bought an all-day pass, make sure that both “Day” and the appropriate square (typically A for adult fare, but could be H or Y, again with the proper ID) have been punched and that the ticket is torn at 2:30am
  • If your ticket has a perforated edge visible at the top like the one at the top of this post (i.e. STOLEN!!!), you could probably just tear it to the proper 2:30 line yourself instead of asking the driver to do it
  • If you get something that just looks wrong (an all-day cut at a time other than 2:30am, too many or not enough squares punched at the bottom, etc), talk to the driver and ask them to either punch it correctly or issue you another transfer

Be polite if you have to ask the driver to fix your transfer – sure, it could mean the difference of getting a $175 citation if they gave you an invalid one, but it could have been an honest mistake on their part.

And even if you’re offered a good deal, don’t buy transfers secondhand from someone else. It’s fine to purchase tickets from authorized TriMet street vendors – they will be wearing TriMet clothing/apron/jackets at special events and have TriMet ID, and the tickets they sell are valid. But some random person offering TriMet tickets or transfers at a bus stop or MAX platform? You have no way of knowing if it’s valid (the 2-letter code punched in the bottom changes daily, what are you going to do if they sell you yesterday’s ticket for a buck but then you get a $175 citation for not having today’s valid fare?), plus it’s technically against TriMet code. The back of the tickets state that they are not transferable, and so you could be warned, cited, or excluded if an inspector sees the exchange. That goes for you giving a transfer with time on it to someone else too, ESPECIALLY if you hand off your ticket to someone who doesn’t have one during a fare inspection. It might seem like the neighborly thing to do but will end up getting both of you in trouble if you get caught.

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy weekend

The sweeping service cuts & fare increases go into effect this weekend. Even though TriMet hasn’t officially told riders to expect delays, I think it’s reasonable to say that riders probably should expect delays as everyone gets used to the new changes.

Saturday, September 1st

The fancy way mandatory all-zone passes
& a fare increase have been repackaged

Fare increases and zone changes are in effect as of Saturday. To board a TriMet vehicle, an adult pass is $2.50 for a 2-hr ticket, or $5 for an all-day pass with unlimited boarding. So if you need a round trip, you’re essentially encouraged to buy the all-day up front. Other fares for youth passes and honored citizens, as well as 7-, 14-, and 30-day passes  are as follows (as per TriMet’s website):

THERE WILL NO LONGER BE A FREE RAIL ZONE. That means no more free transferring from Pioneer Square to Portland State, or parking at the Lloyd Center to catch a train to Blazer games at the Rose Quarter, etc. However, the Honored Citizen downtown bus pass will now include rail. If you qualify for an HC card and live in the area that was formerly covered by Fareless Square/Free Rail Zone, you can pay $10 for a pass that is good on all transit in that area for 2 years.

And even though it’s not technically TriMet, Portland Streetcar fare changes will also be in effect on Saturday. Not sure this was a widely-known fact, but previously (and currently through end-of-day tomorrow August 31) all TriMet passes and transfers were valid all-day passes on Streetcar – in other words, even if your 2-hr transfer expired and you couldn’t use it to board MAX or a bus, you could still use it to ride anywhere on streetcar for the remainder of the day. HOWEVER, effective on Saturday, TriMet passes that have expired will no longer be valid on Streetcar. Additionally, tickets purchased on board Streetcar will no longer be valid on TriMet MAX or buses. Streetcar will cost $1 to ride and that fare will only be valid on Streetcar for 2 hours; you can’t use it to transfer to a TriMet vehicle. You will still be able to use a valid TriMet pass purchased from a TVM or on a bus to transfer to Streetcar.

Sunday, September 2nd

The new signup begins on Sunday, September 2nd, and that’s when the service cuts and reroutes go into effect. Word(s) of advice: PLAN AHEAD. The first week or so of a new signup (operators sign up for their work every 3 months) is often marked by buses running late or people complaining that they had a driver who had no idea where the route went and a passenger had to give them directions. That’s not uncommon under normal conditions, but I would anticipate that it’s going to be a lot more prominent on a lot of bus routes this time around because of the large number of routes that have been drastically changed.

Donated pic from someone who noticed that the system map on the backs of the MAX ticket machines dates back to September 2009, so these are going to be woefully out of date. Granted, so is the rail map on the front

This is going to be one of those instances where it’ll be a really good idea to try to give yourself a lot of time to get where you need to go. I know that’s not always possible, especially when scheduled connections have poor timing by design, but do what you can.

And this hasn’t really been discussed anywhere, but there are a lot of brand new operators out there right now. TriMet’s been having a huge hiring push for bus drivers, in part because that’s normal for the Orange Line ramp-up, but a lot of it is because there had been a hiring freeze on operators for so long that due to attrition over the last few years, it’s gotten to the point where there just aren’t enough operators – this is why so many runs get cancelled. There are a lot of new faces at bus (and at rail) nowadays, and let’s be honest, no one is an expert at their job when they’re new. Couple that inexperience with major route changes like these, and that’s why I think it’s fair to say that it’s not out of the question to be prepared for confusion and delays with these new service changes.

That said, do NOT take out your frustrations on the reroutes, service cuts or increased costs on your bus driver (or rail operator, or fare inspector, but let’s be honest, bus operators are the ones always in the line of fire). They did not vote in the cuts, they did not vote in the fare increases. These fine folks did. Take it up with them if you feel the need to express your anger or frustration, not the operators. The operators don’t deserve your ire. None of the front line TriMet workers operating your vehicles or checking your fares have the power to change any of this.

Monday, September 3rd

Labor Day! TriMet observes this federal holiday by running everything on Sunday schedules – and that means the new Sunday schedules, so service on this day will be the same as it was on September 2nd. Routes that don’t have Sunday service will not be running on Labor Day.

Tuesday, September 4th

The first “workday” with the new fares, no zones, and service cuts. Everything said above still applies –  no more free rides anywhere downtown (MAX or Streetcar), allow plenty of time to get to your destination in case of delays, and don’t be a jerk to your drivers.

I think the “BEST OFFER EVER” tag was a nice touch…

Old tickets?

As of May, old TriMet tickets without a foil strip were no longer accepted as valid fare. Starting on Saturday, 2-zone tickets with a foil strip are not valid fare on their own (in other words, if you put that in a validator at a MAX platform and show it during a fare inspection, you may be given a citation), but they can be used to purchase an upgrade on a bus along with 40 cents. Alternatively, you can exchange your old 2-zone passes or any passes that you still have that don’t have a foil strip at the TriMet Ticket Office downtown in Pioneer Square through the end of this year.

Field Guide to Field Operations

(All pictures in this post are borrowed from elsewhere on the internet)

One of the reasons MAX FAQs started was to address incorrect assumptions people have about the trains and how they work (e.g. the infamous yellow door buttons, why a train downtown is not actually running a red light, etc). So far, all of those posts have been about rail operations, but now I’m going to expand a bit into field operations, and the misconceptions people have about this area of TriMet.

Fare inspector writing a citation. Picture from the Portland Tribune

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Quiz time! You’re riding a MAX train and someone in uniform boards your train and asks to see everyone’s fare. This person is:

(A) A fare inspector
(B) A rail supervisor
(C) A road supervisor
(D) A police officer

The correct answer is actually (E) Potentially any of the above. I’ve noticed that people generally have been using the term “fare inspector” to describe everyone checking fares on the trains or platforms, which is not exactly accurate. To further complicate things…

… several sources are using the terms supervisor and fare inspector interchangeably, sometimes inexplicably putting the word supervisor in quotes. They are not the same thing – fare inspectors, road supervisors, and rail supervisors are three distinct jobs at TriMet. There is some overlap between them – similar to how fare inspectors check fares, supervisors can and do check fares on trains and engage in other code enforcement as well, such as enforcing no-smoking or no skateboarding/bicycling rules on platforms. What’s different is that while a fare inspector’s job is essentially what it says on the tin, fare/code enforcement is only one part of what a supervisor does.

Rail supervisor checking fares. Picture from PSU Vanguard

For passengers, it doesn’t really matter what the job title is of the person asking to see your fare. All supervisors and fare inspectors (and police officers) have the same capabilities to check fares, run a records check to see if someone without valid fare is a repeat offender, and issue warnings, citations, or exclusions as necessary. To speed up the process and minimize delay, have your transfer or pass ready when any of these people board your train or meet you on a platform to check fares. If you have a special fare (HC-Honored Citizen or Youth pass) be sure to have proper identification ready to prove you are entitled to that fare, because not having proof is a citable offense.

Truth Squadding the Media (and the Public)

Part of the inspiration for this post was a recent article in the Oregonian with this sentence:

 On July 20, he announced the hiring of six new fare enforcers – each a union employee costing taxpayers $67,276 in salary and $29,647 in fringe benefits – bringing the inspection team to an equivalent of 18 full-timers.

… which had some rather predictable fallout, with commenters saying that temps should be doing this work instead of “quasi-mall cops” or “glorified hall monitors”, people with advanced degrees don’t make that much and these positions don’t even require a college degree, these “starting salaries are too high”, and that the training for this job is the equivalent of asking “Do you want fries with that.”

Let’s set the record straight, piece by piece.

Dirty little secret #1. TriMet employees (yes, even the union ones) are taxpayers too. So enough with the “TriMet union employees cost taxpayers $X” language. It’s pointless and unnecessarily contentious. May as well just say “TriMet union employees pay their own salaries” since that’s equally accurate.

Six new fare enforcers/equivalent of 18 full timers. Uhh, sure, I guess so. First of all, none of these are technically “new” employees – all supervisors and fare inspectors start as bus operators, and these positions are only open to operators, so they are already current employees. Second, back in early 2009, fifteen bus and rail supervisors were recruited, trained, and sent out into the field in their new roles. Then nearly all of them were quietly brought back to their old positions as bus and rail operators for a while, and then reintroduced into their supervisor roles again by the end of 2010. No new fare inspectors or road supervisors have been brought on since then, so I’m assuming that reinstating those supervisors counts as the six new enforcers. Or possibly those six also include the four newest rail supervisors who were added at the end of 2011.

And that “equivalent of 18 full timers” is confusing a lot of people. It’s not that there were originally 12 fare inspectors and these new hires made it 18. There aren’t even 12 fare inspectors to begin with, and no fare inspectors have been added anytime recently, only rail supervisors.

The way it works: some of the shifts available for rail and road supervisors to sign are code enforcement shifts. Assuming that nothing goes wrong to pull a supervisor away from this shift such as an accident, derailment, or other higher priorities, a supervisor on a code enforcement shift will be doing fare checks and other enforcement (e.g. writing citations for smoking or other prohibited activity) for their 8 hours of work. Supervisors on district shifts that are not strictly code enforcement are still responsible for an hour’s worth of code enforcement along with their other duties.

Picture from the Oregonian – a road supervisor (as it says on his hat) and a fare inspector checking fares on a train

So I suppose that if you added up the hours worked by the full-time fare inspectors, the 8-hour code enforcement shifts that supervisors do along with the additional hours of code enforcement that are performed during district shifts, and however many hours are spent by police doing enforcement, it would be about 720 hours per week, or the equivalent of 18 people doing code enforcement 40 hours per week. But frankly that’s more math than I care to do right now, so I’ll just take them at their word.

Quasi mall cop/hall monitor/don’t even have advanced degrees. Ok, you know what? I’m not saying this is the case across the board, but the contempt that a lot of people with college degrees have for blue collar work really makes my blood boil. If you’ve completed a Ph.D. or even a bachelor’s degree, good for you. I genuinely mean that, it takes a lot of hard work and effort to accomplish that. But is it really so offensive to you that someone else put in an equal amount of time and a lot of effort doing non-academic work developing skills outside of a classroom and gets more than minimum wage in return? And I say this as someone who also has some post-high school education – not as much as some of my coworkers, but enough to be able to see both sides, and to at least make it sound like I know what I’m talking about. Well, sometimes, anyway. Related to this point:

Their starting salary is too high. $67k is not a starting salary, and this is not an entry-level position. Want to know what the actual starting salary is if you wanted to be a supervisor at TriMet? A whopping $9.92/hr, which is the pay during training to be a minirunner (part-time bus driver). Then once you actually start work as a minirunner, you make $13.83/hr but again, that’s part-time. On the job descriptions for all of these positions – bus operator, rail operator, fare inspector, supervisor, etc, you’ll see that the pay is listed as a range. You start at the low end of the range and over time your hourly rate increases to the maximum for that position. If you transfer positions (e.g. from bus to rail, from bus to supervisor or fare inspector, from rail to supervisor) you move to the scale for the new position and then progress to the top of that scale.

So by the time an operator becomes a supervisor, they’ve put several years under their belt working at TriMet and are anything but entry level. The last couple of classes of rail supervisors, for example (going back to those that were part of the 15 supervisors promoted in 2009 and including the most recent class) had an average of about 10 and a half years working at TriMet at the time they became supervisors.

And consider the work that a supervisor does.

During parades, protests, and other events, rail supervisors are responsible for coordinating the safe movement of trains through large groups of people. Picture source unknown.

This isn’t sitting in a climate-controlled office from 9-5, interacting with just your coworkers, who are probably of a similar income level and social background as you. Supervisors spend around 70% of their time outside and on foot (particularly when doing code enforcement) regardless of the weather. Similar to police officers, they interact with all sorts of people – the pleasant ones, the lost ones, the aggressive and belligerent ones, the drunk and incoherent ones. They’re out in the field nearly around the clock, as long as buses and trains are in service and beyond service hours as required. And they’re typically among the first on the scene when there’s an accident, collision, or fatality involving a train or bus.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think $67k for doing that kind of work on that kind of a schedule after being with a company for many years is unreasonable at all.

Do you want fries with that? Admittedly my focus here is on rail supervisors more so than fare inspectors or bus supervisors, because rail is the main focus of this blog. Believe me I’m not discounting the importance of road supervisors and fare inspectors, but from a rail perspective, the training and skills that rail supervisors have is invaluable in keeping things moving.

As I mentioned before, while road/rail supervisors, fare inspectors, and police officers can all check your fares on a train, rail supervisors are the only group of those fare checkers who are qualified to operate trains and troubleshoot them in the field, as they all were certified rail operators who maintain their certified status as supervisors. So as an example, let’s say a rail supervisor and fare inspector are on the platform at Gateway to check fares, and the operator of a train that just pulled in calls in that one of their doors is stuck open. The rail supervisor can board the train and fix the problem (most likely faster than it would take the operator to key out and walk back to the door in question), but the fare inspector is not qualified to do that.

Rail supervisors can throw switches and direct trains through non-standard moves, such as this move through the time lock switches west of Beaverton Transit Center. Picture from the PDX Rail Transit blog.

Or in the event of a car accident near the right of way, even if a train wasn’t involved, a rail supervisor is qualified to examine the tracks and surrounding area to determine if it’s safe for trains to pass.

Or let’s say a Red Line train comes into Beaverton TC and the operator discovers when they walk to the other end of their train to go back to the airport that someone threw up in that car. If there is a rail supervisor present, he or she can uncouple the cars and run the biohazard car out-of-service to the west portal pocket track to quickly get it out of the way. This will allow the Red Line operator to leave for the airport (now as a single car) with minimal delay and prevent the Red Line behind it from being delayed getting into the pocket track at BTC.

Broken crossing gate arm? It’ll be a rail supervisor on the scene to relay information to Control and direct trains through the intersection as needed.

(And yes, these are all situations that have happened before and will happen again, but they will have minimal impact on service if a rail supervisor is able to step in.)

Additionally, rail supervisors are qualified to ensure that operators are fit for duty at the start of their shifts as well as after rule violations, such as getting an ATS trip. They also will conduct periodic service quality rides to evaluate rail operators’ performance.

So… yeah. A bit more training involved than just “Want fries with that?”, don’t you think? Six or more weeks of supervisor training coupled with ongoing training as needed, and that’s not even counting the initial bus operator training, initial rail operator training, etc that they’ve already completed. And this just scratches the surface of the type of work that supervisors do in the field.

Supervisors have a lot of interaction with the public, answering questions, giving directions, and addressing safety concerns such as this grate at Rose Quarter. Picture from KTesh’s Flickr.

Of all the investments TriMet could make, I don’t think investing in the front line workers is ever a bad choice – including hiring field operations staff and supervisors in particular. If/when something goes wrong, they’re needed on the scene to get things going again, and when things are quiet they can perform fare and code enforcement, which seems to be something that the public wants anyway as a lot of people complain about things like smokers on platforms and fare evaders. With rail in particular, there are about 53 miles of alignment and trains on it nearly 24 hours a day (and on some occasions, every hour of the day). Putting more people out there able to keep things running? So much the better.

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.)