Fare inspection on Post Secret

Hat tip to @ambrown for finding this. On Post Secret, which is an ongoing art project where people from all over the country anonymously write their secrets and confessions on postcards (as a way to get it off their chest and relate to other people), one of the ones from this week’s update was about our very own MAX fare inspection:

and on the back:

This isn’t the first time TriMet has been posted there – a few weeks ago one of the postcards was the famous light rail coyote. But the timing of this particular one is interesting, given how fare inspection has been ramped up lately, especially at Jeld Wen Field for Timbers games. I have mixed feelings about that.

On one hand, I think the ticket vending machine situation is disgraceful.

That’s helpful.

I know the official line is that 93-95% of the TVMs are functional at any given time, but I find that hard to believe.  I hear supervisors call in TVM defects and I know passengers frequently report them as well… in cold or rainy weather a lot of the bill slots and validators stop working… if a machine is demanding exact fare but isn’t accepting coins or only gives you the option to buy 10 2-hr tickets, I don’t consider that “functional”… etc etc etc. It doesn’t help that given enough time a lot of the broken machines will reboot themselves, clearing any issues until the next time something goes wrong with it, but that doesn’t do you any good unless you feel like standing around at the platform waiting to see if it will reset. And handwritten instructions from a fare tech on a machine for over a month is not exactly giving a professional image to the public. I think that TriMet’s efforts to ensure fare compliance are seriously undermined by how difficult it can be to buy fare in the first place.

On the other hand, some people apparently seem to feel paying fare is beneath them. If you’re caught without a fare, you’ll be in TriMet’s system for a year. Now I would’ve originally assumed that if someone got a citation or warning for not paying, for the next year they’d be vigilant about always having paid their fare in case they get checked again. But in reality, that’s not how it works out. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have multiple previous citations or exclusions for no proof of payment as recently as within the last month or two when they get caught without proof of payment again. I feel bad for someone who is truly unable to find a working ticket machine and they get checked. I don’t really have sympathy for people who repeatedly can’t be bothered to even make an attempt in the first place.

The Timbers games are an interesting situation for fare inspection. It’s not set up to be a surprise that your fare will be checked if you take MAX to the games. TriMet’s Timbers page states that Jeld Wen Field is outside the Free Rail Zone so you need to have paid fare. The announcements at Galleria state that this is the last stop in the Free Rail Zone, and proof of payment and validated fare are required outside the Free Rail Zone. The schedule kiosks along Holladay and through downtown have signs indicating that fare is required to Jeld Wen Field. I think even some news stations have mentioned Timbers games in the context of TriMet’s fare inspection.

Yet despite this, a lot of people are getting cited for not paying at Jeld Wen Field. I have no idea what would help – while there are a lot of areas in which I think TriMet is sorely lacking in outreach to the public, this particular fare boundary and that you can/will be checked at Timbers games isn’t one of them. But people still aren’t getting the message.

Any thoughts of what could be done better? Not that I’m personally in a position to do much about it, but I think this is a discussion TriMet should be having.


14 responses to “Fare inspection on Post Secret

  1. I definitely think that the elimination of the Free Rail Zone will decrease the amount of people who get citations because they are confused about the extent of the Zone. By saying, “Proof of payment and validated fare are REQUIRED on MAX,” and not having any place where that is not valid, it should cause people to be like, “I have to pay my fare just because I HAVE to.”

    Just my opinion.

    • I agree – while people still get cited on the eastbound platform (coming in from Beaverton & Hillsboro, well out of the Free Rail Zone) my understanding is that the majority of fare violations happen on the westbound platform where people are coming in from the FRZ so there is evidently confusion for them, whereas the people coming in from points west already expect to have to pay.

  2. Here is my solution, jeld wen field is downtown, so put in the free rail zone.

    • Well, what about Kings Hill (just a block away!) or Goose Hollow then? Thing is, I don’t think anything west of 405 was ever considered part of Fareless Square in the first place.

  3. What it takes, at the very minimum, is a rethink of the TVM interface, then moving on to simpler fares and a contactless payment system like Clipper. I am by no means a UX designer, but I have designed smaller-scale commercial embedded systems, and paid fare in a number of cities and languages. TriMet doesn’t make it easy.

    Just take a look at the options on the first screen. They’re all stacked together as if all of them are equally likely.

    The main menu has too many options, and treats six things with the same weight. They break down into five that conveniently split into two visually distinct groups:

    Plaid Pantry:
    * 2 Hours, 2 Zones
    * 2 Hours, 3 Zones
    * All Day

    * Day Passes > (1/7/14/30 – monthly passes are useless most days)
    * Ten Tickets > (2/3/day)

    If you need multiples, there will be a Quantity/Confirm menu at the end of the order. To be even faster, the rightmost buttons could increment/decrement the quantity, while the leftmost presents Confirm.

    Of course a contactless system would store transfers/day passes, use fewer consumables, have less mechanical wear, and speed every transaction at the TVM/farebox (faster boarding for buses), but…

    • This is far and away the most insightful suggestion I’ve ever seen for what to do with the TVMs. The powers that be should get you involved when they redo them after the upcoming zone/fare changes.

      • Something else that is nice is the way they do it up in Seattle for light rail tickets. They have ticket machines and (if memory serves me correctly) there are two buttons (I think it’s NB/SB in Seattle). After you make that selection, you make another selection, “Push the button that has your stop in it.” Your fare is automatically calculated from that. That way, you say what stop you’re going to and the computer charges accurately based on your destination as opposed to the zone you’re traveling in.

        Alternatively, we could charge for tickets by the amount of time you want them to be valid for with a minimum of two hours.. There are many ways to work it out.

    • I do think the right four options could be put in a “Multiple/multi-day tickets” sub menu. This could also clear up the confusion between purchases of multiple validated and unvalidated tickets. In addition, I would use one of the empty slots to show both 2-zone and all-zone options on the main screen. The theory is that single tickets are the most common used choices and this would save button presses.

      And they are at least looking at electronic fare collection (see http://portlandtransport.com/archives/2012/01/a_peak_at_the_f.html ); besides the easier processing, my thought is that (if it gains acceptance) it could show who really has and hasn’t paid.

      Lastly, I believe it was said that the TVM uptime rate was for the machine itself and not every option. If you had a five dollar bill and wanted a day pass, the one pictured should still work for you

      • Point taken that I don’t solve the reliability issue directly, but as a response to the question what would increase fare compliance, I think a simpler system would make it easier to make the right decision when you have to choose between catching the train and paying for it.

        It’s certainly no guarantee, but refactoring the code could go a long way toward resolving those reliability issues, too. Most embedded systems have something like a basketball shot clock, which buzzes at zero to awake the “watchdog” that resets the whole system. You control the clock, so why let it sleep so long? It’s a one-line code change if you can identify the problem and do NOTHING to fix it.

        • In talking about the flat fare proposal this morning, Neil McFarlane used the number of TVM screens that need to be programmed as a proxy for how complex the fare system is. He said that there’s currently 22 screens and that they would be reduced to 10.

  4. Here is one of my problems with the fare zones and in-train automated announcements (TriMet, I really hope you read this): At Galleria WB on both Blue & Red lines, “Galleria/SW 10th Avenue; Doors to my left” will be announced at an audible volume. The rest of the announcement is, “Last stop in the free rail zone. Transfer to the Portland Streetcar on 10th and 11th Avenues.” The second part (“last stop” to “11th Avenues”) is BARELY audible at all in a completely crowd-silent train so there is no way it will be audible for a train full of people going to a Timber’s game. The Spanish has “Puertas a mi darecha” in a very audible volume and “Ultima parada de la area gratis del train. Transferencia a Portland Streetcar en las avenedias diez y once” is once again in a very hard-to-hear volume.”

    Keep in mind, the set volume of the announcements themselves take no part in this. All of the other stop announcements are easy to hear.

    Also, at Lloyd Center eastbound, the announcement is “Lloyd Center/NE 11th Avenue. Doors to my left. Last stop in the free rail zone” then the Spanish. When the train leaves, it simply says “Proof of payment and validated fare are required on MAX.” It does not have the “beyond the free rail zone” part added in there. This is crucial.

    To the TriMet employees/representatives that read this, Camelopardalis, the owner of this blog, has my email address. Get in contact with him. I have programs that I can run the announcements through to make them easier to hear. I can also combine specific files into one. So for instance, all of the Lloyd Center EB and Galleria WB announcement files could be the same for ALL lines, blue, green, red, (and yellow in the case of IRQ NB). The type 4s all say different things in different orders. Contact me and I will be more than willing to volunteer my time to help get the automated announcements sorted out.

    Camelopardalis, another good post on your part. The TVMs are very frustrating. I was at Gateway the other day and I had to validate one of my tickets. I went to three platforms and 4 TVMs before I found a working validator; very frustrating.


    • I think the obvious reason for the volume issue is that the programmers don’t always check the sound levels after they set them. They do well with stop name calls, but others (like the goofy Galleria call) are not checked. Interestingly, if you ride a Blue/Red bound for Willow Creek at night, it for some reason leaves off the Portland Streetcar announcement, and the Free Rail Zone call is at correct volume (and it doesn’t sound like you’re in a fishbowl).

      Case in point when they added the Transfer calls on the Mall stations. For over a year, the call at Pioneer/6th said “Transfer to Blue and Red Line trains on Yamhill and Morrison. . .Transbordo los trenes de la línea verde y de la línea roja en Yamhill y Morrison.” Anybody, even if you don’t speak Spanish, can tell that the English says Blue and the Spanish says Green, but after about a year, they finally got it programmed right. They just need to do a better job at checking what they programmed.

  5. My only complaint is what happends if it’s TriMet’s fault. A while back ago I was on the 17 bus heading towards downtown to catch the MAX to Beaverton. I had a paper transfer from the bus and on the MAX and got checked by a fare inspector. The problem was the driver on the 17 bus punched the wrong day code on the transfer which I had no idea untill the inspector told me it was the wrong code. I tried explaining to him what had happened but he flat out told me that it was an invalid transfer and wrote me a ticket for not having a valid fare. Now why should I get a ticket for something that wasnt my fault? TriMet should not expect its customers to know what the current day code is for the transfers. I understand writing tickets for peoe who abuse the system but for something like this I would think they would give you the benefit of the doubt. Anyways quite frustrating as I had to buy a new fare and got a ticket on top of that

    • I’m not sure. I know it happens sometimes since the bus operators are human too and sometimes will punch the wrong day code (e.g. get the I & J mixed up), especially if the transfer is for something an all-day ticket that they didn’t have any handy already punched so they punch it on the spot. Or sometimes drivers will get a whole book punched wrong. I know that that gets reported, but I’m not sure what the protocol is for something like your situation. I’ll see if I can find anything out.

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