Monthly Archives: September 2012

Caveat transfer


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.

Incidents and accidents, hints and allegations

Note: I first started writing this post about a month ago when a trespasser was hit by a MAX train just east of Sunset TC, but I didn’t get around to finishing it. After a person committed suicide by MAX train this past evening, I thought I should finally get this posted.


After April 2010, when a TriMet bus driver made a left turn into a group of five pedestrians killing two and seriously injuring a third, one of the recommendations made to TriMet was to change the language used to describe this and other such events – using the word “incident” rather than “accident.” The thought behind this is that the word “accident” implies nothing could have been done to prevent it, no one is at fault, it’s just a terrible thing that happened, whereas “incident” (or sometimes “collision” or “crash”) is more of a neutral term to describe that something happened, but without placing blame on or absolving responsibility from either side.

So, when something like what happened in August when a person climbed a fence into the right of way just east of Sunset TC and jumped in front of an eastbound train, it resulted in TriMet putting out a service alert like this:

The problem I have is that this language isn’t really neutral either. “Incident?”  Fine. “Pedestrian?” Hang on a second now, this happened east of Sunset TC, where there are no walkways or sidewalks nearby and trains travel in dedicated right of way at high rates of speed next to a freeway. Yes, I get it that “pedestrian” means “person on foot”, but no one is casually going for a stroll where this occurred – you have to either climb over a fence or a jersey barrier to get to the tracks, and if you do that, you are a trespasser. You are deliberately entering a dangerous area you have no reason or right to be in. Allegedly this person was also suicidal, which certainly has a different spin than just “pedestrian.” I don’t think it would be inappropriate for a service alert to identify a person as just that – a person. To that end, I thought TriMet’s wording of the service alert after the recent fatality (train and “person”) was an improvement as far as keeping the language neutral.

MAX: Not Dangerous if you don’t put yourself in harm’s way

Painting MAX as a danger to pedestrians has been a sticking point for me with that list of MAX fatalities that makes the rounds in all MAX safety (and sometimes funding) discussions. The compiler of that list makes the bold claim that “MAX kills people at 248% the rate of cars” which, even though I’m no math wizard, I realize is basically saying “MAX kills people at a little more than twice the rate of cars.” This was calculated assuming that the MAX death rate per 100 million passenger miles is 1.14, and the car death rate per 100 million passenger miles is 0.46.

And where do these numbers came from? Well, according to the source at the bottom of the list, the 0.46 car statistic apparently comes from page 47 of Portland State’s: “Second Annual Portland Metropolitan Region Transportation System Performance Report.” I Googled that so you don’t have to, and provide page 47 below. That’s how we roll here at MAX FAQs, we’re happy to help.

No idea where 0.46 deaths per 100 million miles traveled comes from – MAYBE that lowest spot on Portland’s line in 2000? But the number listed as the national rate is 1.75. I don’t know, saying the car death rate is 0.46 and pointing to this as evidence sure seems like cherrypicking the data.

As for the 1.14 MAX statistic, that’s assuming MAX had 1,666,466,432 passenger miles traveled through 2006 (I have no idea if that’s accurate, that’s the amount provided on the website) and 19 deaths during that time, so a rate of 1.14 deaths per 100 million miles. But consider some of those fatalities:

  • “A 40-year-old woman struck and killed by a MAX train Wednesday night in Gresham was attempting to cross two sets of tracks surrounded by fist-sized rocks, bordered by high curbs and lacking any crosswalk.” = TRESPASSER
  • “A 40-year-old transient was killed by a Metropolitan Area Express train early Tuesday as he walked on the tracks at Northeast 24th Avenue….” = TRESPASSER

Walking through the cut east of Ruby Junction?  TRESPASSING. Being in a restricted area between Goose Hollow and the tunnel entrance? TRESPASSING. Walking in the right of way along the Banfield? TRESPASSING. The recent climbing a fence into the ROW along 26? Not a fatality, but definitely TRESPASSING. And all of these are avoidable on the part of the person trespassing!

Detail isn’t provided for all of the fatalities in the list, but the ones that aren’t blatantly trespassing in areas not meant for pedestrians fall into the themes of ignoring crossing gates and other warning signs, or running for a train in one direction without checking for trains in the track in the other direction. Meaning – they were PREVENTABLE on the part of the person who got hit. And yes, several of them have been from suicidal people who know that getting hit by a train can be a very effective way to end your life. You could possibly make the argument that this is a shortcoming on availability of mental health help, but this is not a shortcoming of MAX or a flaw of rail safety.

Maybe you think I’m being too judgmental of people who were either suicidal or just not paying attention and paid the ultimate price for it. But from my perspective, I have pretty much no sympathy for people who make rail operators unwitting accomplices to their deaths or injuries. I’ve seen the effect that hitting a person has had on several operators – resulting from suicides, trespassing, or or not bothering with basics like looking both ways. Many of those operators were able to return to work, but some end up having to leave rail because of how traumatic it was for them. I mean, not a single rail operator goes to work thinking “Gee, I hope someone uses me to kill themselves today!” For the people who don’t intend to kill themselves but get hit by a train anyway, it’s really hard to work up the sympathy for the “victims” who put themselves in that situation in the first place. On top of that, I’ve seen more near-misses and more instances of people being outright stupid around trains than I can count, so perhaps I’m somewhat jaded and pessimistic.

People go out of their way to put themselves at risk

Near miss at 122nd & Burnside (reader-donated video footage, pre-2009) Doubt these women were suicidal, but they’re very lucky after doing something so stupid.

Suicide prevention is one thing, and I’m not sure how much of that should fall on TriMet’s shoulders, or even what TriMet could do to prevent it from happening. As for the rest of the times where there’s contact between a train and a person, that’s generally resulting from people being where they have no business to be, either because signals and crossing gates are warning of an oncoming train, or because they’re trespassing in the right of way where “pedestrians” should never be walking around (i.e., they’re making an effort to be in a dangerous situation). For those people, can we idiot-proof the world? Well we can try… From TriMet’s side, improvements have been made in attempts to prevent people getting hit by trains. Not long after an incident at Gateway where a man was almost hit when he started walking in front of a departing train, crews were at Gateway installing these:

Theoretically a good idea, right?

Which is great and all, except for the people who make a concerted effort to NOT use them. I have REPEATEDLY seen people try to squeeze along the tactile strip on the outside to cross, even though since there’s no room to balance there this takes significantly longer than just walking around the railing like you’re supposed to. Here at Gateway and other platforms that have installed these sorts of railings to channel people to safely cross, I routinely see people climbing over them instead of walking around.

What do we have to do? Put TriMet employees out there as escorts to hold everyone’s hand at platforms to make sure no one walks in front of a train? I’ve seen people vault over these, miss, and land hard on the platform. When inevitably someone vaults over it the other way and lands in the trackway as a train is coming in, what are we going to call it? An “incident between a train and a pedestrian?” Or my preference, which would be “an incident between a train and a dumbass” but that’s pretty much why I’m not allowed to write any official TriMet statements.

To summarize!

If you don’t want to get hit by a train, it is not difficult to avoid it.

If you are bound and determined to get hit by a train, sadly it’s not difficult to do that.

So if you get hit by a train, it doesn’t seem like you were particularly interested in not getting hit by one. Trains move in a predictable pattern. They will not leave the rails and come after you. If you don’t want to get hit by a train, wait for crossing signals showing a walk symbol, look both ways before crossing railroad tracks, wait when you see crossing gates coming down or a train passing through, and stay out of areas that tell you not to trespass because trains run through there, and you will be fine. Please do this, because *I* don’t want you to get hit by a train. 

BUT, trains are heavy, don’t stop quickly, and cannot swerve. If you trespass in areas where operators have no reason to expect a person to be, disregard crossing gates, signals, and “Don’t Walk” signs, or play chicken with a train, it’s very difficult for something that big and heavy to stop in time to prevent a collision. It’s unfortunately how physics are going to work.

As for the last two incidents of MAX hitting a person, the first was an alleged suicide attempt, the second apparently was confirmed as a suicide since investigators found his suicide note.  Maybe we need to put up suicide prevention signs in some areas of the alignment like bridges have (does anyone know how effective those are? I have no idea).