Tag Archives: fare evasion

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.

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.

Meanwhile, in Scotland

Fare enforcement on the rise at TriMet! More supervisors, more code enforcement, more citations. If you get a citation, it’ll cost you $175, and your odds of not getting caught have gotten worse. According to KGW, an average of 250 people are still showing up in court every “TriMet Tuesday” to try to get the fine reduced or do community service instead of paying. Yes, the ticket machines are still a problem, but I doubt that a broken ticket machine is the reason why every one of those 250 people didn’t pay their fare.

Alternatively, we could just roll like Scotrail. You might have seen this video of the “big man” who grew weary of a fare evader arguing with the conductor and physically removed him from the train (to the applause of other passengers). A bit vigilante justice, perhaps, but there’s no excuse to mouth off to a conductor either and delay a train full of people because you think you’re above paying.