Tag Archives: fare inspection

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.

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.