Fare Stories, Why I Hated Fareless Square

Ok, I won’t even get into the political and moral reasons of why I hated fareless square.  Instead I’m going to empart some stories about my dealings directly with fareless square and the behaviors it encourages and the disabling effect it has on the city to do anything about these negative behaviors.

An Evening With Lovely Ladies & a Miscreant

I walked out the door toward the 18th & Lovejoy bus & streetcar stop.  Being in the north west area of Portland almost every single area is on the up and up.  There aren’t shady or questionable areas, and I honestly don’t think a serious violent crime has happened in at least 10-20 years in the area.  I arrived at the 18th & Lovejoy stop and looked up at the NextBus Sign to see when a streetcar was coming.  It read 5 minutes & 28 minutes.

The evening was darkening into night and some of the interesting characters that browse around the streets of downtown Portland where starting to come out.  I find most of these individuals intriguing, but am also keenly aware of the things they might do.  Often times they just mingle and rant against each other to each other, making for a bit of vociferous street entertainment of the Jerry Springer kind.

A good while ago, I believe about 12-13 years ago, one of these transient freaks just up and knifed another individual that they didn’t even know.  This of course breaks everything the statistics say about violent crime.  The victim of the attack died, the transient was arrested and also, I believe, later died in jail.  This didn’t happen in north west Portland, but it did happen somewhere in the city, I just don’t recall where.

As I waited for the streetcar the #77 pulled up and I decided spontaneously to head over to Broadway on the east side of the river and catch a drink.  So I boarded and off we went.  The driver, two passengers and I sat quietly with little more than the sound of the bus between us.  One of the passengers was a young pretty lady, maybe in her mid-twenties and the other passenger was a man around his 40s.  Just before fareless square the man got off the bus and headed off toward the Park Blocks area.  Now it was just myself and the young lady sitting a few seats away.  The #77 pulled into the fareless square area and a man boarded.  This man wasn’t entirely gruff, he might have been homeless or just a hard working guy.  He was a bit dirty from whatever he had been doing previously in the day.  After he boarded he sat down right next to the pretty young lady.

As we pulled away the driver stated fareless only went to the Rose Quarter Transit Center, to which he replied curtly “yeah I know”.  So off we went without much fuss.  He sat down and started heckling the girl with offers of intercourse.  What a way to be a freak I thought, wondering if I might need to step this guy into a place of respectful demeanor.  I really wasn’t much in the mood, nor should I have to babysit the miscreant population every time it gets on the bus.  However I really felt for the young lady, she looked to be really uncomfortable with his forwardness and his topic.

The bus pulled into the Rose Quarter Transit Center and started to leave, when the driver piped up that he needed to show his fare now or get off the bus.  The man replied with a terse, “I just need to go up to Lloyd Center”, to which the driver stated, “you can board the MAX under the overpass and it will take you to Lloyd Center via the fareless route, but the bus leaves fareless and I can’t have you onboard without a fare”.  I was impressed by the drivers determination to do the right thing, to take responsibility that so few take responsibility for.  With the attacks on drivers, albeit rare as it is, I am even more impressed and amazed by them taking the bull by the horns and demanding fares in this situation.  Especially when fareless square makes it even more difficult for them to enforce.

I didn’t mention before, but the driver was no large man, nor man at all, but instead a petite woman.  She stood about 6 inches shy of my height, and I’m no tall guy.  So the situation was now laid out like this;  I was toward the rear door of the bus, the pretty young lady was mid-way on the bus on the right hand side, the miscreant was now standing up partially, leaning in the aisle toward the pretty young lady and the petit bus driver was sitting facing the front door, looking back toward this miscreant.

To my amazement the driver stood up and pointed to the door with the words, “either pay or get off the bus”.  I was at this point impressed, but almost concerned as he started to walk toward her.  He then splurted out, now halfway between me, still sitting, and the driver, “I don’t want to get off, just sit down and drive me up to Lloyd Center.”

This is one of the zillion reasons why I hate fareless square.  It perpetuates and encourages, enables this type of behavior.  But I’ll continue with this story so dear readers, you may have closure of the actions that transpired and the Transit Sleuth behaved appropriately to a good sleuth.

Ok, I’ll admit, I misbehaved ever so slightly.  At this miscreants absolutely rude and disrespectful behavior it hit me personally.  I’ll also admit, with a petit lady demanding such a simple thing of this man, I wasn’t, I couldn’t just sit there and let him behave like an ass.  So my southern drawl fell out of my yapper and I stood up and marched forward like a seasoned soldier en route to combat.

I walked up toward the rear of the man, encroaching heavily on his personal space.  He looked immediately unsettled by this drastic change in events.  I don’t think he totally realized I had been sitting in the back of the bus, but now he was very aware of this fact.  I held my hand ready to block any prospective blow, or worse a knife or other weapon he might slash backwards with.  Instead all I got was a turned face with a slight shock on it.

I asked with a clear, calm, stoic voice, “Are you getting off or are you buying fare?”

His tone changed a bit to a tepid voice and asked, “Can’t I just stay on to Lloyd Center?”  I looked at him firmly and said, “The bus driver asked you, stated to you politely before, and now has demanded you respect the fare and pay or get off.”  In my normal flare when ticked off, I continued, “if you are going to disrespect her and the fare, which immediately affects me trying to go out and get a drink, you’ve now obstructed my progress, my quaint bus ride, and I’m pissed so either pay now or get off, you have about 10 seconds before I remove you from the bus.”

The bus driver looked somewhat concerned but relieved that she wasn’t the only one standing between the miscreant man and his removal now.  I stood calmly, prepared still for whatever he might do.  Several seconds passed and we both stood as if a showdown was taking place.  The young pretty girl moved further toward the back of the bus, all while watching quietly.  A couple more seconds and I began in a still, low voice, “fifteen…   ten…  five…”  He looked at me and with an idiots remark stated, “are you counting down to me?”  Almost as if asking, but reactively trying to sound tough.

He failed, and I got to “one.”

I could tell the drive moved back slightl
y as I slowly lurched forward.  He turned toward me and started to speak, to which I stopped him with a curt and simple, “Shutup!”  No longer stoic I think it transitioned him into realization that I was indeed about to remove him from the bus.  I reached up from my slow lurch with intent and speed, grappling his arm, with my thumb pressing harshly against his bicep for grip.  I moved him toward the front door, with him posing a slight opposition to this but not enough to stop my forward movement of him.  I stated as we approached the front door, “You can step down off the bus yourself or I will do it for you, which might not work well.”  He finally piped up, in full realization I was pushing him by the arm off the bus, “Naw man, @#$%, I’ll do it, let go of me.”

His voice had gotten a bit shrill, I could tell his adrenaline had pumped and he had gotten a little shaky.  His fight or flight had initially started as flight by freeze.  He stepped off the bus and started yelling some nonsense at me and the driver about being various vulgar expletives.  The driver immediately closed the door and allowed me to sit down in the front row.

The three of us now pulled away as the miscreant yelled madly from the stop.  I watched as we departed, his yelling began to attract the nearby police & transit security.  He’d now sunk his night for sure.

The driver, once we stopped at the light at MLK turned and said kindly, “thanks for stepping up, that rider is commonly a problem.”  He’s always harassing riders and we often can’t prevent him from boarding because of fareless.  He gets on and then usually refuses to get off.  I told her that I was, “Glad to have been able to help out.” and added, “I’m disgusted by that type of disrespectful behavior.”

As we rolled out and parallel to Broadway I got off near the Rose & Thistle.  As I prepared to get off the bus I said “Thanks” per my usual farewell to the drivers, and turned to the pretty young girl and said, “have a good night, hope you don’t have to deal with any more nonsense like that”.  She smiled, raised her hand to wave bye, and spoke her first word of the entire bus ride, “thanks”.

I got off the bus and walked toward Rose & Thistle thinking about the millions of ways that entire scenario could have been avoided.  I in no way blame TriMet, but solely the bastard for his unacceptable behavior.  I however would have been very happy if the system would have discouraged his boarding in the first place.  Because if it had, the driver would have been able to prevent his boarding in the first place and never had to face down the sorry fool.  The man is to blame, but the system can fix the entire problem.

Bus Driver Rant

As I boarded the #9 during rush hour I scanned to see if I could grab a seat.  I saw one there in the rear.  I bee-lined it and made it just as others where starting to board.  We had two more stops in fareless square and then would be on the snake turns before the Ross Island Bridge.  One guy pushed away from me and kind of slunk down in the corner rear seat.  I looked at him and noticed he was attempting to avoid eye contact with the driver.

As we arrived at the last stop in fare-less the driver stopped the bus, put it in park, and got up.  He walked straight back toward the back, stopping just shy of the back door.  He pointed at this guy and a few other people and said, “you, you, and you either pay the fare or get off the bus.  I saw you get on in fare-less and know you didn’t pay”  This event I wrote about the day it happened in my entry TriMet Bus Driver Fitting of Respect.  The little brat of a kid, got up and left the bus.  The other two showed or bought fare.  I was seriously impressed.

Even though this was mighty respectable of the driver, the fact he had to do this was again a problem inherent in fare-less square.  We all had to wait another minute or so while these brat kids where kicked off the bus or made honest.  Again, I don’t blame the driver or even TriMet, but the kids for being dishonest, but something that can be remedied for everyone involved by removing fare-less.  It makes it easier for the drivers, and quicker for the passengers.

Maths

The last point of why I hated fare-less was for a simple math reason.  TriMet, Metro, the city, and a few other entities have estimated about $900k dollars of fares are not collected each year because of fare-less square.  When one digs into the math they’ll find that this is absolutely not the entirety.  The actual amount of fares not collected is very likely higher than $900k.  However, I’ll use this low number.

$900k gets us at least a couple frequencies of bus service.  Or it could get us a few more MAX trains operating during rush hour.  It could provide us enough to buy 2 new buses per year, the lease payments on a new MAX, or part of a streetcar.  $900k could go toward helping the system to expand, instead of perpetuating scenarios like those above.

If someone really digs down and checks out the math, fare-less would also enable appropriate enforcement and more police interaction onboard the buses.  Currently with fare-less they aren’t enabled to do so, with a fare in place they have a legal reason to initiate conversation.  Most of the officers when engaging in conversation with prospective thugs, ghetto, kids, and other sorts actually prevent negative activities that otherwise would harass, harm, or otherwise denigrate the downtown experience for people.  Most of these miscreants that come downtown and do nothing but cause trouble (such as the stabbing 3-4 days ago at Pioneer Courthouse Square) do so based on fare-less square.  Now the police need to stupid sit-lie law to keep these trouble makers in line.  Simply seeing them disembark from transit, without fare via the buses could land them in hot water.  Removing the ability for them to return home in the after hours also prevents them from coming down to cause trouble in the first place.

In Summary

All in all, it is one more tool that can be used to clean up downtown and prevent troublemakers from harassing honest, decent people living an urban lifestyle.  Sure there will still be miscreants and trouble makers, but they’ll have less leverage to harass the urbanites.  In addition the police can now focus a little more on where most of these troublemakers come from, the distant burbs of Gresham, Beaverton, Tigard, and other such places.  Maybe, just maybe we can keep em’ near their homes and those respective places can keep up with their own problems.

We have enough homeless & other issues we need to deal with downtown, we don’t need the burbs’ punkers, miscreants, and other annoyances troubling us also.

So all in all, peace out, enjoy the ride, and know that the Transit Sleuth has your back.  On a lighter note, I can provide useful information and tips n’ tricks on using the transit system.  😉

Freeloaders Unwanted, Please, Go Away, K Thx Bye

http://trimet.org/news/farelesschange.htm

TriMet has officially nipped all fareless square buses in the bud.  Start January of 2010 there is no more fareless square as we know it.  Only rail (which I’d rather it have gone paid only also) will be fareless.  I suspect this will generate a few extra million per year (contrary to the absurd claims it would only recoup about 900k) and will also prove that the riders of fareless square aren’t what some have said they are.

I for one, say good riddance, maybe those downtown can pick up taking transit without as much fear of the transients, bums, and ghetto kiddies wondering aimlessly around harassing riders.

…well, maybe.  But either way, good riddance.

Oh Dear, The Traffic is Horrible

[RANT ON]

Ok, I officially gave someone gruff for this recently.  I’ll lay it out simple and fast.  If you are late because of traffic, you are still late and it is your fault.  Don’t blame the inanimate progression of induced demand that has left you stuck because you where ill-prepared to understand or navigate your way to you destination.

Sure, sometimes it is hard to plan around, but you still need to plan around it.  You need to be prepared.  When you’re late because of traffic you should state, “I didn’t prepare well for the traffic on the trip”.  Instead of, “oh the traffic was horrible” as if suggesting it is everyone else’s fault.  Shut up and take it like a smart person, realize when you screwed up and get to work, get to wherever you’re going and don’t shrug off the responsibility.

Better yet, if you don’t want to deal with traffic, take transit.  The travel times are vastly more reliable than automobile travel times through traffic.  Even though transit is often in traffic, it often doesn’t run through the main arterials (like I-5 & I-84 in PDX) and in key choke points buses often have dedicated turn offs and light rail has dedicated ROW.  So get off the idea that somehow you should shirk responsibility for being late because of traffic.

If you want an even more reliable mode of transport than driving and transit, ride a bike.  I’m not kidding, get off your lazy butt and ride a bike.  Don’t feed me some crap about, “it’s rainy” or “it’s dirty” or “I might get sweaty” or blagh blagh blagh.  There are ways to fix 90% of the sorry excuses to not bike.

Last but not least, if you want the most reliable mode of transport – WALK.  Again, no weak & pathetic excuses about “I live too far away” or “But my feet hurt” or “but I don’t have walking shoes”.  Again, I don’t care.  Get to work, show up on time when other people need you to be there.  If you live too far away, again, that’s your fault and a bad choice might I add, if you’re feet hurt you probably need to walk a LOT more, if you don’t have shoes, GO BUY SOME!!  Either way, there is no excuse.

It is YOUR FAULT and YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to show up on time.

[RANT OFF]

Thanks, this has been a public announcement of common sense by the Transit Sleuth.

Transit & Passenger Rail News Bits

CATS survey: “LRT riders not former bus users”

“North Carolina’s Charlotte Area Transit System Thursday disclosed survey results finding that 72% of Lynx LRT riders are new to public transportation and hadn’t used buses before. Among those riders surveyed who previously had traveled by means other than a single-occupant vehicle, 21% of Lynx passengers previously rode a bus, while another 6% either used a CATS vanpool or another form of carpooling.”

http://www.railwayage.com/breaking-news/cats-survey-lrt-riders-not-former-bus-users.html

There are a couple deductions that can be made here and they link back to the previous entry of how to increase transit ridership.  The first observation is that light rail installations continue to do what they’re famous for, handling existing bus ridership, while drastically increasing ridership by gaining new riders.  In the case of the CATS System 72% of new riders are brand new to public transport.  In almost every area light rail is installed, this happens.

Now some might say, “wait a second, they had crappy bus lines before…”  and yadda yadda yadda.  Actually, Charlotte had some pretty decent bus lines, that where fairly timely.  They even had a FREE line downtown that ran about every 5 minutes.  None of them garnered as much ridership, even remotely, compared to the light rail.

However

In Seattle though, the light rail has a much greater reputation to outshine.  The reason is simple.  Seattle has an amazing bus system.  For the light rail there to shine as brightly and outclass the bus lines in ridership it will have to carry a seriously HUGE number of people.  So far, it is off to an average start.  It looks like, even there, the light rail by middle of 2010 will do what the other light rail systems around the country have done.  Carry more, quicker, and more efficiently than the pre-existing bus lines.

Costs – Was it Worth It?

One of the other things though, that comes with light rail is the initial capital costs that are massive.  In the case of Seattle they’ve set new records for highest cost per mile.  One reason though, is that they dug a tunnel, laid new track in an existing tunnel, and about half the entire line is raised above ground – and mighty high might I add.  This raises the question why and what for?

This is also somewhat simple.  They wanted to the light rail to stand between buses and commuter rails.  They didn’t start running it to compete with buses or replace them, nor to take the place of commuter rail, but instead to complement the systems.  The light rail is an arterial service.  None of the bus lines are setup similar to the light rail.  The buses that exist within the system are either express, or locals.  Both of which again, act in different ways and for different purposes than the light rail or the commuter rail.

In every case the idea is to gain ridership that otherwise wouldn’t touch transit.  Light rail does that, so does regular and timely (most of the time) bus service.  These are two things Seattle has.

Portland Bus Service

Portland is different from Charlotte and Seattle in major ways.  Different population size, different geographic relief, and of course different politics in each location.  Portland has many advantages and some disadvantages as each city has.  Portland’s bus system is oriented toward local runs.  Only a handful of bus routes in Portland exist as express routes and none of them exist as high capacity bus routes as some do in Seattle.

In some ways, Portland bus service is very similar to that in Seattle and in many ways it is not.  It was first to gain many of the benefits and ridership benefits of transit tracker and other such tools.  Seattle took ages to catch on with their own system.  Portland has been noted for better and more readable stops (ya know, the ones that are marked), and an easier system to understand from a scheduling and rider point of view.  However Seattle often has more frequency on a lot of routes, more bus options, and above all has a VASTLY cleaner bus system.

One thing Portland has definitely done is gain massive ridership with light rail that otherwise would not have been made with mere bus improvements, and highly unlikely even with BRT.  Seattle is only now catching up with their own light rail system, and paying dearly for it (many x what Portland has paid per mile for ours, tunnel included).  Seattle has many opportunities for growth along their line as Portland has had along ours.  However Seattle also has opportunities to not make some of the stupid mistakes we’ve made here in Portland (like the stupid turn around at Sunset Transit Center or some of the other nonsense).

But as with all the parts I describe here in Seattle, Portland, and Charlotte one thing is constant, each city has major advantages over other cities to attract talent than cities without it.  On a per capita basis I can rest assured that these cities, even through and after the recession/depression we’re currently in, will maintain a more educated, talented, and capable populace than other cities of their respective size that don’t have a structured, well managed, and mixed mode transit system.  Matter of fact every major city that has livability and increasingly capable population segments and technologically advanced workforces have and continue to invest in having elaborate and capable transit systems.  Case in point, Sacramento, Dallas, and other similar cities.

So what are the next steps?  Some might say enough is enough, it doesn’t do enough for us so stop building light rail.  However more tend to say that they love it and want more.  In poll after poll people say they want high quality transit options.  Time and again, high quality tends to garner significant ridership increases.

Even though I don’t agree with every move TriMet, Metro, Sound Transit, or CATS makes I do believe they need to stay the course.  Even though I somewhat agree that more focus needs to be made to help people realize buses aren’t low quality or low class transportation.  But by all means we shouldn’t waste ourselves trying to convince a society that will only be shown by example.  Continually building primary arterials with high quality transit as back bones, with buses, streetcars, and other modes to provide local trips is the way to do it.  With just a mere double digit percentile of the population using transit in Seattle and Portland, it makes these two cities world class and well known.  Charlotte with the newly mixed modes available, is quickly moving toward a world class status of its own.  As ridership gains more ground over the coming years, these cities will stand even brighter in the world spotlight of American cities while those cities that don’t build out, will fade and dim any hope they have to compete.

So I say, stay the course.  That is all.

How Good is Your Transit’s Website?

I do a lot of web development work.  One of the things I’ve always noticed, which has bothered me, is how horrible most transit websites are.  So I’ve put together a list and am hoping I can get some feedback from users.  Once I get the user feedback I’m going to roll together a report of actual usability on each of the sites compared to each other.  With that said, here’s the list.

The following sites are more specific, not to general transit, but to a specific company or line.