Despite a recommendation last April by the Citizens Advisory Committee that significant changes be made to the downtown Fareless Square, including the possibility of eliminating it all together, no changes have been put into effect nor will any be implemented any time soon.
Any addition of fares downtown will not happen for months, if not upwards of a year, said Mary Fetsch, communications director of TriMet.
“It would take years to research and find out what needs to happen,” Fetsch said. “We haven’t even started the process to research the issue.”
The board may start looking into the issue during the Portland Mall Revitalization, which has construction planned to begin the fall of 2006, said Bernie Giusto, TriMet board member and Multnomah County sheriff.
“We will get input from a lot of people, which will probably make it take longer,” Giusto said, adding, “We probably won’t even start conversations until 2006.”
A citizen committee annually reviews TriMet as a whole and makes recommendations on how they feel the transportation system could improve. During this past year’s review and recommendation process, the committee made the recommendation to add a fare.
Security issues were among the reasons the committee recommended that the fare be added. Fetsch remarked that charging a fare allows officials to check security issues with more ease by being able to make sure everyone has a ticket. “It was something that [the committee] observed after talking to different security folks,” she said.
Additional issues include the frequency in which riders skip paying fares when they board a bus or MAX inside Fareless Square. Those who advocate abolishing Fareless Square believe that creating a consistent fare throughout would alleviate that problem.
Giusto stated clearly that they have not gone through deep policy discussions. The primary goal is that they will look at it to see if the square still fulfills public need with issues such as security.
“I don’t know if anyone on the committee is for removing the Fareless Square,” Giusto said, “but I support reviewing policy.”
Some citizens, such as Tiffany Schillereff, an undergraduate at Portland State, feel that having a fare-free zone makes it a less pleasant area to travel in. She noted a large amount of drunken people passed out on the trains and people who leave their garbage on the vehicles as her reasons for thinking a fare might help clean it up.
“I used to take it every day and it was disgusting,” Schillereff said.
Others feel that these issues of security and cleanliness do not outweigh the worth that Fareless Square brings. Ethan Seltzer, director of the School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State, believes that Fareless Square has better united both sides of the river.
“This has created a link between downtown hotels and the Convention Center,” Seltzer said, adding, “What you may end up with is poor function in the central core of the city.”
Seltzer also said that the answers for security problems need to be dealt with more directly than with some kind of fare and that the idea that people will start paying fares is short sighted.
John D’Alessandro, president and CEO of Portland Oregon Visitors Association, agreed with Seltzer, saying that it would hinder the ability of tourists and people attending conventions to get around town.
“Fareless Square really helps a positive image and is something unique about Portland,” D’Alessandro said. He added that his organization helped push for a hotel tax, which brings TriMet around $300,000 per year, to put towards things such as Fareless Square.
Giusto added that the square has been very helpful for businesses and employees, in that a major focus was for business to be able to move employees inexpensively and with ease. Without the square, many employees would have to increase the amount of money they pay to get to work, upsetting the comfort of the current system.
“TriMet is very interested in retaining businesses in downtown,” Giusto said. “You have to look at the whole system and make sure it still fulfills all the needs.”