Last stop for Fareless Square?

The possible limiting of Fareless Square’s hours has sparked disdain from some in Portland at a TriMet public hearing Wednesday, and some are asking why TriMet would alter the popular service.

The possible limiting of Fareless Square’s hours has sparked disdain from some in Portland at a TriMet public hearing Wednesday, and some are asking why TriMet would alter the popular service.

According to a statement from TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen, recent incidents–such as two assaults on the MAX light-rail line in November and another on Christmas Eve–have made it an urgent need to improve the safety and security for TriMet passengers. TriMet is proposing limiting free public transit in the Fareless Square zone from 24 hours a day to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They have already made some changes, from increasing security personnel to installing security cameras at many stops.

Portland’s Fareless Square is “an institution,” said Carolyn Young, TriMet’s executive director of communication and technology. “One of the things that makes Portland, Portland.”

The issues that TriMet is seeking to address, however, extend beyond incidents of violence.

“Our customers tell us that the aggressive panhandling, the loud and obnoxious behaviors and drug dealing is facilitated by the lack of requiring a fare,” Hansen said.

Though public hearings have ended, TriMet will accept written comments about the proposal until Feb. 21. Hansen is also launching a public policy process to gain insight from transit riders and businesses.

The community speaks out

The public’s responses to these explanations at Wednesday’s hearing were almost entirely negative.

David Wardell of the Hollywood District said he doesn’t think limiting Fareless Square has anything to do with reducing crime. The statements by TriMet about panhandlers and disruptive youth bothered him and he said, “I think it’s important to include all the people in the community… life is much more interesting if we keep everyone.”

David Owens, an Old Town resident who worked in law enforcement for six-and-a-half years, said that panhandling–though annoying–is not illegal, while drunk driving, which Fareless Square can help people avoid, is illegal.

Bill Zawacki, a TriMet bus driver living in Beaverton, called the policy change “persecution of the innocent,” and emphasized that Fareless Square is especially helpful and valuable to tourists. An out-of-towner can access many of the city’s key cultural points easily and free of charge.

TriMet’s proposal would let convention attendants ride public transit for free, because they may be staying in a hotel away from the convention center.

Along with recent changes to TriMet service, such as improved lighting at MAX stops, TriMet is working with the city to establish special MAX police precincts–one on the West Side and one on the East.

The potential limiting of Fareless Square could have a substantial affect on PSU students that use the public transit to commute to class.

English student Ian Shadle rides the streetcar every week. He said Fareless Square is one of the city’s assets, and stressed that PSU is a commuter school.

“I think it’s very helpful, not only for tourism in the area, but for students that ride it. Because a lot of them live in the downtown area and are poor and they shouldn’t have to pay for [the MAX].”

Changes to TriMet

The proposed Fareless Square hour limitation would not be the only major change for TriMet this year. Here are some other recent changes:

-Significant increase in police presence, including three canine units. -Security personnel increased from 15 to 36, meaning more fare inspections.-All ticket vending machines will be properly functioning by the end of February.-Established a partnership with Victory Outreach Community Services Inc., a Latino youth program that will work to curtail gang activity on the MAX.-An expanded code of conduct.-Improvements in lighting at MAX stops.-Increase in security cameras.