Say Good BYe TO My Little Friend
The long delayed death of Fareless Square.
For those of you not familiar with the fareless square in Portland Oregon. Its first important to go way way way back to the primitive days of 1975. On TV we were getting down to Kojac, the streets of San Francisco, All in the family and Sanford and son. In the theaters Jaws was the big deal on the radio the earth shattering Captain and Tennille was singing "Love will keep us together" and if that wasn’t enough for you Glen Campbell was also hitting you with a little “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
It was a crazy time, the hippies were dead, the Beatles were gone, Vietnam was over, Nixon had flown the coup and Disco was raising its ugly head. In this Post hippie era Portland seemed to be making even worse decisions then usual. Five years earlier Portland created a flag something we had lived without for over a hundred and fifty years and when this hideous idea came to fruition. This travesty some how managed to evoke the strange pot smoking earth kissing philosophy of the Northwest and yet still look vaguely fascist. Here you judge.
Bad ideas were as common as Birkenstocks and crappy long hair back then. One of these “Utopian concept vs Reality” ideas was this, making the transit area in downtown Portland a Fareless Square. To be sure they had plenty of justification and all of them seemed like they could be true. “It fights pollution” was a major one, remember cars in 1975 were as big as a dump truck and would cause shifts in the tides of the ocean when you drove them.
Mainly this idea was a copy of what other cities were doing and a symbol of the sort of central thinking that dominated that time. Trimets job back then was serving a tri-county area and by service I mean bringing them all into downtown Portland. Thus Trimets little symbol that originally showed everything directed downtown.
You will notice the modern badge of Trimet is lacking the arrows showing a more holistic image of “connection & Love” The new image is saying, “Quick hug someone!”
“But now the time has come to face that finale curtain” -- Frank Sinatra
So it has been decided that it’s time to kill Fareless square for the buses. The powers that be are creating instead a rail free zone. This will mean the MAX trains and Portland Street Cars that crosses down town will be free in the central area but buses you have to pay for.
The idea of ending Fareless square has elicited howls of complaints from the type of people and organizations that everyone in Portland usually ignore. Homeless advocates (that name scares me) and the self appointed, self-important “Riders Union.” Riders unions has inspired me to make an “Air Breathers Unions” in Portland more on that latter. So we have the inevitable protest because hey this is Portland and we hate change.
So I thought I would hit you with a Bus driver’s point of view. That would be a point of view you don’t see in the news, or hear from Trimet and because it doesn’t rhyme well, you will never hear chanted at a protest by the Riders Union. Here are what I hear bus drivers saying.
This argument is based on what I call “Unfareness”
It’s safe to say that if we didn’t have every company in a three county area paying employee taxes we would not have Trimet as we know it. This pays half our budget and that demands a little bit of respect in my book.
It is expensive to run Fareless and current estimates are about $800,000 in lost revenue per year. This is no small sum when you add it all up since 1975. Slap on a little interest on it and you have an entire large section of light rail there. How about a fleet of new buses to replace the crappy old beast we have running.
Old buses hurt drivers. It also cost lots of money to pay for back injuries and time off of work. I have seen this and have experienced it first hand. I didn’t miss work but I was in enough pain to never want to drive a model 1600 again.
The cost of Fareless is not just the loss of revenue it’s what could we have done with that revenue to make our system better.
King Portland is the idea that Portland is the center of the universe and that all things must flow to it. This idea was a dominate one back in the 70’s and it was not until the late 90’s that it started to fade as the surrounding areas grew and Portland stayed more or less the same. In the old days Portland was the big dog but now the pack of other cities not only outnumber us but are pretty big them selves.
So the question is why don’t they get fearless squares are well? What about Gresham, Beaverton and all the others who could “enhance their transit experience” by having free central cores? Any argument you can make about Portland having a fareless square, every one of these major cities can also make for their cut of the free pie.
The truth is that Portland is no more due a free central area then anyone else. Maybe back in the day when Portland dwarfed those little bergs but not anymore. Portland is no longer King. Portland is like a prince or maybe a Baron.
Ask any driver that does a late night run and they are giving one another high fives over the loss of fareless. This may not make sense to those who have appointed them selves as watchdogs of transit but here is a clue “Fareless Square Causes Trouble” That is why drivers hate it, that is why everyone is happy its going away.
I could fill a book with experiences of the fareless kind the problem is no one would believe me. They would think I was on some sort of vendetta but in truth Fareless can be a huge problem. Not all the time mind you but just talk to drivers and you will find out the truth.
This is what kills me. Self appointed watchdog groups who say things like “What goes wrong in fareless square, tell me?” I say, “Wait you are the experts? You are the watchdogs you don’t know? How good a job are you doing if you have no idea about what is going on?” That would be like the FAA being manned by people who knew nothing about how planes are made or flown.
The Rail Free Zone
The rail free zone is just an interim step until everyone is paying for his or her ride. There is no shame in that. Everyone pays a bit and rides that is what makes it work. If you don’t pay, you shouldn’t ride. Sooner or latter the inherit unfairness or of the situation will add pressure to do away the rail free zone maybe not now but soon and for the rest our lives.
Someday it will all be fare until then you all Roll Easy My Friends.