For years, it's been the most disproportionate punishment in Portland. Hop on a MAX train without a $2.50 ticket and TriMet will levy a $175 fine on the first offense.

Two transit police officers patrol a MAX stop in Old Town on June 5. (Joe Michael Riedl)
Two transit police officers patrol a MAX stop in Old Town on June 5. (Joe Michael Riedl)

On Dec. 17, TriMet proposed changes to its policy on fare evasion. Starting as early as July 1, a new fee structure would charge first-time offenders $75 or four hours of community service. Another proposal would waive citations for low-income, elderly and disabled riders, as long as they load a fare card with at least $10.

Why the change? The Oregon Legislature passed a law last spring that allows the transit agency to deal with fare-evasion cases without sending people to court. It's part of a national movement to stop criminalizing poverty.

Maria Hernandez of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, who helped craft the reform, says credit should go to TriMet riders.

"TriMet felt the pressure to agree," she says, "and joined our effort to reduce fines and penalties and address the true root cause of fare evasion: economic instability."

TriMet's board of directors could approve this common-sense reform Feb. 28.