As part of TriMet's crackdown on crime since December (see "The Square Dance," WW , Dec. 26, 2007), MAX fare inspectors have been applying a zero-tolerance policy against riders who fail to show proof of payment while riding MAX.
Since then, the number of riders suspended—or excluded—for failure to pay has risen 8 percent. But the initiative has upset riders who say inoperative and malfunctioning machines at MAX stops. essentially force people to ride without paying.
A recent sampling by WW found riders have reason to be ramped up: More than half of machines in one well-traveled stretch weren't working properly.
Raymond Sims, 23, rode MAX every day until he got a $94 fine for failure to show proof he'd paid his fare. Sims says all the ticket machines at his stop were broken, but the inspector wouldn't listen.
"I tried to tell him the machines were broken—he was just rude and told me to go to another machine," Sims says. "When I did that, the other machine only accepted change, but I had [paper] dollars. The MAX inspectors can be fucking Nazis."
Sims estimates that, at any one time, four out of five ticket machines in Fareless Square don't work. But TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch estimates 80 to 85 percent (or at least four out of five) of Fareless Square's machines do work, just like those located along the rest of the MAX line.
"Some of these machines are over 20 years old," she says. TriMet aims to have at least 95 percent of its ticket machines functional by March, Fetsch adds. She says the zero-tolerance policy is in effect now because TriMet is tired of people using broken machines as an excuse. TriMet says it provides real-time information to police and fare inspectors about machine outages so officers will know if a rider is fibbing.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, I set out on a MAX machine-testing mission along a well-traveled stretch of the Blue line. I weathered a bum fight near Skidmore Fountain and a horde of mall rats storming the MAX at Lloyd Center. But most importantly, I got intimate with 31 ticket machines between Southwest Yamhill Street and Northeast 42nd Avenue.
The number of broken machines or machines that weren't user-friendly in my sample landed between TriMet's sunny assessment and Sims' gloomy one. Out of 21 machines tested between the stop at Southwest Yamhill Street and 9th Avenue and the platform at Northwest Davis Street and 1st Avenue, 12 exhibited some sort of malfunction—that's 57 percent.
The breakdown: Five were out of service, four didn't accept credit or debit cards when they should've, one sold only long-term passes, one took only credit cards or paper currency, and another took only coins.
Despite the many subpar and inoperative machines, there was at least one fully functioning machine at every stop. But using it would mean crossing the MAX tracks to the platform on the other side or waiting in long lines during peak travel.
Once I crossed the Willamette, every machine I checked worked—10 machines from the Rose Quarter Transit Center to the Northeast 42nd Avenue Transit Center. All told, 12 out of 31 machines—or 39 percent—didn't work as advertised.
So what happens when a rider can't find a functioning machine? Fetsch says the best solution is to buy tickets in advance at any one of hundreds of outlets (see trimet.org for a list of vendors). Tommy Hood, 31, doesn't buy this solution, though. He's had problems with machines that time-stamp prepaid tickets, often forcing him to jump off the train to find a working machine.
"[TriMet inspectors] have an attitude of it's not their problem that their machines don't work," Hood says, "that it's my responsibility to jump through all the hoops to validate my ticket."
TriMet fare inspectors issued 1,389 tickets, from warnings to exclusions, in January for no proof of payment. That's a 10 percent
in tickets from December, but Fetsch speculates that increased fare inspections are making riders more likely to pay in order to avoid the $94 fine.