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East-side rides no fun

My view • Seasoned commuter sees new world across river
by: Tim Jewett, A veteran of the MAX commute between Beaverton and downtown Portland says she felt safe and observed a clear TriMet presence on the west-side train. Her new east-side commute is a different story.

I recently moved from Beaverton to Vancouver, Wash. In the three years I commuted to work on the MAX Red Line from Beaverton to downtown, TriMet's presence was clear to me; trains and platforms were patrolled and passengers asked for proof of fare.

As a commuter, I followed with interest news stories about the east-side MAX lines: stories about physical and sexual assault, of roving gangs and violence, of people vowing to stop riding the trains because they feared for their safety.

When friends and family heard I would be commuting on the MAX line from the east side of town, they tried to warn me that it would be more dangerous. I didn't believe them.

Then I read about TriMet promising to 'beef up' security on the trains and platforms, which caused me more alarm than the knowledge that my friends and family feared for me on the east side.

If TriMet was acknowledging a need to increase its presence, maybe the news stories weren't as exaggerated as I thought. Maybe it would be more dangerous to commute on the east side. However, all of my personal experiences were still positive. I felt confident that TriMet protected its commuters and held their safety as a top priority. So I kept my faith in TriMet and moved to Vancouver.

To get to work, I now drive over the Columbia River on Interstate 205, park my car and take the MAX Red Line through Portland's east side to downtown. In one month of commuting this way, I have not seen a single TriMet employee, other than a train driver, and I only saw the driver because he had to come to my aid during an incident on the train when a drunk man collapsed on me and could not be moved.

That was actually the second scary incident for me, just in one month. During my first day on the east side, a man who was bleeding on his arms and legs from various sores and wearing only a T-shirt, shorts and shoes in freezing weather accosted me on the platform. I was alone, and there was no one from TriMet to help me.

Now I wonder if a third incident would prove not just scary for me, but possibly dangerous.

I would like to suggest a couple of ideas for increasing security on TriMet:

• Four platforms per TriMet officer.

How it would work: During a shift, a TriMet officer would be assigned to four platforms. The officer would travel the trains between these platforms only and do security checks for these platforms. Coverage on these trains and platforms would be increased.

Instead of a day (or days, or months) passing when there is no TriMet presence, platforms would be cleared for safety every 30 minutes to an hour. In case of a problem, commuters would be guaranteed a TriMet officer every four platforms.

• A TriMet officer for each train on the east side.

How it would work: An officer would board an eastbound train from downtown Portland and follow it to the end of its line, then take it back downtown and catch a new eastbound train.

These are only two suggestions, but I believe there are many of us in the public who have more ideas on how we could assist TriMet in protecting our safety. I would like to regain my trust in TriMet and would prefer to read articles in the newspapers that begin, 'I was commuting to work on the MAX line and was saved by a TriMet security guard.'

I would also like to feel safe recommending TriMet to friends and family from out of town as a viable way for them to see the city.

I like using public transportation because it is convenient and good for the environment, but I will not jeopardize my well-being to ride it.

Melissa K. Byres lives in Vancouver, Wash.