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TriMets security efforts fall short

TriMet's latest effort to improve security along the MAX light-rail system places a very low, inadequate hurdle in front of potential criminals and fare evaders.

The transit agency deserves credit for trying, but the increased security plans it announced last week are not aggressive enough. A more robust and geographically diverse approach is required to make light rail safer - both for passengers and for neighborhoods surrounding MAX stations.

For now, the transit agency is investing $600,000 as part of an experiment to enclose just two MAX stations on its system - the Gresham Central Station and the Northeast 82nd Avenue platform. It's hard to argue with those choices, especially considering the loitering, vandalism, drug dealing and even stabbings that have occurred in the vicinity of Gresham Central Station.

TriMet's idea is to reduce that type of behavior by making the troublesome Gresham station the first to be physically enclosed and by further emphasizing the 'fare zone' at the 82nd Avenue platform. Anyone inside those boundaries would be required to have a ticket to ride.

However, according to TriMet's safety plan, the Gresham station's fence would be a mere 42 inches tall - a height that could be scaled in a single bound.

Another obvious concern is whether TriMet will have fare inspectors on hand to check tickets at all hours of the day. The agency says it will do random checks - but regular MAX riders know that hasn't been an effective tactic in the past.

And even if TriMet is successful in reducing loitering and criminal activity at these two light-rail stations, it may only be shifting those problems up or down the MAX line.

While TriMet's safety plan for the two stations has drawbacks, the agency is making other worthwhile improvements. The project includes better lighting and signage for the two platforms. And we are encouraged that TriMet isn't saying this is a complete solution - it is billing the changes as a first-step experiment to see if other stations in the MAX system would benefit from greater security measures.

We're all in favor of experimentation, as long as the exercise isn't designed to fail. If problems persist after the changes are implemented, then TriMet must be willing to expand its efforts - and not simply say this experiment with safety was a failure.