TriMet needs to act now
My View • Agency must address perceptions as well as the facts
As any regular or even an occasional rider of TriMet knows all too well, if it feels unsafe, it is unsafe. Recent, highly publicized events along the MAX line only reinforce what observers have noted for years — namely, that there is a pervasive sense of uneasiness about both the potential and the reality of unsafe conditions, behaviors and crimes throughout the transit system. Despite TriMet’s commitment to build a safe and “total” transit system, how did it find itself in this predicament? Most important, what must it do now to redirect its strategy to regain public trust? For years, riders have reported instances of rowdiness, disrespect, and verbal and physical confrontations to TriMet. Crime victims have been shuttled off with “we’ll take a report and get back to you.” TriMet’s own records as well as those of local law enforcement agencies show a growing number of crimes and security incidents over the past few years. Yet efforts to stem the tide of light-rail and bus-line anarchy have failed to correct that reality. The perception among riders continues to be that TriMet is not a partner in prevention but instead has developed a professional form of denial in addressing the problem. This approach has not, by any measure, led to effective security. This is not to say that TriMet has been totally inactive or ineffective. A professional public safety and private security force is periodically visible to riders and operators. The TriMet Web site has plenty of crime prevention information. Surveillance cameras dot most MAX stations and other areas where problems have presented themselves. TriMet spokewoman Mary Fetsch is adept at deflecting the growing chorus of concerns raised by the media. Yet all efforts have failed to create the deterrent effect we all desire, and once again our confidence in TriMet as a safe place is diminishing. What’s next? The public must demand that TriMet take responsibility for anticipating, recognizing and appraising all risks along all routes and spaces that it occupies. Next, TriMet must put into place appropriate actions to remove or reduce those risks. TriMet can accomplish this by reviewing all physical, procedural, operational and technological elements of its security management plan. This plan — and the process used to develop it — must be transparent and shared with the public. We, the people, have purchased the mass transit system with our fares and our taxes. We are owed honesty and the opportunity for significant participation in the solutions developed. Three specific action steps must be taken: 1. Increase both the public law enforcement and private security presence on TriMet immediately while undertaking a serious public analysis of staffing levels for maintaining order and enforcing TriMet rules as well as city and state laws. 2. Expand the deployment of technologies to protect riders and operators by central monitoring, recording and response to observed activities. Closed-circuit surveillance cameras that are not watched in real time are ineffective in prevention and only help after the fact. 3. Expand and make more prominent crime prevention education efforts. Empower riders to observe and report while rapidly responding and holding violators accountable. How will TriMet know when it has succeeded at regaining control and establishing a secure mass transit system? Security is defined as freedom from danger, risk, care, apprehension or doubt. The public will let TriMet know with our increased ridership. We will increase our use of this vital transportation mode, if and only if we and our families feel safe and are safe. Patrick F. Donaldson is a business owner, president of the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations, a member of the Portland Business Alliance, and co-founder of both the Crime Prevention Association of Oregon and the Citizens Crime Commission of Portland.