Even as another violent incident occurred on the MAX last week, promising discussions that could lead to a safer transit system are under way.

A stabbing near the East 188th Avenue/Burnside MAX platform Thursday evening was the second act of violence involving train passengers in a month, and it graphically underscores the need for urgent action to make the MAX safer.

Preventing such attacks and other transit-related crime is the goal of a series of TriMet safety summits being held around the region.

The first of the summits was held in Gresham on Thursday morning, just hours before the MAX fight and stabbing. That session, which brought together city leaders, law-enforcement officials and representatives from TriMet, was followed by a similar meeting Friday in Hillsboro.

What these initial conversations demonstrate is that there are plenty of opportunities available to increase safety for MAX riders and for neighborhoods that immediately adjoin the light-rail line.

TriMet appears ready to listen

One prerequisite for transit-security progress is a new attitude from TriMet. Based on what we have observed at the summits, just such an attitude is taking hold. TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen now states clearly that improvements are needed - that the MAX system is falling short of providing a safe and comfortable environment for patrons.

That simple acknowledgment opens the door to new ideas and initiatives. Law enforcement officers, in particular, are providing concrete suggestions for how to improve the system. Among ideas in need of immediate consideration are:

• Better fare collection. This could mean closing access to some stations so that only paying customers are allowed inside. It also must mean a sustained increase in the number of fare inspectors. Portland police say 90 percent of the people committing crimes on the MAX also are fare evaders. Forcing people to pay will reduce crime.

• Giving police a more immediate ability to exclude people from MAX cars when their behavior warrants such action. Currently, any riders excluded from the MAX are allowed to reboard trains during a 10-day appeal period.

• Having a regular police presence on trains. One way to accomplish this is to increase the TriMet security budget. Another possibility is for local jurisdictions to be even more responsible for responding to transit crime, thereby freeing transit officers to ride the system and actively prevent crime. We believe both approaches are necessary.

• Enforcing TriMet's code of conduct for passengers. The code restricts behaviors that can cause discomfort for MAX riders, but the rules routinely are violated. The code also must be bolstered, within constitutional limits, to outlaw additional behaviors that are intimidating to passengers.

• Enhancing security of the MAX platforms through better lighting and cameras.

• Possibly eliminating Fareless Square in downtown Portland, or at least limiting the hours for free rides. As it operates now, Fareless Square offers a free roving home for troublemakers.

Change comes at a price

All of these ideas are worth pursuing, but none can be implemented without an immediate and sustained commitment to spend the necessary time and resources, and to make the necessary compromises and sacrifices.

As last week's stabbing so unkindly reminded us, TriMet and other agencies have no choice but to make that commitment if they are to protect law-abiding citizens and the region's substantial investment in the MAX system.

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