by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, The safety of the MAX line has become a hot topic among its riders. Readers differ on whether the elimination of Fareless Square is a way to deal with the situation.

Thank you for presenting a series of articles about the current state of Portland's MAX line (Pressure mounts for more MAX fixes, Nov. 16; Fear rides the MAX, Nov. 9).

I live in the Hollywood District and feel very uncomfortable riding the MAX train. This is especially true when I have my two children with me. As a family, we have witnessed many unsavory characters performing unsavory acts.

Drug deals are common, and we learned just recently that when a person gets on the train and says, 'Do you have the time?' and then gets off at the next stop, he is using code to tell riders that if they get off with him they can buy drugs.

On one ride, my family witnessed a group of very drunken men pull their buddy, who was out cold, onto the train and then, with large knives strapped to holders on their belts, proceed to make sarcastic comments about taking out the rich people who dared to ride the train.

Thinking about the safety of our children, my husband placed himself physically between the men with the knives and our kids, and I sat there hoping nothing would happen to my family members, whose lives I value above all else.

Drugs and drunken behavior aside, perhaps the most heart-rending part of riding MAX is the plight of the many homeless and often mentally ill people on the trains.

They often ride in the Fareless Square zone because it's free. The train gives them a way to escape bad weather and stay warm and dry for the day. These are the lost souls of our society, who need social services and assistance but are ignored by most.

Many of these individuals need medical care, clean clothing, a safe place to live, better nutrition and help with personal hygiene.

But sad to say, they can make riding the MAX train very unpleasant. It can be a bit unnerving to sit on a crowded train and have a person get on who is carrying on a heated conversation with an imaginary voice in his or her head and smells like he or she hasn't bathed for weeks.

I often have wondered how TriMet manages to get funding for all of its projects for additional lines but somehow doesn't seem accountable for the behavior on its trains.

I believe that eliminating Fareless Square, hiring more fare inspectors, and providing better security measures on the trains and on the train platforms is the only way TriMet will be able to provide a successful MAX train system for its riders.

If it continues to ignore the glaring security issues on its trains, more and more people will choose other options for getting around Portland.

V. Lonchar

Northeast Portland

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