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Free transit rides may end

TriMet chief says criminals exploiting honor system
by: , HANSEN

Free rides on the MAX train within Fareless Square would be limited from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. under a resolution to be considered by the TriMet board of directors in January.

TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen announced he would submit such a proposal to the board on Friday.

'The fact is, Fareless Square provides a free ride for panhandlers, who go back and forth between downtown and the Lloyd Center, and drug dealers and rowdy gangs of young people, homeless people and drunks who are using the train as a shelter and a place to do their business,' said Hansen, who also announced the launch of a public process to solict views on other possible changes to the operation of the square, which covers most of downtown and parts of the Lloyd District.

Hansen made his comments during a noon address to the Portland City Club. Responding to recent criminal attacks on the MAX system, Hansen used the opportunity to announce a series of changes intended to increase safety on both MAX trains and the agency's buses.

They include negotiations with the union representing TriMet employees to allow private security guards to check tickets and penalize fare evaders. Although TriMet recently increased the number of private Wackenhut security guards by 15 to a total of 36, only agency employees represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union are currently authorized to check fares.

'This is a warning to fare evaders and cheats - your free ride on TriMet is about to end,' Hansen said. 'If you don't have a TriMet fare, you can expect a ticket. If you are a continual fare evader you will be excluded from the system.'

Hansen's talk took place a little more than one month before the beating of a 71-year-old man at a Gresham MAX stop that sparked a wave of public outrage.

The talk also followed two recent region safety summits hosted by TriMet where elected and law enforcement agencies criticized the agency for not doing enough to prevent crimes on and along the MAX system - or even collect fares from riders.

One of those who attended a summit, Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, thought the changes do not go far enough.

"I was pleased to hear TriMet answer our call to get the transit officers out of their cars and on the train, and I am excited about the prospect of increased fair inspections," Bemis said in a statement released after the talk. "However, security on TriMet has been an issue for a long time. We were in the same position in the late 80s when the Governor put State Police on the trains, now we're here again.

"While I think these measures are giant leaps in the right direction, I still believe the only real tangible long-term solution is a fully gated system where only paying customers can board a train," the statement continues. "Fred Hansen and I agreed to test this idea out at a stop in Gresham and I hope the work to start this test will begin soon."

Other changes to be announced by Hansen include:

• Increasing police presence on MAX by deploying more officers with the existing Transit Police Division officers on MAX trains. Hansen plans to spend $500,000 to increase the division's existing 36-member force by 10%, and to fund another 10% increase when the I-205/Portland Mall MAX Light Rail Line opens in September.

• Repairing and replacing faulty ticket vending machines to ensure that all stations have working dispensers by Febraury 2008.

• Preventing potential criminal or intimidating passenger behavior by working with Victory Outreach, a Latino community-based organization, who will ride the system and work with Latino youths to prevent gang activity. TriMet is already doing similar work with Rider Advocates, a community-based group associated with the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods.

• Improving station areas by trimming landscaping, increasing lighting and adding more closed-circuit security cameras. One goal is to have cameras on 30 of 64 MAX stations by the end of the years.

'I will be monitoring these changes to ensure these steps truly target the problems on the system,' Hansen is scheduled to tell the City Club. 'As we implement these changes, I believe our riders and the public will see a difference.'

The changes follow years of growing public concern over safety on the MAX system. After the Nov. 3 beating of 71-year-old Laurie Lee Chilcote, media and community Web sites received many postings from residents who said they already had quit riding the trains out of fear.

Two days before the attack, Beaverton Police Chief David Bishop wrote Hansen to announce the tentative formation of a separate Interagency Westside Transit Police Division to patrol the line west of the Vista Tunnel.

The day before the attack, Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis announced his city's police would begin patrolling the line.

It is unclear how many riders are not paying fares, or what portion of them are boarding within Fareless Square and continuing past its boundaries.

Hansen estimates that around 8 percent of riders are not paying fares but says TriMet does not track light-rail evaders separately from those on buses. Agency spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says the percentage of MAX fare evaders probably is higher that those on the buses.

Several law enforcement officials believe the percentage of MAX fare evaders is substantial, however.

According to Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso, when one officer recently boarded a train and gave passengers the option of showing their tickets or getting off, more than half disembarked.

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