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Fare collection is ticket to MAX safety

MY VIEW •ÊNonpaying riders and lax security add up to danger on light rail

It seems as though the same conditions described in the Feb. 7 story 'Streetcar Taken for a Ride' are prevalent, at least on the east side of the TriMet MAX system. I have been a law enforcement officer for more than 20 years. I am not writing this essay as a representative of law enforcement, rather as a frequent rider of the MAX system.

On Feb. 6, I was getting on the MAX at the Gateway Transit Center at 6:10 p.m., heading to the Rose Quarter. I was with my 75-year-old father and my two sons, 8 and 12 years old.

As I got on the train I noticed a group of six young females and a separate group of three young males. I immediately noticed that they were being boisterous and vulgar. I noticed a lone (and vulnerable) fare inspector get on the train, look directly at the two groups and immediately get off the train as it pulled from the station.

The train proceeded west. As soon as the doors closed, the two groups of youths began to argue and yell at each other. The females were pestering the males, swearing at them and taunting them. The groups went back and forth in the train car, walking in between other riders.

The behavior continued all the way to Lloyd Center. It escalated to the point where I could see all the other riders were averting their glances from the group to avoid the hostility from these young people. I was unable to intervene in any way since I had my family with me.

The males, who appeared to be gang-related based on their attire, behavior and verbiage, were hostile to the point that I did not believe any action was possible, since I was unarmed and without backup.

The two groups got off at Lloyd Center and immediately got into a scrum in the park, the result of which I did not see.

This is the fifth MAX ride in a row in which I have not felt safe. The previous rides were on the same route and included: two bums passed out on a station bench; profanity-laced tirades by riders; loud and obnoxious music; a vagrant rider who left his stench behind when he left the train; a drunken 18-year-old girl threatening to 'puke all over' as she sat on the train steps, half in and half out of consciousness; and a gaggle of riders who obviously were using the system for free transportation, making no effort whatsoever to pay for their ride.

The capper was sitting Ñ with my family next to me Ñ near a young rider who was standing 3 feet away with a small semiautomatic pistol in his rear pocket (I could see the outline of the pistol through the fabric of his pants pocket).

These recent experiences remind me of a 1970s vintage subway scene from some bad B movie; the only thing missing is Dirty Harry, the Warriors and Al Pacino.

I must say, I do not fault the fare inspectors or the transit police. I fault the 'voluntary' pay system that has existed from the day MAX opened. In the recent past, I have been on other light-rail or subway systems in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Each of these systems Ñ as well as every other system I have ever been on in the world Ñ requires that a customer pay at a turnstile or gate before entering onto the train platform. The kiosks are efficient and would act as a level of security that exists nowhere on the Portland MAX line.

I have many concerns; however, two important ones stand out: First, why is it that someone with my life experience no longer feels safe taking MAX? I can only wonder what the average rider feels. Second, why is security nearly nonexistent on MAX after the bomb attacks in London and Madrid, Spain?

If the freeloaders on MAX show no concern regarding their behavior and actions on a MAX train, why wouldn't a committed jihadist come to the same conclusion?

David P. Anderson lives in Vancouver, Wash.