Portland Max train
A full train of passengers during rush hour in downtown Portland. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard

‘No fare is fair’

Activists protest against TriMet fare enforcement

Activists held a rally for fare enforcement justice on Nov. 27 in Pioneer Courthouse Square to protest against punitive measures for fare violations after TriMet’s recent expansion of security on transportation lines. 

Demonstrators argued fare evasion enforcement targets disenfranchised communities and that TriMet is a public good that should be free to use. 

“We think it’s incredibly anti-poverty to make people struggling enough economically pay ridiculous amounts of money to use something that should be a public good,” said Jake Henceroth, a protester with the rally for fare enforcement justice, according to KOIN

According to a list of demands printed on a flyer passed out at the rally, the hosts of the rally—The PNW Youth Liberation Front—wants to eliminate fares and divert resources from fare enforcement officers to hiring unionized transit workers. 

In response to antifa demands on the abolition of fare inspectors, a spokesperson for the PNW Youth Liberation Front—under the pseudonym of Anthemis—said on KBOO community radio the opposite of their goal was to force employees into poverty.

“We aren’t here to take anyone’s jobs…we want them reallocated to other in-need jobs that TriMet has,” Anthemis said. 

The PNW Youth Liberation Front also wants “frequent, reliable 24/7 service” and to improve transit service coverage and options in historically excluded communities of color. 

“Previously disenfranchised neighborhoods, like Black, brown, working class neighborhoods that historically haven’t had access to nearly as much access to public transit compared to other more white, more rich neighborhoods [should have service],” Anthemis said. 

The protest was sparked in part by an incident that occurred on Nov. 8 when a houseless individual was fined $175 after failing to identify his fare properly despite having paid his fare, as reported by Street Roots. 

“It’s unfortunate that [the individual] misunderstood how the Hop card works and as a result was cited,” said TriMet spokesperson Tia York via the Willamette Week

TriMet responded to the protest by saying they support protester’s right to lawful protest, as long as it does not interfere with their service. 

“TriMet does dispute many inaccurate claims made by protesters, as we work daily to provide transit service that is safe, equitable and affordable,” the statement read. 

On fare inspectors and random fare checks, TriMet said they “bring equity and fairness” to the system. 

“We made improvements in July 2018 to decriminalize fare evasion and make penalties less punitive.” 

However, according to a statement after an independent analysis of TriMet, those caught riding TriMet buses or trains without a valid fare can be subject to a $175 fine. 

“Fare evasion is a violation under [Oregon State Legislature] Chapter 153,” the TriMet statement reads, listing fines, community service and registration for the Honored Citizen program as possible penalties for fare evasion.

Portland Mayoral Candidate Sarah Iannarone stated the people need to elect the TriMet board—currently appointed by the Oregon governor—and hold a discussion about moving the agency to regional jurisdiction.” 

“TriMet is out of control and needs to be brought in line [with] climate action and equity goals, period,” Iannarone stated in a tweet regarding alleged poor fare enforcement tactics on the TriMet MAX. 

“Weekly, we’re learning about our neighbors just trying to go about their day being harassed and criminalized by fare enforcers,” Iannerone stated. “It’s unacceptable. This is not the transit system Portlanders want; this is not keeping Portlanders healthy or safe.” 

For the 2020 fiscal year, revenue from passenger fare is projected at just over $110 million, approximately 16% of all revenue collected by TriMet. Roughly $228 million in expenses is projected from salaries and wages of TriMet employees, with a projection of approximately $348 million in total personnel expenses. 

“Only about 15% of revenue comes from fare, and that is canceled out by all of the money spent on date enforcement and collection,” the PNW Youth Liberation Front stated in a tweet. “Getting rid of fare would pretty much pay for itself.” 

TriMet has said that fares are essential to service and are continually required and enforced for a number of reasons, including an increased security presence requested by riders in recent surveys. 

“Fare checks encourage people to pay for their rides, and this revenue ultimately helps us fund service, including expansions and improvements,” TriMet stated. 

Beyond eliminating a penalty for disenfranchised transit users, activists promoted the benefits of free public transit, including social and economic justice. 

“Employment, housing, education, social services, cultural activities and leisure will become more accessible to everyone, particularly benefiting marginalized and low-income riders,” stated the flyer dispersed at the rally.