TriMet: 'It's a massive undertaking that touches the entire agency'

TriMet: 'It's a massive undertaking that touches the entire agency'
Starting on Sept. 1, 2012, TriMet will be doing away with its zones and switching to a 'go anywhere' model for its fares. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, Producer/Reporter.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Some big changes are in effect for TriMet riders and the transit organization is working hard to make sure everything goes smoothly.

The zone system that TriMet has used for years is now gone for good. That includes the Free Rail Zone (formerly known as Fareless Square) in downtown Portland and the Lloyd District.

The idea is to make riding TriMet a lot simpler by switching to 'go anywhere' fares. Now, all riders will have to do is buy one ticket to travel anywhere they like. That means no more worrying about which zones a ticket is good for.

"It will be so much easier," said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch.

The switch is also expected to help TriMet with their $12 million budget shortfall. They are looking at saving nearly $9 million by eliminating zones and increasing some of the fares, which is normally done this time of year anyway to keep up with inflation, and in this case will also help with the budget problem.

How big of a project is this?

We talked to TriMet to find out how much work this entails and whether they feel they are ready to make it happen. After all, this is a drastic change.

"It's a massive undertaking that touches the entire agency," Fetsch said. "This is a tremendous amount of work by dozens and dozens of people who are dedicated to make this happen smoothly and successfully."

Getting People Used To It

TriMet will have extra staff on hand during the transition to make sure riders know about the changes, especially in the former Free Rail Zone where fares will now be required. TriMet said their first priority will be to educate people and then they will begin focusing on enforcement.

First of all, there are the ticket machines. Not only is the software getting upgraded to change to the new fare structure but the machines will also start allowing people to make multiple purchases at once, instead of one at a time.

"Let's say you have five people with you and you all want an all-day pass - it would be individual transactions," Fetsch explained. "But with this new design, you will be able to make multiple purchases of an all-day pass with one transaction."

Then there is the signage, and not only at the ticket machines. Think about it - there are thousands of bus stops all over town, all of which will need new signs. And then there are all the signs on the buses and trains.

"This is probably the most comprehensive change to our signage system wide that we've ever had," Fetsch said, adding that the entire process will likely take a few months.

And of course every system map they have, as well as the information on their website, will need to be updated.

It's a lot to do and TriMet has already been busy behind the scenes getting ready for it all.

With all the work this will take, we asked what kind of a price tag is associated with such a big switch. TriMet didn't have a number to give us but did say that this is a one-time cost that will be offset by the money they expect to save once the zones go away. For example, TriMet estimates they will gain $2.7 million in revenue just from the elimination of the Free Rail Zone.

This will also bring TriMet one step closer to making the move to electronic fares (where riders would use a smart card). Other transit agencies in the U.S. already do that and several have told TriMet that to make it work they would first have to simplify their ticket system.

So when will the smart card change happen? Probably not anytime soon, but it is in the works. "We're developing that now," Fetsch said. "That's the future."

How will all of this impact low-income riders?

With the Free Rail Zone going away and some of the fares going up, those who don't have much income may feel the pinch.

TriMet anticipated the problem and they have a plan in place to help those folks out. They have set aside $1 million for a discount program that allows local non profits to buy tickets for their clients.

"We've already gotten over 40 non profits that have applied in a two-week period," Fetsch said. "We're trying to get them all signed up and have tickets available effective Sept. 1 when the fare change happens."

TriMet already provides discounts for bulk purchases and this program, which is a new pilot project, will help out even further.

"It was a concern of our board, which wanted us to look into how we could mitigate this change," Fetsch said.

What will the new fares be?

Adults (ages 18 to 64)

2-Hour Ticket - $2.50
Day Pass  - $5
7-Day Pass - $26
Monthly Pass - $100

Youths (ages 7 to 17)

2-Hour Ticket - $1.65
Day Pass - $3.30
7-Day Pass - $8
Monthly Pass - $30

Honored Citizens

2-Hour Ticket - $1
Day Pass  - $2
7-Day Pass  - $7
Monthly Pass - $26

For those who might still have some tickets in their wallets when the switch happens, TriMet told us all you will have to do is pay a little extra to upgrade starting on Sept. 1. Or you can make it easier on yourself by using them up before then.

Are there any other changes happening?

The answer is yes. There will be some service changes starting on Sunday, Sept. 2 and TriMet is also making a change to its Downtown Pass Program.

Service Changes

  • Two new MAX stations will open at Portland State University - one at Southwest 5th and Jackson and another at Southwest 6th and College.
  • 17 bus lines will be reconfigured to eliminate overlap with other routes. This will affect lines 6, 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 17, 47, 48, 67, 70, 73, 77, 82, 87, 89 and 94.
  • Line 15 will be extended between Montgomery Park and the Northwest industrial area.
  • Routing along line 43 will be modified in downtown Portland.
  • Low-ridership trips will be eliminated on lines 15, 18, 36, 37, 43, 50, 55 and 59. Service will either begin later in the morning or end earlier in the evening. Time between some trips may be extended as well.
  • Service will be added to lines 4, 9, 33, 35, 44, 76 and 94 to ease overcrowding.
  • For more information on the service changes

Downtown Pass Program