Throughout TriMet’s MAX Light Rail System, the reliability of fare machines has been an ongoing problem for riders. Unable to pay for fares at vandalized or “out-of-order” machines, riders are left with no choice but to ride without a paid receipt. Their only option is to jump off at another stop along their route in hopes of finding a working machine and getting back onboard before the train departs. Stressful!
It’s stressful for front line workers as well. For example, the fare machine technicians are short-staffed, working with very outdated fare machine software and having to cope with machines that incompatible with the rest of the system.
It’s also hard on fare inspectors and supervisors. Knowing of the widespread problems with machines, they have always been able to use discretion when they believe that riders have made a good faith effort to pay their fares. In March 2012, however, that changed. TriMet ordered its supervisors spend an hour a day demanding to see people’s fares and then to write fare-evasion citations, despite broken machines. There is a lot of stress and inconvenience attached to these $175 fines, even if they are later thrown out.
For decades, supervisors have always had the pleasure of providing assistance to operators and passengers. Being of service is why they have loved their job. Most of them want to write citations only for repeat offenders or people who are causing trouble on the bus, train or platform. They absolutely hate being ordered to confront passengers who are in route to other destinations. They say they are not trained to be confrontational and that lack of training is putting themselves and other passengers at risk. And, they feel like they are losing the good will of passengers they have served for so many years.
TriMet is buying more bells-and-whistles fare machine equipment. Historically, however, the agency hasn’t done well when it comes to buying new equipment that works without a hitch. Brand new unsafe railcars, unsafe buses and unreliable fare machines are the new “normal.” In the meantime, TriMet workers are taking bets on whether the new fare machines will fix the problem or make it worse.