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Saturday, September 6, 2014

TriMet should be more merciful

Standing before a bulletin board overflowing with layers of current and expired job listings, and near the front of the courtroom, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The court clerk, with a smile, opened her hand and said, "The judge would like you to have this." It was a piece of hard candy, much like the ones the judge was throwing across the courtroom to the children whose parents had not yet been called before him. The judge then gave me a thumbs-up for looking at the listings.
Unfortunately, two weeks prior, my daughter did not use her best judgment while riding on TriMet's  Max train. She had paid her fare, but a friend riding with her had not.  After the fare inspector verified my daughter's proof of payment, she tried to pass her ticket to her friend, but a second fare inspector caught her red handed: "Could you come with me young lady?"

They were led off the train.  The inspector wrote them each a $175 ticket for fare evasion and told them to appear in court on the date indicated.
Theft court on Tuesday is known as TriMet Tuesday.  At nine on the dot, the courtroom overflows out the door and down the stairway with people from all walks of life:  young women trying to keep their children quiet and businesspeople on their cell phones – no doubt calling work — after realizing they might be there most of the day.  Many people speak foreign languages and look to be tourists.  There are many homeless.
The judge appeared to be in his mid-50s and was very upbeat considering his courtroom was packed with nearly 300 people.  He ordered those not already seated — by that point I had found a seat next to my daughter — to wait outside.  The plan was to allow 45 people into the courtroom at a time.  He announced the three options available to violators: Plead not guilty and return for another day in court, plead no contest and have the fine reduced to $60, or opt for eight hours of community service.
What are the causes for so many not paying their fares? Why risk having to take a day off work, to get a babysitter or, if unable to show up, receive an even higher fine or even jail time?
The reasons are many. My daughter said that it was raining and she and her friend did not want to walk. She should have just walked. Other reasons seemed as authentic and truthful as my daughter's seemed to her. If you have ever had to explain why you do not have your fare to a TriMet fare inspector, you won't get much sympathy.  They are there to give out tickets.
One would think that the primary reason would be that riders didn't have the fare but rode anyway.  This is not the case.  Many caught without their fare do not even know they are in violation of the law.
I heard stories from people who accidently threw their tickets away, lost them or just simply couldn't find them.  There was one woman whose ticket expired while she was riding the train, and she was told by another rider that she was allowed an extra half-hour grace period without a violation. Nope. Several stated that a ticket machine was out of order. A few said they were only going to the next stop.  An elderly man who appeared to be homeless claimed he just wanted to get out of the cold weather. This was his fourth violation.
No matter what the cause, the effect is a day in theft court.  For some the experience is an inconvenient lesson to make sure they have a valid fare before boarding in the future. I think TriMet should allow fare inspectors to give out more warning tickets.  They should be able to use their own judgment and, with the help of a database of violators, be able to give the public a break.
More forgiving fare inspectors would result in a less crowded courtroom.
Kristie Tolle lives in Portland.
TriMet should be more merciful to riders without passes: Guest opinion | OregonLive.com

1 comment:

Jason McHuff said...

There was one woman whose ticket expired while she was riding the train, and she was told by another rider that she was allowed an extra half-hour grace period without a violation.

I would like to hear the other side(s) of that story, because I'm pretty sure it's not a violation if your fare expires while riding as long as it was valid after you boarded.