Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Fare Extension

Our current fares are fairly inexpensive for the service provided.

Not really wanting to beat an already fatally-stricken horse here, but a conversation with a beloved brother who has nearly five times the experience I have on this job has me needing to take another stab at it. The severe tests this job already presents my razor-thin patience are multiplied dramatically with the transit agency's recent change in fare policy. In a way, I might add, that I didn't truly realize until said brother explained his own predicament regarding the change.

Years ago, he told me, transit here adopted a fare policy that basically amounted to an "honor system," where passengers either paid for a ride or did not. It didn't go well, evidently. Then, they reverted to a stringent collection policy that basically forced operators to make passengers toe the yellow line and pay up. They hired fare inspectors who weeded out the violators and cited them for not having valid fares. Even regular riders who may have forgotten their passes at home were fined for fare evasion, along with the poor who just couldn't afford it or the pathetic few who simply refused to pay. A few years ago, they eliminated this position and put the onus on operators and road supervisors along with transit police to enforce fare. The result was a marked increase of fare-related confrontations which led to an increase of assaults on transit workers. Now, the agency has reversed itself again, due to lobbying from those who believe low income residents are prosecuted more frequently than others.

According to the new fare policy, we are not allowed to refuse service to anyone refusing to pay a fare. Sure, we've been beaten up and bloodied over fare, and I understand part of the logic behind this move is reportedly to protect us from assaults. However, it is a hard pill to swallow for an honest rider to pay their fare and then watch some slacker board without being required to pony up a few bucks. These fare evaders are getting the same courteous, smooth service that the honest folks have paid to acquire. So which is better? Fare, or not fair?

What's wrong with this new policy? For starters, many who have avoided fare payment in the past have been subject to an operator having the authority to refuse them a ride, which is actually a nod to the paying passengers. Or, upon being given a ride, these people have been informed that they ride at their own risk, subject to citations if fare inspectors actually board the vehicle. Now we have neither the authority to require people to pay a fare or suffer consequences, nor the agency's support when doing so. So why should people pay anything for this service if the transit agency doesn't care either way?

This brings up an interesting point shared by my fellow blogger and great supporter, Al Margulies (rantingsofatrimetbusdriver.blogspot.com). We usually agree on most points regarding transit. But Al believes that since transit is supported by local taxes, it should therefore be a free service. Well, I believe (as does my brother who raised this point with me earlier tonight) that those who pay for a service are invested in the ride and are therefore entitled to a safe, smooth and efficient one. Those not required to pay are less likely to have respect for the operator or their fellow passengers than those who do. Also, it takes a lot of money to provide transit services, and removing fares altogether would place an unfair tax burden on an already multi-taxed economy. Even though our fares are truly an outstanding deal, it's still a valuable service we provide the local populace, and nothing of value should ever be "free." Somebody always pays an additional fee for the misleading price of nothing.

Most trouble on transit, in my experience and that of many of my fellow operators, is attributed to those who are professional trouble-makers. They brazenly refuse to pay fare, board intoxicated on the drug of their choice, and spend an entire trip giving people grief. They know that once the operator calls for help, they can escape before help arrives. They mostly have no moral conscience, and certainly don't respect the operator who has spent years as a professional driver. They have no cognizance of what it takes to maneuver a 20-ton vehicle in traffic. When they cause a disturbance requiring the operator to stop-and-lock in order to deal with their troublesome antics, they're interfering with transit operations. Not only don't they understand this concept, they don't care either. All the paying passengers are therefore delayed because some goofball gets a kick out of making others miserable.

In addition, with the focus on our On-Time Performance, we'll now be further delayed when we have to explain to our honest fare-paying riders why they should pay at all since Freddie Freeloader didn't even put a dime in the fare box. It's an understandably-perplexing policy to explain. We can't be expected to do so while driving, because having conversations with people, especially if they can get heated, is distracting. Distracted driving is not conducive to safety. Safety is Our Core Value, they say.

Our transit agency is flailing under management that is trying to be "everything for everybody" while entirely missing the point. It's supposed to stand behind every operator, but it enacts policies that are misguided and illogical. This makes it even harder to do our job as "fare informers, not enforcers" because now we have to attempt an explanation for their policy reversals.

It won't be long before the riding public rises up and refuses to pay at all. Why should it? This flip-flopping fare policy makes us all look silly, from management to operators. I cannot explain it, nor can I even justify using the "Fare Evasion" button on my on-board computer, if fares are no longer necessary.

What do I propose? Hire back Fare Inspectors by the dozens. Instruct them to frequently ride the high-evasion lines. Cite the bad guys, but use basic human decency and offer leniency at their own discretion. Lower the fines to a more reasonable level so the working poor aren't unfairly targeted. District attorneys should mete out strict punishment to those who assault transit workers, and our agency must permanently exclude chronic offenders. When people are arrested, their photos are published in a tabloid. Public shaming our trouble causers isn't exactly necessary, but distributing photos of our assailants and excluded passengers amongst transit workers might help us be safer out on the road. Transit management should take to all media outlets to make our policies known to the public. Further, there should be public service announcements on how to ride transit, how to drive on the Transit Mall, and recommended driving safety around transit vehicles.

This mangled web we're weaving is an honest spider's nightmare.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry I missed this one earlier, Deke. It's a very well considered argument, in my opinion. When the "system" enlists the vigilance of all ride, drive, observe, and report, then we're all much safer and secure in our mutual commitment to a successful system.

    Sadly, I've heard that all the local prosecutors have agreed not to enforce the districts codes. So, like you say, there are no consequences for the troublemaking few who tie up the system. Until now, all operators could do was to politely compel an unruly person to get off and wait a few minutes for the next bus or train. This perpetrator is likely to think twice, in the few minutes of extra waiting time, before causing more trouble on the next ride, if they actually need to go somewhere.

    But, if there are no consequences, either in the short run or for the long haul, then the self-policing system is bound to break down, fair trade revenue must surely evaporate, and the quality of service to the community is severely diminished.

    The astonishing epiphany that this might seem to be, though, is all the more ghastly when we stop to realize that TriMet has already tried and tested these free-ride and honor systems before. They've long since rejected those methodologies in favor of the fare-is-fair policy that has now be, once again, rejected.

    It's enough to make a bus drivers head spin right off their shoulders. If you ask me, the whole damn thing is, "OUT OF ORDER."