It's a great deal these days to ride the bus or light rail here. A mere $2.50 gets you almost anywhere in the Portland metropolitan area, good for 2.5 hours from the time of purchase. Try getting a cab ride at that rate. You'd grow gills and swim there faster. Given the extreme rainfall totals we've amassed this winter, I wouldn't be surprised if some residents had so evolved.
The economy is still a bit rancid in these parts. Yet what rankles me most is the guy who can be seen smacking down a new pack of smokes at the shelter, looking at his cell phone while sporting the latest pair of athletic shoes, getting on the bus with a poorly-concocted story as to why he doesn't have fare. "I'm just going a few stops anyway, can I just have a 'courtesy ride'?" Now what the hell is that? If he was 88, pushing a beat-up walker and too broke to afford a raincoat, I'd feel pity. I'd stop for the old guy in between stops just to help him out. But the young slacker who doesn't have a job, borrows $50 from Aunt Peggy every week for smokes, and causes a ruckus on the bus? Why shouldn't he have to pay? Now evidently, he doesn't even have to fear prosecution for theft of a public service.
There are scores of people who need to ride the bus and actually can't afford it. I accept this reality; once upon a time I was one of them. But they are much fewer in number than those who just don't want to put transit fares in their budget. They get on reeking of the local pot shop's finest strains, theatrically patting their pockets in the comical "I just had my fare, where did it go?" dance, then shrug and take a seat. When you inform them of our fare policy, they just shrug. "I'll take my chances... just drive, asshole."
Some are calling for transit to provide free rides to the "poor." If it has value, it shouldn't be free. By not charging people even a minimal fee, it severely devalues the exemplary service my brothers and sisters provide Portland's populace. Operators can tell the cons from the honest, hardworking people just scraping by. Most of us are willing to help out the honest folks, but we occasionally let the cons slip through. Sometimes regulars forget their pass, or they truly lose it. I give them a ride without a second thought because I know they're truthful. Now we have no authoritative threat. We can't even say, with a straight face, "If a fare inspector gets on, you're on your own."
We already have a pseudo low income fare, called "Honored Citizen." It's half the price of a regular Adult fare. It is enormously abused, because people don't have the identification card required or fail to show it when paying fare. Asking them to prove their status can, and has many a time, lead to an argument at the fare box. This is something we're trained to avoid, in an effort to increase our safety.
The district attorneys and our agency are proving soft on transit crime. The court system allows violent assailants to plead down their charges, and all transit can come up with is caging operators like monkeys. No wonder we suffer a massive lack of respect from the community we serve. Now we're pressured to make transit a free ride to anyone without requiring basic common decency to rule their behavior.
On Friday comes "Driver Appreciation Day." It seems more of a theatrical con job to make transit management feel better about its poor treatment of us by putting on a big media event. Put your money where your verbal jabs blast forth, fellas. I get more appreciation from my daily regulars than from your once-a-year dog and pony show. They at least have a better understanding of my job than management does. I take them home or to work, safely and smoothly with a welcoming smile on my face. It's better than some cabbies would give, and it's a helluva lot cheaper.