Hop on This and Go For a Spin!
Addressing Flaws in Trimet’s New Hop Pass Fare System

illustration by Jake Johnson

Growing up in Portland I have had experience riding the bus from the age of five with my mother around town. I started riding the bus to school around the age of 12 alone back and forth to middle school. I’m 30 now and in that time, I have seen how Trimet has changed. In this time, I have witnessed the creation and expansion of the MAX light rail system. I find it really handy to be able to board a MAX and be on the other side of the city in 30 minutes to an hour, traffic permitting.

In that time, I have also seen the evolution of the bus transfer go from a half-foot long, thin, and easily torn receipt to paper versions with holograms on them to their newest iteration as the Hop Card. I don’t know when I started the practice of buying a monthly bus pass, placing it in my wallet, and only pulling it out when needing to show to an driver or fare inspector. Additionally, I also place an emergency All-Day ticket in my wallet as well. Now the ability to have a prepaid monthly pass in my back pocket, only needing to be pulled out every once in a while, will change to me having to keep track of, remember to tap every time I board the MAX, and keep my Hop card loaded with enough money.

Over the last few years with the increase of fare inspectors I have tallied up a small collection of fare violations, these were from me not realizing it was the first day of a new month (I get busy and don’t look at dates when running for the bus in the morning, my bad!), because I forgot to stamp my emergency ticket for this situation (be prepared?) or having not replaced said ticket in my wallet from the last time I used it.

However, I do have concerns about the system. It began when TriMet removed fareless square in downtown Portland. I know Trimet did this because people were getting on the bus and MAX downtown and taking advantage of that to ride all the way to their destination, even if it was far outside of fareless square.

I looked at fareless square as a way TriMet showed its customers some appreciation, but with the addition of the MAX light rail to the system it is reasonable that something needed to be done about the square. However, it has seemed, especially within the last decade, like the company’s focus has shifted from making the ride as convenient and comfortable as possible for riders to be focused more on their profits. As the city’s public transportation system should they not be held accountable for their actions and policies, which might hurt the public, more than others?

The creation of the Hop pass system, which started as a pilot program nearly two years ago for TriMet employees and families, was biased to begin with. Of course, the employees of the company and their families were going to like a new system for fare because they get to ride free, but has TriMet cared to get the feedback on the Hop pass system from the general public. The website for the Hop card does have a customer service section. Currently it is encouraging passengers to exchange paper tickets for ride credit and will no longer have the paper monthly passes available after the end of next month. My main concern about the system is for the houseless of this city. At last count Portland had just under 4,200 chronically houseless individuals living on its streets.

From volunteering all over the city I have noticed that a vast proportion of those houseless people go to those resource centers seeking, amongst other things, bus fare. They are typically given a 2.5 hour or All-Day ticket to get where they need to go. If it’s the beginning of the month and they are lucky enough to find a resource center that has passes available they will be given a monthly pass. When wondering about how this dynamic would change, I sought out answers by emailing Trimet’s Outreach Coordinator for the Hop system and have yet to receive a response.

However, the organizations I know and occasionally volunteer at have told me that single-use 2.5 hour and All-Day Hop passes will be used in replacement of the bus tickets, but monthly passes won’t be provided anymore. But will these passes be loaded for the adult fare or the honored citizen fare rates?

Furthermore, some of those organizations that provide bus tickets have stated it has been hard to get those Hop passes from Trimet, and it takes awhile for them to call back when left a voicemail or email. I personally have spoken to several organizations who wish to remain anonymous for fear TriMet would retaliate by not providing the ticket activation waivers they need. If the ticket system for the houseless isn’t properly coordinated by TriMet, it could cause further issues with the houseless community by making it harder for them to seek services, get to potential job interviews, and find other necessities they need, making Portland’s houseless crisis even worse.

Now I’m not saying TriMet is completely incompetent, the low-income fare program is one of the greatest things the company has done in quite awhile and saves the more financially burdened of this city a lot of money. As a student who doesn’t make 200% of the federal poverty level (somewhere around $48,000 annually) and who has Oregon Health Plan, (both of each are qualifications for the program), enrolling was easy. The 200% of the federal poverty level requirement should be enough to qualify most students and citizens of Portland actually. This program makes it so a monthly pass is only $28, reduced from $100.

However, the low income-fare program brings up further issues imposed upon the houseless of Portland, all of them easily qualify for the low-income fare program but few, except those in constant contact with resource centers or outreach coordinators, are currently enrolled or seem to even know about the low-income fare program. A further issue getting these people enrolled is the fact of missing, lost, or stolen identification or documentation needed get identification. On top of all that,  according to a city auditor, IDs and medicine being taken along with people’s other property during sweeps. Furthermore what will happen to the hospitals that treat and subsequently supply bus tickets to the houseless?

My final issue with the program is centered around the student body of PSU. As previously mentioned most students should be eligible for the low-income fare program. Before I signed up for the low-income fare program, I got the term sticker which goes on my student ID at a reduced student fare rate of $180 a term, which is now $166 a term according to Transportation Services, but TriMet doesn’t offer an equivalent low-income fare rated sticker for the term. When seeking answers for this oddity I only had one person behind the counter at student transportation services tell me it is because the student term sticker program and the low-income fare programs are separate and TriMet doesn’t seem to want to connect the two.

I won’t even try to bother with TriMet’s phone app because I’m constantly running around and my phone is prone to dying at the most inconvenient moments and I know if I did use the app my phone would be dead the very moment I ran into a fare inspector. If this is something I’m not even willing to deal with, as a citizen with ample charging port availability, how would the houseless, who have limited access to smartphones and subsequently to those same charging ports, be able to utilize this means of fare payment?

To me the implementation of the Hop card fare system has been sloppy in multiple ways but the worst part is it seems to make it difficult for some citizens to properly get access to public transportation leaving some Portlanders wondering how they will get around. When trying to keep up with the ever-modernizing world it can be difficult to adapt but seeing as how this is the public transportation system of Portland, which is mostly utilized by the lower income individuals of the city, should not TriMet do everything in its power to ensure no one is hindered by, or unable to access their services?

 

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