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Public Transportation


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Portlanders want efficient, fast, safe, clean and "eco-friendly" public transportation that serves all neighborhoods equitably.

Section Summary

In 2030 Portlanders want efficient, fast, safe, clean public transportation that serves all neighborhoods equitably within the greater metropolitan area. They imagine a city where people can get around easily without a car and where the majority uses public transportation, combined with alternate modes such as walking and bicycling. They want to see public transportation expanded, although there is considerable debate about whether the city should focus on MAX expansion or expand buses, trollies and streetcars, which are generally perceived as serving a greater number of people.

There is concern that Portlanders will not abandon their cars in favor of public transportation as long as travel times are so much shorter in cars. There is also concern that public transportation is not available in all parts of the city and that it can be unpleasant and/or unsafe for riders. There is also a concern with cost; most people want to see the cost of public transit reduced.

Within this section, a smaller number of Portlanders believe that “the car is here to stay” and that public transportation should not be expanded any further. These individuals feel that spending money on public transportation only distracts from the larger problem of making sure Portland’s roads and freeways are ready to handle a growing population.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. Many Portlanders highly value the city’s public transportation system.
  2. In the future, public transit will offer well-integrated, comprehensive services throughout the metro region.
  3. More people will use public transit if it is faster, safer, and more affordable.
  4. Public transportation investments should serve the greatest number of people possible.
  5. Public transportation can and should be cleaner and “greener.”

Summary of Tensions and Disagreements

  1. Is Portland’s public transportation system excellent, decent, or in need of major improvement?
  2. Should public transit be expanded?
  3. Should more MAX lines be created?
  4. Should Fareless Square be expanded, eliminated or left as is?


  1. Many Portlanders highly value the city’s public transportation system.
  • Many people believe that Portland already has one of the best public transportation systems in the country.
  • People who are not car owners or do not want to own cars value Portland because they feel they can easily get around the city on public transportation.
  • Portlanders value public transportation because it is convenient, but also because it builds community and protects the environment.
  • Most people express strong appreciation for Fareless Square, although a minority vehemently believes it encourages abuse of the MAX by "tough" characters who get on downtown and then ride for free to other parts of town.
  • Portlanders who identify themselves as disabled, elderly, homeless or low-income tend to express particularly strong support for Portland’s public transportation system.
“I am totally hooked on public transportation... I am continually impressed with how quickly I can get somewhere using the bus and Max, especially during rush hour. This goes back to people, but I am very proud to live in a city that has created such an efficient and effective public transportation system which helps traffic and air pollution.”

“I value our commitment to public transportation. I value designing cities for residents instead of automobiles.”

  1. In the future, public transit will offer well-integrated, comprehensive services throughout the metro region.
  • Portlanders want to see transportation services expanded to serve more neighborhoods and better integrated with each other to provide efficient, comprehensive coverage between neighborhoods.

    Expanded public transportation services:

  • Most people want to see all forms of public transportation (buses, streetcars, MAX, lifts, etc…) expanded to serve more people and more neighborhoods.
  • Some neighborhoods are currently underserved by public transportation, especially in the outer Eastside, the Southwest Suburbs and St. Johns.
  • Many people would like to see extended hours for public transportation (until 2:00 or 3:00am) and some call for 24-hour public transit. Reasons given include supporting workers on late-night shifts and reducing drunk driving downtown.
  • Many people would like to see expanded weekend service as well.
  • People would like to see public transportation to all colleges in and around Portland, including community colleges such as Mt. Hood Community College.
  • Many people want services expanded beyond the urban core, and suggest MAX expansions North to Vancouver and South to Wilsonville or even Salem.
  • Some people request LIFT services that are more frequent and reliable to improve accessibility for the disabled community (see Social Issues: Disabilities for more).
"With light-rail and mass transit connecting all major parts of the city, more people would walk, bike, or take mass transit than drive. Full connective bike lanes, public spaces, and community meeting spots would turn Portland into the most pedestrian and bike friendly city in the nation.”

“[In 2030] public transportation (and bike support) is good enough that single-driver cars are the least popular way to get around.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Charge higher fares for late-night travel to off-set the costs of running busses later. Even with the higher fares, taking the bus will be much cheaper than taking a taxi.
  2. Create express train lines from Portland to the coast and a “ski train” up to Mt. Hood.
  3. Support the development of water taxis/water ferries to Vancouver.

    Better-integrated public transit to connect Portland’s neighborhoods:

  • In general, people question the concept of having all transit routed through downtown and would prefer to see better linkages between Portland’s neighborhood districts.
  • Specifically, people call for improved North/South transit on the Eastside. Many people mentioned wanting to travel by public transit between Northeast and Southeast without having to go downtown or spend so much time on the bus.
  • Many people complained of living near MAX lines they cannot use because there is no bus to take them to the MAX and no place to safely park their car near the MAX. This is a particular problem for the MAX line to the airport.
“I would like to see a reduction in car dependence. I currently drive to work everyday because public transportation is awkward between my home and my workplace (OHSU).”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Bring back the streetcar on the Eastside, both to increase public transit use and to better connect underserved neighborhoods to existing MAX and Bus lines.
  2. “Try some small, effective busses on spur routes that feed either MAX or larger bus lines. Shuttles for areas with high pedestrian, bus, and auto traffic, specifically NW 23rd.”
  3. Smaller, more frequent busses for non-peak hours.
  4. Increase the size and number of parking lots near MAX stations, so more people can use MAX lines near their neighborhoods.

  1. More people will use public transit if it is faster, safer, and more affordable.
  • Most people agree that the incentives to stop driving and switch to public transportation are currently too low. Public transit is seen as slow, crowded, often unpleasant and sometimes unsafe.
  • In general, supporters of public transportation want to see increased incentives for “regular Portlanders” to switch from single-passenger cars to public transportation.
  • The primary incentives mentioned include speed, safety/comfort and affordability.

    Faster public transportation:

  • People believe that one of the biggest incentives involves travel time: if it were faster to travel by public transit than by car, many more people would use public transportation.
  • Portlanders understand (and seem frustrated by the fact that) the busses and the MAX can only move at the speed of car traffic. They fear that as long as there is auto congestion, these forms of mass transit will not be as fast as they could be, which in turn will deter people from using them, further contributing to auto congestion.
  • Many people believe that eventually public transit in downtown will need to move above or below ground to ease congestion and speed up travel times in the inner city.
“Connections don’t meet in a timely manner, too much waiting and walking to be effective. When one can drive to work in ½ or less the time it takes on mass transit, what is the incentive?”

“I admit that Portland has great public transit (MAX, streetcars, Bus), but I think it still could be improved. For example, I have taken transit to a location in Beaverton and it takes one hour by bus and 15 minutes by car. I think if the transit was better and faster in the suburbs, than more people would want to take it.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Smaller, more frequent busses for non-peak hours to help people get places faster.
  2. Split busses on major avenues such as SE Powell or NE Killingsworth into A and B busses and have them stop at every other stop. This would speed up travel times without reducing coverage.
  3. Eliminate half the MAX stops downtown.
  4. Create express MAX lines and/or bus lines for long commutes, such as between Northeast and Southeast Portland or East Portland and the West Suburbs.

    Safer, more pleasant public transportation:

  • Many people mention the unpleasantness of riding on the MAX because of people who are rude, smelly, or seem dangerous. They cite this as a strong deterrent to commuting on the MAX.
  • Another current deterrent to using public transportation is the lack of safe, free/affordable parking near MAX stations and other major transit centers (see above as well).
  • Many people also state feeling unsafe riding busses or MAX trains late at night and comment on the gang activity, drug dealing, fights and other unpleasant and unsafe behaviors witnessed on public transit.
“Monitor behavior of riders on the MAX. Drug use [and] obscene language make for an uncomfortable, sometimes threatening, ride.”

"Do you know that the Sunset Transit Center Parking lot is completely filled by 7:20 am? Do you realize what a deterrent that is to use public transportation?”

“I would like to see a more effective mass transit system. The train is most often very crowded in the morning and evening when people are going to and coming from work. If Tri Met wants more riders, why is it not possible to provide enough cars for a comfortable ride?”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Monitor and enforce rules on the MAX more.
  2. “Eliminate Fareless Square or put patrols on the MAX trains.”
  3. “More parking to make it easier to use Tri-met.”
  4. Increase safety on the MAX (especially at night) by making trains less crowded. This will increase ridership.
  5. Create underground parking lots near MAX stations.
  6. Improve safety at bus stops.
  7. Address drug dealing on the busses, MAX, and at bus stops.
  8. Educate public transit users in riding etiquette and safety.

    More affordable public transportation:

  • There is overwhelming consensus that public transportation should be made more affordable.
  • Many people advocate reducing fares or providing “frequent user” discounts or annual pass discounts.
  • Other people suggest making public transit more affordable by providing tax write-offs for tri-met passes, rebates or discounts on other city amenities for users of public transportation.

Sample Strategies:

  1. Extend the Fareless Square East and West.
  2. Assess a toll on vehicles that enter downtown to pay for extended mass transit that is free for all.
  3. “We should allow tax deductions for transportation costs associated with TriMet, i.e. write off a yearly TriMet pass on your Multnomah County tax return.”
  4. “I also think there should be incentives for people who commute using the MAX, Bus, Carpool, or bike/walk/run. Either in the form of a city tax break of a certain percentage, or coupons that could be used around the city for museums, theater, zoo or other tours that people can use in return for helping with our traffic problem.”
  5. “Take away the parking costs for outside transit centers. This discourages use of mass transit into the city because if people have to pay, then they will drive and pay to park.”

  1. Public transportation investments should serve the greatest number of people possible.
  • Many people speak of using public transportation dollars to fund projects that serve the majority of commuters as opposed to small interest groups.
  • Examples mention included covering all bus stops before creating a new MAX line, or extending streetcar services before creating aerial trams.
“We spend too much $$$ on trolleys and light rail, while the 98% of the traveling population is stuck in traffic.”

  1. Public transportation can and should be cleaner and “greener.”
  • People value public transportation because it reduces reliance on cars and contributes to a cleaner environment.
  • People want to see public transportation running on cleaner fuel; higher grade diesel, bio-fuel or electricity.
  • People believe that public transportation in The Pearl contributes to polluted air and feel that inner city busses should be particularly clean and green.


  1. Is Portland’s public transportation system excellent, decent, or in need of major improvement?

    Portlanders disagree over the quality of the City’s current transportation system. Many survey respondents cited public transportation as one of the things they value most about Portland, expressing the belief that Portland’s transit system is one of the best in the country. These respondents believe that Portland is on the cutting edge of urban transit, and congratulate the City for the system that has already been created.

    Many others, however, feel the system needs a major overhaul as can be seen in some of the “main ideas” and strategies listed above. These respondents make unfavorable comparisons between Portland’s system and systems in other cities (such as Boston or NY) as well as other countries. Primary system-level complaints are that Portland’s public transportation services are poorly integrated, not sufficiently comprehensive and too slow.

    In between these two groups of people are respondents who generally appreciate the current system but want minor changes and adjustments to be made. These changes include reducing fares, covering more bus stops, requiring busses to run on cleaner fuel, adding new bus routes and other suggestions of this nature.

  1. Should public transit be expanded?

    While most respondents in this section favor expanding at least some forms of public transit (e.g. bus, MAX, streetcar, trolley), a vocal minority of respondents do not want to see public transit expanded any further. These respondents value being able to travel quickly and easily around the city in private automobiles and feel antagonized by what they perceive as Portland’s “anti-car” attitude. Specifically, they are frustrated by worsening road conditions and increased congestion, which they feel is part of a conscious City strategy to “push them out of their cars” by making driving less attractive.

    Many respondents make a point of mentioning that cars are not going to become obsolete anytime soon. They therefore want the City to focus on maintaining, improving and widening roads in anticipation of increased automobile traffic as Portland’s population grows. They would like to see public funds spent on projects that facilitate car travel, noting that less congested roads will benefit transit riders as well.

  2. Should more MAX lines be created?

    Among the majority that wants to see public transit expanded, many people specifically ask for additional MAX lines to be built. Specifically, a number of respondents suggest new lines North to Vancouver, South to Wilsonville or even Salem and into SE along McLoughlin or other routes. A number of people also request express MAX lines connecting the outer East and West sides of town (bypassing downtown).

    Other respondents, however, do not want to see any more public money spent on the MAX. They would prefer to see public transit dollars go towards creating a seamless and efficient bus/streetcar/trolley system that serves all neighborhoods equally well. These respondents feel that the MAX serves a very limited number of commuters, while the bus system has the potential to serve the entire city. In the spirit of wanting public transit dollars to benefit the many, not the few, they therefore advocate for halting MAX expansion.

  3. Should Fareless Square be expanded, eliminated or left as is?

    Within this section, a debate emerges about Fareless Square and whether it should be expanded, eliminated or maintained as is. Many respondents highly value Fareless Square, expressing the belief that it invigorates downtown and contributes to a walkable and people-friendly inner city. There were many calls to “keep Fareless Square” with others making suggestions for how Fareless Square could be expanded (e.g. a bigger section of downtown, more Eastside neighborhoods).

    However, some people want to see Fareless Square eliminated because they believe it contributes to creating an uncomfortable and/or unsafe environment on the MAX. These people typically identify themselves as “regular commuters” who are frustrated by the smelly, rude, gang-involved, aggressive, etc… people riding the MAX. The belief expressed is that these people would not be on the MAX if they could not board it free in Fareless Square. By eliminating Fareless Square, they hope to create a more pleasant commuting environment and encourage more cross-town commuters to use the MAX.

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