To be honest, we didn't need to use much public transportation in Portland because it's really easy to get around on foot. However, the TriMet public transportation system is quite convenient to use when you're travelling with luggage or if you plan on visiting one of Portland's numerous parks or, in our case, Pittock Mansion. The MAX light rail system is quite easty to use since it works a bit like a metro, with the green and yellow lines running on 5th and 6th Ave. in downtown Portland, while the red and blue lines run on Morrison and Yamhill St. (most of the downtown area is included in the free ride zone). To get downtown from the airport, you can ride the red line to Pioneer Place - the fare for the 40-minute trip is $2.35 and you can buy tickets from the machines using cash or credit cards.
When it comes to riding the bus, there are all sorts of hourly/daily/weekly passes available. In our case, since we were only planning on riding the bus once, we thought we'd buy a regular ticket as we got on board. The fare should have been about $2, but when the driver realized we were from out of town, he gave us a free daily pass :o) Bus routes usually run in straight enough lines but the quickest way to figure out which bus to take is to use the trip planner available on the TriMet Website.
The Tri-Met system is fantastic. I took it from the airport and all-around. A one day pass will get you on all the buses, tram cars and MAX dedicated trams that you'll ever need.
The downtown zone is free. You'll need to depend on buses for destinations farther afield.
There is a customer service station at Pioneer Square with all the schedules and information that one may need.
MAX is the big light rail/metro system connecting outerlying neighbhourhoods, the airport, suburbs, etc., to downtown Portland. One staying in a suburb or arriving at the airport may want to take this downtown, where it ties into the downtown streetcar, bus, system, etc.
Portland has an excellent public transportation system that took many years to come to fruition. In addition to the bigger MAX system, which goes through downtown but connects far-flung areas throughout the city and goes to suburbs, the airport, etc., there is the Streetcar downtown.
The Streetcar mostly runs north-south along 10th Ave and 11th Ave, in a circuit path, heading west once it gets to the northern Pearl District and east in the southern part of downtown, to the Willamette River, then south again. In the core downtown area and the southern Pearl, the Fareless Square, it is completely free. It is also efficient, with trains running frequently so one does not have to wait long. It's also fun and our kids wanted to ride to all the time.
The MAX Light Rail in Portland is very easy and convenient to use. Service is very frequent, especially in the city center. There is a free rail zone in the city center, which means you can ride for free within that zone. The Red Line serves Portland International Airport and is only about a 30-40-minute ride, and the fare is only $2.30 (as of Spring 2010). The trains are new and clean and seem to be very quiet compared to the more traditional subway trains in other cities.
Tri-Met (Tri-County Transportation District) operates the city bus services and light rail trains in the Portland area. The web site is a clearinghouse for all of the affiliated transit system schedules, including Portland Streetcar, Westside Express commuter rail service, MAX light rail, and TriMet's bus network. Certain connecting transit agencies (such as C-Tran in Clark County, Washington or CATS in Canby) are not featured on this web site as they are separate transit agencies.
When I first wrote this tip on November 12, 2003, TriMet was one of the few transit agencies around that had transit tracking and a detailed trip planner on their web site. Certain public transit agencies in certain cities didn't even have much of a set of timetables available on their web site!
Today, in 2009, it is much more expected to have good quality web sites that will tell you when the next bus / train / streetcar is coming, is accessible by web enabled phone, or a phone based system that allows voice or touch tone prompting.
Their web site features a number of useful items, including timetables, when the next bus is coming (linked to the GPS system installed on the buses) and many other items that would be useful to you if you are trying to get around on public transit in the Portland area.
To me, the most useful feature has been the "Transit Tracker", which I have used ever since they first started having this feature over 6 years ago. When service gets delayed, or there are other problems, or even if you don't know the timetable that well, it is very helpful to be able to know how far away the next bus / train is, and if it has just gone past, or if it is just not in sight yet. You don't have to spent extra minutes standing at the bus stop if you don't want to, so long as you have a computer or telephone.
Photo 2 shows a typical Transit Tracker output window: time to next bus passing through, and then the one after that. So, there is no use heading for the bus stop right now, as I have more than enough time to get there.
When I originally wrote this tip, you had to enter the nearest intersection, or otherwise guess at your bus stop location. Today, each bus, light rail, streetcar, or train stop has a unique identification number, so if you happen to know that (or are standing at the bus stop or train station platform) you can enter it into the web site or phone system. This helps with touch tone phone entry, as well as making sure that the right stop has been identified by the system.
However, how do you find the stop ID number? Some of the stops and most MAX and train stations have schedules with the stop ID number posted in a nice public place. See photo 4. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the bus stops do not have the stop ID posted. The only way to find this number for those types of bus stops is to use the web site and locate the street location on the "transit tracker".
See photo 5: this is the typical TriMet bus stop sign. It does not have much useful information: the fare zone (zone 1 is the area closest to downtown, zone 3 is furthest away). However, photo 4 does show that a few bus stops, such as this example, are equipped with schedules and the stop ID number.
The system references both the GPS system and the timetable. This means that if something really awful is happening, the arrival times will not be shown. This has gotten a little better in recent years (a city wide ice storm in December of 2008 tested that!) but it is still a bit hazardous to trust the system during severe weather. Storms in December of 2008 did produce somewhat different results than previous storms: the system now put out the distance away of the bus / train, rather than trying to estimate the arrival time.
The trip planner is OK, but you have to be very careful about what information you enter into it. Sometimes if you enter "shortest walk" the system may send you on a 1 hour detour just to avoid a few feet of walking. You also need to be careful about entering your departure time or arrival time. Certain buses are not available to certain areas at certain times, and the WES commuter rail service only operates during peak periods during regular weekdays. Certain pedestrian routes seem to be in the system, but certain other pedestrian only walkways don't seem to be in there.
Photo 4 shows the typical input for the Trip Planner.
The phone number below is for the automated system, which allows you to enter the stop or station ID number to see how long it will be until the next bus or train shows up.
Portland is an environmentally conscious city that "walks the talk." Most of the downtown area falls into what is known as Fareless Square, where riding the public transit system is free.
According to the Tri-Met website, the boundaries of Fareless Square are "the Willamette River to the east, I-405 to the south and west, and Hoyt Street to the north."
We were staying at an airport hotel for our last night in Oregon and discovered this great way to get into the downtown area and around downtown while there. For about $4 each we got a multi zone pass that whisked us past all the stalled freeway traffic jams to Chinatown in about 15 minutes.
The train was fairly clean and felt safe. The machine you are supposed to buy your ticket from before boarding were either out of service or, if they worked, seemed harder to figure out and operate than most I've used in other cities. If you think you will be using the train, I'd suggest looking at their website ahead of time. I think we paid more than we needed to. Also was interesting that noone asked to see our tickets....
Train ran every 15 minutes from the Cascade Station. The hotel driver recommended that station rather than the airport one as it was easier to get to and far less crowded.
The downtown zone is free to all.
1) Click on top "live" link below for an interactive pdf click & drag streetcar map. It is the one I usually use.
2) Click on bottom "live" link below, "Other Contact."
3) Click on bottom left "Streetcar Map" box for a printable pdf streetcar map.
4) Click on upper right "Arrival Times" box for interactive pdf Google map to the far right. All 3 versions are click & drag also, thus revealing much of the cityscape beyond even the streetcar route.
Trimet colors will be the same on the ever expanding Trimet network,* but trains connecting Wilsonville Transit Center (TC) to Portland via Tualatin, Tigard, Hall/Nimbus, and Beaverton Transit Centers will be running on existing, privately owned tracks. Freight, I believe, will continue to have top priority over human cargo.
* Trimet serves 4 counties: Multnomah, Washington, Clackamus, and Clark (Vancouver). Hence, Trimet.
Click on "TriMet Store" to purchase TriMet tickets or passes online. Good on Metro Area eXpress (MAX), streetcar, and all urban/interurban TriMet bus lines. Bus drivers will issue local time factored transfers good on other TriMet bus lines, MAX, and streetcar; tickets validated (time stamped) for Max or Streetcar use serve as transfers to connecting bus lines.
C-Tran (Vancouver) accepts TriMet passes; tickets are a bit more dicey, so TriMet passes are your best bet.
Timeline: March 2008
All Trimet buses have external bike racks mounted up front (two, max) & are equipped to handle wheelchair/scooters.
Bikes can be mounted on overhead hooks inside all late model MAX (Metro Area eXpress) cars, both front & rear; handicapped friendly as well. Single car trains, an oxymoron if ever there was one, are of the newer variety; at least one car of two car trains will also employ the later model.
Streetcars are also handicapped friendly via rear door. Bicycle storage is trickier, a bit less obvious. Mid-section of all cars are near sidewalk level. Front & rear seating is two steps higher. Stanchions alongside steps, both sides, are designed to insert & capture front wheel of bike. Owner is expected to hold bike in place. Capacity, 4 per uncrowded car - a rarity.
I've only seen the upright bike slots used properly on a single occasion, the only reason I'm therefore aware of their existence. Future versions may mount them externally up front like Trimet buses for that reason. We'll see. Time will tell.
MAX is the local street tram system. One of my favorites as it reminds me of Karlsruhe. It is connected to the airport. Free in the downtown zones. And for $4.25 USD you can get a day pass that is worth it if you just don't want to hassle worrying if your ticket is valid. Especially if you're mileage running and need to get back to the airport to head home the same night.
One of the best ways to get from the airport to the city center is my Max. On both of my recent trips we took the Max into the city center, which is about a 30 min ride. It's cheap and efficient way to get in and around Portland, not to mention in the the "Yellow Zone" (city center) its FREE.
The cost to travel to the city center from the airport (for an ALL DAY Max ticket) is $4.25. This is well worth the price especially if you are taking the Max back to the aiport and plan to visit outside the Yellow Zone. You can also use this to visit Washington Park which is located outside of the city center and the use of the bus system as well.
Take the Blue or Red line to the city center.
Please note that the machines that dispense the tickets in the airport only take CASH.
Fareless Square means almost exactly what it says except that it is not square. Most of downtown Portland and "The Lloyd District" is accessible by free bus and/or light rail. You can board and leave this system at any stop within the fareless area as many times as you like at no cost. If you plan to leave Fareless Square via bus or light rail, you are supposed to pay the fare when you board. Many of the most popular hotels, tourist attractions, and Portland State University are within Fareless Square.
The Lloyd District is a cultural and educational area on the east side of the Willamette River where you will find the Oregon Convention Center, Rose Garden Arena, and Memorial Coliseum, among many other wonderful stops.
The TRIMET website also has a rather unique trip planning service. It is similar to Mapquest. Just enter your starting point and destination and it will tell you which bus and train routes to take as well as departure and arrival times.
If you find yourself at a transit stop with no bus or train in sight, call 503-238-RIDE with the Stop ID number and the computer will tell you when the next bus or train is due.
All Trimet vehicles are accessible to disabled individuals.