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Public Transit Service Web site: next train coming
TriMet (Tri-County Transportation District) operates the city bus services and light rail trains in the Portland area. The light rail trains (essentially modern tram to the rest of the world) are called MAX, and Portland Streetcar is a street running only version that is smaller in size and slower in speed.
The primary MAX route runs east-west through the metropolitan area, with two branches extending north to the Portland Airport and the Portland Exposition Center. One branch runs south to a suburban shopping mall called Clackamas Town Center, connecting a number of east side bus routes as well. In downtown the routes split so that routes going west to Beaverton and Hillsboro (the red and blue lines) go through downtown on Yamhill and Morrison. Yellow line (trains going north) and blue line (trains going to Clackamas Town Center) go north and south through downtown on 5th and 6th Avenues.
Portland Streetcar runs in a large upside down U around downtown, from the far southwest side of town over the Broadway Bridge to southwest Portland.
Tickets are available from vending machines on station platforms, except on Portland Streetcar, where the vending machine is on the car instead.
Major points of tourist interest served are the Portland Airport, downtown Portland (various things), Portland Union Station, Portland Greyhound Station, Portland Zoo, Pioneer Courthouse Square (where tourist information available weekdays), several shopping areas, and the two major convention locations (Portland Convention Center and the Exposition Center).
The tickets that are sold from MAX vending machines are are valid on MAX, Portland Streetcar, and buses. Tickets sold on Portland Streetcar are quite a bit less expensive, but are not valid on MAX or buses. C-Tran is the bus system in Clark County, Washington on the other side of the river, and most TriMet tickets and passes are also valid on most C-Tran routes - but not the express routes that serve downtown Portland.
The TriMet 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.
Many of the MAX stations have a display screen located somewhere on the platform (some are not easy to find) that give the arrival of the next trains. Some of these are older style systems and others are a newer style, but both give the same information: typical display shows arrival time in minutes, the line color, and the destination of the train.
There are other ways of getting information about the next arrival. Each bus stop and train platform has a unique identifying number. Sometimes you will find a sign at the bus stop that gives the number, but sometimes not. You can text message this stop number to the number 27299 and you will get a very brief summary of expected arrival times. The TriMet web site also has arrival information, and they do have a mobile version of the web site but frequently it does not automatically come up when you go to the standard TriMet web site using a mobile device. For the mobile version of the web site you need:
From there you can also enter the stop or station number to get a display of arrival times. It is also possible to call the phone number below, enter the stop number at the arrival times voice prompt, and get a voice system response of the expected arrival times.
Google maps also has expected arrival times on its map of Portland.
You will find references to "Fareless Square" and "Free Rail Area" in various places, but these areas have not existed since 2012. They were areas you could get around without paying anything. This effort was aimed at helping to move people easily through downtown Portland, and started in 1975. In 2010 it was eliminated from buses, and in 2012 all transit service in downtown Portland became paid fare only.
Photo 1 shows a typical MAX train going through downtown Portland.
Photo 2 shows a typical Transit Tracker output window on a computer: 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.
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 for the typical situation at a major bus stop with a full shelter. On a number of other bus stops, there is a small card on the bus stop pole that has the basic route information. Unfortunately, many of the bus stops still 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. It at least gives you the bus number. However, photo 4 does show that some bus stops, such as this example, are equipped with no schedules and no stop ID number, or even the direction the bus is going.
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 rather than trying to estimate the arrival time. MAX however remains a challenge, and during our most recent 2014 winter storm the arrival information only said "Trains running approximately every half hour to 45 minutes" with no idea how long it had been since one had gone past, or when the next one was due.
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.
The web site also has a trip planner. This helps you plan you trip on the system.
Photo 3 shows the typical input for the Trip Planner on the web site. You have to be somewhat careful about the entries that you put in, as the trip planner will take them literally. Typically your best bet is "fastest trip" as "fewest transfers" and "minimize walking" can send you on an hour long detour to avoid a transfer or walking a few feet between bus stops.
Many people ask for specific trips. This includes how to get from Portland Union Station or the Greyhound Station to the Portland Airport. The best thing to do when making this trip is to go to the MAX station on 5th Avenue that is directly west of the Greyhound Station (Portland Union Station is immediately north of the Greyhound station so this tip works the same for both). Get on a green line train headed to Clackamas Town Center (NOT a yellow line train). Anywhere between the Rose Quarter Transit Center and Gateway Transit Center get off, and wait for the next Red Line train on the same track headed towards the airport. You would reverse this process to get from the Airport to the Greyhound Station or Union Station.
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TriMet bus and light rail system
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.
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Take the Tri-Met
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.
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MAX - light rail
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.
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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.
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MAX Light Rail
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.
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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."
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Maxx Light Rail
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.
Streetcar, Cityscape Maps
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.
Westside Express Service (WES) - Fall 2008
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.
MAX Map (Metro Area eXpress)
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.
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Portland Travel Guide
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